The Big Bend National Park, BBNP for absolute beginners, children and non-hikers!
The Big Bend is an 801,163 acre park at the border of Mexico, separated by the 100 mile Rio Grande River; the park is named Big Bend after the bend in the river in west Texas. The BBNP has been attracting tourists for many years, who either choose to cycle, hike, or drive miles through the park to see the beautiful mountains, waterfalls and forests.
“No fire can burn so bright, no projection can duplicate the colours that dance over the desert or the bare rock formations that form the backdrop. No words can tell you, and no painter can hold it. Its only to be visited and looked at with awe” Ledwig Bemelmans 1956.
Imagine smelling the sweet smell of bluebonnets perfuming the air as you drive through the long smooth roads, surrounded by miles of monstrous mountains; This place is not just for full time enthusiastic hikers, it’s also suitable for young children, the elderly and ofcourse photographers/artists – This is The Big Bend National Park, Texas!
In this blog we will be going over The Big Bend National Park for absolute beginners/Non-hikers telling you where to stay, where to go, what roads you can access with an RV, roads to avoid with an RV, how to get amazing photos of stars and landscapes, and finally where to hire a 4 x 4 (which is an absolute must!)
Is there anything I need to know before I go down to the Big Bend?
There are a lot of things that we come across that we wasn’t aware of before we left, and we would like to share this with you to make sure you are fully prepared!
- There is no Wifi and no service what’s so ever within a 50 mile radius away from the park, as soon as you start your way down there you will find even when you are an hour away you will not be able to make any phone calls or check on places to stay. (you can get Wifi in the park at Panther Junction, Chisos Basin, and Rio Grand Visitors centre)
- Do not rely on RV park Wifi If you need to make bookings for later on in your trip, the Wifi is also limited here too (we spent 24hours without Wifi at our RV park)
- With the above two points in mind, we would advise to Book up and make all your calls you need to do before you leave, as if there isn’t any space, you will not be able to call or email any other park as you wont have wifi or service. Once you are there you are off the Grid.
- The RV parks inside the Big Bend are booked up weeks in advance.
- First stop you should make is Panther Junction Visitors centre – or any Visitor Centre that you past first, they will give you all the information about what places are suited for you.
- The winter is still hot (esp for us Brits) it will get cold at night, as cold as -2 degrees but during February it has been 18-25 degrees. If you are planning on going in the summer be prepared, as it will be extremely hot.
- End of Winter/Spring is highly recommended as all the flowers begin to blossom.
- It will take you a long time to get through the park, the first road is 20 miles before you get anywhere so if you are planning lots in one day just take that into account.
- You can’t drive an RV over 24 foot down some of the roads, take this into account when planning your day.
- If you are a photography enthusiast take a tripod.
Do I need to be a Hiker to Visit Big Bend National Park?
Our children are 8 and 4, and not good at long walks and we spent 4 days at the park and still felt as though we could of done more! There are plenty of overlooks, mini trials, drives you can do so don’t worry if you cant walk for long you should still visit!
How Much does it cost to visit the Big Bend National Park?
It cost us $30 for a 7 day pass into the park, you can go in and out as you please for the whole 7 days.
What are the Gas/Petrol Prices at Big Bend National Park?
Gas is very expensive at the Big Bend, Marathon was at $3.79 and Sturdy Butte was $2.77 so I would suggest waiting until you got to Sturdy Butte before you fill up. There is another in the park at Panther Junction if you are getting empty.
Where can I sleep over night with an RV in Big Bend National Park?
Rio Grand Village is a very popular RV site, if you cant get booked up there (we would advise booking well before you arrive as this one is always fully booked) any of the RV parks along the 118 from Sturdy Butte/ Terlingua, or within the Ghost Town (approx. 5 mile radius around that area) is a great “base”. Unfortunately we didn’t realise that we would need to book beforehand, and we ended up in a beautiful RV park called Terlingua Ranch, we had 2 nights here. It was within the mountains, absolutely fantastic stars to see, but it was down a long 16 mile road to nowhere, and then 3 miles off road! We had to drive 30 miles before ending up anywhere near the park.
We then stayed at Big Bend Rv Resort and Adventures, which is a lot closer to big bend national park, we opted for dry camp at $20, and our last night we asked to hook up so we could dump/get water. This cost $39.
How many days should I plan to spend at Big Bend National Park?
We spent 5 nights at the Park and we found something to do and see everyday – and this did not include hiking, you can easily drive around in a day and see a few spots but if you want to explore and see some back roads we would suggest at least 3 days.
Can I drive my RV round the whole of Big Bend National Park?
We were unaware of the difficulties driving around Big Bend with an RV/ motorhome until we arrived. We just assumed we could turn up, find a spot and that’s it. You can only drive on around 2 roads with an RV over 24 foot – for example you can’t get to Chisos Basin (access to the Window) with a larger vehicle, or close up to the Hot Springs. These routes are either full of sharp twists and turns, or off road. We were advised not to drive down Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive but we found that ok with our RV which is 28 foot.
