At over 800,000 acres of mountain, desert and winding river, Big Bend National Park has sprawl enough to offer a wide variety of outdoor opportunities. Sure, some of them might require a little sweat equity but for the effort, you’ll be rewarded with an intimate glimpse of this intriguing park along America’s southwestern border.
One of the best ways to get around the mountains and desert? On foot, of course. There’s a long list of easily accessible day hikes throughout the park, as well as some self-guided trails, but adventurous sorts can venture even farther afield if they have a vehicle suitable for reaching backcountry trail heads. Be sure to register (for your safety) with park rangers if you’re planning on doing any significant hikes solo. And come prepared for both dramatic weather and physical exertion: some of the mountain trails offer a breath-taking climb to match the breath-taking views.
You might not think it, but Big Bend National Park is also a great place to do some biking. Depending on the type of wheels you’re spinning, plan to tackle a stretch of 100 miles of paved road or over 150 miles of backcountry rough stuff. Winter can be one of the most pleasant times to take to Big Bend on your bike, but whatever the season you’ll always want to keep an eye out for vehicular traffic if you’re road cycling, particularly during peak periods when the park is at its busiest.
One of the best ways to get fresh perspective on the park’s wetter reaches though, is on a paddle down - or up - some stretch of river. Scenic Santa Elena Canyon is one of the most popular runs, both photogenic and easy to access. In the area, with a little upstream paddling, you can make a day-trip of it or, properly equipped, enjoy a 3 day float downriver. Most of this is mellow stuff, but depending on the water levels you might hit a big rapid or two. There are also longer trips on offer through the Lower Canyons and Boquillas Canyon, as well as day-trips down Mariscal Canyon.
For those days you don’t feel like physically exerting yourself, plan for a long scenic drive along the park’s paved roads and give serious consideration to a soak in the hot springs to soothe tired muscles.