Each of the park's zones has its own appeal. The east side offers demanding mountain hikes, border canyons, limestone aplenty, and sandy washes with geographic spectacles. Westside trails go down into striking scenery in the Santa Elena Canyon and up into towering volcanic landforms. Descend into gorges, arroyos, and springs or ascend into the must-see scenic windows of Grapevine Hills. The heart of the park has abandoned mines, pine-topped vistas, scrub vegetation around the Chisos, and deserts lying just below soaring Chisos Mountain aeries. Carry enough drinking water—a gallon per person daily (more when extremely hot).
While Big Bend certainly has "expedition level" trails to test the most veteran backpacker, many are very demanding and potentially dangerous—attempt these only if you're quite experienced. The trails we've included here are best suited to moderately active hikers, but a few easy ones are appropriate even for novices and young kids.
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. While you're there, keep an eye out for the elf owl, one of the sought-after birds on the Big Bend's "Top 10" list. Easy. Hwy. 118, Big Bend National Park, Texas, 79834.
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, even when lingering. The first ¼ mile is wheelchair accessible. Easy. Big Bend National Park, Texas, 79834.
Window View Nature Trail. This 0.3-mile round-trip paved nature trail is wheelchair accessible and great for little ones. Take in the beautiful, craggy-sided Chisos and look through the V-shape rock-sided "Window" framing the desert below (you can hike to this very point via the quite rewarding, moderately difficult 5.6-mile round-trip Window Trail, which is accessed from the same trailhead). This self-guided trail, which is especially captivating at sunset, is easily accomplished in 20 minutes. Be on the lookout for wild javelina, which occasionally root through here. They're not normally aggressive, but give them a respectful distance. Easy. Big Bend National Park, Texas, 79834.
Chisos Basin Loop Trail. A forested area and higher elevations give you some sweeping views of the lower desert and distant volcanic mountains on this 1.6-mile round-trip. The loop intersects with a few longer trails. The elevation at the trailhead is 5,400 feet. Set aside about an hour. Moderate, elevation gain 500 feet. Big Bend National Park, Texas, 79834.
Hot Springs Historic Trail. An abandoned motel and a bathhouse foundation are among the sights along this 1-mile loop hike. The Rio Grande is heard at every turn, and low trees occasionally shelter the walkway. The trailhead is accessed via unpaved 1.6-mile Hot Springs Road. It's not suitable for RVs, but most cars can navigate it in dry conditions. Temperatures can soar to 120°F, so hike in the morning or during cooler months. Bring your swimsuit so that you can soak in the 105°F springs along the way. 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. Easy–moderate. Big Bend National Park, Texas, 79834.
Lost Mine Trail. Set aside about three hours to leisurely 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. The breathtaking view at marker 10, about halfway up, is a worthy destination in itself. Moderate–difficult. Big Bend National Park, Texas, 79834.
Santa Elena Canyon Trail. A 1.6-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. Easy–moderate.. Big Bend National Park, Texas, 79834.