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15 Beautiful Hikes in Big Bend National Park

Wild, remote, and gigantic, the best hikes in Big Bend National Park showcase the best of the Chihuahuan Desert and beyond.

From stunning mountain views in the Chisos Basin to the rugged beauty of Santa Elena Canyon, hiking in Big Bend is an experience that you won’t forget anytime soon.

Its mountains rise above the shared borders of the U.S. and the country of Mexico. Situated in the Chihuahuan desert, which both countries share, Big Bend has its own mini-ecosystem that separates it from the surrounding area. 

Whether it is a mountain, river, or desert hike you want, Big Bend National Park offers plenty of options suitable to a variety of skill levels.

views of wild horses in the desert in big bend np

Each hike graded in difficulty as, Easy, Moderate, or Difficult. 

Unless otherwise noted, trail distances are listed as a round-trip.

Here are the best hikes in Big Bend National Park!

A Note on Hiking in Big Bend National Park

Big Bend’s status as one of the most remote US national parks, be prepared to do a lot of driving to get both to and between each of these hikes in Big Bend NP.

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Plan your hikes in advance, as you’ll need a solid plan in order to make the most of your time in Big Bend, especially during the weekends and busy season when the limited parking at some trailheads can fill quickly.

The driving distance between the Lost Mine trailhead and the Santa Elena Canyon trailhead, for example, is more than an hour each way!

kate storm standing in big bend national park road trip texas

The Best Mountain Hikes in Big Bend

Home to some of the most popular hikes in Big Bend National Park, the Chisos Basin offers mountain views that people unfamiliar with Big Bend Country may be surprised to find in Texas!

Lost Mine Trail

Difficulty: Moderate

Total Distance: 4.9 miles

Time to Complete: 3 hours

Elevation Gain: 1,135 ft

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With sweeping views of the Chisos Mountains and a relatively short trail, it’s no surprise that the Lost Mine Trail is among the most popular hikes in Big Bend National Park!

If you have limited time, you can hike only the first mile of the trail, where you’ll come to a beautiful viewpoint–but if at all possible, press on: the rewards are worth it.

Keep in mind that the combination of this trail’s popularity and the very limited parking at the trailhead can make it difficult to access.

A very early-morning start is recommended if you want to guarantee your hike!

view of wildflowers and mountains along lost mine hiking trail big bend np

Chisos Basin Loop Trail

Difficulty: Moderate

Total Distance: 1.8+ miles

Time to Complete: 1.5 hrs

Elevation Gain: 400 ft

Towering above the Chihuahuan Desert is one of the most popular mountain hikes into Big Bend National Forest.

Temperatures here are up to 10 degrees cooler than the desert floor below, making it often used during the hot months of the Texas summer. 

The hike’s short distance is perfect for families who make day trips to the park and want to be back to get back on the road before nightfall. 

The scenery of the Chisos Mountains gives this trail a punch even for its short distance. 

sunrise in chisos basin with mountains in the background

Boot Canyon Trail

Difficulty: Difficult

Total Distance: 6.2 miles out and back

Time to Complete: 4-6 hrs

Elevation Gain: 1900 ft

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Boot Canyon Trail provides the perfect distanced hike for those who like a challenge without the excessive mileage that comes with some difficult-rated trails. 

You will spend most of your hiking time climbing above rows of greenery as the path is full of bushy trees and cactus. 

During the rainy season, pools of water settle along the trail to keep any boredom of setting in while you avoid them. 

boot canyon view as seen when hiking in big bend national park

Emory Peak

Difficulty: Difficult

Total Distance: 10.5 miles

Time to Complete: 6-8 hrs

Elevation Gain: 2500 ft

This incredible Big Bend hike is not for the faint of heart, as the several miles of trails are mainly at a steep grade, especially as you get close to the peak itself. 

Some choose to break the trail in two and set up camp halfway up, giving them a rest before starting again the next morning. 

Bring plenty of water with you on the climb, as dehydration from your exertion and altitude can set in before you are aware of it. Take no less than a gallon of water for each person. 

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When the sun drops, temperatures turn cool, so bring something warm to put on, no matter the time of year, in case you find yourself caught on the trail at night. 

The hike up to the peak has some of the best views in Big Bend National Park, with several sections of the trail running along the sides of mountains that give you visual access to far distances. 

