Big Bend National Park Itinerary

I love the desert environment. Big Bend National Park has been on my bucket list for a while now and in November 2022 I spent 8 days exploring the area with my husband. Below is my Big Bend National Park Itinerary:

  • November 25- Leave Baltimore and arrive at Midland/Odessa Airport and rent a car. Checked into Best Western in Stockton. On the way we visited:
    • Stonehenge Replica
    • Odessa Meteor Crater
    • Monahans Sandhills State Park
  • November 26
    • Museum of the Big Bend in Alpine
    • Terlingua Ghost Town & Cemetery
    • Drove through Big Bend Ranch State Park
    • Checked into our VRBO
  • November 27
    • Panther Junction Visitor Center
    • Drove down Grapevine Hills Road and hiked up to Balanced Rock
    • Drove down Dagger Flat Road to see Yuccas
  • November 28
    • Lost Mine Trail
    • Windows Trail
    • Drove down Painted Gap Road
    • Drove down Croton Springs Road
  • November 29
    • Drove down Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive
    • Hiked Santa Elena Canyon trail
    • Hiked Tuff Canyon
    • Hiked Mule Ears Trail
    • Hiked Chimney Trail
    • Stopped at Sotol Vista
    • Stopped at Homer Wilson Ranch
    • Stopped at Sam Nail Ranch
  • November 30
    • Did a float trip down Rio Grande with Big Bend Boating & Hiking Company
    • Stopped at Hot Springs Canyon for a soak
  • December 1
    • Went across the border to Boquillas, Mexico
    • Hiked Boquillas canyon
  • December 2
    • Went to Big Bend Ranch State Park
    • Hiked Hoodoos Trail
    • Hiked Closed Canyon Trail
    • Visited Contrabando movie set
  • December 3
    • Drove to the interior of Big Bend Ranch State Park
    • Hiked Puerto Chilicote Trail
    • Hiked Cinco Tinajas Trail

Big Bend National Park Itinerary: Day 1

We left at 8:50 am from BWI airport to Midland/Odessa Airport. We arrived at 1:30 pm and rented an SUV where we drove to see Stonehenge Replica at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin.

We then visited Odessa Meteor Crater Museum. You couldn’t even tell there was a hole in the ground. It was good to get out and stretch our feet but not worth a visit to the site.

Our last stop was at Monahans Sandhill State Park. It was really cold out so we only looked around for a minute but this park looks like it would be fun to explore on a nice day.

We stayed overnight at the Best Western in Stockton, Texas. They had a free fajitas dinner in the dining area and the breakfast was a hot buffet. I don’t usually stay at Best Westerns but I give this hotel 5 stars. Not only did we get free food but the staff was so friendly.

Day 2

We woke up to a snow covered desert! This is a rare occurrence in Texas and made for some beautiful scenery.

We drove to Alpine, TX which is the biggest town to get groceries. We stopped for some specialty items at Blue Water Natural Foods and then got regular items at Porter’s Grocery.

Afterwards we stopped at Museum of the Big Bend at Sul Ross State University in Alpine. This is well worth a stop to get an overview and history of the park.

We made an impromptu stop at Big Bend Saddlery which was fantastic. As a horse rider I could really appreciate the authenticity of this western tack shop. It’s well worth a visit to see all the cool saddles and bonus they have other western/Texas items as well!

When we got to Terlingua we went into the old town which is called Terlingua Ghost Town. This is the touristy part of the area and has over priced tourist shops along with ruins and a cool cemetery.

We couldn’t check into our VRBO for a while so we drove through Big Bend Ranch State Park main road. We had to see the Rio Grande and the Mexican border so we walked out on the floodplain and got a peek of the Mexican border.

The VRBO we rented was an Airstream RV with a large patio area for cooking and lounging. There was a large stove, grill, and refrigerator outside along with an amazing view! There was also a separate heated bathroom connected to the patio with both an indoor and outdoor shower, sink, and toilet (bottom middle picture).

For dinner that night we had cod, brussels sprouts and rice.

Day 3

Our first stop for the day was at Panther Junction Visitor Center to get an overview of the park and some maps. We drove down Grapevine Hills Road to hike 2.2 miles round trip to Balanced Rock. We saw a tarantula and a desert wren on our hike. One thing to note is that there are tarantulas EVERYWHERE! I thought it was pretty cool. We saw several crossing the road and on the trails.

We then drove down Dagger Flat Road to see different types of Yucca’s. There were numbered stops along the way where you could read about the different types of yucca and geology by using the QR code on the sign when you enter the road.

We also stopped at the Fossil Discovery Exhibit which was more for kids then adults but none the less it was educational. I’d recommend this stop if you have children.

For dinner that night we had hot dogs. We started our puzzle we had bought at the visitor center and settled in to watch National Lampoon’s Vacation.

Day 4

We woke up at 5 am to get to Lost Mine Trail by 7 am and beat the large amount of hikers that enjoy this trail. Please note that there is very limited parking. We started hiking at dawn and got back to the parking area at 10 am and 4.8 miles later. We saw deer sleeping and the birds were just started to wake up. This was not my most favorite hike at the park but it was so peaceful in the morning and seeing the sun rise from the mountains was amazing.

We still had some energy left so we decided to hike the 5.5 mile roundtrip Windows Trail. This was my favorite hike because of the amazing view at the end. We got back to the car at 12:30 p.m. This is a must do hike for your Big Bend National Park Itinerary.

Our next drive was down Painted Gap Road which is named because of the purple prickly pair cactus that is abundant along this road.

We then drove down Croton Springs Road and did a short hike down to a dry riverbed. This hike was not terribly scenic and I wouldn’t recommend it. For dinner we had hamburgers, and a potato medley on the grill.

