Colossal mountains, rugged canyons, and radiant sunsets that reveal all the stars of the night sky. Covering more than one million acres of wondrous terrain of the Chihuahuan Desert, Big Bend is a treasure trove of endless adventure. Whether you’re hiking secluded paths to the tops of peaks, paddling along the Rio Grande River, or riding horseback through immense valleys, you’ll find more than a lifetime’s worth of things to see and do here.
With so many possibilities, it may be hard to figure out how to plan your visit to Big Bend. After all, the area’s isolation is one of its best qualities. Your first step is to read on to discover some of the top experiences the region has to offer. Then plan your visit by first coming to El Paso, the ideal starting point to any Big Bend getaway. Not only is it home to the closest major airport, affordable rental cars and hotels are plentiful, there are countless miles of hiking trails and cultural and historic sites to explore, and more. See why you should start your next Big Bend adventure in El Paso.
Canoe the Rio Grande
Feel the cool water on your fingertips and the warmth of the glowing sun as you guide your canoe through imposing canyons and past towering bluffs and astonishing rock formations. Paddling the winding Rio Grande River isn’t just one of the top things you can do in Big Bend, it’s an adventure that belongs on your bucket list. Immerse yourself in the stark beauty of the Chihuahuan Desert on a one- or two-day tour to Santa Elena Canyon, a journey that takes you between 1,500-foot-tall limestone cliffs to one of Texas’ most recognizable landmarks. Keep an eye out and you just might see an endangered peregrine falcon flying overhead or jackrabbits and deer on the banks of the river.
For a shorter excursion, opt for a half-day trip to Colorado Canyon. Full of Class I and II rapids, this adventure is a relatively easygoing exploration on which you’ll travel along the base of the Big Hill as you listen to a wide array of singing birds found in the river’s lush riparian corridor. If you’re not an experienced paddler, you should consider the Hot Springs Canyon tour. Float through picturesque canyons along gentle waters and take in stunning views of the Sierra del Carmen mountains on the way to Big Bend’s famous hot springs. Treat yourself to a relaxing soak, then paddle back to conclude this eight-hour tour.
These paddling adventures are offered by Big Bend River Tours throughout the year, except in June and on Dec. 24 and 25.
Ride Trails on Horseback
The lone cowboy riding horseback on a dusty trail set among majestic mountains is an iconic image of the American Southwest, and you can feel just like one yourself in Big Bend. Pull on a wide-brimmed cowboy hat and mount your mighty steed for a trail ride you won’t soon forget. Listen to the clip clop of your horse’s hooves as he or she ambles along well-worn trails to the tops of mesas, sites of ancient Native American pictographs and old silver mines, and through valleys full of agaves and ocotillos. Breathe in the fresh air and revel in the serenity of one of the most remote regions in Texas and you’ll feel like a cowboy (or cowgirl) in no time.
While there are many horseback riding tours in Big Bend to choose from, there are a few you won’t want to miss. Fall in love with the beauty of the desert as you watch the setting sun splash shades of orange and pink across the sky on Big Bend Stables’ romantic two-hour Desert Sunset Ride. Lajitas Stables’ Mountaintop Magic Ride is a great option of you want to get away from it all. This three-hour sojourn takes you to the top of Contrabando Mesa, where you’ll appreciate epic vistas that look straight out of a painting.
Whether you’re a seasoned rider or you’ve never climbed into a saddle, there’s a horseback riding experience for everyone in Big Bend.
Stay in Big Bend Style
There are an endless number of ways you can spend a day in Big Bend, but even the most energetic among us need to rest at some point. Fortunately, this corner of the Lone Star State is full of one-of-a-kind places where you can kick back from some high-quality rest and relaxation. With its adobe walls and refined Western charm, the historic Gage Hotel in Marathon is just as much a destination as it is a place to get some shut eye. Relax in one of 15 well-appointed guestrooms that evoke Big Bend’s pioneering spirit, go for a splash in the heated swimming pool, dine in the upscale 12 Gage Restaurant, and end your evening gazing at a night sky full of shining stars.
Located just west of Terlingua between Big Bend National Park and Big Bend Ranch State Park, the historic (and recently revived) Perry Mansion is full of Southwestern appeal. Catch a sunrise or sunset on the veranda, unwind in your room, and step outside at night to stargaze in near total darkness. If an all-in-one stay is what you seek, look no further than Lajitas Golf Resort. Along with its remarkable 18-hole golf course that follows the U.S.-Mexico border, the resort has luxurious guestrooms, four eateries, and all kinds of fun ways to keep yourself busy. Soar over canyons on a zip lining tour, show off your aim at the gun range, get a massage in the Agave Spa, and more.
Of course, these are just three of many unique places you can stay during your next Big Bend adventure.
