American Nomad Blog
About this blog
American Nomad covers the best of U.S. travel—from vacation deals to festivals, weekend getaways, travel tips, and more. A seasoned traveler and Moon author, Laura is the perfect guide to help discover new gems when traveling domestically.
- A Southern Girl's Wintertime Adventure in Yellowstone
- One Novelist's Odyssey Across America
- Gearing up for a Family Camping Trip
- Mint Juleps and More at Oak Alley Plantation
- Avoiding Identity Theft While on Vacation
- Money-Saving Travel Tips from Nomadic Matt
- Fashion, Fun, and Convenience for the Modern Traveler
- In Search of Irish Museums Across America
- The Inspiring Journey of a Solo Kayaker
- Getting Fit for Treks in Yosemite and Elsewhere, Part 2
- Getting Fit for Treks in Yosemite and Elsewhere, Part 1
- Experiencing Yosemite with YExplore
- Two Travel Contests Worth Mentioning
- A Word About the TSA's No-No List
- A Reader's Advice About Airport Security
Exploring the Lone Star State's Big Bend
Given the enormous size of Texas, it probably comes as no surprise that travelers will find a wide array of diversions here, ranging from the assorted cultural attractions of cities like Austin and Dallas to the numerous recreational hideaways in more hard-to-reach places, such as Guadalupe Mountains National Park in the western part of the state and South Padre Island near the southern tip. Like South Padre, which isn't the kind of place that you typically encounter on your way to somewhere else, Big Bend National Park (P.O. Box 129, Big Bend National Park, TX 79834, 432/477-2251, 24 hours daily, $20 vehicles, $10 individuals, children under 16 free) is another Texas attraction that requires an intended detour to access it. If you're looking for solitude and adventure, though, you can't go wrong with the Lone Star State's Big Bend, situated in the remote southern dip on the state's western side, roughly 40 miles south of the town of Marathon and just north of the Mexican border.
Nestled along the northern side of the Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River – the “big bend” of which gives the park its name – this particular preserve offers a wealth of outdoor activities, no matter when you plan to visit. Of course, the fall and spring seasons tend to be the most pleasant. Summers, after all, can be uncomfortably hot (especially in May and June), while snow and ice are possible during the winter months. Before heading to Big Bend, contact the park's weather information hotline (432/477-1183) to be prepared for all conditions.
Although November-to-April tends to be the park's busy season, you'll discover that Big Bend is rarely crowded. The park, after all, encompasses more than 800,000 acres, ranging in elevation from 1,800 feet at the Rio Grande to 7,832 feet in the Chisos Mountains. Besides oodles of remote backcountry, there are five developed areas here: Panther Junction Area, which includes the park headquarters and main visitor center (8 a.m.-6 p.m. daily), plus a convenient gas station; Chisos Basin Area, an elevated locale that offers a visitor center (8:30 a.m.-4 p.m. daily), a restaurant, a camping store, and the 60-site Chisos Basin Campground ($14 nightly); Persimmon Gap Area, a northern gateway that boasts its own picnic area and seasonal visitor center (9 a.m.-4 p.m. daily Nov.-Apr.); Rio Grande Village Area, a wintertime spot close to the Rio Grande River that provides a seasonal visitor center (8:30 a.m.-4 p.m. daily Nov.-Apr.), the 100-site Rio Grande Village Campground ($14 nightly), a 25-site RV campground with full hookups ($29 nightly), and a camping store; and Castolon Area, which features a seasonal visitor center (10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily Nov.-Apr.), the year-round, historic La Harmonia Store, and the nearby Cottonwood Campground ($14 nightly).
Whichever area you choose to explore, you'll find this dramatic landscape ideal for numerous diversions. Bird-watchers, for instance, will enjoy seeking out the more than 450 kinds of bird species that dwell or migrate here, from the Colima warbler to the Lucifer hummingbird, while other outdoor enthusiasts might appreciate bicycling along the roughly 260 miles of dirt and paved roads, taking a river trip down the Rio Grande, or stargazing at night. In addition, hikers will encounter more than 150 miles of varied hiking trails, from a short walk through the Castolon Historic District to the strenuous, 14.5-mile South Rim Trail.
For a less rugged experience, visitors might also relish taking one of several scenic drives through the desert, such as the 30-mile-long Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, which leads through the Chisos Mountains, passes the Castolon Historic District and Santa Elena Canyon (pictured above), and ends at the Rio Grande. You can also join a ranger-led program, which is free and offered daily; programs range from guided hikes to educational workshops. As with many other national parks, however, exploring the backcountry is the truest way to embrace Big Bend, whether you're a solo backpacker or part of a group of horseback riders. Just remember that, if you plan to stay overnight in the backcountry, you'll need to secure a $10 permit (in person) before embarking upon your trip. Take into account, too, that the desert can be cold at night and that Big Bend National Park sits alongside the volatile U.S.-Mexico border, so it pays to be aware of your surroundings at all times.
If you plan to visit Big Bend several times per year, you might consider purchasing a $40 annual pass; note, too, that all federal land passes are issued and accepted at the park. For more advice about traveling through the Lone Star State, consult Andy Rhodes's Moon Texas – a treasure trove of practical tips and helpful suggestions for exploring one of the largest and most diverse states in America.
As always, I’m open to ideas for future posts. If you have any suggestions, burning questions, or destinations that you’d like me to explore in greater detail, please comment below or contact me via laura [at] wanderingsoles [dot] com.
Disclosure: While I occasionally accept free or discounted travel assistance when it coincides with my editorial goals, my opinion is never for sale, which means that everything written in my American Nomad blog and Moon travel guides is my unbiased reflection of the things that I see, do, and experience while traveling across the United States.