34 Best Sights in Big Bend National Park, Texas

Big Bend Ranch State Park

Fodor's choice

The largest state park in Texas serves as an enormous western buffer to Big Bend National Park. This rugged desert wilderness extends along the Rio Grande across more than 300,000 acres from east of Lajitas to Presidio. It's far less developed than the national park (if that seems possible) and nearly one-third as large, and it's filled with amazing opportunities to hike, mountain bike, backpack, raft, and ride horseback. A collection of hiking trailheads spoke off from FM 170 across from the Barton Warnock Visitor Center at Lajitas, which serves as the park's eastern information post and contains excellent exhibits on the region as well as a covered picnic area. The western visitor center is at 23-acre Fort Leaton State Historical Site near Presidio and contains a thick-walled adobe fort and trading post that dates back to pioneer days, plus exhibits, a ½-mile nature trail, and picnic sites.

Chisos Basin

Fodor's choice

Panoramic vistas, a restaurant with an up-close view of jagged mountain peaks, and glimpses of the Colima warbler (which summers in Big Bend) await in the forested Chisos Basin. The spiritual heart of Big Bend, at an elevation of 5,400 feet, it's ringed by taller peaks and has a lodge, a campground, a grocery store, an amphitheater, a visitor center, and access to some of the park's best hiking trails. Winter sometimes brings snow, but in summer this is where you can find relief from the desert heat below.

Chisos Basin Road

Fodor's choice

This 7-mile road climbs majestically from Chisos Basin Junction to Chisos Mountains Lodge, with a spur leading to a campground. In these higher elevations you're slightly more likely to spot mountain lions and bears as well as white-tailed deer amid juniper and pinyon pines. You'll also see smooth, red-barked Texas madrone along with some Chisos oaks and Douglas fir trees. Roadside exhibits explain the various ecosystems. Because of sharp curves and switchbacks, this drive is not suitable for RVs longer than 24 feet.

Recommended Fodor's Video

Hot Springs

Fodor's choice

Follow this 1-mile loop trail to soak in 105°F waters alongside the Rio Grande (bring a swimsuit), where petroglyphs coat the canyon walls nearby. The remains of a post office, motel, and bathhouse point to the old commercial establishment operating here in the early 1900s. Along the hike, you can hear the Rio Grande at every turn, and low trees occasionally shelter the walkway. The 1.6-mile dirt road leading to the Hot Springs trailhead from Rio Grande Village Road cannot accommodate RVs and is best avoided after rainstorms. Also, don't leave valuables in your car, especially during the slow season. Temperatures can soar to 120°F, so hike in the morning or during cooler months. You can also hike to the springs via the more challenging 6-mile Hot Springs Canyon Trail, the trailhead of which is at Daniel's Ranch, on the west side of Rio Grande Village

Interpretive Activities

Fodor's choice

Ranger-guided activities are held throughout the park, indoors and outdoors, and include slideshows, talks, and walks on cultural and natural history, including wildlife and birds. Check visitor centers and campground bulletin boards for event postings, which are usually updated every two weeks.

Lost Mine Trail

Fodor's choice

Set aside about three hours to explore the nature of the Chisos Mountains along this 4.8-mile round-trip trail. It starts at 5,700 feet and climbs 1,100 feet to an even loftier vantage point that takes in spectacular, soaring peaks and colorful rock formations. There's a breathtaking view at marker 10, about a mile up—a nice photo op if you haven't time for the full hike. Try to get here early, as the parking lot is small and often fills up quickly. Moderate–difficult.

Museum of the Big Bend

Fodor's choice

This expansive history-lover's haven has exhibits representing the life and cultures of the region and sponsors an annual show on ranching handiwork (such as saddles, reins, and spurs) held in conjunction with the Cowboy Poetry Gathering each February. The map collection is renowned.

Panther Junction Visitor Center

Fodor's choice

The park's main visitor center, near the base of the Chisos Mountains, contains a bookstore and impressive exhibits on the park's mountain, river, and desert environments. An elegantly produced 22-minute film detailing the wonders of the park shows every half-hour in the theater, and there's a sprawling replica of the park's topographical folds. Nearby, a gas station offers limited groceries.

Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive

Fodor's choice

Although it extends only 30 miles, you can easily spend a full day on this winding ribbon of blacktop soaking up soaring alpine views, exploring historic sites, taking short hikes, and earning a true Big Bend education. There are scenic overlooks, a magnificent western perspective of the Chisos Mountains, informative exhibit signs, and the ruins of old homesteads. Top waysides along this route that don't take more than a half-hour or so to explore include Sam Nail Ranch, the remains of an adobe homestead in a shady grove with a creek that draws myriad birdlife; Sotol Vista Overlook, a grand promontory with sweeping views of the southwestern side of the park (including Santa Elena Canyon); and Tuff Canyon, a striking steep-walled volcanic-rock canyon. Slightly longer but highly worthwhile excursions include the 1-mile round-trip hike into a green valley to Blue Creek Ranch (aka Homer Wilson Ranch), and the 1-mile round-trip ramble to Lower Burro Mesa Pouroff, a sheer box canyon reached via a 1½-mile side road. Mile Ears Viewpoint, which entails a 4-mile round-trip hike to a gurgling desert spring, is another intriguing side adventure. If you have plenty of time and don't mind driving on a bumpy, washboard gravel road, you can make this drive a loop by reconnecting with West Entrance Road (near Highway 118) from Santa Elena Canyon via unpaved Old Maverick Road for 14 miles—allow an hour for this road, and avoid it if you're driving an RV or there's been a lot of rain.

Santa Elena Canyon Trail

Fodor's choice

A 1.7-mile round-trip crosses marshy Terlingua Creek, scales a rocky staircase, and deposits you on the banks of the Rio Grande for a cathedral-like view of stunning 1,500-foot cliff walls boxing in the river. Try to visit near sunset, when the sun stains the cliffs a rich red-brown chestnut. In clear weather, an overlook on the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive affords a panoramic view into the canyon. Summer can feel like a sauna, but you might have this secluded place to yourself, and the trail sometimes closes due to mud and flooding following heavy rains. Easy--moderate.

Alpine Gallery Night Artwalk

For two days in mid-November, the peculiar mix of ranching and artist culture that inhabits Alpine overflows the galleries and seeps into the town's main drag, Holland Avenue. Musicians play at the train depot, barbecue vendors crowd the streets, and local artists display their works in many downtown businesses.

Barton Warnock Visitor Center

Affiliated with Big Bend Ranch State Park of Texas, this visitor center offers a self-guided walking tour through a 2½-acre landscaped desert garden. It's a good way to get acquainted with the Trans-Pecos region before adventuring to either the national or state park. Also on the grounds are an interpretive center, a covered picnic area, a bookstore, and a gift shop.

Boquillas del Carmen, Mexico Crossing

If you have a valid passport, you can use this crossing, about 2 miles east of Rio Grande Village, to visit the village of Boquillas del Carmen. Check the park website for current hours, but generally the crossing is open May–October from 9 am to 6 pm, Friday through Monday, and the rest of the year from 8 am to 5 pm, Wednesday through Sunday. Once a mining boomtown that fed off rich minerals and silver, Boquillas has shrunk to a small village, but there is a restaurant and bar along with a few shops. U.S. citizens can bring back up to $200 in merchandise duty-free. To get across, you can access a $5 round-trip row boat across the river and a $3 entrance fee to enter the Mexican Protected Area that the village is located in. The remaining ¾-mile to the village can be made on foot, by donkey ($5 round-trip), pickup truck ($5), or horseback ($8).

If you do not return to the border in time, you may be stuck in Mexico for two or three days.

Castolon Historic District

Adobe buildings and wooden shacks serve as reminders of the farming and military community of Castolon, near the banks of the Rio Grande. Although a 2019 wildfire caused significant damage to the district, including the destruction of the building that housed the Castolon Visitor Center and La Harmonia general store, firefighters saved many artifacts and buildings, including the Magdalena House, which contains historical exhibits. The old Officer's Quarters building now temporarily houses the visitor center, and a temporary building contains the general store. Eventual plans call for relocating these operations permanently inside the historic Garlick House.

Castolon Visitor Center

Temporarily housed in the old Officer's Quarters building following its destruction during a 2019 wildfire, this visitor center in the Castolon Historic District contains hands-on exhibits of fossils, plants, and implements used by the farmers and miners who settled here in the 1800s and early 1900s. There's also an old adobe gallery displaying poster boards explaining the U.S.–Mexico "transparent border."

Ross Maxwell Scenic Dr., Big Bend National Park, TX, 79834, USA
Sights Details
Rate Includes: Nov.–Apr., daily 10–5; closed for lunch, Closed May–Oct.

Chihuahuan Desert Nature Trail

A windmill and spring form a desert oasis, a refreshing backdrop to a ½-mile round-trip, hot and flat nature trail; wild doves are abundant, the hike is pleasant, and kids will do just fine. Keep an eye out for the elf owl, one of the sought-after birds in the park. Easy.

