Camping World’s Guide to RVing Big Bend National Park 9674

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Big Bend National Park is one of the most unique and remote national parks in the country. Even though visitation has increased in recent years, its remote nature makes it one of America’s least-visited parks. 

So, if you’re tired of crowds at other national parks, Big Bend is the perfect place to go RVing this year. Although it’s remote, the drive to Big Bend is well worth it. Once you arrive, you’re greeted by an enormous 801,163-acre park with plenty of reasons to stay awhile. 

Why Visit Big Bend National Park in an RV?

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Big Bend has an incredibly diverse landscape: mountains, desert, rivers, forests, and even waterfalls. The unique landscape is home to more than 1,200 plant species and more than 450 documented bird species.

The park also includes the largest protected Chihuahuan Desert region in the country and the southernmost mountain range in the U.S. The highest point in the park is Emory Peak, which stands at 7,825 feet above sea level. 

The remoteness of Big Bend also means a serious lack of light pollution, which is a stargazer’s dream. Whether you’re camping in the high country or down in the desert, make sure to look up once the last light from the sun fades away.

Visiting Big Bend in an RV is a major advantage because the park is so large. You can spend a few days in a developed campground in one part of the park and then snag a primitive roadside site to see another area. 

The only downside to RV camping here is that some roads aren’t accessible to all RVs. Larger rigs will be limited to the park’s developed campgrounds, but smaller campers with four-wheel drive and higher clearance can enjoy Big Bend’s more remote boondocking locations.

When to Visit Big Bend National Park

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Big Bend National Park is open year-round, but peak seasons occur during the spring and fall. Some people prefer to beat the crowds by visiting during the winter or summer, but you’ll need to be prepared for extreme weather during these times of the year. 

It’s important to remember that a desert is always an environment of extremes. Temperature swings can be dramatic from day to night and from the park’s higher elevations to the lower regions. 

Average temperatures can also tend to be up to 10 degrees cooler up in the mountains and up to 10 degrees warmer in the lower desert parts of the park. Keep this in mind when planning your trip and check the park website for the updated weather conditions before your visit. 

Big Bend National Park in the Spring

The desert flowers bloom sometime between March and April, making spring the most popular time to visit the park. Average daytime highs range from 70 to 90 degrees in the spring. Nighttime lows average between 45 and 65 degrees. 

Spring is actually relatively dry in the park as well, with the average cumulative precipitation not topping more than two inches until later in May. The park’s mountainous regions always tend to receive more precipitation than the desert areas. 

Big Bend National Park in the Summer

Summer brings extreme temperatures to the park. Daytime highs regularly reach 100 degrees early in the morning and remain in the triple digits well into the evening. Summertime lows can still dip into the 70s overnight. 

This means that shade and hydration are at a premium if you visit Big Bend in the summer. Never begin a hike in the heat of the afternoon and always pack extra water for all outdoor adventures. It also helps to make sure your A/C is working before your visit.

Big Bend National Park in the Fall

Smaller crowds and comfortable weather make September to November a great time to visit Big Bend as well. Average daytime highs range from 70 to 85 degrees and nighttime lows are usually between 45 and 65 degrees. 

Fall weather can also be unpredictable and the chances for precipitation increase. Pack rainproof and insulating layers when hiking here in the fall, especially at high elevations. 

Big Bend National Park in the Winter

In the winter, temperatures can dip below freezing and the park’s highest peaks (some above 7,000 feet) do occasionally receive snowfall. Daytime averages are in the 60s and nighttime averages are in the mid-30s. 

This doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy what the park has to offer during the winter, but you may need all-terrain tires and four-wheel drive to handle inclement weather. Also, select park roads facilities may shut down during the winter, so be sure to check the website for the latest closure alerts before heading into Big Bend.

Where RVers Can Stay

There are four main campgrounds inside the park that are suitable for most RVs. You’ll need to make reservations well in advance, they are the best place to stay to experience amazing stargazing and enjoy close proximity to the park’s many attractions. 

Here are the four developed Big Bend campgrounds:

The Village RV Park is operated by Forever Resorts and it is the only location with full hookups. The remaining campgrounds are maintained by the park service and offer drinking water and restrooms. Dump stations are available in Rio Grande Village and Chisos Basin. 

