Big Bend at Sunset / Shutterstock Image

Big Bend at Sunset / Shutterstock Image

Shaka Guide's Big Bend National Park Itinerary


A scenic driving tour through Big Bend National Park showcasing its breathtaking natural beauty.

For those willing to make their way to this remote corner of Texas, Big Bend is one of the most rewarding national parks. You'll be surprised by the amount of diversity, with more species of bird found here than any national park.

The park also has the darkest skies, one of the most impressive fossil records, and three incredible ecosystems:

  • the Chihuahuan Desert
  • the Chisos Mountains, and
  • the Rio Grande

Put together, and you have one superlative national park. Explore towering canyons, high-elevation forests, and an international border. There's even the opportunity to cross the Rio Grande to visit a small town in Mexico.

Big Bend National Park Itinerary

You'll need a few days to explore everything the park has to offer, but with Shaka Guide's driving tour, we help you organize your day and prioritize what stops are most interesting to you.

There are two entrances to the park, as well as the tour, and the order of stops is highly customizable. The itinerary below starts with the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, then continues east to the Chisos Basin, Panther Junction, and towards the Rio Grande Village area.

1. Sam Nail Ranch

A scenic dirt path winding through Big Bend National Park, flanked by a wall and a majestic tree.Shutterstock Image

  • Duration: 15 minutes

In 1916, Sam Nail built a two-room house here, and together with his wife Nena, raised livestock, planted pecan, walnut, and fig trees, and raised a family. The trail from the road is really easy, about a half-mile round trip, and it takes you to what’s left of these orchards, and of the house.

2. Sotol Vista Overlook

Sun setting over mountains and desert at Big Bend National Park.Shutterstock Image

  • Duration: 10 minutes

This incredible view just off the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive takes in a 360-degree view of much of the western half of the park, including Santa Elena Canyon out in the distance.

3. Mule Ears Viewpoint

A breathtaking mountain range in Big Bend National Park, showcasing nature's grandeur.Shutterstock Image

  • Duration: 5 minutes

A parking lot provides an easy view of the unusual Mul Ears mountain, a volanic rock formation that looks like a pair of mule ears.

4. Tuff Canyon Overlook

Scenic canyon at Big Bend National Park with a flowing river and a solitary tree.Shutterstock Image

  • Duration: 10 minutes

Three overlooks offer a glimpse into this small canyon. A trail from the southern parking lot descends into the canyon. The hike is less than a mile round trip and takes about an hour. At the time of writing, this stop was temporarily indefinitely after some rock slides.

5. Castolon

Hotel nestled amidst vast wilderness of Big Bend National Park, offering tranquility and seclusion.Image from Flickr by 

  • Duration: 30 minutes
  • Visitor Center open 10 am-4 pm November-April.
  • Store open 10 am-5 pm daily year-round.

Explore the remnants of this early 20th-century community near the U.S./Mexico border. Buildings like the Alvino House and La Harmonia store interpret what life was like for the multicultural community that lived here 100 years ago. While you're here, check out the visitor center to learn more about the area, and stock up on snacks and supplies at the store.

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6. Santa Elena Canyon Overlook

 A breathtaking view of Big Bend National Park in Texas, showcasing its vast natural beauty and rugged landscapes.Shutterstock Image

  • Duration: 5 minutes

This easily accessible viewpoint offers a stunning view of Santa Elena Canyon's mouth.

7. Santa Elena Canyon Trailhead

A scenic river flowing through the rocky canyon of Big Bend National Park.Shutterstock Image

  • Duration: 30-60 minutes

Enjoy the mouth of the imposing Santa Elena Canyon, with walls 1500 feet high, just a few dozen steps away from the parking lot. There is a trail into the canyon, but reaching the trailhead requires a water crossing that may not be advisable in high water or heavy mud. If you do reach the trail on the other side, it's a 1.6-mile round trip and considered easy, aside from a couple of places with steps.

8. Dorgan-Sublett Trail

Ruins of old fort at trail's end in Big Bend National Park - a historic site with remnants of a bygone era.Image from Flickr by 

  • Duration: 20-30 minutes

This easy, 1-mile round trip hike takes you to the remnants of two pioneer homes belonging to the Dorgan and Sublett families. The Dorgan family's adobe house provides an interesting playground for photographers, with a stunning background vista of rock formations and the Chisos Mountains.

9. Homer Wilson Ranch

A majestic mountain peak towering over Big Bend National Park.Shutterstock Image

  • Duration: 5 minutes, or more to hike

A pulloff along the scenic drive provides access to a small observation deck to see the old Homer Wilson Ranch, what's left of a rancher's home from the early to mid-20th century. You can see the house from the observation deck, or take a 1-mile round trip hike to the house. The trail takes about 30 minutes and is considered easy, though it crosses two drainages that may flood.

