Big Bend National Park | Two Day Itinerary
Updated: Feb 3
My favorite way to celebrate a New Year is by hiking at my favorite local national park Big Bend National Park. To kick off 2021 and my 29th birthday, my friends and I spent a couple of days exploring and hiking. This was our two day itinerary at Big Bend National Park.
I mentioned that this park is local. I mean that it's located in Texas, and that's where I live. However, if you know anything about Texas, you know that it can take a full day to travel from one end to the other by car. The park was a nine hour drive for us, so we factored in two full days for driving to and from the park.
Big Bend National Park sits at the southern border of the western section of Texas. It's over 800,000 acres of wildlife with three main geographical features: mountains, river, and desert.
For this particular trip, the mountains were closed off to us due to snow fall, but we had an amazing time exploring the river and desert.
Day One: River
We decided to see both of the river access points of Big Bend National Park on our first day. The park gets its name from the large river bend between Santa Elena and Boquillas Canyons. Fair warning, these are located on opposite ends of the park, so it's a good 60 miles between the two points.
Distance: 1.4 miles round trip
The trail starts in the parking lot and leads to an overlook bluff of the river and canyon. Travel further down to the river edge and explore the sandy slopes of the canyon and the water. There are natural hot springs that steam up in the winter.
Santa Elena Canyon
Distance: 1.7 miles round trip
This is one of Big Bend's most popular trails. The trail starts at the mouth of the canyon and leads up a paved ascension into the canyon until the water meets the wall of the canyon. Be prepared for muddy terrain and enjoy some rock climbing while you're there!
This national park is partially open and updates their website frequently to inform the public of operations. While I was there, visitor centers were closed, but they had booths outside with rangers and volunteers on standby to answer questions. Masks required at booths.
Please refer to their website to see updates on what is open to the public and what is not.
One of my favorite parts of Big Bend National Park is the Hot Springs Historic Trail, which is closed due to COVID-19. The half a mile trail leads down to an actual hot spring (105°F) right on the Rio Grande River. It used to be a bath house so the foundation is still there and you can get in to enjoy the water. I highly recommend checking this place out once it is reopened.
DAY TWO: DESERT
Upper Burro Mesa Pour-Off Trail
Distance: 3.8 miles round trip
This trail starts at Mile 6.6 pull off on Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive and follows a dried out wash downstream to this 100 foot Burro Mesa Pour Off. There are a few large rocks to climb and there is a bit of scrambling. But the view is worth it! This was my favorite trail of this visit.
[Just in case you are reading this thinking that you might not be able to make it: there was a group of not-super-young hikers who made it down and up the hardest part. If they can do it, so can you! But also, use your own common sense.]
Distance: 0.75 mile round trip
This trail starts at the Tuff Canyon Overlook on the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. There are 3 different overlooks that look down into the canyon. At the south end of the parking lot, a trail leads down into the canyon for much exploring!
Mule Ears Spring Trail
Distance: 3.8 miles round trip
This trail starts at the Mule Ears Overlook parking lot on the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. It leads you through the foothills of the Chisos Mountains, skirts Trap Mountain, and crosses several arroyos. The spring itself is overgrown with ferns and plants, and ultimately, a very small sight to see. The best views are on the trail getting there, in my opinion!
There are many trails to explore at Big Bend National Park, and it's worth the long drive! The views are incredible, even with part of the park closed off. Add Big Bend National Park to your list of places to visit, sites to see, and trails to explore!
A new trail is coming to Big Bend National Park in 2022! The moderately challenging 3 mile loop will be located at Panther Junction Visitor Center.