Road to Chisos Mountains/ Shutterstock Image

Road to Chisos Mountains/ Shutterstock Image

Best Things To Do in Big Bend National Park


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

Jaw-dropping canyons, endless desert landscapes, and more await you at Big Bend National Park.

Pretty much everybody is far removed from this beautiful corner of the country.

But you’ll enjoy an under-the-radar national park while also avoiding the crowds.

And through it all, you’ll discover what makes Big Bend National Park a truly special place.

Let’s talk about things to do in Big Bend.

Why is it called Big Bend National Park? 

Big Bend gets its name from the course of the Rio Grande. It’s in this region that the river heads southeast from El Paso, and then ‘bends’ northward dramatically, creating a triangle of land in Western Texas known as the Big Bend. Big Bend National Park is located on the southernmost tip of this region.

1. Marvel at Enormous Canyons

Scenic view of Big Bend National Park in Texas showcasing rugged mountains, desert landscape, and winding river under clear blue sky.Santa Elena/ Shutterstock Image

What many people come to do in Big Bend is to enjoy the park’s impressive canyons. Along with many smaller canyons in the desert, there are three primary canyons carved by the Rio Grande:

  • Mariscal
  • Boquillas, and
  • Santa Elena

Accessing Mariscal Canyon requires a long, remote drive with a 4WD vehicle, so it is not on our Shaka Guide’s Big Bend National Park Tour.

But no journey to Big Bend would be complete without a visit to at least one of the other two.

Unlike the Grand Canyon, where you stand at the top and look down, the canyons here are viewed at the bottom.

Santa Elena Canyon is the most well-known, with walls towering 1300 feet above you.

Only slightly smaller is Boquillas Canyon, clear on the other side of the park.

Both are awe-inspiring to look at, as you stand at the border of the United States and Mexico.

2. Enjoy a Desert Hike

A scenic view of a river winding through majestic mountains, creating a picturesque landscape.Shutterstock Image

There’s no shortage of hiking trails throughout Big Bend. Look for wildlife at the Rio Grande Village Nature Trail. Enjoy an incredible sunset from the Window View Trail, up in the Chisos Mountains. Or identify desert plants at Dugout Wells.

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3. Soak in a Hot Spring

Ancient well standing in the river, showcasing its historical significance and enduring presence.Shutterstock Image

Drive down a narrow, gravel road and you’ll be rewarded with the Hot Springs Historic District, dating back to the early 20th century.

Here, along the Rio Grande, you can explore what remains of a small community.

But the big draw here was, and is, a natural hot spring.

While the original bathhouse is long gone, the spring is still there, and you’re welcome to sit inside and enjoy. 

4. Explore Three Unique Ecosystems

Scenic view of a mountain range with lush green valleys and winding rivers.Chisos Mountains/ Shutterstock Image

Big Bend is home to three very different ecosystems, leading to an incredible diversity of wildlife and plant life.

The most obvious ecosystem is the Chihuahuan Desert, which is cooler, wetter, and more diverse than any other desert in North America.

You’ll drive through patches of ocotillo, sotol, and prickly pear cactus as you make your way to your next destination.

But in the middle of this desert, the Chisos Mountains stand, known as a sky island.

Here, the climate is cooler and wetter than the desert below, which means you’ll find pine forests instead of desert scrub. 

Lastly, the Rio Grande provides a critical water source in this remote desert climate.

Cottonwood trees, bushes, and other plant life support migrating birds and insects, as well as resident critters like javelinas and deer.

5. Discover the Area’s History

A scenic dirt path winding through lush foliage, with trees and bushes creating a serene natural setting.Sam Nail Ranch/ Shutterstock Image

Scattered across the park are historic sites interpreting the area’s late 19th and early 20th-century history.

You’ll find ruins of houses, like on the Dorgan-Sublett Trail. Or what remains of ranches in places like the Sam Nail Ranch.

Abandoned communities, mining sites, and more await the traveler looking to understand the area’s cross-cultural history.

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6. Drive the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive

You don’t even need to leave the car to enjoy the evocative desert landscape of Big Bend.

Throughout the park, wide-open views and endless horizons will treat you.

But the best area to drive is the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, on the west side of the park.

The road winds past the Chisos Mountains and through rock formations down to the Rio Grande until it terminates at the mouth of Santa Elena Canyon.

Along the way, there are historic sites, overlooks, and hiking trails should you choose to accept a small side adventure.

7. Visit Another Country

A rocky mountain landscape with jagged peaks and boulders scattered across the terrain.Shutterstock Image

Located on the southern border of the United States, Big Bend National Park grants visitors an opportunity that few other national parks have: the ability to visit another country.

Within the park is the Boquillas Crossing, an official Port of Entry where you can safely and legally cross the border into Mexico.

On the other side of the Rio Grande is the small village of Boquillas del Carmen.

While there are few tourist attractions there, you’re able to grab a drink or a bite to eat, and do a little souvenir shopping.

It’s certainly one of the most unique experiences within the National Park Service! 

8. Take Shaka Guide’s Big Bend National Park Tour 

Directions to the closest gas station using Google Maps.

Our Shaka Guide tour of Big Bend will take you to all of the park’s highlights, as well as some of the lesser-known spots.

The tour is very customizable, meaning you can explore the park in whatever order you want.

Of course, we’ll help you out with suggestions and trip-planning advice, as well as relevant stories and information about the park.

With our tour, you’ll be an expert on Big Bend by the end of the day.

Is Big Bend worth the trip?

It’s a long drive from anywhere to reach Big Bend National Park. But the combination of scenery, history, and diversity make the effort well worth the journey.

And because of its remote location, Big Bend doesn’t get anywhere near the number of visitors of sister National Parks like Yosemite or the Great Smoky Mountains. That’s reason alone to enjoy this corner of the United States.

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Is Big Bend National Park safe?

With its location right on the border with Mexico, some might see concerning reports on the news and wonder if Big Bend is a safe place to visit.

Big Bend is a long way away from the busy border crossings, with the Mexican side just as remote as the American side.

Border Patrol is present in the park as well. So Big Bend is no less safe than any other national park.

What kind of wildlife is in Big Bend National Park?

Big Bend National Park is one incredibly diverse place, with more species of birds than any other national park.

Though the bird you’re most likely to see is the charismatic roadrunner.

Up in the mountains, elk, mule deer, mountain lions, and bears seek refuge from the hot desert below.

And throughout the desert, you may even find stray farm animals as they search for some good grazing. 


A person standing on a rock overlooking a river, surrounded by lush greenery and a clear blue sky.Shutterstock Image

Whether you enjoy a scenic drive, a good hike, or learning about a region’s history, Big Bend National Park is a remarkable gem and a worthy addition to anybody’s bucket list of destinations.

Let Shaka Guide take you on a journey through time and space in West Texas.

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 Itinerary and Know Before You Go article.

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