If you are wanting to explore more of the park and have an RV over 20 foot we would highly recommend renting a 4×4 Jeep!
How do I rent a Jeep and what Roads can I drive down off road at Big Bend?
We rented a Jeep from “Far Flung” which is along the 170, off of the 118 (opposite the Petrol Garage, and RV Park) They charge $189 for a days hire from 9am to 7am the next day. It sounds like a lot, but honestly this was by far the best day of our travels so far! We left our RV in their carpark, and picked up our RV at 6pm (posted the keys in the letter box)
Our first trip was off to the Window, driving down Chisos Basin Road, this road has sharp turnings, and is not recommended for RVs over 24 foot. We then travelled down a road called Glenn Springs Road, onto River Road East towards the Hot Springs. The map says its around 22 miles, but this thrilling off road drive took us around 3 hours, and was unforgettable! The Road is very off road so do not attempt this unless you have a 4 wheel drive, you will drive along narrow roads full of gravel and stones hanging over a cliffs edge! The views are spectacular and felt like we were ontop of the world.
Subscribe to our Youtube channel for a video on our jeep adventure: The England Family Travels
I am not a Hiker what Trials can I go on at the Big Bend National Park?
We went to the following:
- Talinguar Ghost Town before Big Bend off 118, along the 170
- Santa Elena Canyon Trail – 1.2 miles 1 hour (but we just walked ¼ mile to the river/opening)
- Chisos Basin Over Look Trial – 0.5 miles ¼ hour walk
- Hot Springs – 1 mile ½ hour walk
- Rio Grand Overlook – Park and look
- Boquillas Canyon Overlook – Park and look
- River Road East Scenic River (4x4s only) Scenic Drive with a Jeep
- Boquillas Del Carmen Port of Entry to Mexico
You could do but we run out of time; Basin Loop – 1.8 miles one hour walk, Sam Nail Ranch – 0.5 miles half hour walk, Fossil Discovery – 0.2 miles 15 minutes walk, Rio Grande Village Nature Trial – 1.2 miles 1 hour walk
Is it worth doing the Boquillas Del Carmen Port of Entry to Mexico?
We were not sure if we wanted to go across to Mexico –
- We were not sure if it would be safe for children
- We were told by others its just a old run down town and there is nothing to see
The Port of Entry to Mexico was probably the most random day we have ever experienced, ever! and so glad we did it! You start off by showing your passports at the Port at Texas (this is only open Wednesday – Sunday 9-5pm) You then go to the river, get onto a small rowing boat. The little Mexican man will then row you over the river (approx. 30 seconds) when you get to the other side you are then Mexico – you can choose from walking ¼ mile, or taking a DONKEY ride to town. If you opt for a donkey you will also get a guided tour, we had a man called Lopo, he was fantastic!
On our return we had to check in in Texas like you do at the airport, but via one of them digital passport machines, a camera and a telephone call – also a very strange experience!
There isn’t a lot to see in town (people are right) just a few old Mexican restaurants and lots of locals trying to sell handmade items – but the experience of being about to hop over to another country in 30 seconds, and doing that via a boat and a donkey is an experience like no other!
You must do it, but remember if you go over there on a Sunday, and miss the last boat back you’ll be in Mexico until the Wednesday.
Subscribe to our Youtube channel for a video on the crossing – The England Family Travels https://youtu.be/I2vlV382tyQ
Will I see Stars?
Pictures abov: 1st picture just after sunset, 2nd picure 2-3 hours after sunset.
When it gets dark, look up and you will see millions of stars; there isn’t any light pollution at the Big Bend so you will be able to see the Milky Way. If you would like to photograph the stars, you will need a tripod with you, and preferably a Mirrorless camera – I have a Sony 7 II its absolutely fantastic!.
To achieve the photos below I set my Sony camera up using the following settings:
– Photo Style: Night Sky
-Shutter Speed “25
-I have a 14mm 2.8 Stigma Lens so I was able to put the F stops right down to 2.8, if you have other lenses just put it to the lowest F stop possible (usually F4.5)
Point the camera up at the sky, on the tripod and take the photo! You might have to adjust the settings depending on the outcome. Please comment below if you have any other photography questions.
Before you leave, don’t forget to take a visit to Talingua Ghost Town
Driving through the local Ghost Town is a very unique experience, lots of old fallen down derelict buildings contrasting with new buildings, and residence staying in teepees, cool RVs and some of the old buildings! If you fancy eating there, we ate at Starlight Restaurant and Saloon www.thestarlighttheatre.com it has a calming atmosphere tables with candle light and warming décor. We were there on a Thursday evening, as the sunset, with live music playing – it felt as though we were somewhere else intown! Our food was absolutely perfect, probably the best meal we have had yet! Highly recommended.
The Big Bend is a must on your to do list while visiting Texas, its suitable for all ages/abilities and is rated one of the top place to go to escape every day life. The vast contrast between mountain, desert, and river will dazel you, the bendy roads will excite you and the nature will amaze you. If you are one of them that are able to trek miles to the top of mountains, the views will be out of this world.
If you are going to the Big Bend or have been and want to add please comment below.