Trying to make a list of my favorite hikes to try at Big Bend National Park took some research. I started planning my solo hiking trips for my stay at Big Bend while I was in Alpine Texas – a great home base for visiting West Texas. I met artist Nancy Whitlock through a mutual friend while sharing drinks and spilling stories at Harry’s Tinaja one October evening.
Nancy creates art works based on her experiences of hiking the Chihuahuan Desert in West Texas. Nancy has also started doing some work in film. I think I watched all the videos of her favorite hikes at Big Bend National Park. The films proved great inspiration for my hiking adventures at Big Bend. On my first road trip to Big Bend in December 2010 I did river hikes at Santa Elena Canyon and Boquillas Canyon. The weather being hotter in October I preferred to do mountain hikes during this trip to Big Bend.
Having limited solo hiking experience, I am working on doing more hikes alone and increasing my knowledge base of wilderness survival skills. The class I took with REI Outdoor School opened my eyes the need for being prepared before setting out on a day hike.
Hiking solo at Big Bend National Park seemed like a great idea before I arrived at the park. After giving it more thought, visions of mountain lions and rattlesnakes slithered into my imagination. I do love to see wildlife in its natural habitat. But I have a healthy fear and great respect for wild animals.
I know the chances of running into a mountain lion on the hiking trail are fairly slim, but my vivid imagination disagrees. And people have been attacked by mountain lions. My logical side reminds me “it is possible, but not probable”, but imaginative me still thinks it could happen at any moment.
I read all the warnings posted at Big Bend, explaining how to act if one encounters a mountain lion. Appear large. Wave arms and shout aggressively. Act ferocious. Do not run away. Do not show fear. Okay… I am happy to report that I had no encounters with mountain lions or rattlesnakes.
My first morning at Big Bend I woke up early at Chisos Mountain Lodge but didn’t head out to the hiking trail until around 10 am. A few minutes hiking the Window Trail I met a fellow solo hiker. I was happy to have someone to hike with so that we could both look ferocious when we encountered a mountain lion. Beth told me that spiders and not mountain lions were the creature she feared. I told her I saw tarantulas crossing the road on the drive to Big Bend National Park near Terlingua.
Not even five minutes after our conversation about spiders a guy on the trail calls back to us “hey you wanna see a tarantula?” and of course I did want to see a tarantula. Beth also managed to get a close look and did not freak out. I was a bit perturbed that the guy was blocking the tarantula’s way with a hiking pole to keep the spider within our view. I imagined life from the tarantula’s perspective “Why do these enormous two-legged creatures mess with my daily walk in the woods. Why can’t these freaks just leave me alone?!”
The Window Trail is listed by National Park Service as moderate difficulty and the well-marked trail ends at the v-shaped window in the Chisos Mountains, offering panoramic views of the Chihuahuan Desert.
On day two in Big Bend National Park I met my neighbors at Chisos Mountain Lodge. Julia and Max are on a quest to see every national park in the USA. They were not trying to see all the national parks in one trip. Rather they take a few weeks and enjoy their time and then head back home for several weeks. Repeat. Pretty cool lifestyle I think.
We had some good conversations and Max took photos of the Milky Way with the help of his tripod. The views of the night skies are amazing in Big Bend National Park. It is one of the darkest places in the lower 48 states. If you are a star-gazer you will love Big Bend! You can make a side trip to Fort Davis and visit the McDonald Observatory.
My last full day at Big Bend turned out to be perfect hiking weather with overcast skies much of the day and no rain, making for comfortable hiking conditions. I decided to do a desert hike at Grapevine Hills Trail in the morning and a mountain hike at Lost Mine Trail after lunch. My neighbors at Chisos Mountain Lodge also decided to do the same hikes.We didn’t travel in the same vehicle or plan to meet but figured we would probably run into each other along the trails at some point.