Once at the climbing point to the peak (last 1.5 miles), steel bear boxes are ready to store your backpack, so you don’t have to carry it up the steppes part of the grade to the top of Emory Peak.

Watch your footing on this leg as the rock is loose in several places. 

views from emory peak hiking trail in big bend national park

Window Trail

Difficulty: Moderate

Total Distance: 5.6 miles

Time to Complete: 2-3 hrs

Elevation Gain: 948 ft

Make your way down through the beautiful Oak Creek Canyon, complete with (depending on the season) multiple water crossings, and you’ll be rewarded with stunning views of Big Bend National Park and of the pour-off at the window itself.

This hike is a Big Bend favorite for a reason, but be prepared: the real work happens on your way back when you need to ascend through the canyon again.

Be prepared to sweat during the final section of the trail!

sunset over a rocky section of texas hiking trail in big bend nap, home to some of the best hiking in texas

South Rim

Difficulty: Difficult

Total Distance: 14.5 Miles

Time to Complete: 6-8 hrs

Elevation Gain: 2800 ft

After a short hike from the starting trailhead and mainly on level ground, this beautiful hike in Big Bend NP turns into a stair climber in nature.

In fact, much of the elevation gain on this trail takes place not too far after the start. 

The climb continues on a rocky trail that switches back often. All the while, views of the Chisos Mountains interrupt your concentration and beg you to take a break to take them in. 

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Shade isn’t a problem on this trail as you’ll be blessed with canopies of both hard and softwood trees, with the oaks providing plenty of respite from the sun. 

As you progress through the trails, both the scenery and the topography change, giving you welcome changes throughout the day. 

Once reaching the South Rim, you’ll find you have made it higher than some of the clouds if the conditions are right.

The view of the basin below is only one that those who have seen it can describe. Say hello and wave to Mexico, which can be seen in the distance. 

man sitting overlooking big bend south rim

Balanced Rock Trail

Difficulty: Easy

Total Distance: 2 miles

Time to Complete: 1-2 hrs

Elevation Gain: 232 ft

Though the Balanced Rock trail in Big Bend isn’t at the Chisos Basin trailhead, it’s located fairly close by, so we’re including it in this section for ease.

At roughly one mile each way and with limited elevation gain, the Balanced Rock hike (technically known as the Grapevine Hills trail) is among the quickest of the best hikes in Big Bend NP–perfect for including as a second hike in a day!

The namesake of the trail is as beautiful as it is obvious, and a fantastic Big Bend photo spot!

The only catch?

The trailhead is about 6 miles down Grapevine Spring, which is a dirt road. You don’t necessarily need a 4-wheel drive–the road is well-kept–but low-lying sedans may want to pass on this one.

balanced rock in big bend national park

Desert Hiking Trails in Big Bend NP

Chimneys Trail

Begins: From Mile 13 on Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive

Difficulty: Moderate

Total Distance: 4.8 miles

Time to Complete: 1.5 to 3 hrs

Elevation Gain: 350 ft

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Moving to the surrounding desert, we find the Chimneys Trail.

Like most of the desert hikes in Big Bend National Park, you’ll know you’re here by the sound of million-year-old crushed rock crunching under your footfalls. 

The Chimney Trail is a different animal from the strenuous mountain hikes. With only a little over 300 ft of gain, your legs will know the difference. 

The heat of the desert is much warmer, though, so be sure and bring plenty of water as the dry air sucks what you have inside faster than you may think. Low lying brush and foothills are for miles is the scenery for viewing on this trail.

 Each large outcrop of rock is an island that begs to be explored.

This is a perfect hiking trail for the family, just be sure to bring plenty of skin protection as the sun is unrelenting. 

view overlooking open desert space on chimney trail

Dog Canyon

Begins: 3.5 miles south of Persimmon Gap Visitor Center

Difficulty: Moderate

Total Distance: 4 miles

Time to Complete: 1.5 to 3 hrs

Elevation Gain: Negligible

Our next Big Bend hiking trail trades the rocky ground for a thick sand floor that one would expect on a beach.

Except here in the Chihuahuan Desert, you may not see water for miles. 

Low lying mountains surround Dog Canyon but don’t create much of a challenge in elevation gain. It’s a peaceful walk where the wind strongly blows in your face as it whips through the canyon. 