Day 5

Today we decided to drive down Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive to the end where we hiked the 1.6 mile Santa Elena Canyon Trail. The park trail has you wading through a deep tributary of the Rio Grande and climbing up a steep cliff (see bottom right picture). If you go a little upstream you can pass a dry area of the tributary and use an unmarked path to the canyon. The canyon was absolutely beautiful. It is labeled as easy but its more like moderate.

Our next stop making our way back was Tuff Canyon. This was a short hike (maybe 1 mile) to the bottom and quite scenic.

We then stopped at Mule Ears View Point to look at the “mule ear” looking mountain.

Our last hike of the day was the 4.8 mile Chimney Trail which was relatively flat and led to some rock outcroppings where we saw petroglyphs and shelters that ancient peoples created/used. This was a long walk with no shade but well worth it.

After that we were pretty pooped and stopped off at Sotol Vista which gave a great view of almost all the hikes/places we visited so far. I highly recommend you add it to your Big Bend National Park Itinerary.

We took a quick stop to see the Sublett House exhibit. This is remnants of an old adobe house that the Sublett family built and farmed the land. We enjoyed this quick visit.

Another quick stop was at the La Harmonia Store ruins. There wasn’t much to see and we didn’t stay long.

We kept on going and stopped at Homer Wilson Ranch to look from afar and read about this farmer. We did not hike here. There wasn’t much to look at. I’d skip this stop.

Our last stop at the park was at Sam Nail Ranch which was a short walk to see remnants of farming and an old wind mill which was actually still pumping water. This was a short walk and I recommend making this stop.

We then stopped off at Shot Time Liquors to stock up on adult beverages. Dinner was salmon, brussel sprouts and leftover potatoes.

Day 6

Today was our big float trip down the Rio Grande! We used Big Bend Boating & Hiking Company out of Terlingua. We got there at 9 am to float down the Hot Springs Canyon section of the Rio Grande. You had a choice of using a canoe or a raft. We chose the canoe as that’s what we are familiar with at home.

We stopped for lunch (bring your own) and a soak at the hot springs for about an hour. We continued down some riffles with some good maneuvering from Joe to get us through them. We let out at 2:30 p.m. There were only 6 of us (including the guide) on the trip and I would recommend doing this as part of your Big Bend Trip Itinerary. I was more than happy with the company we used.

For dinner we stopped and had pizza at the Long Draw Pizza Company. This was one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had and is well worth a stop!

Big Bend National Park Itinerary: Day 7

This was my birthday! We decided to go to Boquillas, Mexico. Beforehand we went on a 1.5 mile hike to Boquillas Canyon. Joe bought tamales from a Mexican man on horseback who had come over for the day to make some extra money. There also other vendors selling trinkets along the hiking path.

The entrance to the border crossing is a one man shop with only a park ranger telling us some things we can’t bring back, checking our passport, and sending us on our way. For $5 roundtrip you can get a man to pick you up in a boat and take you across the Rio Grande.

For another $10 you can rent a burro which we did. The burros have an owner/guide who accompanies you to the town the entire time. Make sure you bring tip money for him.

He took us to one of two restaurants where I had chicken tamales and Joe had goat tacos. I had two birthday shots of tequila and we had two beers. I think the total was $36! The guide then gives you a brief tour and history of the town with stops at local souvenir stands. The whole experience was very positive. The food and drinks were super cheap as were the souvenirs. Please make sure you buy some items from the women in town which is how they support their families. Some of the things I bought were: Can coozies (hand made), a stuffed animal burro, homemade tortillas, pineapple empanadas, a scorpion made from beads, and a horse tapestry.

Joe made fajitas for dinner using our tortillas we had bought. Desert was our pineapple empanadas.

Day 8

We got a late start and left at 10:30 am to go to Big Bend Ranch State Park. We drove down FM170 and did the 1.2 mile Hoodoos trail and the 1.4 mile Closed Canyon trail.

We stopped at Big Hill to see the overlook. Our last stop in the park was at the Contrabando Movie Set. This was not worth a stop except they do have toilets.

On the way back we stopped at Lijitas General Store to buy some local pickle beer and see the goat who apparently was voted in as mayor.

We decided to stop for dinner at High Sierra Bar and Grill in Terlingua. This was a great local place with friendly staff. They even let me hook up my iPhone to play music from their speaker system. I had the nachos which were very good.

Day 9

As part of my Big Bend National Park Itinerary, I wanted to include a trip to the state park as well. We left at 7 am to go into the interior of Big Bend Ranch State Park. It was a 2 1/2 hour drive to Sauceda Visitor Center (photo below right). The ranger said we should have gotten a pass at the Barton Warnock Visitor Center but they were not open when we drove by and you can’t get a day pass ahead of time. The Sauceda visitor center has nothing to offer so I’d skip it. The “main’ road to the interior is dirt and is mostly only accessible by a high clearance vehicle. Very few people venture into the interior of the park.

We were lucky enough to see some peccaries on the way to the visitor center.

Our first hike was Puerto Chilicote trail. We were supposed to go to the West Fresno Rim loop trail (which the ranger had recommended) but we read the map wrong and ended up lost doing a 3 mile loop.

Next we hiked the Cinco Tinajas trail where we did the entire loop at 3.9 miles. Most of the hike was through a dry stream bed. It was difficult to see the rock art. We got home around 6 p.m., had leftovers and went to bed early.

Big Bend National Park Itinerary: Day 10

We left our wonderful VRBO at 10 am and drove to Midland/Odessa Airport to catch our flight back to Baltimore. I spent a lot of time planning our Big Bend National Park Itinerary and I hope it was helpful for you too! If you enjoy the desert as much as I do check out my other trips to Utah, Death Valley, and Nevada.

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