Big Bend National Park, located in southwest Texas right by the Mexico border is a great destination to check out, especially in the winter months.
About the Park
Some visitor centers are closed in the summer because it gets so hot. We went during the month of November and it was perfect. There are over 150 miles of trails to explore in this park and over 200 miles of the Rio Grande River. If you are interested in being on the water, you must bring your own kayak, canoe, etc. or rent from a company near-by. The NPS does not rent them or any concessionaires in the park.
There are tons of day-hiking opportunities for all levels and also backpacking. The two most popular backpacking trails are the South Rim Trail and the Outer Mountain Loop.
The South Rim Trail takes two days but some people do this hike in one day and you have to go about 15 miles with 4,000 feet of elevation gain and loss. It would be a tiring day and you could possibly be hiking out at night. Be prepared if doing this and bring a head-lamp.
We chose to go backpacking and the rim was really rewarding in the morning. When we woke up, we walked to the rim and saw clouds covering the whole base of the surrounding land, as far as you can see, with just the peaks popping up out of the clouds. It was majestic and by far the prettiest sight I have seen in a while. With this hike, you climb 2,000 to get to the rim and the rim loop is about five miles, so for five miles you get vista after vista on the surrounding mountains.
The other popular backpacking loop is the Outer Mountain Loop which takes three days or more depending on if you are adding on any side trails. This one is a little tougher because there is little to no water in the park so you have to carry all of it. Luckily though, there are two spots you can cache your water so you do not have to carry three days worth of water. I highly recommend you do this!
Both of these loops have no water, so even on the rim loop you will be carrying your water for two days. Plus, both of these loops have the option of taking a side trail to the highest point in the park, Emery Peak. Both of these loops are scenic and they are both right by each other. Basically the outer loop is just a bigger version of south rim.
For a hiking book on the best hiking in Big Bend, click here.
Going into Mexico
From this park, there is a port of entry that goes into Mexico. The experience was unforgettable and it was my favorite border crossing I have ever done. You drive to Boquillas border crossing, there are signs in the park. Then you go to the border crossing on our side where you will literally get a “tour” on what to expect when you cross the border. I never felt more prepared crossing a border in my life, and they don’t do this because it is dangerous either. They just have the resources and the time and in my experience, border patrol was very nice and treated us with the utmost respect. It was great! He explained everything we had to do and don’t worry, it’s very easy.
We took the easy short walk to the Rio Grande River, right from the border patrol. There was a Mexican waiting right on the river with a row boat. It costs five dollars per person. Then there were more Mexicans waiting for us to either walk into town on a flat easy trail that is less than a mile, or choose to rent a donkey or a horse and ride them into town using the same trail. If you rent a donkey or a horse, it costs five dollars per person as well. I think the horse was a couple dollars more, maybe 7 or 8.
You ride or walk into town and now you have to go to the border crossing in Mexico. It’s very easy. You fill out a tourist card and get your passport stamped, and then you are free to do whatever. The town of Boquillas is not big at all! There are two restaurants, one bar, and just little shops with pretty much all the same stuff in all of them. That is it. Most people spend just a couple hours here and go right back to the US, which is what we did as well.
We ate at a restaurant and because only “tourists” go here, they actually charge quite a lot for the food and the drinks because they know we can afford it. I thought that part kind of sucked but the experience was still great. It is really beautiful because you are right along the Rio Grande. You get to experience some of their culture. Be prepared for some hassling. They are not afraid to ask you for a tip. They think we have all this money in the world. We were there for maybe two hours and ended up spending 50 dollars. The money goes by quick because everybody wants your money. If you don’t want something just say “no gracias” and walk away.
If you do get a donkey or a horse, they say it is only five dollars still if you want round-trip. That is true, but the “guide” will stay with you the entire time you are in town. The guide will walk with you to town, go with you to the border patrol, stay with you while your eating, drinking, etc. and naturally you feel rushed and you start to feel bad. He will want a tip for staying with you for that long as well so if you don’t want to deal with all of that, just get the one-way donkey ride. Then you can easily take the short walk back.
There is a trail called “The Window” and “The Window View Trail.” If you like sunsets, the “Window View Trail” is supposedly the best sunset viewing spot in the park. We checked it out one night and it was good, but not great. I guess it is a hit or miss though. If you take the “Window Trail” that is a four mile trail. The “Window View Trail” is .2 miles with a sidewalk.
I definitely enjoyed my time here in this park. There is a lot to do here, even hot springs which I failed to mention. There are quite a few campgrounds here and they generally don’t fill up except on long weekends, spring break and holidays.
Hope this helped and hope you enjoy this park as I did.