Keep an eye out in the basalt rock outcrops, as you may spot a small cave to check out.

Use caution, however, this is the wild, and you may be in for a surprise when exploring. 

man with his back to the camera hiking a sandy portion of dog canyon in big bend

Marufo Vega

Begins: Marufo Vega Trailhead

Difficulty: Difficult

Total Distance: 12 miles

Time to Complete: 6-8 hrs

Elevation Gain: 2700 ft

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Passing through steep canyon walls, Marufo Vega isn’t a Big Bend hike for those who are inexperienced–but with excellent views of the Rio Grande and surrounding landscape, it’s a memorable trek for those ready to take it on.

As you climb higher, the panoramas open, and the rocks under your feet become loose. Most of this climb is uphill and at 12 miles, makes it the most challenging hike in the desert portion of Big Bend National Park. 

With some of the best views of the area below, you’ll be glad you made the effort. 

view of rio grande below a rocky canyon on a hiking trail big bend np

Mariscal Canyon Rim Trail

Begins: Mariscal Rim Trailhead

Difficulty: Difficult 

Total Distance: 6.5 miles

Time to Complete: 3 to 4 hrs

Elevation Gain: 1700 ft

I’m not sure if a western movie was ever made in this area, but if not, they need to start filming them here. This trail is the epitome of a high desert trail. 

At only a little over six miles, this trail packs a punch with its view of valleys below.

Be warned; if you are afraid of heights, this trail will test your fear with its overlooks far below, one at over 1400 ft down. 

Here, you feel as if you are walking on the top of the earth and looking down at a strange world below. 

Note: You must enjoy remote areas to hike this trail. Getting to the trailhead is an adventure in itself. 

canyon hiking trail big bend np

River-Focused Big Bend Hikes to Experience

Big Bend National Park is bordered on one side by the beautiful Rio Grande River–or, to put it another way, by a section of the US/Mexico border.

Some of these river hikes in Big Bend feature stunning views of both countries at once, making them fairly unique among hikes in US national parks!

Hot Springs Canyon Trail

Begins: Daniel’s Ranch or Hot Springs Trailhead

Difficulty: Moderate 

Total Distance: 6 miles

Time to Complete: 2-3 hours

Elevation Gain: 900 ft

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Getting its name from a spot along the way where you can take a dip into hot springs, this six-mile trail is one of the most popular hikes in Big Bend National Park. 

Parts of the trail find you walking at elevation and looking down at the river below, while other times, you are close to the river’s edge. 

Enjoy the low lying desert grasses and hordes of blind prickly pear cactus that dot the landscape along the way. 

Don’t forget to take a dip in the springs!

pool at langford hot springs texas

Santa Elena Canyon Trail

Starting Point: Termination of Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive

Difficulty:  Easy

Total Distance: 1.7 miles

Time to Complete: 1-1.5 hrs

Elevation Gain: Negligible

If you are seeking an easy hike in Big Bend where you will remember the surroundings forever, the Santa Elena Canyon Trail is for you.

While the drive to get there takes almost as long as hiking the trail itself for most visitors, as it is located on the southern edge of the park, the effort is well worth it.

Find yourself at the conjunction of the Rio Grande and Terlingua Creek, where you’ll find your way across the creek to continue on the trail. 

The trail takes you slightly up the canyon wall and descends back down to the Rio Grande, where you find the tall and sheer walls of the Santa Elena Canyon with the river running through it. 

Regardless of your hiking skill, it’s worth experiencing Santa Elena Canyon for the views alone!

kate storm hiking in santa elena canyon, one of the best big bend hikes

Boquillas Canyon Trail

Starting Point: Boquillas Canyon Trailhead

Difficulty: Moderate

Total Distance: 1.5 miles

Time to Complete: 1 hr

Elevation Gain: Negligible

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Stretch your legs before starting the trail since there is a short but steep climb from the parking lot. 

Once at the overlook, head down to the river where the trail runs along the edge until the steep walls of the Boquillas Canyon join the waters of the Rio Grande. 

The deep sand build-up from the flooding river towards the end of the trail makes it difficult to get through but is a great time for kids to play in. 

Take a picnic and spend some time along the river to make sure you don’t finish this beautiful Big Bend hike too fast. 

two photos of big bend national park: balanced rock and rio grande from above. black and red text on a white background reads "15 best hikes big bend np"

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