Big Bend National Park is a massive park full of natural resources and native culture. The Rio Grande covers 118 miles, creating the border between the National Park and Mexico.
If you love getting in the water, you’ll have fun canoeing the Rio Grande and seeing the National Park from a unique angle. Big Bend National Park is a popular destination but doesn’t get as many visitors as the Grand Canyon or the Great Smoky Mountains.
In 2021, the park had less than 600,000 visitors for the entire year, earning 108th place in National Parks out of 380 total.
If you’re looking for a stunning National Park to visit without feeling like you’re merely one in a crowd, Big Bend is the right choice. It covers many different types of land, so you’ll see many terrains and landscapes in one vacation.
Why You Should Visit Big Bend National Park
The National Park covers over 800,000 acres in southern Texas, right along the Mexican border. You can see mountains, desert terrain, and the lush river wilderness in the park. Though it’s a popular vacation destination, there are times when you’ll feel like you’re completely alone, surrounded by nature.
There are three stunning canyons within the Big Bend National Park boundaries:
- Santa Elena Canyon
- Mariscal Canyon
- Boquillas Canyon
You can also appreciate the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, which shows you a significant portion of the park from a well-traveled road. You can park and get out to see specific sections, but it gives you a great overview of what to expect from the park.
Within one park, you’ll see mountains, cliffs, the Rio Grande, expanses of desert, and stunning greenery. You can also see wildlife, including bears, mountain lions, bobcats, deer, birds, bats, and reptiles.
The Rio Grande is home to countless fish and amphibians. In addition to the natural beauty of Big Bend National Park, you can visit another country from the park.
There’s a pedestrian port of entry where you can legally walk into Mexico for the day. Boquillas Crossing Port of Entry takes you right into Boquillas, Mexico when you show your valid passport.
Overall Best Time to Visit Big Bend National Park
The best time to visit Big Bend National Park comes down to the weather. Texas can get scorching in summer and freezing in winter, so you want to find a balance between those extremes- unless you want to roast or freeze!
Spring typically stays around 75℉ during the day, warm enough to be enjoyable without leaving you soaked in sweat after a hike. With that temperature in mind, March is a great time to visit Big Bend.
However, you might not want to go during Spring Break due to the families camping. Remember that you can still overheat in spring temperatures, so you want to wear layers and always carry a water bottle.
Fall has similar temperatures to spring, though this area gets more rain later in the year. You can bring a raincoat and enjoy the hikes without running into a crowd.
However, even a winter visit is nice at the park if you’re not trying to camp since it can dip below freezing at night. While summer is the hottest time to visit the park, making it difficult to enjoy a hike, it’s perfect for river activities.
You can visit between June and August if you plan to canoe on the Rio Grande. You’ll be able to stay cool on the water and avoid much of the crowds.
Cheapest Time to Visit Big Bend National Park
The cheapest time to visit Big Bend National Park is during what people typically think of as the off-season, which is the best time to tour the park.
It works out perfectly to know you’ll have an enjoyable experience at the park while saving money. Since Big Bend National Park is about four hours away from an airport, you’ll also want to consider rental car fees in your budget.
Unlike hotels, you often pay more when you book a rental car in advance. It’s also cheapest to rent them during the week in off-season times. That aligns nicely with avoiding crowds at the park.
If you’re driving from home to Big Bend National Park, you’ll still need to consider gas prices. Fuel expenses are lower during the week compared to weekends.
The prices soar incredibly high around the holidays and summer when many people drive on vacations. Therefore, filling up during the week and traveling during spring or fall will help you save money.
Least Busy Time to Visit Big Bend National Park
If you visit during the holidays, you’ll always have people around. Statistics show people have entirely booked campsites around federal holidays, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.
This trend boils down to any time people are off work. If you want to enjoy Big Bend National Park without a crowd, consider taking a vacation during the fall or spring when other people are busy at work. Avoid holidays and school breaks.
But if you’re only off during the more popular times, don’t feel you need to skip the park. Big Bend National Park covers many areas so that you can find a less-busy portion for your enjoyment.
Worst Time to Visit Big Bend National Park
The worst time to visit Big Bend National Park is during the summer. This statement confuses many travelers because summer vacation is the easiest time to get away and explore the country.
However, this area of Texas gets scorchingly hot in the summer months. You’ll feel like you’re cooking anytime you walk around the park.
Some people prefer to drive through Big Bend National Park. You can still see stunning scenery through your car windows. There are parking lots and scenic overviews if you want to stop to see a specific area.
But when you leave your vehicle and go hiking, ensure you have plenty of water. Try to stay as cool as possible, and wear sunscreen to prevent burns.The heat is so oppressive that you won’t want to venture out on any longer hikes.
It helps if you stay close to your car to get in and cool down. Heat indexes above 90℉ aren’t healthy for children, so keep that in mind if you’re traveling as a family.
Temperatures in the direct sunlight at Big Bend National Park are 15℉ to 20℉ hotter than in the shade. If you need to visit Big Bend National Park during summer, consider trying to beat the heat.
