The 10 Best Hikes in Big Bend National Park

Mud Cracks Along the Rio Grande River
Daniel A. Leifheit / Getty Images

Big Bend National Park contains the Chisos Mountains and part of the Chihuahuan Desert, all bordered by the Rio Grande and there are over 70 hiking trails to explore it all. Experienced hikers can undertake full-day hikes or overnight backpacking trips on the South Rim and Marufo Vega Trails, while novices can enjoy soaking in the hot spring pool along the Hot Springs Historic Trail.

Several trails lead to some of the park’s most famous landmarks, like the multi-hued walls of the Santa Elena Canyon Trail, the balanced rock of the Grapevine Hills Trail, or the park's highest point at Emory Peak. Some might be more drawn to the secret path of the trail to Cattail Falls, while those wanting moderate hikes will trek the Lost Mine and Window Trails. If any of that sounds intimidating, the Window View Trail is a good introduction to the park as it’s short, family-friendly, and wheelchair-accessible. Read on for the 10 must-try hikes of Big Bend National Park.

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Hot Springs Historic Trail

Man in relaxing in hot springs overlooking Rio Grande river in the morning
Cindy_Giovagnoli / Getty Images
Big Bend National Park, TX 79834, USA

Hike this trail to soak in a hot spring alongside the Rio Grande. Named after the hot spring pool in the ruins of J.O. Langford's resort, the trail begins with an easy half-mile walk to the hot spring with waters at 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Stay here and soak, or continue on the 1-mile loop trail for uninterrupted views of the river from the bluff. Along the trail, you’ll see pictographs made of red ochre painted across layered limestone rock walls, over 15 different kinds of cacti, and ruins of the Hot Springs Village. Find the trailhead 2 miles down the gravel Hot Springs Road near the Rio Grande campsite.

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02 of 10

Santa Elena Canyon Trail

Santa Elena Canyon on a clear day
Photography by Deb Snelson / Getty Images
Santa Elena Canyon Trail, Texas 79852, USA

With walls awash in golden light, the Santa Elena Canyon’s eponymously named trail follows the tranquil waters of the Rio Grande through the 1,500-foot high Sierra Ponce cliffs. From the beach at the end of Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, hikers must wade across Terlingua Creek to reach the trailhead, found on top of the white and gray sedimentary rock hill. Though short (1.6 miles out and back), it provides dramatic views of the canyon and, when the water’s low enough, the possibility to hike upstream in the river itself. Rated as easy, the hike is a popular option for families and follows a path past scrub and cacti to another small beach where the river expands.

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Grapevine Hills Trail (Balanced Rock)

Precarious-looking rock formation on a sunny day in Big Bend National Park
Robert Rutherford / Getty Images
Grapevine Hills Trail, Texas 79834, USA

Famous for its balanced rock boulders, as well as its array of Chihuahuan Desert flora and fauna, the Grapevine Hills Trail carries hikers through a space-like landscape of petrified rock, red velvet ants, and prickly pear cactus. Only reached by driving down Grapevine Spring, a 6-mile-long gravel road, the hike is an easy to moderate 2.2-mile out-and-back trail. Expect a smooth, sandy path for most of it, except the last quarter mile to the balanced rock which requires a scramble uphill. At the top, hikers can climb on the rocks and enjoy 360-degree views of the Chihuahuan Desert.

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Emory Peak Trail

rugged staircase on Emory Peak Trail with cacti and other desert plants
Wilsilver77 / Getty Images
Emory Peak Trail, Texas 79834, USA

Reach Big Bend’s highest point, Emory Peak (7,825 feet), on this all-day, 10.5-mile round trip hike. Beginning from the Chisos Basin parking lot, take the Pinnacles Trail for 3.5 miles through patches of forest and wildflowers, until you come to the Emory Peak Trail Junction. From there, the rest of the trail is rocky with no shade. The last 25 feet requires a scramble up a sheer rockface, but you’ll be rewarded with aerial views of the basin from the top. Wildlife such as whitetail deer, Mexican jays, and black bears can be seen along the way. Plan for a six-hour hike, and take a gallon of water per person.

