North of the Rio Grande the park is mostly arid and rocky with only limited access by paved roads, a part of the great Chihuahuan Desert that extends across much of north Mexico into the southwest corner of Texas. Plant life is particularly varied and plentiful, with over 60 species of cacti plus many other spiky plants. Landscape features include narrow canyons, colorful badlands, eroded rock formations, sand dunes, desert plains, dry washes and oases.
One prominent exception to the arid desert, and for some people the main reason to visit the national park, are the Chisos Mountains, a huge, angular range of cliffs and rocky peaks rising to 7,825 feet. In these tree-covered slopes the hot desert lowlands are far away and many trails give access to a cool, sheltered world, inhabitants of which include black bears and mountain lions. Facilities are concentrated in Chisos Basin, sheltered on all sides by high cliffs, and include a lodge, restaurant, gift shop and campground.
Big Bend National park is a hiker's paradise containing the largest expanse of roadless public lands in Texas. More than 150 miles of mountains and desert trails offer opportunities for outstanding backcountry experiences
The park is open 24 hours daily, all year. The Panther Junction Visitor Center is open daily, 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., but may be closed on Christmas Day. The entrance stations and other visitor centers have variable seasons and hours.
Big Bend is relatively uncrowded much of the year. Visitation is highest in March and April. The park is extremely crowded during spring break, which is usually the second and third week in March. Easter weekend, Thanksgiving weekend, and the week between Christmas and New Year's Day are also very busy. All lodging and campsites are usually full during these periods. Visitation is lowest in August and September.
Panther Junction Visitor Center: 8:00am - 6:00pm. Daily. Reduced hours on Christmas day.
Chisos Basin Visitor Center
November-March: 8:00am - 3:30pm. Daily. Closed for lunch. Reduced hours on Christmas day.
April-October: 9:00am - 4:30pm. Daily. Closed for lunch.
Several highways lead to Big Bend National Park: TX 118 from Alpine to Study Butte or FM 170 from Presidio to Study Butte (then 26 miles east to park headquarters) or US 90 or US 385 to Marathon (then 70 miles south to park headquarters).
Big Bend's backcountry areas provide excellent opportunities for hiking, backpacking, camping, driving unpaved roads, and river running. Permits are required for overnight camping, horse use, and for floating the river.
Big Bend is part of the vast Chihuahuan Desert that extends from Central Mexico into Southern New Mexico. In the Big Bend, 3 basic life zones are found: Desert, River, and Mountain. The Chisos Mountains have been compared to a green island in a desert sea, hiding a remnant Alpine forest that developed in wetter cooler times tens of thousands of years ago in the Pleistocene. The low desert only appears barren; it is home to a many species of small mammal, reptile and bird. Some of naturals most recent evolutionary experiments are found among the adaptable desert flora. The Rio Grande is a ribbon oasis, harboring a menagerie of riparian and aquatic species, as well as providing an important stop over for migratory fowl every spring and fall.
Big Bend is a complete geology textbook. The story of oceans rising and falling, continents colliding, and millions of years of volcanic turbulence are written large over the land. Cretaceous seas teamed with strange creatures, from tiny mollusks to a dozen specie of Mosasaurs, some measuring to 40 feet. As the seas receded, some of the largest terrestrial creatures so far know to man roamed here. Remains of the 2nd largest flying creature known to have existed, the pterosaur Quetzalcoatlus northropii, were discovered in Big Bend.
Human history began with some of the earliest human activity recorded on the continent, 9000 years ago and. Since then there is a long and fascinating human history associated with the region. Though the region is remote from the rest of humanity, local events and circumstances have played important roles on the world stage of history.
The Rio Grande follows the southern boundary of Big Bend National Park for 118 miles. In this distance it has carved three major canyons, Santa Elena, Mariscal, and Boquillas, which have rapids varying in difficulty from Class I to Class IV. Between the canyons, the river is generally slower paced. The Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River extends downstream beyond the park boundary for an additional 127 miles.
Personal Ranger Tours
Personal guided ranger tours are available on a first-come, first served basis for families, groups, or individuals. These personal tours are provided for a fee of $35.00 per hour, with a four-hour minimum. This fee covers salary, government vehicle mileage, and administrative costs. The personal ranger tours are offered in addition to our regularly scheduled free programs, walks, and talks.
The advantage of the fee tour is a guarantee of a personal tour at a given time and place for a specific group or family. Personal tours are available on a wide variety of topics related to park resources.