We spent our first day at Big Bend National Park exploring the stops, vista points, and short hikes off the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive and visiting the Texas Ghost Town of Terlingua. With only two days allotted for Big Bend, we needed to be a little choosy with what we did on our second day in the park.
Upon entering the park, we drove straight to the Panther Junction Visitor Center and park headquarters. We were trying to find Big Bend t-shirts and a Christmas ornament for my collection, but we found neither. Natalie and I were talking about how disappointed we were and nice woman approached us and told us that the Chisos Mountain Visitor Center has awesome shirts.
So we hopped back in the car and headed toward the Chisos Basin.
Surrounded by spectacular mountain cliffs and incredible views, the Chisos Basin is one of the most popular destinations in Big Bend National Park and when the fog rolls in, it totally has a “Lord of the Rings” feel. Plus, at 5,400 feet elevation, the basin is much cooler than the rest of the park and is provides an enjoyable break from the summer heat.
When we turned off the main road (HWY 118) onto Chisos Basin Road, our view straight ahead was of the beautiful Chisos Mountains and because it was still early in the morning, fog and clouds were settled around the peaks.
Luckily, as we drove Chisos Basin Road, rising more than 2,000 feet above the desert floor, the clouds burned off to reveal majestic red mountains and lush green forests.
Chisos Basin Road is a winding, 6.0 mile drive to the Chisos Basin. The road was constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s and is not recommended for trailers longer than 20 feet or RVs over 24 feet due to its sharp curves and steep grades.
The Chisos Basin Visitor Center is located in the Chisos Basin developed area in the same parking lot as the Chisos Mountains Lodge. The Window, a huge V-shaped notch in the mountainside, rises up behind it and offers a glimpse of the desert in the distance.
At the Visitor Center you can:
- Review interactive exhibits on plants, animals, and birds found in the Chisos Mountains.
- Pick up backcountry and river use permits during normal business hours.
- Pay park entrance fees and pick up a park map.
- Check out a small Big Bend Natural History Association bookstore.
- Fill your water bottles at the faucet on the east side of the building.
Next door to the Visitor Center is the Basin Convenience Store where you can find snacks, apparel, camping supplies, cold dinks and beer, books and maps, sunscreen and hats, and souvenirs. Natalie did find a shirt here, but there was only one that we liked and they had no Christmas ornaments. Bummer.
Hiking In The Chisos Basin
Rising 7,832 feet in elevation, the Chisos Mountains contain a forest of oaks, pines, junipers, madrones, and Arizona cypress. The Chisos Mountains trailhead sits about 100 yards to the west of the Visitor Center. Numerous trails begin here, like the Window Trail and Lost Mine Trail, and range from short walks to long backcountry hikes.
There are about 20 miles of mountain hiking trails within the Chisos, perfect for exploring when the desert becomes too hot to hike in the summer. Our favorite is the easy paved, 0.3 mile Window View Trail.
Know Before You Go
About the Chisos Basin:
- The Chisos Basin Visitor Center is open daily year-round from 8:30 am to 4:00 pm with reduced hours on Christmas Day. It is closed for lunch.
- The visitor center has clean flush restrooms.
- Inside each of Big Bend’s Visitor Centers is a fully stocked bookstore operated in partnership with a private, non-profit organization called Big Bend Natural History Association (BBNHA). The bookstore carries educational books, videos, park information, and souvenirs. All profit from sales stays in the park.
- In addition to the Visitor Center, in the Chisos Basin, you’ll find a campground, the Mountain View Restaurant in the Chisos Mountains Lodge, a camp store, and access to miles of hiking trails.
- The Chisos Mountains Lodge is operated by Forever Resorts, Inc. and is open year-round. It offers a variety of rooms and cottages, and the Mountain View Restaurant provides the only full-service dining inside the national park. It is open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and Hikers Lunches are also available for picnicing elsewhere in the park.
About Big Bend National Park:
- Big Bend National Park is located in Brewster County, southwest Texas.
- The name Big Bend refers to the great U-turn the Rio Grande makes in Southwest Texas. The Rio Grande defines the park’s southern boundary for 118 miles.
- Park entrances are open 24 hours daily, all year. Entrance fee stations have variable seasons and hours.
- Admission fees are valid for seven days and are $30/vehicle, $25/motorcycle, $15/individual/bicyclist/pedestrian.
- There are five Visitor Centers in Big Bend National Park: Panther Junction, Chisos Basin, Castolon, Persimmon Gap, and Rio Grande Village.
- Download the Big Bend National Park maps.
- There are three developed campgrounds in the park: the Chisos Basin, Rio Grande Village, and Cottonwood campgrounds. Sites are first come, first-served, although a limited number of campsites in Rio Grande Village and the Chisos Basin campgrounds are reservable.
- Convenience stores are available and open year-round at Rio Grande Village, the Chisos Basin, and in the historic La Harmonia store at Castolon.
- Gas stations are located at Panther Junction and Rio Grande Village, and outside the park in Study Butte and Stillwell’s Ranch. Diesel is available at Panther Junction and outside the park in Study Butte.
- Pets are not allowed on trails, off roads, or on the river. Your pet can only go where your car can go and must be on a leash no longer than six feet in length or in a cage at all times. Pet etiquette and park regulations require that you always clean up after your pet and dispose of waste in trash receptacles.