Big Bend National Park
Big Bend National Park (Adobe stock image)
By Nushin Huq
Between 2 Pines Magazine
Big Bend was named after the “big bend” of the Rio Grande river. Because of the park’s climate, fall and spring are popular times to visit the park. Big Bend National Park is one of the least visited parks, with a little over 350,000 visitors a year. Not surprising given it's distance from large population centers. Make the effort to visit this park with your family. You won't regret it.
WHAT TO SEE
What's amazing about Big Bend is the different ecosystems within the same park. There is the flora and fauna of the desert. Next, there is a Chisos Mountains, which is an entire Mountain range within one park. Then you have the Rio Grande River and the Santa Elena Canyon. It's so much fun exploring the different parts of the park.
WHERE TO STAY
The only hotel in the park is the Chisos Mountain Lodge. During peak season (spring and fall), this books up fast.
There are also several campgrounds in the park, including an RV park. Some take reservations and some are first come, first serve. There are also back country camping sites. Because of it's remoteness, it is a good idea to have some type of plan before coming. In the peak season, often times, even the backcountry sites will fill up.
Recently, NPS has begun exploring making more campsites reservation only.
WHERE TO EAT
The only restaurant is in the Chisos Mountain Lodge. Packaged food and drinks can be purchased at Castolon, the Chisos Basin, Panther Junction, and Rio Grande Village.
BEST HIKES FOR FAMILIES
An easy hike in the Chisos Mountains is the Windows View Trail. This trail is 0.3 miles and paved. There are benches along the way. It's a great place to watch the sunset. Another popular but more challenging trail is the Lost Mine Trail. It's a little less than 5 miles round trip. It's a moderately steep climb, so consider hiking poles if you have knee issues. There are several lookouts, an especially nice one about a mile up. If you make it to the top, the views are simply amazing!
Along the Rio Grande River, a nice easy but scenic hike is the Rio Grande Village Nature Trail. the first 100 yards are wheelchair accessible. What makes this trail nice is that it's less than a mile roundtrip, but it's a great trail for birdwatching and seeing wildlife. Consider this trail if you have little ones with limited attention spans and limited energy.
Another fun river trial is the Hot Springs Historic Trail. This trail is an easy one mile trail. You can see ruins of old homestead and an hotel. There's also the hot springs, which you can dip in. There are also pictographs along the trail. As an added bonus, kids can earn an extra badge by completing this trail and answering questions about it.
For a more challenging but eye-popping gorgeous trail, check out the Santa Elena Canyon Trail. The steep canyon walls are striking. The trail is 1.7 miles roundtrip. You will have to walk across Terlingua Creek, which is difficult or impossible to pass depending on how high the water is, so ask a park ranger before attempting. Once to cross the creek, you are rewarded with jaw dropping scenes of the canyon.
BEST TIPS FOR KIDS
Like most other National Parks, Big Bend has a junior ranger program. Kids can also earn an extra badge if they hike one of the highlighted trails and answer questions. Information is in the junior ranger book.
Make sure you stop at a Ranger station and talk to the ranger about hikes and trail conditions. If your kids like fossils, there is a fossil trail near the entrance of the park.
Big Bend is remote. Even though there are some camp stores, make sure you pack enough water and any baby or kid essentials you might need.
It's remoteness also makes it an amazing place to star gaze. Once you are done with your Big Bend visit, consider taking a day out to visit McDonald Observatory in Fort Davis.