Arrive at the park in the early morning hours before the sun parches the ground. You can get on the hiking trails before the sun is directly overhead and finish early. This schedule frees you up to learn at the air-conditioned visitor centers in the afternoon.
There are also fewer rangers on-site during the summer because the heat is so unbearable. The park restricts visitor center hours, too, so you won’t have the full range of information at your disposal during the summer months.
Things to Consider
Even if you’re not visiting the park during the heat of summer, you need to stay aware of dehydration. You can get overheated while hiking, even in cool spring or fall temperatures.
Always keep a water bottle with you and drink more fluid than you sweat out. If you travel to Big Bend National Park in the summer, ensure you’re staying safe. It gets incredibly hot in that area, so you need to stay cool and hydrated.
You can’t spend as much time on hiking trails as you can in the fall and spring months. Stay aware of the time and your surroundings to ensure you don’t get overheated and dehydrated.
Many people bring their pets on vacation, especially when they plan on visiting parks. Dogs love exploring nature, but you must plan when bringing your furry friend to Big Bend National Park.
You can’t bring dogs on hiking trails, and it’s too hot to leave them in your car. You can only walk your dog on a leash on paved roads, dirt roads, and campgrounds.
Frequently Asked Questions
You’ve learned about the best times to visit Big Bend National Park and when to avoid the area. Now check out some of the most commonly-asked questions:
How many days do you need at Big Bend National Park?
If you’re only passing through the park, you can spend one day driving the scenic routes to get a broad overview of the area. But Big Bend National Park has a lot to offer, so it’s ideal to spend at least three days there.
You can drive all through the park and take time to go on hikes. Since there are three major areas of the park, you can spend a day driving and hiking in each.
The sections are:
- Chisos Basin
- Santa Elena Canyon
- Rio Grande Village
If you have even more time to spend on vacation, you can easily explore Big Bend National Park for a week without seeing it all. You can check out sample itineraries from the National Park Service to ensure you don’t miss any sights.
Do you need reservations to visit Big Bend National Park?
No, you don’t need reservations to visit Big Bend. As soon as you arrive in that area of Texas, you can head to the park. You’ll have to pay an entrance fee for your vehicle to drive into the park, though, just as you do with any National Park.
If you have an America the Beautiful pass or other annual access cards, you can show them at the park entrance. When you pay to access the park, your pass works for seven days.
You can spend a day in the park, leave to stay at a hotel, and come back the next day without needing to pay the fee again. You can show your initial paid pass, and it will stay valid.
If you plan on camping in the park, you have to make reservations. There are a limited number of campsites in the area, so you want to book in advance. Otherwise, you might end up without a place to stay.
Can you drive through Big Bend National Park?
Yes, you can drive through Big Bend National Park without stopping to hike. You’ll still get a sense of how beautiful the area is, but there are many places where you’ll want to pull over and park to take in the scenery.
Keep in mind that you still have to pay to access the park, even if you only plan on driving through. You’ll have to pay a set fee for your vehicle.
Where should you stay when you visit Big Bend National Park?
You can book a stay at Chisos Mountains Lodge, which is the only hotel inside Big Bend National Park borders. However, it books up quickly, so you’ll want to plan your stay well in advance.
Otherwise, the closest cities to Big Bend National Park are Terlingua and Lajitas, Texas. Terlingua is less than ten miles away, while Lajitas is closer to 20. Both cities have hotels, restaurants, and gas stations to revitalize you after a day spent in the park.
Terlingua has a ghost town to tour and is also popular for bird watching and other outdoor activities. Lajitas has an abandoned movie set, hiking trails, a zipline, and a golf resort.
Can you get cell phone service in Big Bend National Park?
Technically, you can try to get cell phone service anywhere in Big Bend National Park, but the results are spotty.
Some of the more popular areas are the best to visit when you need to make a phone call or access a website using your phone’s data. Chisos Basin and Panther Junction have fairly reliable phone service.
What’s the difference between Big Bend National Park and Big Bend State Park?
Big Bend National Park is the location where the Rio Grande loops around the Chisos Mountains. The park includes mountains and three major canyons, encompassing over 800,000 acres. The United States government established the National Park in 1944.
Some people get confused because there’s also the nearby Big Bend Ranch State Park. This area is to the west of the National Park and only covers 311,000 acres.
The state park has more water than the other, boasting 118 springs, tinajas, and seeps. There are also two waterfalls, the second and third-highest in Texas. If you have time to visit both, it’s worth it.
You can enjoy different aspects of both Big Bend parks, whether you’re looking for mountains or waterfalls. Big Bend Ranch State Park is about 80 miles west of the National Park, making it a decent drive since you’re already in the area.
So, What’s the Best Time to Visit Big Bend National Park?
The best time to visit Big Bend National Park is during the mild temperatures of spring and fall. As a bonus, you won’t hit major crowds as you would during summer break. You’ll have a chance to explore the beautiful nature of this park at your own pace. Happy travels!