Big Bend National Park is one of my favorite places in all of Texas for both photography, hiking, and exploring. Located in west Texas where the big bend in the Rio Grande winds east on its 1,000-mile meander across the southern portion of our Lone Star State, this park covers over 800,000 acres and borders Mexico. The area is home to more than 1,200 types of plants, as well as nearly 600 species of birds, reptiles, and mammals – many found only in this area. The Rio Grande serves as the border between Texas and Mexico and flows for 118 miles through Big Bend.
The history of the Big Bend area has many twists and turns, but ultimately was named Texas Canyons State Park by the Texas legislature in 1933. Later that same year, the name was changed to Big Bend State Park. The United States Congress passed legislation in 1935 that led to the acquisition of the land for a national park. With Texas’ approval, the land was deeded to the federal government and became Big Bend National Park on June 12, 1944. Today, it sits just to the east of its little brother, Big Bend Ranch State Park.
Springtime in Big Bend often means flowers, and the species of bluebonnet found only in Big Bend National Park (Lupinus havardii) starts showing up in February. Wet winters often mean dramatic and colorful blooms in spring, not only of bluebonnets, but many sizes and shapes of wildflowers. Later in the spring, the Prickly Pear Cacti bloom with flowers of red, orange, and gold. The spring of 2019 turned out to be one of the best bluebonnet blooms on record, especially on the west side of the park along River Road West and the area around Tuff Canyon and Cerro Castellan. Please go to this online gallery for more Big Bend Bluebonnet images.
Hiking opportunities in Big Bend are tailor-made for all levels of explorers. The South Rim loop offers a trail that is 12 to 16 miles round trip, with a side trip to the tallest point in the park -- Emory Peak (7,832 feet). From the edge of the South Rim, the Rio Grande passes 1,500 feet below a cliff, and in the distance, the ancient remains of mountains in Mexico fade into the horizon. The Lost Mine Trail that originates near the Chisos Lodge in the middle of the park offers what is arguably the biggest bang for the buck. A five-mile round-trip leads up to amazing views of Juniper Valley and south into Mexico. One of my favorite trips is the hike to Mariscal Canyon. While only a little over seven miles round-trip, there are only cairns to mark the way. But standing on the edge of this canyon and peering 1,000 feet down into Mariscal Canyon is an unforgettable experience. Another crowd favorite is Santa Elena Canyon on the western edge of the park. A short easy trail climbs .7 miles up into the canyon and allows hikers to enjoy views from the cliffs both into the canyon and back east toward the Chisos Mountains. On the eastern side of the Chisos near the Rio Grand Village, the Hot Springs Trail covers three miles one way as it winds through Hot Springs Canyon. Along this path are the well-known Hot Springs where folks can enjoy the warm spring-fed waters along the Rio Grande.
One of the most remote regions of the park starts on a trail just south of Lajitas. The Mesa de Anguila trail is an easy .7 miles before turning up a steep slope to the mesa itself. From there, amazing views of the Rio Grande, as well as miles of not-well-marked trails, await those more adventurous trekkers.