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48 Hours: Big Bend National Park Edition

Big Bend National Park, located in the remote stretches of West Texas, offers a unique blend of rugged wilderness, stunning night skies, and intriguing nearby towns. Nestled in the vast Chihuahuan Desert of southwestern Texas, the park is a hiker’s paradise brimming with natural beauty, geological wonders, and a rich tapestry of history. Make the most of your two-day adventure by exploring dramatic landscapes, hiking desert trails, and visiting famed Marfa, Texas. 

Day 1: Exploring Big Bend National Park – Geological Marvels and Riverside Relaxation

Morning: Chisos Basin and Window Trail

Start your journey early with a visit to the Chisos Basin. As you wind your way up the Chisos Mountains, the landscape transforms from desert scrub to pine forests, offering breathtaking views. The Chisos Basin is the heart of Big Bend, providing access to numerous trails and stunning vistas.

One must-do hike is the Window Trail. This moderate 5.6-mile round-trip trek leads to a stunning pour-off, offering panoramic views of the desert below. The trail meanders through oak and juniper woodlands, providing ample opportunities for birdwatching and photography. Be sure to carry plenty of water and wear sturdy hiking boots.

Lunch: Chisos Mountains Lodge Restaurant

After your hike, refuel at the Chisos Mountains Lodge Restaurant. Enjoy a hearty Tex-Mex meal while soaking in the views of the rugged mountain peaks. The restaurant offers a range of options, from burgers to enchiladas, catering to all taste buds.

Afternoon: Santa Elena Canyon

In the afternoon, drive to the park’s western edge to witness the grandeur of Santa Elena Canyon. The Rio Grande has carved a spectacular 1,500-foot-deep canyon through limestone, creating one of Big Bend’s most iconic landscapes. A short 1.7-mile round-trip hike takes you into the canyon, where the sheer walls tower above, and the river lazily winds through. It’s a relatively easy hike, making it accessible for families and less experienced hikers.

Evening: Terlingua Ghost Town

Visit the Terlingua Ghost Town, just outside the park’s west entrance. This once-thriving mining town is now a quirky destination filled with eclectic art, historical ruins, and a lively atmosphere. Visit the Terlingua Trading Company for unique souvenirs and enjoy dinner at the Starlight Theatre, a historic venue offering live music and delicious southwestern cuisine.

Day 2: Art in Marfa

Morning: Arrive in Marfa. Start your journey in the artistic enclave of Marfa. Known for its minimalist art installations and mysterious Marfa Lights, this small town is a hub for creatives and adventurers alike. Begin your stop with a coffee or breakfast cocktail at The Sentinel Marfa, where you can enjoy a hearty meal in a charming setting. Don’t miss a visit to the Chinati Foundation, home to large-scale installations by Donald Judd and other contemporary artists.

Afternoon: Boquillas Canyon and Hot Springs

Consider driving to the park’s eastern side in the afternoon to explore Boquillas Canyon. This lesser-visited canyon offers a peaceful escape and a chance to see the Rio Grande in a more secluded setting. The 1.4-mile round-trip hike is relatively easy and takes you through a lush riparian zone before opening up to the towering canyon walls.

Next, head to the Hot Springs Historic District. Here, you can soak in a natural hot spring along the river’s edge, a perfect way to relax after your hikes. The hot springs maintain a soothing 105°F temperature year-round, and the area is steeped in history, with remnants of early 20th-century buildings and pictographs.

Evening: Stargazing in Alpine

Stargazing Big Bend is one of the best places in the United States for stargazing, thanks to its remote location and minimal light pollution. Find a quiet spot to lay back and gaze at the Milky Way. The vast expanse of stars is truly awe-inspiring.

If you find yourself in the Park, head to the Panther Junction Visitor Center after dark to witness the celestial display. The park’s remote location and lack of light pollution offer some of the best stargazing in the country. Rangers often host star parties, where you can learn about the constellations and use telescopes for a closer look.

Accommodation: Alpine Bed and Breakfast

Texas Bed and Breakfast Association’s recommended Big Bend stay is Alpine Bed & Breakfast in Alpine. Alpine is a Big Bend of Texas hub, just 20 to 30 minutes from Marathon, Marfa, and Fort Davis, 60 from Balmorhea, and 90 from Big Bend. It is the perfect base to explore all that the Big Bend offers. 

Five-star accommodations include a gourmet, made-from-scratch breakfast each morning with various options for every taste. Located within walking distance of Alpine’s historic downtown, it provides an excellent base for exploring the local shops and attractions before returning home.

Additional Tips and Considerations

  • Weather and Safety: Big Bend’s weather can be extreme, with hot summers and mild winters. Always check the forecast, carry plenty of water, wear sun protection, and be prepared for sudden weather changes.
  • Wildlife: The park is home to diverse wildlife, including javelinas, coyotes, roadrunners, and mountain lions. To protect yourself and the animals, maintain a safe distance and follow park guidelines.
  • Park Fees: Entry to Big Bend National Park requires a fee. If you plan to visit multiple parks within the year, consider purchasing an annual national park pass.

Choose a day or two. A 48-hour visit to Big Bend, Texas, offers a perfect blend of adventure, relaxation, and natural beauty. From the Chisos Mountains’ rugged trails to the Rio Grande’s tranquil waters, each moment spent in this remote wilderness is a reminder of nature’s grandeur.


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