Exploring Big Bend in 3 Days


As promised months ago, I’m finally going to write about another weekend trip, this time to Big Bend National Park.  Big Bend is about a 10 hour drive from my hometown of Houston, TX.  However, do not underestimate the good time that can be had with some good friends, a minivan, and solid hiking shoes!

By chance, not choice, we (a group of four in our mid-20s) ended up renting a mini-van.  What initially seemed like the least hip car of all time actually ended up being the most awesome roadtrip vehicle ever.

En route to Big Bend... have you seen a cooler minivan?

En route to Big Bend… have you seen a cooler minivan?

Hike 1: The Window Trail (out and back) – 5.6 miles roundtrip, Moderate Difficulty

We left on a Friday morning and arrived in the park just before sunset.  Hoping to get in a quick hike before it got dark, we decided on a pretty short trail, The Window.  It starts at the Chisos Basin Trailhead and is about 5.6 miles round trip.  Although the hike is relatively easy, be aware that the hike in is downhill… meaning the way back is uphill.  Regardless, this is probably the trail where you get the most bang for your buck – the view is AMAZING, especially at sunset!  It was truly breathtaking and we all agreed it was the perfect way to end a long day on the road.  Here are some of the cool shots taken:

Hiking to beat sunset on The Window Trail

Hiking to beat sunset on The Window Trail

One of my favorite pictures from the weekend

One of my favorite pictures from the weekend

Our view as sunset approached

Our view as sunset approached

Another cool view... that rock was slick!

Another cool view… that rock was slick!

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Hike 2: The South Rim Trail (loop) – 12-14 miles, Strenuous Difficulty

After a night of camping, we set out to conquer the South Rim Trail, which is known to be pretty difficult in terms of distance and terrain.  Words of advice – brings LOTS of water and snacks!  We each had a backpack with water, fruit, nuts, granola, Epic bars, and even sardines (this was my first time ever trying sardines… not bad!!!).  We actually ended up making a little shortcut on this one, because we were running out of daylight (the mountain lions and bears come out at dusk and dark, seriously) and water, plus we wanted to do Emory Peak (more on that in a second).  If you are well prepared for a day hike, though, this is a great one to do.  It’s pretty well-known and you will see a fair amount of people out on the trail.  A little side note – evidently Big Bend is known for its bird watching… we saw a lot of bird watchers.  So bring your binoculars if you are into that sort of thing!  Some pictures of this trail below:

A peak inside my friend Dakrin's backpack

A peak inside my friend Dakrin’s backpack

View from the South Rim trail

View from the South Rim trail

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Hike 3: Emory Peak (out and back) – 10.5 miles roundtrip, Strenuous Difficulty

As  mentioned before, we took the Emory Peak detour from the South Rim trail.  Emory Peak is the highest point in the park and getting to it is a pretty steep hike.  In fact, the last 25 feet requires a scramble up an exposed rock face, but the 360° view from Emory Peak is excellent.  We set up a hammock here for shade and enjoyed the view with a sardine toast.  It was amazing.

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After a long day of hiking, we treated ourselves to the only restaurant in all of Big Bend, located at Chisos Basin.  Not exactly cheap, but the food was amazing!  And they have drinks too :)

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Hike 4:  Santa Elena Canyon Trail (out and back) – 1.7 miles roundtrip, Moderate Difficulty

To cap off our trip, we drove south to the Santa Elena Canyon trail for one last morning hike before heading home Sunday.  Originally, we had planned to kayak the Santa Elena, but the water was too low in the canyon to allow it.  So another hike it was!  Although the trail is pretty short, the view was still really cool.  The canyon walls were really high, and it was like this great natural border between the U.S. and Mexico.  It was a nice, easy, and peaceful way to end our trip.  There were a LOT of people on this trail, most likely because it was so short and easy.  Still, I would recommend it, and we even got someone to take a nice group picture of us.

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Schedule

Big Bend National Park is truly huge, and you could probably spend weeks there before you experienced the entire thing.  However, we certainly covered a lot of ground (my feet were pretty much destroyed at the end of this – make sure you have good hiking socks!) in just 3 days.  Here’s a recap of how we did it:

Friday: Left Houston in the morning, arrived in Big Bend by sunset.  Hiked The Window Trail
Saturday:  Hiked most of the South Rim and climbed Emory Peak. Ate a big dinner at the Chisos Basin
Sunday: Did a short hike at the Santa Elena Canyon trail, drove home and arrived around midnight

Thanks to my friends Pedro, Dakrin, and Ricardo for some of these pictures! Please feel free to share your experiences at Big Bend – I am sure to go back soon!  This time with a bike :)

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