This vast national park in the Lone Star State delivers for outdoor enthusiasts. Within Big Bend National Park, you’ll find approximately 200 miles of hiking trails, more than 250 miles of paved and unpaved roads for scenic driving and countless opportunities for hiking, camping, backpacking, mountain biking, horseback riding, birding, wildlife watching and stargazing. Plus, with 118 miles of the Rio Grande River bordering the park, there are plentiful chances to take rafting, canoeing and kayaking excursions.
Perhaps one of the park’s crowning attractions, Emory Peak is a must if you’re an avid hiker. It’s the highest point in the park, affording 360-degree views. Here’s all you need to know about the Emory Peak hike Big Bend National Park.
What Is the Emory Peak Hike Like?
The 10.5-mile hike to Emory Peak is considered strenuous. You’ll begin at the Chisos Basin Trailhead and continue up the Pinnacles trail for 3.5 miles. Here, you’ll join the Emory Peak Trail. Take the 1-mile spur trail to the peak, experiencing a steep climb the last 0.25 mile or so and scramble up a rock face at the very top. Once you’re there, drink in the sweeping views. The antenna and equipment you see at the summit is part of Big Bend National Park’s two-way radio system.
What Other Hikes Should I Do in Big Bend National Park?
Chisos Basin Loop Trail
Another park favorite, this one is much shorter and more moderate than Emory Peak. It also begins at the Chisos Basin Trailhead and is 1.8 miles roundtrip. You’ll pass through pleasantly shady stands of Mexican pine, oak and juniper, with vistas of the window and mountains surrounding the basin. Look closely and you may see bear and mountain lion tracks. Birders will want to watch for Mexican jay, hummingbirds and Scott’s orioles.
Lost Mine Trail
Budding naturalists enjoy this moderate, 4.8-mile-roundtrip hike that starts at mile 5.1 on Basin Road. It showcases the flora and fauna of the Chisos Mountains. You’ll also be rewarded with stunning views of Casa Grande and Juniper Canyon, Pine Canyon and the Sierra del Carmen in Mexico.
Want more? Spend the entire day tackling the 12- to 14.5-mile-roundtrip South Rim Trail, starting at Basin Trailhead. You’ll gain 2,000 feet in elevation gain by ascending either the steeper Pinnacles Trail or the more gradual Laguna Meadows Trail. If you’d like to continue, the Northeast Rim Trail is a continuation of the South Rim Trail. Eventually, you’ll get to views of craggy Emory Peak, as well as pretty Boot Canyon.
Popular for its panoramic desert vistas, this moderate, 5.6-mile-roundtrip hike begins at Chisos Basin Trailhead. You’ll descend through Oak Creek Canyon to the Window, framed by huge cliffs. Look out over sweeping views of the Chihuahuan Desert and the lower section of the Oak Spring Trail. Keep in mind the return hike is uphill.
Boot Canyon Trail
Another option for challenge-seeking hikers, the Boot Canyon Trail runs 3.5 miles from the Chisos Basin Trailhead and then continues 2.8 miles to the South Rim. You’ll hike through the greenest part of the Chisos Mountains, with trees like the Arizona cypress that are found nowhere else in Big Bend National Park.
Blue Creek Canyon
Take the 5.5-mile Blue Creek Trail along the Blue Creek Valley floor south of Emory Peak. The trailhead is on the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. You’ll eventually link to the Laguna Meadows Trail in the mountains. The first 1.5 miles are a lovely shorter hike, passing ranch relics, an old cabin and striking rock formations and hoodoos.
Where Are the Best Scenic Drives in Big Bend National Park?
If you’d like to stick to paved roads, Chisos Basin Road is one of the best for experiencing the juxtaposition of arid desert and the mountain ecosystem. The winding road takes you 2,000 feet above the desert floor, with vast mountain and basin views. Along the way, you’ll find the Chisos Mountain Visitor Center, campground, Chisos Mountain Lodge, restaurant and miles of hiking trails.
A longer option, the 30-mile Ross Maxwell Scenic Drives highlights many of the park’s historic and geologic features as it leads you through the Castolon Historic District and Santa Elena Canyon. Stop at Sotol Vista, Mule Ears Overlook, Tuff Canyon, Home Wilson (Blue Creek) Ranch, Sam Neil Ranch and the Castolon Historic Campground.
If you’d like your exploration to feel more off the beaten path, drive along the park’s many improved gravel roads. Along the Dagger Flat Auto Trail, you’ll pass through tan desert and giant yucca forests. Or, drive the 6.4 miles down Grapevine Hills Road to the Grapevine Hills Trail leading to photogenic Balanced Rock. Hot Springs Road leads to Hot Springs Historic District, with the ruins of hot springs resort located nearby. There’s a half-mile hike to the hot springs at the end of the road.
Where Can I Go Rafting in Big Bend National Park?
Big Bend is just as famous for its miles of river exploration as it is for its secluded hiking trails. See the park’s many canyons from the middle of the Rio Grande for a fresh perspective. Keep an eye out for beavers, turtles, great blue herons and green kingfishers.
Santa Elena Canyon is the go-to overnight or three-day rafting trip in Big Bend. The put-in and take-out spots are easily accessible by car. You’ll float along between 1,500-foot cliff walls, enjoying the contrast between the riparian and desert ecosystem. The last 7 miles of the float enters the actual canyon and features the Rock Slide, a Class IV rapid.
What Else Should I See Near Big Bend National Park?
Do you love a good ghost town? Head to Terlingua near Big Bend. From here, you can see all the way to the Santa Fe de Los Pinos Mountains, over 80 miles south in Mexico, as well as the closer Chisos Mountains and Mule Ears Peak. There are lodging options, restaurants, bars, souvenir shops and even art galleries.