|Category: National Parks, Park: Big Bend National Park, State: Texas|
Choosing an Entrance
There are two entrances to Big Bend National Park: the North Entrance at Persimmon Gap which is 35 miles due south of Marathon on US 385 and the Maverick Entrance (West Entrance) which is around 100 miles south of Alpine and just 2 miles east of Terlingua on State Route 118. The park headquarters and the main visitors' center at Panther Junction are about 6 miles east of the Maverick (West) Entrance, where US 385 from Marathon ends. Since there are many scenic attractions and information pullouts along the entrance road (US 385) from Marathon, I recommend you drive this road at least once during your visit.
The driving distances are great in southern Texas and the Big Bend so try to fill up your auto or RV in Alpine or Marathon (pricy) before entering the national park. If you do run low during your adventures, keep in mind that you can buy fuel in the park only at Panther Junction, just west of the park headquarters, or to the east at the store near Rio Grande Village RV Park. Both gas stations are on State Route 118.
Weather and Climate
Keep in mind that Big Bend is really three national parks in one: A mountain park (5000-7900 ft); a desert park (2000-5000 ft) ; and a river park (below 2000 ft). Depending on your interests and the season, be prepared for weather that reflects these vast climactic differences.
The table below is based on average temperatures at the Panther Junction park headquarters. Temperatures in the higher mountain areas vary about 5-10 degrees below those shown, while temperatures along the Rio Grande can be 5-10 degrees higher. Sunshine is abundant most of the year. Infrequent and brief periods of cloudy weather may occur during the winter months. While snow is rare and generally light, occasional cold fronts can bring temperatures well below freezing.
Choosing a Campground
NOTE: The busy season in Big Bend is the Christmas to New Year period at which time, according to the NPS, all campgrounds may be full.
Primitive Roadside Camps
Probably the most sought after campground is Chisos Basin Campground . This moderately sized NPS campground is located at about 5,400 ft in the heart of the Chisos Mountains. As the highest and coolest and located in one of the most scenic areas of the park, this campground is one of the busiest. Some of the parks best hiking trails start near here. They lead to the parks highpoint Emory Peak or to the scenic cliffs at the South Rim. From both spots the views are unsurpassed. There are also the shorter and easier Window View and Window Trail, that starts right in the campground. And within walking distance is a visitors' center, the lodge and restaurant, and a small store. Note that the road into Chisos basin is very steep and curvy. The NPS recommends that RVs longer than 24 ft not attempt the drive in.
There are two campgrounds on the east side of the park at Rio Grande Village near the end of the east road (State Route 118) and right along the Rio Grande. One, the Rio Grande Village Campground, is operated by the park service. This is the largest in Big Bend and can accommodate everything from tents to the largest RVs. The sites are mostly quite large and widely spaced so the feeling is not crowded, even when the camp is mostly full. There are many trees and irrigated grasslands which add to the pleasant atmosphere. For those who want more peace and quiet, the eastern third of the campground is a no-generators zone. Local park attractions, only a short drive away, include a visitors' center, Boquillas Canyon Trail, and the Hot Springs Historic District, where you could grab a soak. Showers, food, and gas can be had at the village store at the close-by Rio Grande Village RV Park . This is a campground operated by a private concessionaire and is a full-hookups facility. One row of mature trees separates two rows of asphalt-paved parking spaces. The store and gas station are a short walk away.
On the west side of the park, at the end of the west road (Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive) and just past Castolon is Cottonwood Campground. This is a small, basic and low-key campground in which the NPS has forbidden generators. When I was there, small RVs and tents seemed to predominate; indeed, long RVs might find the gravel parking pads too short for level camping. Trees, grass and the near-by Rio Grande add to the pleasant ambiance. Local park attractions include Castolon Historic District, with the old store and a park visitors' center, and the Santa Elena Canyon Trail. These points of interest are only a short drive away. For the 4x4 crowd, the River Road leads a rough 55 miles all the way to Rio Grande Village to the east.
What to do when you get there?
For you campers with tougher vehicles, there is the previously mentioned River Road, plus the Old Ore Road, and the Black Gap 4x4 roads. For those of you venturing off-pavement, a check with the rangers on current road conditions is advised.
Backpacking, horse riding, rafting, photography and birding are also popular pastimes in Big Bend.
I hope this brief guide will aid you in planning your camping trip to Big Bend National Park. Whether you are an RVer who seeks the comfort of hook-ups or the jeeper with a tent looking for a flat spot on a dirt road, you will not be disappointed with Big Bend National Park.
Doug Stewart (aka Stew), enjoys adventure camping and photography. Some of his national park photos can be seen at WandertheWest.com
Stew at WanderTheWest.com