10. Chisos Basin

A stunning view of Big Bend National Park, showcasing its vast desert landscape and towering mountains.Shutterstock Image

  • Duration: 1 or more hours
  • Visitor Center open 8:30 am-4 pm daily, closed for lunch
  • Store open 8:30 am-6 pm daily
  • Lodge restaurant open 7 am-8 pm daily, closed 10 am-noon

You could easily spend the day up in Chisos Basin, where the higher altitude means consistently cooler temperatures than the rest of the park. Start at the visitor center for a trail map, or the store to gear up on snacks and supplies. Grab a meal at the Chisos Mountains Lodge. Or take any of the several hiking trails. Everyone ought to take the 0.3-mile Window View Trail, a paved walkway that leads to a view of "The Window" in the Chisos Mountains. The 5-mile round trip, moderately difficult Lost Mine Trail is also popular.

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11. Panther Junction Visitor Center

Visitor Center at Panther JunctionImage from Flickr by 

  • Duration: 20 minutes

This is the primary visitor center in the park. Watch the park video, browse the gift shop, or check out the displays on the area's geography and ecosystems. You can also stroll through a garden of local plant life outside near the parking lot.

12. Fossil Discovery Exhibit

Metal dinosaur sculpture, intricately crafted with lifelike details. A testament to artistry and creativity.Shutterstock Image

  • Duration: 20 minutes

This unique outdoor museum showcases the diverse fossil collection that has been discovered in Big Bend. Browse the real and replicated fossils that span over 65 million years of history.

13. Dugout Wells

Scenic view of a majestic brown mountain against a clear blue sky.Shutterstock Image

  • Duration: 30 minutes

This oasis was once home to a school for the area's children. Today, you can take the half-mile Chihuahuan Desert Nature Trail loop that explores the oasis as well as the surrounding desert plant life. It's a bumpy dirt road off the park road to reach Dugout Wells.

14. Hot Springs Canyon Trailhead

Ancient well in river with hot spring.Shutterstock Image

  • Duration: 30-45 minutes

Along the Rio Grande is what remains of a hot springs resort from the early 20th century. The hot springs are still there, along with the foundations of the bathhouse, accessible about a half mile down the trail. There are also some buildings left from the community, creating a small historic district. Additionally, along the trail is a spot with some old pictographs. The historic district, and trailhead, are accessible down a two-mile gravel road.

15. Rio Grande Overlook

A breathtaking view of a vast canyon with a flowing river, seen from an overlook.Shutterstock Image

  • Duration: 5 minutes

This overlook stands above the Rio Grande Village area, with the greenery surrounding the river in plain sight.

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16. Rio Grande Village Visitor Center

A serene river flowing through a picturesque valley, adorned with a few charming buildings.Shutterstock Image

  • Duration: 10 minutes

Learn about the Rio Grande at this visitor center just a quarter mile from the campground. You can also get information about the Boquillas Crossing and the area's trails from a park ranger.

17. Rio Grande Village Nature Trail

A set of stairs leading up to a rocky area, providing access to a higher elevation.Shutterstock Image

  • Duration: 30 minutes

Located in the back of the Rio Grande Village campground, this 0.75-mile nature trail starts with a series of boardwalks through wetlands and then leads to the Rio Grande itself. This is an easy trail and a good one for wildlife viewing and birdwatching.

18. Boquillas Crossing

  • Duration: A couple of hours to visit Boquillas del Carmen
  • Open Wed-Sun 9 am-4 pm November-April
  • Open Fri-Mon 9 am-4 pm May-October

This official port of entry allows you to legally cross the Rio Grande and enter Mexico to visit the remote town of Boquillas del Carmen. There, you can experience a small sample of Mexican culture, eat a meal, and do a little souvenir shopping. Make sure to bring your passport!

19. Boquillas Canyon Overlook

big bend overlookShutterstock Image

  • Duration: 5 minutes

Get a sneak preview of the Boquillas Canyon from this overlook that stands right over the Rio Grande. You can also look into Mexico and catch a glimpse of the town of Boquillas del Carmen.

20. Boquillas Canyon

A scenic trail winding through lush greenery, surrounded by tall trees and a clear blue sky.Shutterstock Image

  • Duration: 45 minutes

Hike into Boquillas Canyon, with walls over 1300 feet tall, and stand on the border between the United States and Mexico. The 1.5-mile round-trip trail is easy, save for the small hill at the very beginning. The trail leads into the canyon, with the Rio Grande in the middle, the United States on one side, and Mexico on the other.

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Final Thoughts

If you only have one day in the park, we recommend exploring either the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive or the Rio Grande Village area to start and then spending the afternoon and evening in the Chisos Basin.

But, the tour is designed to take you wherever you want to go. You really can't go wrong in this incredible, and under-the-radar place. So join us in Big Bend National Park!

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big bend itinerary

Ready to take the tour? Check out Shaka Guide's Big Bend National Park Tour!

We hope that we’ve given you all the information you need to make the most of your day. Your vacation is extremely important to us so if you have any questions feel free to reach out at aloha@shakaguide.com.

For more detailed information to help you plan, check out our Big Bend National Park Know Before You Go article.


Best Things To Do in Big Bend National Park

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