Who is ready to explore some of the best hikes in Big Bend National Park? Big Bend National Park is a hiker’s paradise with over 150 miles of trails on three different terrains.
It is so vast and diverse that there are three different regions within the park. The Chisos Basin (mountains), the Rio Grande Village (river), and the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive region (desert).
My guide to the best hikes in Big Bend National Park includes each region. Every hiking trail will consist of detailed information, distance, level of difficulty, and an estimated time to complete.
Ideally, you need three days in Big Bend National Park to hike the best trails. If you plan accordingly and pack your essential day hike gear, you can easily stack some trails together for one epic day of hiking!
Additionally, all of these hiking trails are easy to moderate difficulty levels. However, I have added two bonus trails for experienced hikers looking for a challenge.
Best Hikes in Big Bend National Park: Chisos Basin
The Chisos Mountains are the heart of Big Bend National Park. Therefore, this region has the most popular and best hikes in Big Bend National Park.
Lost Mine Trail
4.8 miles round trip | 3 hours | Moderate
Hiking the Lost Mine Trail is easily the most popular trail and is considered the jewel of Big Bend National Park. The trail is moderate difficulty, but because it is a fun and rewarding hike, any level of hiker embraces the challenge.
With that said, you do not have to hike to the peak to enjoy some of the park’s most beautiful views. If you do not want to hike to the top, you can hike to marker 10 (about 1 mile up) and enjoy stunning views of Juniper Canyon and Casa Grande.
The trailhead begins at a small car parking lot which fills up very fast. Only about 15 to 20 cars can park at a time. Therefore, I recommend starting this hike as early as possible. A good rule of thumb is to arrive at 7 am or before sunrise.
The Lost Mine Trail graciously ascends the mountain at a gradual incline with the help of multiple switchbacks. Hikers can stop and catch a breath at lookout points with beautiful views of the Juniper Valley and its surrounding canyons – it is a taste of what is to come at the top of the summit.
Once you reach the top, you are rewarded with breathtaking 360-degree views of the Casa Grande, Juniper Canyon, Pine Canyon, and the greater Chisos Basin.
4.8 miles round trip | 3 hours | Moderate
The Window Trail is another crowd favorite and one of the best hikes in Big Bend National Park. The trail takes hikers through various terrains to reach a “window” with a stunning view!
It should be noted that there are two different starting points to begin the trail. You can start at the Chisos Basin Trailhead by the visitor center, making the trail 5.6 miles long and 4 hours to complete. Or you can drive to the Basin Campground and begin the trail near campsite 51, making the trail 4.8 miles long and 3 hours to complete.
The hike to the window view is mostly downhill, so be prepared for a more vigorous upwards hike back to the trailhead. During the hike, you will go from hardly any shade in the desert, then through a lush forest, and finish following a creek bed with some rock scrambling within a canyon.
Once you arrive at the “window” (the canyon’s end), you are rewarded with stunning views overlooking the Chihuahuan Desert. Just be careful going towards the edge of the cliff. It is a scary and fatal drop-off.
Overall, the hike is fun and scenic through the different terrains.
Window View Trail
.3 miles round trip | 15 minutes | Easy
The Window View Trail is less a hike and more of a leisurely walk on a paved pathway. With that said, it is one of the best hikes in Big Bend National Park because it is the best place in the Chisos Basin to watch a sunset.
The stunning sunset takes place between the mountains that make a deep v-shaped “window.” As you watch the sun descend, the colors of the park will light up in hues of orange before forming a beautiful twilight mountain silhouette.
There are several benches and a stone wall to sit along the trail to watch the sunset, but I still recommend starting the trail early to secure a scenic spot. And although the Window View Trail is popular to watch the sunset, it is beautiful during the day too.
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Best Hikes in Big Bend National Park: Rio Grande Village
The Rio Grande Village is a beautiful region in Big Bend National Park with stunning overlooking views of the Rio Grande River. Visitors typically travel to this region to take a dip in the hot springs and cross the Mexico border. Both are great things to do in Big Bend National Park, but the Rio Grande Village also has some incredible hiking trails you cannot miss.
Hot Springs Historic Trail
.75 miles round trip | 30 minutes | Easy
If you spent the first day hiking in the Chisos Basin Mountains reaching high elevation and stunning panoramic views, it’s time to unwind and rejuvenate in the healing waters of the hot spring. The Hot Springs Historic Trail is a short and easy walk on a sandy trail that leads to the Rio Grande River.
On the way, you will pass historic buildings and Native American pictographs, and petroglyphs before arriving at the hot springs. Enjoy the healing waters and stunning views along the Rio Grande River before making your way back to the trailhead.
One of the best times to visit the hot springs is during sunrise. The hot springs are a popular place and can get crowded very quickly. At sunrise, the weather is perfect, and the golden hour views are beautiful.
Rio Grande Village Nature Trail
.75 miles round trip | 1 hour | Easy
If you are looking for an easy and peaceful hike with an opportunity to see wildlife (more specifically bird watching), then the Rio Grande Village Nature Trail is your answer.
This nature trail has boardwalks going over ponds through the wetlands – a fun change of pace from the mountain and canyon terrains. As you continue on the trail, you will find some of the most amazing panoramic views of the Rio Grande, Sierra del Carmens in Mexico, and the Chisos Mountains.