Chisos Basin Loop Trail

This forested 2-mile round-trip romp that begins at 5,400-foot elevation affords sweeping views of the lower desert and distant volcanic mountains. The loop intersects with a few longer trails but offers a good sense of the basin if you have only an hour or so. Easy–moderate, elevation gain 500 feet.

Chisos Basin Visitor Center

The small but informative center, by the park's only lodge, is one of the better equipped, with an interactive computer exhibit and a bookstore. An adjacent general store has camping supplies and basic groceries. There are nods to the wild, with natural resource and geology exhibits, a map of bear and mountain lion sightings, and a larger-than-life representation of a mountain lion. The center sponsors educational activities here and at the nearby Chisos Basin Amphitheater.

End of Chisos Basin Rd., Big Bend National Park, TX, 79834, USA
Sights Details
Rate Includes: Nov.–Mar., daily 8:30–5; Apr.–Oct., daily 8:30–4; closed for lunch

Dugout Wells Area

There is a picnic table under the shady cottonwoods off the Dugout Wells Trail loop, plus a vault toilet.

Rio Grande Village Rd., Big Bend National Park, TX, 79834, USA
Sights Details
Rate Includes: No credit cards

Fort Leaton State Historic Site

The 23-acre site in Presidio County contains a thick-walled adobe fort and trading post that dates back to pioneer days. There are exhibits, a ½-mile nature trail, picnic sites, guided tours, and a store. The park is day-use only—no camping is available. The fort also doubles as a visitor center for Big Bend Ranch State Park.

Fossil Discovery Exhibit Picnic Area

This peaceful covered picnic area between the Persimmon Gap and Panther Junction visitor centers is beside the parking lot for the Fossil Discovery Exhibits. There's a pit toilet.

Main Park Rd., Big Bend National Park, TX, 79834, USA
Sights Details
Rate Includes: No credit cards

Junior Ranger Program

This self-guided program for kids of all ages is taught through a free booklet of nature-based activities (available at visitor centers). Upon completion of the course, kids are given a Junior Ranger badge or patch.

Marfa Lights Festival

This Labor Day weekend gathering celebrates the mysterious multicolor lights that appear at night in the Chinati Mountains east of U.S. 67 and south of U.S. 90, generally less than 30 times a year. Do they result from pockets of atmospheric gas? The spirits of dead Apaches? Overactive imaginations? Whatever they are, they draw curious visitors to Marfa for a parade, live music, and food.

Mariscal Mine

Hard-working men and women once coaxed cinnabar, or mercury ore, from the Mariscal Mine, located at the north end of Mariscal Mountain, in the southern reaches of the park. The mines and surrounding stone buildings were abandoned in the 1940s. If you visit, take care not to touch the timeworn stones, as they may contain poisonous mercury residue. You need a high-clearance vehicle to navigate the 20-mile road, which begins 5 miles west of Rio Grande Village; check with park rangers for current road conditions, and allow a half-day for this fascinating but remote adventure.

End of River Rd. E, Big Bend National Park, TX, 79834, USA

Persimmon Gap Visitor Center

Complete with exhibits and a bookstore, this seasonal visitor center is the northern gateway into miles of flatlands that surround the more scenic heart of Big Bend.

Big Bend National Park, TX, 79834, USA
Sights Details
Rate Includes: Daily 9:30–4, depending on staffing, Closed May–Oct.

Rio Grande Village Area

Half a dozen picnic tables are scattered under cottonwoods south of the convenience store. Half a mile away at Daniels Ranch there are two tables and a grill. Wood fires aren't allowed (charcoal and propane are).

Rio Grande Village Nature Trail

Down by the Rio Grande, this short, ¾-mile loop trail packs a powerful wildlife punch. The village is one of the best spots in the park to see rare birds, and other wildlife isn't in short supply either. Keep a lookout for coyotes, javelinas (they look like wild pigs), and other mammals. This is a good trail for kids, so expect higher traffic. Restrooms are nearby, and the trail can be done in less than an hour. The first ¼ mile is wheelchair accessible. Easy.

Rio Grande Village Visitor Center

At this seasonal center you take in the videos of Big Bend's geological and natural features at the minitheater and view exhibits on the Rio Grande.

End of Rio Grande Village Rd., Big Bend National Park, TX, 79834, USA
Sights Details
Rate Includes: Nov.–Apr., daily 8:30–4; closed for lunch, Closed May–Oct.

Santa Elena Canyon Trailhead

Two tables sit in the shade—with views toward the canyon—next to the parking lot at the trailhead. There is a vault toilet.