Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park

In A Nutshell

Entrance Passes

If you plan to visit other national parks, you may want to purchase an Interagency Annual Pass.

If you are a U.S. citizen or permanent resident and age 62 or older, you may qualify for a Senior Pass.

If you are a U.S. citizen or permanent resident and have a permanent disability, you may qualify for an Access Pass.

Older passes and passports

The Golden Age and the Golden Access Passports will continue to be honored for the lifetime of the pass holder, so both passes, along with the new Interagency Senior and Access Passes, will be valid for many years to come.

Big Bend Annual Pass
The Big Bend National Park Annual Pass has a cost of $40 and is valid for 12 months (ending the last day of the purchase month, one year later). It covers entrance fees to Big Bend National Park, but does not cover camping fees.

Big Bend National Park Annual Passes are available at the Big Bend National Park entrance stations or at the Panther Junction Visitor Center.

The pass is non-transferable.

Interagency Annual Pass
The Interagency Annual Pass costs $80 and is valid for 12 months (ending the last day of the purchase month, one year later). The pass covers entrance to Fish and Wildlife Service Refuges (FWS) and National Park Service (NPS) sites that charge an entrance fee, but does not cover camping fees or other use fees, such as cave tours. The pass also covers use of Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation), and Forest Service (USDA FS) sites that charge a Standard Amenity Fee.

Where a "per vehicle" entrance fee is charged, the pass admits purchaser and accompanying passengers in a single, private, non-commercial vehicle. Where a "per person" entrance fee is charged, Pass admits purchaser, and up to 3 persons.

The Interagency Annual Pass is available at all Big Bend National Park entrance stations, and visitor centers, or at other national parks or federal recreation areas. Pass is valid for one full year from the date of purchase and is is non-transferable.

Senior Pass
The Golden Age Passport is available to U.S. citizens or permanent residents who are age 62 or older. There is a one-time charge of $10 for this lifetime pass. The pass provides free entrance to most federal recreation areas and provides a 50% discount on use fees, such as camping fees.

Senior Passes are available at all Big Bend National Park entrance stations and visitor centers, or at other national parks or federal recreation areas. You will need to show proof of age (such as a driver's license or identification card) to obtain a Golden Age Passport.

The pass is non-transferable.

Access Pass
The Access Pass is available to U.S. citizens or permanent residents who have a permanent disability. The pass is free and is good for life. It provides free entrance to most federal recreation areas and provides a 50% discount on use fees, such as camping fees.

Access Passes are available at Big Bend National Park entrance stations and visitor centers, or at other national parks or federal recreation areas.

The pass is non-transferable.

Visitor Centers

Big Bend has five visitor center that provide visitor information, entrance fees, permits and other services. Three of these facilities are open year-round, two during the busier season.

Year-Round Visitor Centers

Panther Junction Visitor Center
Located at park headquarters, the Panther Junction visitor center is the best over-all beginning point to your visit.

Chisos Basin Visitor Center
The Basin visitor center includes interactive exhibits on the plants, animals and birds that can be found in the Chisos Mountains.

Persimmon Gap Visitor Center
Located at the north entrance to the park, the Persimmon Gap visitor center has exihibits that provide information on floating the Rio Grande.

Seasonal Visitor Centers (November-April)

Castolon Visitor Center 
Located in the historic La Harmonia store building, the Castolon visitor center includes exhibits that explore the multi-faceted history of this border region.

Rio Grande Village Visitor Center

The Rio Grande Village visitor center includes a small theatre where park films can be shown.

Rio Grande Village Area

Rio Grande Village is the center of visitor activity during the winter months. Here you will find a Park Service Campground and Visitor Center, Concession operated store, laundry, and shower facility. The store also runs the Rio Grande Village RV Hookup campground. Great scenery, warm temperatures, abundant wildlife, and full visitor services make this a must visit location for any Big Bend outing.

Elevation
1850 feet (564m)

Facilities & Services
The visitor center here is open seasonally. The camper store, including the gas station, public showers and laundromat, is open year-round. Two campgrounds are located here: a 100-site Class A campground and a 25-site concession-operated full-hookup campground for RVs.

What to Do
Rio Grande Village Nature Trail
Although a very short and easy trail (3/4 mile round-trip), the RGV Nature Trail is very scenic and offers fantastic opportunities for wildlife viewing, especially birds. A self-guiding leaflet describes the area's natural and human history. Pick up the trailhead behind RGV campground site #18.

