Somewhere in the more than 800,000 acres that comprise Big Bend National Park (BBNP) are activities to suit every taste. There is the heat of the desert, the oases of springs, the great river, cliffs, rolling hills and mountains. Between Texas and Mexico, visitors float or paddle the Rio Grande, camp under the stars, climb a mountain, add to their Lifetime Birding List, take geologic notes or photos of petroglyphs, imagine what it was like in pioneering times, or bike and hike on miles of trails. "All roads (the paved ones, anyway) lead to Panther Junction," says the park website. There you will find park headquarters, the visitor center, shopping, fuel, post office, permit office and an easy scenic hike.
Contact BBNP at PO Box 129, Big Bend National Park, TX 79834, (432) 477-2251, www.nps.gov/bibe/index.htm.
Take to the Trails
A good way to see BBNP is on the ground. Go by foot, ride a road bike, challenge your mountain biking skills, climb a cliff or set out for some superb birding.
Trails are categorized as longer backcountry trips and day hikes on the east side, west side, mountain, north end and backcountry. Chisos mountain trails are the most popular backcountry hikes, because the altitude moderates summer temperatures and the scenery is spectacular. For more information about the trails, pick up a trail guide.
Hiking in BBNP: www.trails.com/activity.aspx?area=10137
Road biking: www.trails.com/activity.aspx?area=11176
Mountain biking: www.trails.com/activity.aspx?area=11176
Good birding locations in and around BBNP: www.trails.com/activity.aspx?area=15020
Rock climbing: www.nps.gov/bibe/planyourvisit/climbing.htm
Take to the Water
With 118 miles of Rio Grande at its southern boundary, BBNP is famous for float and paddle trips. Rafts, canoes and kayaks ply the water. Rapids challenge experienced paddlers and beginning rafters alike. Santa Elena Canyon is a popular water trip route, with trips that last from half a day or to three or more. Many people put in at Lajitas, traversing the Rock Slide, potentially a Class IV rapid. Hiring a commercial guide is a good way to enjoy your first river trip in BBNP. They provide all the right equipment, excellent meals and, most importantly, the know-how only experience can give. Some visitors "boomerang," or paddle upstream and float back. Overnight trips require a backcountry permit, but day trips on the river are free.
Guided Trips: www.nps.gov/bibe/planyourvisit/outfitters.htm
Take in History and Prehistory
There are plenty of things to see by car, and many miles of paved and unpaved roads to travel. If time or physical challenge limits you to vehicular travel, you still can enjoy the diversity and grandeur of BBNP. Participate in one of a variety of ranger-guided programs or reserve a ranger's time for a fee, and enjoy a wealth of information and knowledge on a variety of topics. For a general park tour that includes transportation, hire a guide service.
Driving the park: http://www.nps.gov/bibe/planyourvisit/take_a_drive.htm
Ranger-guided program information: www.nps.gov/bibe/planyourvisit/interp-programs.htm
Far Flung Outdoor Center.
PO Box 377
Terlingua, TX 79852