There are also primitive roadside campsites in the park, but they are generally inaccessible to most RVs and travel trailers. These sites are designated along specific backcountry roads and generator use is prohibited in all locations. Visit the Big Bend website to learn more about primitive roadside camping in the park. 

Tips For Booking a Campground in Big Bend National Park

  • All developed campgrounds require advance reservations 
  • Reservations for Rio Grande Village RV Park can be made by calling 1-432-477-2293
  • Reservations for Cottonwood, Chisos Basin, and Rio Grande Village must be made through Recreation.gov
  • The maximum RV length for Chisos Basin is 24 feet and the maximum trailer length is 20 feet
  • RVs under 30 feet and trailers under 25 feet may be able to access certain primitive campsites depending on location and road conditions
  • Permits for roadside sites are available up to 180 days in advance and can be obtained via Recreation.gov
  • The maximum stay in a developed or primitive site is 14 days
  • Visitors are limited to a maximum of 28 total nights in the park in a calendar year

Staying Outside The Park

You will also have the option of camping outside the park and driving in for day trips. Because of the park’s size and few gas stations, this is really best for folks with travel trailers, fifth wheels, or those towing a vehicle behind their RV. 

These Good Sam campgrounds nearby are great if you need cell service or WiFi and are willing to drive into the park for day adventures. They are also great if you want to explore Lajitas and the Terlingua Ghost Town during your visit to Big Bend. 

How to Get Around Big Bend National Park

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Since Big Bend is so remote, it’s extremely important to be well prepared before you enter the park. While there are gas stations at some park visitor’s centers, they’re often closed or simply not staffed. For this reason, we highly recommend filling your tank before entering the park and carrying 2-5 extra gallons, just in case.

The closest reliable gas stations are located in Terlingua and Lajitas, but you can also fill up in Alpine or Marfa. Carrying extra fuel is especially important when visiting the park’s more remote roadside campsites.

There is no public transportation into or within Big Bend National Park. This means you’ll be driving to see everything the park has to offer. That said, it’s best to get around the park in a smaller vehicle as it can take more than an hour to drive from one side to the other.

If it is your first visit to the park, we suggest starting at one of the park’s five visitor centers. 

Here’s a quick rundown: 

  • Panther Junction 
    • Best for first-time visitors
    • Amenities include a bookstore, post office, restrooms, and water
    • Hours: 8:30 am to 5:00 pm
  • Rio Grande Village
    • Best if staying in one of two nearby campgrounds and for learning about the evolution of the Rio Grande
    • Amenities include a bookstore, restrooms, and water
    • Hours: Closed for Summer (check website updated spring, fall, and winter hours)
  • Chisos Basin
    • Best for exploring the Chisos Mountains and learning about park wildlife
    • Amenities include a bookstore, restrooms, and water
    • Hours: 8:30 am to 4:00 pm (closed for lunch)
  • Persimmon Gap
    • Best if arriving through the park’s north entrance
    • Amenities include a bookstore, mini-theater, and restrooms
    • Hours: Closed for Summer (check website updated spring, fall, and winter hours)
  • Castolon
    • Best as a stop along the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive and learning about border history
    • Amenities include a bookstore and restrooms
    • Hours: Closed for Summer (check website updated spring, fall, and winter hours)

Places to Go

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Here are a few of our favorite places to visit on a trip to Big Bend National Park. 

Take a Day Trip to Terlingua and Lajitas

Depending on where you stay, Terlingua and Lajitas are within a 1.5-hour drive. Terlingua is an abandoned ghost town and home to the historic Chisos Mining Company. You can’t miss this town’s quirky roadside attractions and unique local dining.

Lajitas is quite the opposite of Terlingua. It features a modern resort with an 18-hole golf course, restaurant, swimming pools, zip line, spa, and horseback riding. Whatever you choose to do there, you absolutely can’t miss the town’s mayor, a beer-drinking goat named Clay Henry III!

Visit the Castolon Historic District

The Castolon Historic District is located on the west side of the park. It’s an easy stop for those staying at Cottonwood Campground, but it’s also worth a stop on your way to check out Santa Elena Canyon. 

The district’s historic exhibits hold many interesting tales of the town’s past. The Alvino House is the oldest standing adobe structure in the park. In 2019, a wildfire ravaged the area, but, with the help of adobe experts and historic architects, salvage and rehabilitation efforts are underway. 

