How to Obtain Water in Big Bend, Texas

How to Obtain Water in Big Bend, Texas
Water is scarce in Big Bend National Park, especially in the winter and spring. For this reason, backpackers are strongly encouraged to pack 1 gallon of water per person per day they plan to be out. This can make packing enough water for even a short backpacking trip a weighty affair. There are a few unreliable natural water sources in the park as well.


Difficulty: Moderately Easy

Sources of Potable Water

Things You’ll Need:
  • Water filter Stove
  • Water filter
  • Stove
Step 1
Obtain free drinking water in Big Bend National Park at one of the five visitor centers. Get water from drinking fountains, sinks or other faucets. These centers are located throughout the park and can be viewed on the park map provided on the official Big Bend Parks Service website. Most of the visitor centers also have stores where you can stock up on bottled water, other drinks, food and limited camping supplies.
Step 2
Visit Rio Grande Village in the southeastern corner of the park to stock up on water before heading to a trail or campsite along the rough and unpaved River Road.
Step 3
Stop at the Chisos Mountain Lodge to get water and other supplies before journeying into the High Chisos.

Springs, Streams and Tinajas

Step 1
Locate the water. Big Bend is home to multiple springs, ephemeral streams and tinajas (water holes in bedrock bottom washes). These unreliable water sources can provide great relief or frustration to thirsty backpackers, depending on the volume and quality of water present in them. While using these springs can help you cut down on the amount of water you pack in, realize that other animals in the park rely on these finite water sources for their survival. Boot Spring, near the Boot Canyon campsites, is one of the more reliable sources of water in the Chisos Mountains back-country area.
Step 2
Filter the water when using water from springs or pools. It may contain intestinal parasites or harmful impurities.
Step 3
Treat the water to be on the safe side. Use iodine or chlorine dioxide tablets.

The Rio Grande--Only in Emergency

Step 1
Consider that the Rio Grande forms the entire southern border of the park, where it flows through towering canyons and cactus-spotted deserts. Unfortunately, before it reaches the park, the Rio also flows through numerous urban areas and expansive agricultural lands, where it picks up untreated human waste and agricultural runoff. In addition, heavy metals and high salinity levels make this water unsuitable for human consumption.
Step 2
Distill the water by boiling it and collecting the condensate in a separate container if you are desperate. Unlike typical water treatment where you boil the water to kill parasites, don't drink what is left in the pot of boiling water after it cools. With visitor centers on the Rio at both ends of the park, it is hard to imagine a non-emergency situation where you'd need to do this.
Step 3
Tell your doctor when you get back to civilization. Ask if you need to get checked for anything. Distillation is good at removing salt, metals, bacteria and parasites, but it may not necessarily remove everything else.

Tips & Warnings

Before departing on a backpacking trip, talk to rangers for up-to-date information on water sources. Pack and drink plenty of water. This is especially true in the hot and dry summer months.
Before departing on a backpacking trip, talk to rangers for up-to-date information on water sources.
Pack and drink plenty of water. This is especially true in the hot and dry summer months.

Article Written By Johnnie Chamberlin

Johnnie Chamberlin lives and works in Bloomington, Ind. He holds a Master of Science in civil and environmental engineering from Duke University and a Bachelor of Arts from UC Berkeley. Over the last five years, he has written numerous articles for several magazines,, and other websites. He is the author of "Trails of Little Rock."

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