Daniel's Ranch Picinic Area
Located on the west side of Rio Grande Village, this picnic area is located in the old Daniel's Ranch. The trailhead for the Hot Springs Canyon trail is nearby. Another excellent spot for birding!

Hot Springs Historic District
Take a soak in the hot spings and explore the remains of Big Bend's first resort.

Boquillas Canyon

No visit to the east side of the park is complete without a stop at Boquillas Canyon. An overlook and trail provide opportunities to view or explore the canyon.

Things To Know Before You Come

Here are some things you might want to know about Big Bend National and the Rio Grande Wild & Scenic River before you visit the area.

  • At over 800,000 acres, Big Bend is the 15th largest National Park in the United States. more...
  • Contrary to conventional wisdom, the later summer months are usually cooler. May and June are the hottest months of the year. more...
  • Throughout much of the year, solitude is easily found in Big Bend; March, April, and the winter holidays are generally the busiest times of year.
  • A small population of Mexican black bears reside in the Chisos Mountains; make sure to properly store your food to ensure that bears and other wild animals cannot obtain it. more...
  • Big Bend is located on the international boundary between the United States and Mexico. more...
  • Over two hundred miles of trails provide access to Big Bend's mountain, river, and desert environments. more...
  • Over 175 miles of unpaved roads provide access to Big Bend's spectacular backcountry. more...
  • The only ATM inside the park is located at the Chisos Mountains Lodge. Other banking options are limited. more...
  • The desert sun can be deadly. Always carry enough water when hiking; wide-brimmed hats and sunscreen are also excellent precautions. more...
  • Located in the Chisos Basin, the Chisos Mountains Lodge is the only lodging located within the park. Outside of the park numerous lodging options can be found in the Terlingua/Study Butte community. more...
  • Pets are not allowed on any park trails. more...
  • The speed limit on all park roads is 45 MPH (72 KPH); all passengers must wear seatbelts.
  • Your cell phone may not work here; have a back-up plan for communication. Public phones are located throughout the park. more...

 

What's So Special About Big Bend?

Big Bend National Park encompasses more than 800,000 acres in southwest Texas. For more than 1,000 miles, the Rio Grande forms the international boundary between Mexico and the United States; Big Bend National Park administers approximately one-quarter of that boundary. Within the 118 twisting miles that also define the park's southern boundary, the river's southeasterly flow changes abruptly to the northeast and forms the "big bend" of the Rio Grande.

Because the Rio Grande serves as an international boundary, the park faces unusual constraints when administering and enforcing park rules, regulations, and policies. The park has jurisdiction only to the center of the deepest river channel; the rest of the river lies within the Republic of Mexico.

South of the border, people call the Rio Grande by its Spanish name, Rio Bravo del Norte. South of the river lie the Mexican states of Chihuahua and Coahuila and the new protected areas for flora and fauna, which are comprised of regions known as the Maderas del Carmen and the Cañon de Santa Elena.

Big Bend National Park has national significance as the largest protected area of Chihuahuan Desert topography and ecology in the United States. Few areas exceed the park's value for the protection and study of geologic and paleontologic resources. Cretaceous and Tertiary fossil organisms exist in variety and abundance. Archeologists have discovered artifacts estimated to be 9,000 years old, and historic buildings and landscapes offer graphic illustration of life along the international border at the turn of the century.

The park exhibits dramatic contrasts; its climate may be characterized as one of extremes. Dry, hot late spring and early summer days often exceed 100 degrees in the lower elevations. Winters are normally mild throughout the park, but sub-freezing temperatures occasionally occur. Because of the range in altitude from approximately 1,800 feet along the river to 7,800 feet in the Chisos Mountains, a wide variation in available moisture and in temperature exists throughout the park. These variations contribute to an exceptional diversity in plant and animal habitats.

The 118 river miles that form the southern park boundary include the spectacular canyons of Santa Elena, Mariscal, and Boquillas. The Rio Grande, meandering through this portion of the Chihuahuan Desert, has cut deep canyons with nearly vertical walls through three uplifts comprised primarily of limestone. Throughout the open desert areas, the highly productive Rio Grande riparian zone includes various plant and animal species and significant cultural resources. The vegetative belt extends into the desert along creeks and arroyos.

Cultural resources in the park range from the Paleo-Indian period 10,500 years ago through the historic period represented by Native American groups, such as the Chisos, Mescalero Apache, and Comanche. More recently, Spanish, Mexican, and American settlers farmed, ranched, and mined in the area.