Check Out the Fossil Discovery Exhibit

Located between Persimmon Gap and Panther Junction, the Fossil Discovery Exhibit is an open-air museum preserving fossil records dating back more than 130 million years. More than 1,200 different fossil species have been uncovered in Big Bend to date. 

If you love archaeology, geology, and history, this stop is a must. It will take you on a journey through time to discover how this region was formed and why it looks the way it does today.

Go Over to Mexico

Don’t forget your passport. Around 118 miles of the Big Bend National Park border run along the international border between Mexico and the U.S. You can walk or take a boat across the Rio Grande to the small village of Boquillas.

After you cross the river, there are several ways to get up into the village. You can walk, hitch a ride, or, if you’re feeling adventurous, rent your own donkey. The village is quite small, but there are a few restaurants, souvenir shops, and even a B&B. Most tourists grab a margarita and a taco and head back to the park.

As of October 2021, the Boquillas Crossing is still closed by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. Please check the NPS website for the latest information regarding the status of the Boquillas Port of Entry 

Don’t Forget About Big Bend Ranch State Park

Big Bend Ranch State Park offers scenery that rivals what you’ll find in the national park. It’s the largest state park in Texas featuring a rugged volcanic landscape with a “wild west” feel. 

The state park’s hiking trails have minimal signage, which means you’ll need a proper paper map or a Garmin GPS unit. It also makes it a great place for those seeking some solitude.

Things To Do in Big Bend National Park

With over 800,000 acres of land in Big Bend. There’s plenty to do. Don’t come here without being prepared to explore. Here are a few options:

Go Hiking in the Desert, Mountains, or Next to the River

Lost Mine Trail Big Bend National Park

There’s an abundance of hikes for all ability levels in Big Bend! The park categorizes its many trails under desert hikes, mountain hikes, and river hikes to make it easier to find exactly what you’re looking for. 

A few of the most popular hikes are the Lost Mine Trail, The Santa Elena Canyon Trail, the Window Trail, the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Trail, and the Emory Peak Trail.

  • The Lost Mine Trail covers roughly 4.8 miles round trip and offers a great intro to the park’s mountain flora and fauna. It’s moderately challenging, leads to a ridge overlooking Pine Canyon and Mexico’s Sierra del Carmen.
  • The Window Trail is a moderately difficult hike that covers a round-trip distance of 5.6 miles. It leads you to a narrow pour-off, overlooking the surrounding Chihuahuan Desert. The pour-off resembles a “window” and offers incredible views, especially at sunset, but only if you’re brave enough to hike back in the dark.
  • The Chihuahuan Desert Nature Trail is one of the easiest hikes in the park’s desert region. It covers a half-mile and features remnants of the park’s human settlements as well as good opportunities for bird watching. 
  • The Santa Elena Canyon Trail is a moderate 1.7-mile hike with stairs that ascend into the canyon and then lead down to the river. Cool off between the canyon walls in your own little oasis on the Rio Grande.
  • The Emory Peak Trail is one of the most challenging hikes in the park with a round trip distance of roughly 10.5 miles. If you are fit and well prepared, the 360-degree views from the park’s highest point are breathtaking.

Soak in the Hot Spring

Soaking in a hot spring as the Rio Grande glides by next to you is the perfect way to relax after all the outdoor activities you’ll enjoy in the park. Daytime temps make it too hot for a hot spring dip, which is why they can get crowded at sunset. 

For this reason, we recommend visiting at sunrise. There’s a short, leisurely hike to the springs, making the soak extra rewarding. Nearby, you can find rock art left on the limestone cliffs and imagine what it would’ve been like to homestead in this area in the 1900s. 

Keep in mind that the road to the hot springs district descends down a rough, narrow wash for about two miles before you get to the trailhead. From there, the hike to the springs is just a half-mile round trip. 

Tour the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive

The 39-mile Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive is considered one of the best drives in Texas. Starting in the Castolon Historic District, the drive immerses you in the geologic and historic wonder that is Big Bend.

There are numerous stops along the route, such as the historic Sam Nail Ranch, the Lower Burro Mesa Pouroff, and Tuff Canyon. The drive ends at the breathtaking Santa Elena Canyon, where you can hike the canyon before cooling off in the Rio Grande.