Encounter Hundreds of Species of Birds
Mexican jays, black-capped vireos, lucifer hummingbirds, and the much sought after Colima warbler. These are just a few of the kinds of birds you just might see as you explore Big Bend, a birdwatcher’s paradise. Settled in the heart of a major migration route and home to desert, mountain, riparian, and woodland habitats, this corner of Texas is the destination for more than 450 avian species throughout the year. Although there are birding hotspots throughout the region, some places do stand out. Stepping into Post Park in Marathon is like journeying into a desert oasis. A spring-fed pond attracts all manner of feathered flyers, including red-tailed hawks, northern mockingbirds, black phoebes, and an array of woodpeckers, as well as foxes, javelinas, and mule deer.
Located in the southeastern section of Big Bend National Park on the northern bank of the Rio Grande River, the Rio Grande Village is another birding hotspot you’ll want to set aside some time for. Greet the morning sunrise on the Rio Grande Village Nature Trail for the best chance to see ducks, herons, and kingfishers, then stroll through the campgrounds for the flycatchers, gnatcatchers, and hawks. Hop in your car for a short cruise west and you’ll reach the Daniel’s Ranch picnic area, a top spot to spy northern flickers and golden-fronted and ladder-backed woodpeckers in the cottonwood trees. Don’t want to drive? Stay at The Rock House near Lajitas, a spacious guest house perched on a bluff overlooking the Rio Grande River.
If you’re a dedicated birdwatcher or a lover of nature and the outdoors, Big Bend is the place to be. Just don’t forget your binoculars at home.
Explore Magnificent Hiking Trails
Stroll among oaks and juniper trees high in the mountains or admire stunning rock formations and the flora and fauna of the Chihuahuan Desert as you explore scenic valleys and box canyons. There’s no end to what you’ll encounter as you traverse Big Bend’s more than 380 miles of trails, each of which offers its own set of adventures.
Journey into one of Texas’ most impressive canyons on Santa Elena Canyon Trail, an essential hike that ascends to a vista and runs along the Rio Grande River for a round trip of 1.7 miles. To get a taste of the Chisos Mountains’ diverse animal and plant life, traverse the Lost Mine Trail. A moderately difficult jaunt, the 4.8-mile round-trip pathway climbs into a juniper, oak, and pine forest, overlooking Casa Grande and Juniper Canyon along the way. For a relaxed exploration of the desert, opt for the 1.1-mile Grapevine Hills Trail. Follow a gravel wash past prickly pear cactuses and grand boulders to Balance Rock, one of the region’s most iconic sights.
Of course, these are just three the area’s many trails.
Satisfy Your Appetite at One-of-a-Kind Restaurants
Spend any time adventuring in Big Bend and you’ll no doubt work up one heck of an appetite. Not only are there plenty of places to refuel here, but some eateries serve up refined dining experiences that provide a true taste of West Texas. Upscale dining is the name of the game at the Gage Hotel’s 12 Gage Restaurant, where Texas-inspired specialties made with locally sourced meats and vegetables comprise the menu. Pair your meal of choice with a red or white from the extensive wine list and savor the restaurant’s abundant Western charm or enjoy a romantic evening on the patio complete with fireplaces and fountains.
For hearty eats and a lively atmosphere, Terlingua’s The Starlight Theatre has it all. Sink your teeth into steaks grilled to perfection, mesquite-smoked brisket, fresh salad, or a mouthwatering antelope burger. All the while, you can sip on specialty tequila and listen to some of area’s best live music. It’s often said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and that’s certainly true at Eve’s Garden B&B. Homemade pancakes, locally sourced eggs, cheese, and yogurt, and dishes made right from the bed and breakfast’s own organic garden afford the perfect way to start your day. You do need to be a guest to enjoy the breakfast, so book your stay today. From Lajitas to Marathon, you’ll find delicious food throughout Big Bend.
See All the Stars of the Night Sky
As the popular song goes: “The stars at night are big and bright, deep in the heart of Texas.” While that’s certainly true, you’ve never seen night skies like the ones in Big Bend. Sparse roadways and a lack of light pollution give this part of Texas some of the darkest skies in the country, with each sunset revealing a majestic display of our galaxy’s celestial wonders. Stargazing can be done just about anywhere that’s dark, but there are still a few prime destinations you should consider.
Spend the night at the Marathon Motel & RV Park and you’ll have the night sky right outside your window. Marathon is a Scale 1 on the Bortle Light Pollution Scale, meaning that on a clear night you can see the zodiacal light, gegenschein, and Messier and globular clusters are visible to the naked eye. Thanks to its remote nature, Big Bend Ranch State Park is a stargazing hotspot as well. It’s even rated as a gold tier Dark Sky Park by the International Dark-Sky Association. Watch the stars fill the night sky from a campground or get a great view from the Big Hill pull off location on River Road. No matter where you are in Big Bend, you’ll see for yourself why the stars really are big and bright here in Texas.
Awe-inspiring mountains, breathtaking canyons, and the flowing waters of the Rio Grande River create a one-of-a-kind backdrop for a host of remarkable adventures in Big Bend.