Throughout the prehistoric period, humans found shelter and maintained open campsites throughout the park. The archeological record reveals an Archaic-period desert culture whose inhabitants developed a nomadic hunting and gathering lifestyle that remained virtually unchanged for several thousand years.

The historic cultural landscape centers upon various subsistence or commercial land uses. The riparian and tributary environments were used for subsistence and irrigation farming. Transportation networks, irrigation structures, simple domestic residences and outbuildings, and planed and terraced farm land lining the stream banks characterize these landscapes.

Big Bend National Park lies in south Brewster County, one of the most sparsely populated areas of the country. Brewster County consists of 6,204 square miles and has a population of approximately 13,000 people. Most of the population resides in two towns: Marathon and Alpine, which lie 69 and 100 miles respectively to the north and northwest of park headquarters. The western gateway communities of Study Butte, Terlingua, and Lajitas have experienced growth in recent years but still lag behind Marathon and Alpine in terms of population.

There are as many ways to enjoy Big Bend as there are people who visit. The diversity of recreational options here offers something for almost everyone. While many visitors are content to enjoy Big Bend from the comfort of the paved scenic drives, others with rugged vehicles prefer the challenge and remoteness of the park's many unimproved dirt roads.

Any park ranger will tell you that neither desert nor mountains will truly reveal themselves to a motor vehicle. To experience the best of Big Bend, you should get out on foot, if only for a short time, and become part of the landscape. Listen to the desert silence, smell the creosotebush, and gaze towards a distant mountain range, and you will soon realize how special this place is.

Planning for a peak period visit

When it's busy, it's really busy
Big Bend's "busy" season is generally from November through April. However, the park is often full to capacity for six weeks each year: Thanksgiving week, Christmas/New Years, and the Spring Break season during the middle weeks of March. These extra-busy periods can often be frustrating to visitors, as lodging and camping both in the park and outside of it are often fully booked. In order to maximize your visit, it is best to plan ahead and have alternatives.

Lodging and Camping Resources
The resource in shortest supply in Big Bend during a peak period is camping and lodging. The demand for campsites and overnight lodging WILL be far greater than the number of campsites and rooms available within the park. Once the developed campgrounds and designated backcountry campsites are full, the only other camping option in the park will be backpacking in remote desert areas away from roads and trails. Advance reservations for camping & lodging (when possible) are highly recommended.

Backcountry Tips

The peak periods occur at times of year when Big Bend's immense backcountry is more comfortable to access (largely due to cooler weather). While the backcountry offers nearly limitless opportunities, it also provides greater challenges; backcountry campsites offer few immenities, and the desert backcountry environment can severely test the unprepared.

Weather Averages

The table below is based on average temperatures at the Panther Junction park headquarters. Temperatures in the higher mountain areas vary about 5-10 degrees below those shown, while temperatures along the Rio Grande can be 5-10 degrees higher. Sunshine is abundant most of the year. Infrequent and brief periods of cloudy weather may occur during the winter months. While snow is rare and generally light, occasional cold fronts can bring temperatures well below freezing.

Month Average Max. Temp (°F) Average Min. Temp (°F) Monthly Precip. Average (inches) Cumulative Precip. Average (inches)
January 60.9 35.0 .46 .46
February 66.2 37.8 .34 .80
March 77.4 45.3 .31 1.11
April 80.7 52.3 .70 1.81
May 88.0 59.3 1.50 3.31
June 94.2 65.5 1.93 5.24
July 92.9 68.3 2.09 7.33
August 91.1 66.4 2.35 9.68
September 86.4 61.9 2.12 11.80
October 78.8 52.7 2.27 14.07
November 68.5 42.3 .70 14.77
December 62.2 36.4 .57 15.34

 

A Big Bend Overview

A Big Bend Overview
The author Fredrick Gelbach describes these borderlands aptly when he calls them "a carpet of interacting plants and animals deftly woven on a geologic loom." This statement conjures up images of looming mountains, stark desert landscapes, and a ribbon of water slicing through it all. And, indeed, this is what Big Bend and the surrounding area is—a diverse natural area of river, desert, and mountains, and a land of extremes—hot and cold, wet and dry, high and low. To wander the shimmering desert flats, to ascend the rimrocks of the desert mountains, to float the canyons of the Rio Grande—to be "on the border"— is to experience sights and sounds and solitude unmatched elsewhere.