Float the Rio Grande

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Taking a river trip in Big Bend is the best way to experience the miles of canyons the Rio Grande has been carving for centuries. Many canyon areas are more than 1,500 feet deep and can only be accessed via the river. 

There are options for half-day, full-day, and even multi-day river floats in the park. The two main itineraries are floating Santa Elena Canyon or exploring the Rio Grande Wild & Scenic River

Both itineraries offer great opportunities to see the river’s aquatic wildlife, including beavers, turtles, great blue herons, and green kingfishers. You will need a backcountry permit for both day-use and overnight river trips.  

Explore on Horseback

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Exploring on horseback is arguably the best way to see Big Bend–the same way it was discovered by early explorers. You will need to bring your own horses as there are no horses or pack animals for hire in the park. 

Horses can be ridden on all gravel roads in the park and horse camping is permitted at the Hannold Draw primitive campsite. Those interested in horseback riding in Big Bend will need a backcountry permit and should be familiar with the park’s stock use regulations

More Big Bend Activities

In addition to these ideas, there are opportunities for fishing, biking, and stargazing in the park. You can also join a ranger-led program or select one of the one-day, three-day, or week-long itineraries on the park’s website

What to Bring and How to Prepare

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You may be able to pick up select items at visitor center stores once you are in the park. Inventory can be very limited, however, so we recommend stocking up before entering the park. 

  • Prepare to be out of cell service in the park. Bring paper maps or download maps for offline use on your phone. 
  • As a rule of thumb, bring 1.5-2 times more drinking water than you usually consume to prepare for the heat in Big Bend
    • Add to your RV’s freshwater capacity with a portable water container
    • Some campgrounds have drinking water, but water will not be available at roadside primitive campsites
  • Pick up groceries before you enter the park. Limited food supplies are available at park stores. 
  • Have some sort of shade solution (i.e. RV awning, pop-up tent, etc.) and wear sunscreen when hiking or floating the river. 
  • Bring bug spray, especially if visiting in spring or summer. 
  • Be aware of wildlife, especially at night. Many of the animals in the area are nocturnal. 
  • You may encounter javelinas (wild pigs), coyotes, cougars, jackrabbits, deer, and bears on the trails and along the side of the roads.
  • Don’t hike after dark and use a headlamp or rechargeable lantern in camp. 
  • Keeping your campsite clear of food and trash is the best way to reduce the likelihood of these animals wandering into your camp.
  • Be fire safe. Follow park fire regulations and make sure your fire is completely out before leaving it unattended. 
  • Consider packing a portable Buddy heater if visiting in the fall or winter. 

Brief History of Big Bend National Park

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Big Bend joined the ranks of America’s national parks on June 12th,1944. U.S. and British troops had made their infamous landing on the beach Normandy just six days earlier, which is a primary reason then-president Roosevelt dubbed Big Bend “Texas’ Gift to the Nation.”

Despite its remote and hostile environment, the Big Bend region had been inhabited by permanent residents and surveyed by visitors for centuries. 

Before the first Spanish explorations arrived around 1535, the Big Bend region was inhabited by small bands of nomadic peoples known as the Chizos. By the 1700s, however, the Chizos had either been run out or absorbed by the Mescalero Comanche. 

By the early 1800s, the Comanche Trail was a well-traveled path through the area and by 1875 the tide of American settlers also forced out the Comanche. Until the park was established, the Big Bend region was used primarily for farming, ranching, and mining. 

Plan your next trip to the national parks in an RV. Rent an RV, trade-In your RV, or buy an RV and start traveling for less than $5 a day. 


Have you been to Big Bend National Park? What tips can you share?

Lindsay McKenzie travels full-time in her Winnebago Navion with her husband Dan and their 2 dogs. Originally from Colorado, they have been seeking adventure together for 10 years now and have done a lot of international traveling, including living in Costa Rica. They took the leap into full time RVing after experiencing life-altering news. They viewed the news as a life “detour” and started a travel and inspirational blog called Follow Your Detour. Lindsay has grown more passionate about pursuing her dreams and a leading a fulfilling life, while inspiring others to do the same. She loves that RVing allows her to be in nature and do more of what she loves. You can usually find her on the river fly fishing, hiking to sunset spots, or at a local brewery. (All photos by Lindsay McKenzie, except where noted.)

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