Austin to Big Bend National Park: Road Trip Tips!

Driving from Austin to Big Bend National Park is an all-day adventure–in fact, there’s a very good chance that if you stop for sightseeing along the way, you won’t set eyes on the national park on the first day of your Austin to Big Bend road trip.

It might be reasonable to assume that most of the driving route from the capital of Texas to its closest national park would be a fairly boring experience, but no–in fact, the most direct route between Austin and Big Bend won’t even put you onto an interstate for the first couple of hours!

Here’s everything you need to know about driving from Austin to Big Bend National Park.

kate storm standing in big bend national park road trip texas

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How far is Big Bend National Park from Austin?

If you ask Google maps, it will tell you that Big Bend National Park is 437 miles, or roughly 6 hours and 40 minutes, from Austin.

This is, however, an incomplete picture of just how much driving you’ll need to do to get there.

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Big Bend is one of the largest and most remote national parks in America. For a more accurate picture of your driving time, calculate your map based on the Chisos Basin Visitor’s Center. 

This visitor’s center is located near the center of Big Bend and is home to some of the most popular trailheads. It’s also the home of the Chisos Mountain Lodge.

You’ll see that the estimated driving time jumps up almost an hour, to roughly 7.5 hours from central Austin.

santa elena canyon in big bend np texas

General Driving Directions from Austin to Big Bend NP

The most direct route from central Austin will take you out of town on US 290-W. 

You’ll stay on 290 until a bit before Junction. From there, you’ll get onto I-10 W.

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I-10 will take you all the way to Fort Stockton, where you will turn onto US 385-S, which you can then take all the way into the park.

If you’re driving to Big Bend in one day, be sure to grab any gas, food, and general supplies you need before leaving Marathon, as it’ll be the last major town you drive through on your way to Big Bend NP.

red santa fe steam engine in fort stockton as seen when driving from austin to big bend national park

Where to Stop Between Austin and Big Bend National Park

Fredericksburg

When driving from Austin to Big Bend National Park, you’ll pass right through the beloved Hill Country town of Fredericksburg!

Unless you’re planning on a multi-day journey to Big Bend, you probably won’t want to stop so soon, but if you’d like to stretch your legs for a bit, you’ll literally drive right through Fredericksburg’s charming Main Street.

signs for shops along main street with an american flag blowing. visiting main street is one of the best things to do in fredericksburg tx

Sonora

Home to what is one of the most beautiful caves in Texas, the Caverns of Sonora are definitely worth stopping for on your Austin to Big Bend road trip!

In fact, if you only want to plan one sightseeing stop along the way, this is probably your best bet.

Interior of the Caverns of Sonora, one of the best caves in Texas

Junction

Home to the beautiful Llano River and accompanying South Llano River State Park, Junction is a charming Hill Country town.

Ozona

Situated at the far western edge of the Texas Hill Country, Ozona’s town center, complete with a historic courthouse, is perfect for stretching your legs.

History buffs may also want to detour slightly to visit the Fort Lancaster State Historic Site.

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Fort Stockton

Even if it’s only for a quick pitstop, be sure to stop in Fort Stockton to snap a photo with Paisano Pete, the giant roadrunner statue that is famous along this drive between Austin and Big Bend NP.

There are several other fun things to do in Fort Stockton as well, including paying a visit to Historic Fort Stockton and visiting the Annie Riggs Museum.

And, on another note, it’s essentially the last chance to grab gas or a bite to eat until Marathon, which is markedly smaller than Fort Stockton.

paisano pete statue in fort stockton, a popular stop when driving from austin to big bend national park

Marathon

Charming, artistic Marathon is not only a fun stop during an Austin to Big Bend road trip, but it may also be the end of the line for the day: Marathon is one of the best places to stay when visiting Big Bend, as is Alpine, which is located about 30 minutes northwest of Marathon.

If you’re continuing closer to Big Bend, you’ll keep driving south from here–be sure to top off your tank before leaving town!

Tips for an Austin to Big Bend Road Trip

Set realistic expectations when driving from Austin to Big Bend National Park.

If you want to do a lot of sightseeing along the way, you probably won’t set eyes on Big Bend National Park the day you arrive–in the daylight, anyway.

wooden church as seen in fort stockton texas on an austin to big bend road trip tx

Fill up on gas when you can.

I already mentioned this above, but Marathon and Alpine are essentially considered the last major towns–and I use the word “major” very loosely here–you’ll pass before heading into very remote Big Bend Country. Be prepared!

Expect to lose cell phone signal eventually.

Essentially, once you pass Marathon, it’s best not to count on having signal.

Most of Big Bend National Park has little-to-no cell phone service.

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Enjoy the ride!

An Austin to Big Bend road trip can be lots of fun, especially if you plan to enjoy the journey along the way.

Pick a couple of stops to look forward to and be ready for some interesting views… and a lot of seemingly endless wide-open spaces.

european style garden in marathon texas

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