Why Big Bend Is a Seriously Underrated National Park
This week we have a real treat for you. A guest post from Riley of Impulsive Wanderlust! We'll have more articles on US National parks soon, but here's one to get the ball rolling about Big Bend National Park in Texas.
If you travel across the flat plains of West Texas all the way to the Northern border of Mexico, you’ll find a hidden gem full of canyons, breathtaking desert, and wildlife. Big Bend National Park is certainly not the most popular protected piece of land in America, but if you ask people who’ve been there, they’ll tell you that it’s one of the most underrated.
Only about 300,000 to 400,000 people visit Big Bend each year, and although those might sound like high numbers, they don’t even come close to the staggering crowds that flock to well-known parks like Yellowstone or Yosemite that see visitor numbers in the millions.
In some ways, Big Bend’s lack of popularity amongst the travelers and Instagram influencers of the world is refreshing. Once you enter the park, you’ll feel as though you’ve truly stepped into one of the meticulously crafted scenes in Westworld. Sweeping sandy hills, cute little cacti, and roadrunners zipping to and fro are just the first surprises you’ll witness on your excursion into the area around the Rio Grande.
If you’ve never heard of Big Bend, or if you’ve just never thought road-tripping to it was worth the effort, here are some things that might change your mind here and now.
1. There Are Mountains, Not Just Deserts
When some picture southwest Texas, they envision nothing but tumbleweeds and dry desert. If you’re one of those people, erase your preconceived notion and visualize this: steep limestone cliffs that form canyons and mountains. The Chisos mountain range runs through the park and provides plenty of hiking opportunities and scenic views. The highest mountain peak in the park, Emory Peak, reaches 7,825 feet in elevation, and just driving through the park can cause you to change thousands of feet in altitude.
2. Three Words: Santa Elena Canyon
If you have seen pictures of Big Bend, they’re probably of this staggering canyon and the famous river that flows through it. Trails through Santa Elena allow you to hike alongside the soaring walls and cool waters of the Rio Grande. Not only is the path shaded and secluded, but it’s also one of the most beautiful walks in the entire park. If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, rent a kayak and make your way through the canyon on water instead of on foot.
3. Hikers of All Levels Can Trek to Breathtaking Views
No matter how experienced you may be at scaling mountains or crossing deserts, there’s something for you in Big Bend. Beginners will enjoy a relaxing stroll through Santa Elena while more avid hikers can take on the challenging South Rim trek that spans more than 12 miles. If you’re looking for something a little more in between, I’d highly recommend the Lost Mine Trail that weaves its way up a mountain for gorgeous views across the mountain range. It only takes a few hours and is just the right amount of challenging and beautiful.
4. The Rio Grande Is Open for Kayaking and Rafting
Even if you’re not from Texas, you know about the Rio Grande. How cool is it that you can set foot (or kayak) in the waters that divide Mexico from the United States? There are many river rafting and kayaking opportunities that leave from the nearby town of Terlingua and head out on the river for a unique experience. Whether you have a half day to spare or are looking for a multi-night river trip, there’s something for you on the Rio Grande.
5. You Can Take a Peek at Mexico (or Even Have Lunch There)
Because Mexico is literally a stone’s throw away from most spots near the river, you’ll get to experience more than just Texas culture. Nearby towns have been seriously influenced by Mexican traditions, and if you want, you can even cross the river at an official point to dine in the small town of Boquillas. Just make sure to bring your passport, and of course, don’t try crossing the river at unofficial spots.
6. You Might Spot Some Exciting Wildlife
Although Big Bend might not be home to roaming grizzly bears or huge herds of elk like many other national parks, it’s far from desolate when it comes to wildlife. You can stumble across everything from vultures to a mountain lion on the prowl. There are also plenty of black bears, deer, roadrunners, coyotes, rattlesnakes, and javelinas. Just don’t forget to lock up your food at night or unwanted visitors may come looking for their next meal.
Despite its remote location and blistering heat, Big Bend is nothing like the bland desert environment you might initially envision. Surprisingly, it’s full of gorgeous sights, wildflowers, greenery, and life. One trip to this area around the Rio Grande and you’ll realize what you, and so many others, have been missing out on for years.
About The Author
Riley is a full-time editor and writer in Texas, but on the weekends, you can find her hiking at the nearest park or researching flights to faraway places. She’s a lover of literature, road trips, caramel macchiatos, and photography. Someday, she hopes to have visited every national park in the United States. Riley is a regular contributor on Impulsive Wanderlust, a website offering meaningful advice on city travel, outdoor excursions, dining, nightlife, accommodations, and anything leisure-related.
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