Grapevine Hills Trail
I left for Grapevine Hills Trail around 9 AM and drove the 6 miles (9.65 km) down the gravel road to the small parking lot at the trailhead. Grapevine Hills Trail is an easy 2.2 mile loop (3.5 km) with a scramble at the end of the hike near the Balanced Rock – a huge boulder balanced atop other boulders. There is no shade along the trail although once you get to balance rock you can find some shade among the boulders.
I loved the views of the rock formations, cacti, and yucca plants along the hiking trail. I wandered among the boulders at the end of the trail, taking photos of Balanced Rock and enjoying the views.
I heard other hikers and turned towards their voices. I received a warm welcome from Julia and Max. We took photos and chatted and walked back to the trailhead together.
Lost Mine Trail
After lunch at the Chisos Mountain Lodge I filled my CamelBak with water and packed up my day pack for the afternoon hike at Lost Mine Trail. The parking lot at Lost Mine Trail is small but I lucked out and got the second last spot. My neighbors Julia and Max left before me so I figured I would see them along the trail. I saw them on the way up the trail and we hiked the remainder of Lost Mine together.
Lost Mile Trail has an elevation gain of 1,100 ft (335 m) and it is uphill all the way to the end of the trail. The round trip for Lost Mine Trail is 4.8 miles (7.7 km). The reward is the views along the way and knowing you have a less strenuous downhill hike on the way back.
The views along Lost Mine Trail are amazing so if you only have time to do one hike at Big Bend I recommend Lost Mine Trail.
While I did set out to go hiking solo at Big Bend National Park I was happy to have some company on most of my hikes. If you are visiting Big Bend and are apprehensive about hiking alone you can take part in Ranger-led Programs offered at Big Bend. On the more popular hiking trails there is a fair chance you will see other hikers along the way during months with favorable weather conditions. During the hotter months visitors are more scarce than usual at Big Bend.
Visitor information for Big Bend National Park
Address: Main entrance: 1 Panther Drive, Big Bend National Park
Phone Number: +1-(432)-477-2251
Hours: Open 24 hours but entrance fee stations and visitor centers close at 4 PM or 5 PM, depending on the season. Some visitor centers close during lunch hour. Check for current information: Big Bend Operating Hours & Seasons.
Admission Cost (as of January 2016): $25 per vehicle or $12 per individual if entering without a vehicle. For more information check out: Big Bend Entrance Fees. I bought a National Park Service annual pass for $80 – a great value for frequent visitors to US National Parks.
How to Get There: You will need to drive as there is no public transportation to Big Bend. Check National Park Service – directions for directions and transport information. Big Bend is about a 6.5 hour drive from Austin Texas.
Other useful information about Big Bend
- only 300,000 visitors to the park each year (compare to Grand Canyon 4.8 million visitors)
- 800,000 acres of land to explore
- Big Bend became a National Park in 1944
- Border crossing to Mexico is possible at Boquillas Crossing (passport required)
- Info on day hikes and river trips available on the National Park Service website
- National Park Service – campground reservations info
- Some campsites are on a first come first-served basis
- Permit is required for back country camping
- Due to water shortage please try to bring your own water to the park
- Chisos Mountain Lodge is the only hotel style lodging in the park
- Pets not allowed on trails, off roads, or in the river
- May and June are the hottest months at Big Bend National Park
- Rainy season is mid-June through October
- Temperatures in the Chisos Mountains can be 20 degrees cooler than at the Rio Grande
- Road to Chisos Basin is not suitable for RVs longer than 24′ or trailers longer than 20′
- Birders paradise – over 450 species of birds have been recorded in the area
My favorite day hikes at Big Bend National Park
- Lost Mine Trail Moderate 4.8 miles (7.7 km) round trip
- Grapevine Hills Easy 2.2 miles (3.5 km) round trip
- Window Trail Moderate 5.6 miles (9 km) round trip
If you are an experienced hiker you may want to consider the following hikes for something more challenging at Big Bend. I have not hiked these trails yet.
- Emory Peak Strenuous 10.5 miles (17 km) round trip
- South Rim Strenuous 12 – 15 miles (19.4 – 24 km) round trip
What are your favorite hikes at Big Bend National Park?
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