To put the cherry on top, I recommend visiting during sunset. In addition to the Window View Trail, this is one of the best places to watch a sunset in Big Bend National Park.
Boquillas Canyon Trail
1.4 miles round trip | 1 hour | Easy
The Boquillas Canyon Trail often gets overlooked due to the famous Santa Elena Canyon Trail, but I think it is one of the best hikes in Big Bend National Park. Moreover, the Boquillas Canyon is one of the three significant canyons located in the park – a reason itself to hike this trail.
The trail is relatively easy once you climb over a towering cliff. Once you arrive at the top, you can soak in some scenic views of the Rio Grande River before descending to a soft and sandy trail. The trail eventually leads you to the river, where the river meets the impressive Boquillas Canyon walls.
Ernst Tinaja Trail
1.6 miles round trip | 1 hour | Easy
If you have a truck or 4WD vehicle, you cannot miss this hike! The Ernst Tinaja Trail is a fun backroad adventure off the paved road.
Once you make it through the rough terrain with your vehicle, the fun continues along this easy hike. The trail goes through a slot canyon featuring a series of deep pools known as “tinajas.” These waterholes are between vibrant colored limestone beds, which help create one of the most picturesque landscapes in Big Bend National Park.
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Best Hikes in Big Bend National Park: Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive region
The Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive to Santa Elena Canyon is one of the most beautiful drives in Texas. If you start the scenic drive from Chisos Basin, it can take almost an hour and a half. Therefore, I recommend making the most of your day hiking in this region with these three trails.
Santa Elena Canyon
1.6 miles round trip | 1 hour | Easy
One of the best things to do in West Texas is hike the Santa Elena Canyon Trail. It is an easy trail with one of the most rewarding scenic views. Moreover, it is also one of the most popular and best hikes in Big Bend National Park.
Once you arrive at Santa Elena Canyon, take a moment to admire the marvelous slot canyon. It is truly an unbelievable sight to behold, and it only gets better as you hiker deeper through the canyon.
Hikers might have to tread through the water to begin the hike. Therefore, I recommend coming prepared with proper gear. You can ask the park rangers for the most up-to-date water level conditions at the visitor centers.
The trail ascends into the vast canyon, and then it is a flat and easy hike along the river bank. It eventually ends, leaving you with one last beautiful view before you need to turn around and head back.
.75 miles round trip | 30 minutes | Easy
I like including Tuff Canyon Trail as one of the best hikes in Big Bend National Park because it is an easy trail to enjoy after Santa Elena Canyon. Although Tuff Canyon is not nearly as magnificent as Santa Elena Canyon, it is still a beautiful and unique canyon to explore.
You can enjoy Tuff Canyon in two ways. One, you can hike a short loop to an overlook for a fantastic birdseye view of the slot canyon. Two, you can hike a short out-and-back trail through the slot canyon. Whichever you choose, you cannot go wrong for a lovely experience.
Balanced Rock (Grapevine Hills Trail)
2.2 miles round trip | 1 hour | Moderate
This hike is technically more in the Panther Junction area near Chisos Basin, but if you are driving to/from Chisos Basin, you can easily combine this trail with hikes in the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive region.
Out of all the hikes in Big Bend National Park, Balanced Rock is one of my favorites because it involves rock scrambling, and the unique landscape is breathtaking.
You have to drive on a tricky unpaved road to get to the trailhead. A standard compact car or SUV can get through the rough terrain, but a 4WD vehicle would be the best. Just take your time – it took us about 40 minutes in an SUV.
The trail starts on an unshaded, flat sandy wash through a boulder field until you reach the mountain of boulders. When you reach the mountain of boulders, the real fun begins. Hikers will have to do some steep and enjoyable rock scrambling to reach Balanced Rock at the top.
Once you arrive, marvel at the picturesque Balanced Rock and soak in the stunning views of the boulder field and the desert beyond.
Bonus Trails for Experienced Hikers
For those seeking a challenging hike, check out these two trails. One trail is the longest hike, whereas the other trail has the highest peak in the park. Needless to say, you cannot go wrong with either trail if you want to push yourself!
South Rim Trail
12 miles round trip | 8 hours | Strenuous
If you are looking for a challenging hike, look no further than the South Rim Trail. The South Rim Trail is, without a doubt, the longest and most strenuous hike in Big Bend National Park.
With that said, it is also one of the best hikes in Big Bend National Park. In fact, Travel and Leisure named it the best hike in Texas!
The South Rim trail leads hikers to a strenuous climb, but every step is worth it. Once you reach the 2000 ft. cliff, you are rewarded with incredible views of the park’s mountainous desert all the way to Mexico.
Emory Peak Trail
11 miles round trip | 7 hours | Strenuous
The South Rim Trail may be the longest hike in Big Bend National Park, but the Emory Peak trail has the highest peak in the park.
Although the trail is a steady incline, most of the hike is considered moderate. However, the last 50 feet of the hike is immensely challenging, with strenuous rock scrambling over boulders. When you reach the top and see two peaks, take the right side. It is the “true” highest peak and where the challenging rock scrambling begins.
Once you overcome the end of the trail, you will quickly see it was all worth it. You cannot beat the panoramic views at the top of the Emory Peak.
I hope you have enjoyed my guide to the best hikes in Big Bend National Park. This park is truly a hiker’s paradise and one of the best destinations to visit in Texas.
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