Big Bend National Park is a world unto itself. With over 800,000 acres it sits at the cusp of West Texas and Mexico.
Nearby is the ghost town of Terlingua and the artsy area of Marfa. If you are looking for a secluded getaway that embraces the American spirit, you have found your National Park.
Is Big Bend National Park Safe
This seems to be the number one question asked on Google and my immediate answer was yes; however, with a bit more research I understand that you need to dig a bit deeper with that question.
When my initial thought was yes, I was thinking about it from a people standpoint. I say this because I thought about it often. Would people try to cross the border here? Would they be safe if we came in contact with them?
I am going to say that, overall, the area is safe. If you primitive camp you could be miles away from anyone. Naturally, it’s safe to be smart here and not pick up hitchhikers. You should also be alert if something seems off.
Another thing to note- we did meet a gentleman who came over from Boquillas and sold items. He was very nice and had several other guests laughing.
Here’s where I was off. Weather and animals. When the weather reaches over 100 degrees before noon, you have to take caution.
This is why we didn’t go during the summer on our epic road trip, opting instead to go to Durango, Colorado.
Honestly, if you want to go during the summer and hike, please plan your route very thoroughly. An average of sixteen people die per year at this park and the biggest cause is heat.
If you are going for the night sky, which is best during the summer- I still recommend making sure your camper of choice (van/RV/etc.) has AC in it. If not, be sure to reserve a spot at the Chisos Mountains Lodge, which is the only motel in the park.
How to Get to Big Bend National Park
This one is probably the most straightforward. You need to get on I-20 and follow it until exit 93 toward Ft Stockton/FM 1053. This will be over five hours in and past Odessa- so don’t get too stressed that you’ve missed your turn!
You are basically turning onto 385, which will take you through Marathon, and after two hours and twenty-five minutes, you will have reached your destination.
From LA, you are going to get on ten and follow it all the way into Van Horn, Texas. Van horn will send you down 90 to Marfa (be sure to stop there if you have time). In Marathon, you’ll turn right to get onto 385-S which will send you straight to the park.
If You Chose to Fly
If you chose to fly, it’s understandable. From LA, the drive is about fourteen hours non-stop. Your nearest commercial airport is Midland/Odessa and Southwest has several flights that go in and out of this airport.
Given that Big Bend National Park is truly remote, you will still have to drive two hundred miles from the airport so be sure to have car rentals ready to go.
Midland may not work for everybody though, given that it’s a small airport. If this is the case for you El Paso would be your next best bet, being three hundred miles away.
Best Time of Year to Visit
Spring and Fall
Depends on what you want to do but more often than not, fall and spring.
Fall and spring are good because the weather is milder. We went at the end of November (Thanksgiving weekend) and were able to enjoy our hikes without being worried about becoming too dehydrated or too hot.
We also camped at a developed campground, the Rio Grande Village, and were able to sleep comfortably- meaning the weather was below sixty-seven at night (but not below forty because I didn’t experience that until our trip to Orlando the following month).
Another reason to visit during the cooler months is the hot springs. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to experience this thanks to COVID. Although, it does give us a reason to come back!
Summer and Winter
The only reason I would say to visit during the summer is to experience the night sky. This is the darkest place on the map in the lower forty-eight states and I can only imagine how amazing it is.
If you do come to Big Bend during the summer remember- it is often over 100 degrees even at night. Bring water with you and make sure you stay somewhere cool- be it in your RV/van or in their motel.
I can’t recommend anyone go in winter, rumor has it the weather is very harsh in the desert during the winter months.
Here’s what you need to remember: they are the only hotel in the park and it’s basic. If you’re looking for a Hampton Inn (my favorite), this won’t be your gig. That all being said, the Casa Grande Rooms and the Rio Grande Motel Rooms have AC.
All of them have heat, showers, coffee pot, and micro-fridge. From the reviews, I’ve seen they also have pretty spectacular views of the Mountains and it’s not uncommon to see an animal that you often don’t, like a bear.
There are two campsites- the Rio Grande, where we stayed, and Cottonwood Campground.
The Rio Grande is open year-round and allows hookups. The area is nice and everyone that was there when we stayed was polite.
I also like that, if you reserve in advance, they put your name at your site and the dates you’ll be staying.
There is also a bear box at each site. Other facilities include bathrooms with showers*, and a dish pit area to help you do dishes.
*The showers are still closed, as of July 2021.
Cottonwood Campground is for those who are tent camping and want the community aspect. I don’t know if the spots are designated the same, but I would imagine so.
You are not allowed to have a generator and there are no hook-ups. They have pit toilets and no showers.
One last thing to note- they are closed during the summer because of how hot it gets; however, during the fall and winter months the nights stay relatively cool because all of the super cold air goes into the basin.
Primitive Roadside Camping
A backcountry permit is required if you want to go to a primitive camp. I didn’t even know this was an option when we were there until we drove to our hiking destination.
The National Park Service recommends you have a four-wheel drive, high clearance vehicle for the drive to your site.
Naturally, these are dry sites, so prepare accordingly!
What Makes Big Bend National Park Special
International Dark Sky- it’s DARK
Again, this is the only reason I would go during the summer. Big Bend is the darkest place in the lower forty-eight states. If Joshua Tree was any indication, I have every intention of coming here at some point in my life during the summer. Night skies get to me!
Rumor has it the best place to look from your car is Sotol Vista Overlook. For the full experience though, park there at sunset and hike the half-mile to Langford Hot Springs. If you opt to do it in the fall, you could even relax in the natural hot springs while watching the stars twinkle because, yes, they actually do that!
It’s the same half-mile as in the dark sky from the paragraph above. Everything that I read said it was an easy hike and is right on the Rio Grande river.
The pictures are beautiful too; although I have read that during the spring months it can get muddy and you may have to dig a bit to get to the clean water.
We spent most of our Saturday during this event driving around. We took some weird four-by-four trails that led us to River Road, where we stumbled upon Mariscal Mine.
The mine sits high up on a hill that is beautiful once you get to the top of it. The site overlooks a blank slate for miles and miles.
Up close though, you have buildings that were created in the 1920s by the twenty to forty men who came over from Mexico to work. According to the National Park Service, only three men that worked there were US citizens.
The mine had a history of opening and closing but finally shut down in 1942, although at the time boasted the creation of 1,400 seventy-six pound flasks of mercury. That’s a fourth of the production in the US at the time.
A couple of things to consider: It is vast nothingness, so it will be hot in the summertime. Also, remember to leave no trace and don’t touch anything on the mine; after all, it once was used to make mercury!
If you are looking to truly get away and experience a different type of nature than the forest. One where you could truly be the only person for miles, then this is the National Park for you.
In case you can’t tell, I can’t wait to go again. To explore the darkness, to be warmed by her waters, and just to be.