River Road - Big Bend Ranch State Park
Consistently rated as one of the top scenic drives in Texas and the United States, this stretch of TX 170 from Lajitas to Presidio through Big Bend Ranch State Park is everything it is cracked up to be.
Head west from Terlingua towards Lajitas, and once you pass the Lajitas Golf Resort, get ready for twists and turns, unbelievable vistas, incredible scenery, and a view of the Rio Grande unmatched by any other. About halfway through, you will come to what locals refer to as “The Big Hill,” and you will know it when you get to it. There is another hill just before it that you will think is it, but then you will climb what is the steepest grade of any paved highway in Texas, crest the top, and see the turnout on the river side of the road. This is one of the best spots out here to sit and watch the surrounding mountains of Texas and Mexico glow as the sun sets over the Rio Grande.
Along this highway, look for other notable landmarks of fame: the old Contrabando movie set, most notably known from Dead Man’s Walk and Streets of Laredo, which were part of the Lonesome Dove miniseries, and the infamous “Dom Rock” from the movie Fandango. Wildlife such as javelinas and deer are quite common along this route, especially around sunrise and sunset, and the road is as winding as one can get, so please drive with caution so you don’t end up like the handful of wrecks still dotting the steep banks of the river from accidents past. Allow at least one hour of drive time, one-way, to reach the Big Hill, and another 30–45 minutes to that if you decide to drive on to Presidio.
Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive - Big Bend National Park
We touched on this one in our Hikes section, as it’s the road that ends at Santa Elena Canyon. Turn off the main road in BBNP, about 8 miles from Maverick Junction—the main entrance to the park coming in from Study Butte—following the signs for Castolon and Santa Elena Canyon. This 31-mile paved road will lead you along some of the best of BBNP, from stunning views of the Chisos to the desert floor below, all the way down to the mouth of the majestic Santa Elena Canyon and the Rio Grande.
There are many spots to stop along the way to learn more about the history of the Big Bend, from the humans who have inhabited it to the land itself. Highlights include Sotol Vista Overlook, Mule Ears turnout and trailhead, Sam Nail Ranch, Tuff Canyon, Upper and Lower Burro Mesa trails, Santa Elena Overlook and river access point, Cottonwood Campground, then finally ending at the Santa Elena Canyon trail head.
Along the way, you can also make a stop at the Castolon Store and Ranger Station for a look into the history of the National Park in its early days, and it’s a great place to stop for water and snacks and a few souvenirs from the store.
Restrooms are available at several points along the way, so this is a good drive for folks traveling with children or older friends and family. Although the road is 31 miles, it takes about an hour to drive straight through to the end, but could easily be a half day or more if you wanted to check out all the sights along the way.
US 385 South from Marathon to Big Bend National Park - Persimmon Gap Entrance. What was once the road to the original main entrance to BBNP, US 385 is still a great way to get to the park and offers you a great transition in scenery along the way from the desert flats and Glass Mountains around Marathon, along the Christmas and Dead Horse Mountains in between, and finally arriving at the Persimmon Gap Entrance to BBNP with the Chisos Mountains looming ahead.
A great day trip to Marathon, or simply a nice route to head into or home from the Big Bend. FM 2627 - off US 385Along US 385 between Marathon and BBNP, take the turn on FM 2627 and drive about 11 miles for a stop at the Hallie Stillwell Hall of Fame and Museum next to the Stillwell Ranch Store, then take the self-guided tour through the home of one of the most famous and interesting characters in the history of the Big Bend—and Texas too, for that matter. The tour is free but there is a donation jar inside, and the key is available by request inside the store.
After that, you can continue down FM 2627 for about 20 miles, straddling the eastern boundary of BBNP and the western boundary of Black Gap Wildlife Management Area, and you’ll come to the end of the line where, across the Rio Grande in Mexico, you can see the ruins of La Linda, a ghost town that once was the site of a fluorspar mine operated by Dow Chemical and the remaining international bridge—closed in 1997—built by Dow in 1964.
River access is a possibility here, but must be obtained by heading up to the office of Heath Canyon Ranch and talking to Butch, who himself is probably more interesting than that stretch of the river. He lives alone at the end of the United States and doesn’t get many visitors, so he may not even answer the door. It is worth a shot.
Many times, talking to a local is the best way to get either the most accurate information or a bunch of directions that you think you understand but then try to navigate and realize you have no idea how to interpret.
Terlingua is full of friendly people, and they love telling you their favorite spots and stories of the history of this place and their time in it. Don’t be afraid to ask someone if you find yourself lost or confused. Most will be glad to oblige.