Big Bend is a large park and it can be overwhelming trying to find a good hike for your first visit. Big Bend really is at its best for those who can take a full week to explore it. However there is an opportunity to have a great backpacking trip experience even if you only have a few days to spare. The trail system in the Chisos Mountains offers a good solid two day hike showcasing some of the best views of the park.
Big Bend is far off the beaten path and is a full days drive from most cities. The phone GPS will get you most of the way there, and by the time the signal is lost there are highway signs guiding you the rest of the way in.
Try and avoid getting to Big Bend any later than 3:00 PM. You need to have enough time to get your back country permit, and a map if you need it. (I purchased the National Geographic Topographic map from the gift shop, and found it very handy.) You also want to get there early enough to find a campsite at the Chisos Basin campsite since its first come first serve and fills up quickly.
The gear recommendation is based on my two-day solo hike.
On My Head
Lightweight Running Cap (Under Armor)
On My Feet
Hiking boots (Keen Gypsum)
Flip flops for and around camp.
In My Pack
Backpack – (Osprey Aether 60)
Tent – (Eureka! Sunriver 2)
Down sleeping bag – (REI Igneo)
Sleeping pad – (Exped SynCell)
Stove – (Jetboil)
Trekking poles – (Black Diamond trail pro)
Repair/First aid kit
Headlamp (Petzl Tikka)
Flask (Ranger Creek-Rimfire)
After packing up my campsite and loading my pack with lots of extra water, I parked at the Chisos Mountains Lodge. I followed the Laguna Meadows trail, snaking my way up the mountain. It’s a decent climb right at the start, but it’s less of a climb than going up the Pinnacles Trail direction.
Once you get to Blue Creek the walking gets to be easier with less climbing. I meet a couple park wardens on this part of the trail. Seeing my pack they asked to check my permit. I would recommend having your permit in an accessible place.
I then followed the Southwest Rim portion of the trail. This is where some of the most spectacular views are. Standing on the edge of the South Rim will take your breath away and should not be missed.
I would have liked to continue along the Northeast Rim, but it is closed early in the year. Instead I began my way back down Boot canyon trail to my campsite, Boot Canyon. I would avoid the BC1 campsite. It is small and right on the trail. The other BC sites are secluded and are good places to pitch a tent.
With some rain during the night I hung out my gear to dry as I had breakfast. Seeing new storm clouds roll in I quickly packed up and started to head out. At Toll mountain I cut upwards to Emory peak. Once again this is a spectacular view that should not be missed.
It’s only one mile to the peak from the main trail, but it’s a steep climb. From Emory Peak it is a slow descent down the Pinnacles Trail. On your way down you will most likely be passing lots of day hikers out of breath asking how much further the summit is.
If you have an extra day the Juniper Flats are a good option for camping. Alternatively you can push past back to the trailhead.
There are bears and mountain lions, so make sure that you stay alert and are familiar with how to react to such encounters. Each campsite has a strong box to store your food.
Water is the challenge with any Big Bend hiking. It is important to always carry enough water because there is not a reliable source out on the trail. When I went there was some water at Boot Springs that probably could have been filtered, but from my understanding, often times it is dried up. A good recommended amount is 1 gallon per person per day. For a two-day hike that’s an extra 16 pounds of extra weight.
It is required to get a backcountry permit to camp on the trail. You can do this at the Headquarters and Panther Junction. Make sure you have a good idea of where you want to camp ahead of time so that it’s a faster process in the station. I found this very helpful in picking campsites ahead of time. Some of the campsites can only have 1 or 2 tents so the site you want may be already booked, so plan on backup sites. The sites along the south rim often book up fast.
Feel free to message me with any specific questions about the trail or Big Bend and I will do my best to answer. As mentioned before, the park is a challenge for most to get to because of the distance, but it is well worth the trip.
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