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Lost Mine Trail

The View of rocky mountains Along Lost Mine Trail
Rebecca L. Latson / Getty Images
Lost Mine Trail, Texas 79834, USA

You'll walk through a forest of juniper, fir, and pine trees and see panoramic views of Juniper Canyon and Casa Grande on this moderate 4.8-mile round trip trail. The path maintains a steady, gradual incline until the ridge above Pine Canyon, where the gradient increases drastically, until leveling out before Lost Mine Peak. Named after a myth about a mine started by Spanish settlers and destroyed by Native Americans, the area is rich in mineral deposits and plants such as ocotillo and lechuguilla. For those that want a shorter hike, marker 10 viewpoint is a good stopping point with great panoramas of the Chisos Mountains. Start the hike from mile 5.1 of Basin Junction Road.

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Window Trail

The Window in the Chisos Mountains of Big Bend National Park
Photography by Deb Snelson / Getty Images
Window Trail, Texas 79834, USA

This moderate 5.6-mile out-and-back trail goes from the Chisos Basin Parking lot to the Window, a naturally formed pour-off resembling a window in the mountains, through which you can see panoramic desert views. The path begins with a gentle descent, leading hikers through the rolling hills of Oak Creek Canyon and down a ravine through which Oak Creek runs. Most of the trail is downhill with mountain views, rock formations, and blooming flowers always providing hikers with something new to see. White honeysuckle sweetens the air while deer and butterflies flit along the trail.

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Cattail Falls Trail

Pool of water with a misty waterfall flowing into it
dhughes9 / Getty Images

A somewhat secret trail, Big Bend’s official website no longer lists Cattail Falls Trail, and it has no signage on the main road. Named for the Cattail Waterfall—a seasonal waterfall that cascades into a pool surrounded by creeks, yellow columbines, and red orchids—the trail is a moderate 3-mile out-and-back from the parking area for Sam Nail Ranch. A longer 5.9-mile version from mile marker 3 on Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive can be done as well. Passing through wooded areas and partially along the rim of the valley of Cattail Creek, it culminates in the rocky area around the falls.

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South Rim Trail

Sunrise at South Rim trail, Big Bend National Park
Luke Chen / Getty Images
S Rim Trail, Texas 79834, USA

Hikers brave a steady incline of 2,000 feet of elevation to the South Rim Viewpoint to see breathtaking views of the rippling Chisos Mountains, Chihuahuan Desert, the Santa Elena Canyon, and the entire southern half of Big Bend National Park. At 12.6 to 15 miles, the South Rim is one of the longest hikes in the park, which can be done as a full-day hike or two-day backpacking trip. The giant loop trail is actually a combination of the Laguna Canyon, Colima, Southwest Rim, Boot Canyon, and Pinnacles Trails with options to add on the Northeast Rim Trail and Emory Peak. Hike it counterclockwise, beginning from the Chisos Basin parking lot to complete the toughest part first.

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Window View Trail

The Windows Trail
Wilsilver77 / Getty Images
Window View Trail, Texas 79834, USA

Though short (0.3 miles), the Window View trail provides some of Big Bend’s best-silhouetted mountain sunset views, as well as being one of the park’s wheelchair-accessible trails. All-paved and rated as easy, the trail winds around a low hill to a viewpoint of the Window, a V-shaped pour-off in the Chisos Mountains which naturally frames the desert landscape. A good place for birding, you can spot some rare feathered friends like the Colima warbler. Start the hike from the Chisos Basin Trailhead, and if you want a closer look through the window, take the longer Window Trail to its base.

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Marufo Vega Trail

Looking Down From the Marufo Vega Trail Toward Mexico
kellyvandellen / Getty Images
Marufo Vega Trail, Texas 79830, USA

Possibly the hardest and definitely one of the longest trails in Big Bend (14 miles round trip), Marufo Vega Trail is a grueling yet rewarding day hike or overnight backpacking trip. Named after a local goatherd, the trail leads hikers on a rugged route marked by cairns through dry washes, hills, and plateaus.  The path enters the Boquillas Canyon and eventually runs parallel to the Rio Grande. Not only rated as hard, the trail is isolated and few hikers trek it, meaning you might only be sharing the trail with feral donkeys.  Highlights include spectacular views of Mexico’s Sierra del Carmen and jumping in the Rio Grande on the north spur portion of the trail. Be wary of high temperatures on this one.

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The 10 Best Hikes in Big Bend National Park