Always carry as much water as you can, at least 1 liter per person for hikes under 5 miles, and don’t wait for your mouth to get dry before taking a drink. Enjoy that water and keep yourself hydrated.
Window View Trail – Chisos Basin
This is an easily accessible and short trail beginning at the Chisos Basin Trailhead, near the parking area by the Ranger Station and the store. This trail is great if you just want to get a leisurely view of the mountains and of the area off to the west through “The Window,” a separation in the mountains that serves as pour off during heavy rains. It’s about 0.3 miles round trip, all on paved sidewalk with plenty of desert flora to observe along the way, and any number of lizards, birds, small rodents, and interesting insects crossing your path. If you are traveling with kids, this is also a good hike.
Grapevine Hills Trail – Grapevine Hills Road
This trail leads to one of the most well known landmarks in the park: Balanced Rock, a sort of window to the desert and mountains beyond, formed by giant falling boulders long ago. At 2.2 miles round trip, this is a relatively easy trail for almost any hiker, even the youngest. Follow the Grapevine Hills Road for about 6 miles off the main park road to the parking area at the trailhead. It's an improved dirt road, and can typically be traversed, with care, by most vehicles, weather permitting. Past the trailhead, you’ll walk through what looks like the moon—really—then near the end of the trail, you’ll have to do a quick, short climb up to see the Balanced Rock and get a photo. This trail doesn’t really have any shade, so in the hotter months, hikes will be most enjoyed in the early morning or later in the afternoon when temperatures are below 90℉.
Boquillas Canyon – Boquillas Canyon Spur Road
The Boquillas Canyon Spur Road is about a 45-minute drive from the Maverick Junction entrance to the park, right off the main park road about a mile past the rock tunnel as you are heading towards Rio Grande Village. Take the spur road past the Boquillas Crossing Border Checkpoint, stop for a moment at the Boquillas Overlook, and get a glimpse of the Rio Grande and the small town of Boquillas del Carmen, Coahuila, MX, then head down to the end of the road and park. This trail is about 1.4 miles round trip and begins with a climb, then descends towards the river.
Keep an eye out for the metates, holes bored in rocks by the early human denizens of the Big Bend as they ground grains and vegetation during food preparation, akin to a mortar and pestle. On a hot day, this is a great spot to enjoy the shade of the canyon walls and the trees near the river and an opportunity to soak your feet or take a dip, depending on the river level. Other than the climb at the beginning (and subsequently, the end) this is a good trail for most average hikers, and probably okay to take the kids on.
Take some cash to buy souvenirs made by the friendly locals of Boquillas right across the river. They are typically sitting on a rock along the trail with a sign giving prices for items and a jar for cash on the honor system. If you’d like to learn more about visiting Boquillas during your stay, and we highly recommend you do, check out our special section on this beautiful border village.
Pine Canyon – Off Glenn Springs Road
You’d be wise to only attempt this trail if you are driving a high-clearance 4WD vehicle. Glenn Springs Road, which runs off of the main park road south of Panther Junction, has been recently maintained and would be fairly passable in most vehicles, but the Pine Canyon primitive road leading to the trailhead is quite rough and is not a place you want to get stuck in your car. You’d have a long walk out and then have to deal with a Park Ranger who will not only likely write you a citation but also shame you for having passed the warning signs, and you don’t want to know how much it would cost you to get pulled out of there. That being said, if you can access it, this is one of the best hikes around to see the desert and the mountains come together on one trail. As you begin this 4-mile round trip, you’ll be surrounded by grasslands filled with sotol in the foothills of the Chisos Mountains.
About a mile in, you’ll start gaining some elevation and your legs will feel the burn, but the temperature will cool off as you approach the shade and cool breeze of the Mexican pinyon pines, oaks, and junipers that become thicker as you move along. As you make your way up the trail into the forest, keep an eye out for Texas madrone and Arizona pine trees. The last quarter mile of this trail gains the most elevation and is the most strenuous part of this hike. At the end of the trail, you’ll be standing at the base of a 200’ pour off that becomes the most beautiful waterfall when it rains enough.
Pro tip: late August through September is your best bet for catching that magic waterfall in all of its glory.
Indian Head – Off Indian Head Road (accessible just north of the Big Bend Motor Inn office)
This is one of the least traveled spots within the park, in part because the trailhead is outside of the interior of the National Park. Pick up Indian Head Road just north of the Big Bend Motor Inn office on TX 118 in Study Butte, then follow it for about a mile and a half to the trailhead. Take caution in rainy weather, as this road becomes impassable by even well-equipped 4WD vehicles when wet, and you WILL get stuck. Most vehicles with moderate clearance should be able to make the drive in dry times.
At the end of the road, you’ll see the trailhead at the bottom of a hill. This trail isn’t marked, but there are many footprints to follow, and the best way to experience this site is to follow along the foot of Indian Head Mountain to your left, taking time to inspect the large piles of rock slides. Along the path, you’ll take a trip back to the days of ancient dwellers in the Big Bend region. Keep your eyes peeled for the many petroglyphs and pictographs—carvings and paintings—on the large rocks created by Native Americans, some up to 10,000 years ago. More evidence of their life in this area can be found in the numerous metates—round holes ground into flat rock that served as mortars during food preparation. Other than those incredible sights, this is a very different look into the wide array of geology in the Big Bend. Guided tours are available, but with some time and patience, anyone can enjoy this easy hike with lots to see.
Closed Canyon - Big Bend Ranch State Park
The State Park is often forgotten when visiting the Big Bend area but it has tons to offer. Closed Canyon is a short hike through a narrow slot canyon. The trailhead is about 22 miles from Barton Warnock visitor center. One of the best things about this hike is that the sun barely reaches the canyon floor so it's substantially cooler than outside of the canyon. This is a great hike to do year round but it's a nice break in the scorching summer months. Another unique thing about this trail, dogs are allowed, one of two in the State Park. The Hoodoos trail is the other (another great trail). Keep an eye for both shallow and deep tinajas, small pools of water at the bottom of the canyon. The trail will lead you to the Rio Grande but river access is not possible without climbing equipment.