In the heart of Big Bend National Park lie the Chisos Mountains, mountains born of fire during volcanic eruptions and intrusions 40 - 60 million years ago and exposed by the incessant forces of erosion. As you ascend the slopes of the Chisos, the thorns of the desert give way to evergreens like pinyon pine and juniper, and oak trees appear. Some surprising species living at the very limit of their ranges can be found in the higher, moister areas—bigtooth maple, quaking aspen, and Douglas fir. Although only 2% of the park is woodland, this area draws people like a magnet—especially in the summer—as daytime temperatures are usually about 20 degrees cooler than by the river. Here, in this mountain island surrounded by a desert sea, one can find flora and fauna unique to the Chihuahuan desert and some unique to Big Bend.

Whether hiking to gain a glimpse of the colima warbler, a much sought after bird by birdwatchers which winters in Mexico but is only seen in Big Bend here in the U.S., or to get a coveted look at a mountain lion or black bear, or to see the towering displays of the century plants in bloom—whatever the reason, visitors to the Chisos are struck by the contrasts the mountains provide—prickly pear and pine tree side by side, snow-covered cactus, and a waterfall flowing through a feature called the “Window” to the desert below.

It’s been said that if the Chisos Mountains are the heart of Big Bend, then the desert floor is its soul. Ninety-eight percent of the park is desert, and like the mountains, the desert is a land of contrasts—a place where you can touch 400 million year old rocks with one hand, and a day-old flower with the other, where extremes of temperatures of 50 degrees or more between dawn and mid-day are not uncommon.

Big Bend’s desert landscape itself is a study in contrasts—mesas, mountains, and dikes formed by volcanic activity, limestone ridges and cliffs formed 100 - 200 million years ago when shallow seas covered the area, and ever-changing arroyos, dry most of the year, but subject to violent flash flooding during summer rains. Water is truly the “architect” of the desert, as its presence or absence determines the way the desert looks, its plant and animal life, and the way humans have been able to use it through time. Lest you feel a pang of pity for the roadrunners, coyotes, or javelinas you may encounter living in this harsh land, don’t—the adaptations that allow these creatures to live here are no less than amazing, and, in fact, even allow them to thrive. Instead, think of the land not as burdened by its lack (or in some months, abundance) of water, but rather as blessed. It is this cycle of wet and dry, so unfamiliar to those from wetter climates, that allows us our spectacular display of bluebonnets, yucca blossoms, and other spectacular wildflowers. Our water, although paltry to some, is enough—for a desert. Any more, and this place would be something very different.

The one location where you can count on seeing water in Big Bend is along the Rio Grande—an oasis that’s been called the “lifeblood” of Big Bend. To drift through the majestic canyons of the Rio Grande with your oars touching two countries at the same time is to span time and space. Although the river, as the boundary between the United States and Mexico, looks like a solid line on the maps of the area, it is always changing, always going somewhere, and it takes us along on its current opening our eyes to a panorama of towering cliffs, brilliant bird life, and grassy vegas or beaches. As you drift with the current, you may see both the expected and the unexpected—the black phoebe flitting to and fro, a turtle - a Big Bend slider, perhaps—perched on a rock slipping with a quiet “plop” into the water, swallows darting into their mud-nest “apartments”, or a peregrine falcon stooping to its prey. And then, at night, the display of stars, connecting you to other parts of the world as well as to other worlds.

A visit to Big Bend provides opportunities for us to escape to isolation seldom found in daily life—a chance to experience unfamiliar creatures and plants, an endless expanse of stark desert and mountain scenery, and the vast space, heat, and silence that is the essence of the desert. Big Bend has been described as harsh, isolated, lonely, parched, and desolate, but for some people, in all of these adjectives—in the remoteness and isolation—lies the fascination of the Chihuahuan desert. From the earliest days of human occupation, people have recognized the value of this rugged land that the Spanish called “El Despoblado,” and as a result, the people and the land have had a long partnership here.

Operating Hours & Seasons

The gates never close
The park is open 24 hours daily, all year. The Panther Junction Visitor Center is open daily, 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., but may be closed on Christmas Day. The entrance stations and other visitor centers have variable seasons and hours.

When is it busy?
Big Bend is relatively uncrowded much of the year. Visitation is highest in March and April. The park is extremely crowded during spring break, which is usually the second and third week in March. Easter weekend, Thanksgiving weekend, and the week between Christmas and New Year's Day are also very busy. All lodging and campsites are usually full during these periods. Visitation is lowest in August and September.

Entrance Fee Waivers

Fee Waiver Qualifications
In order to qualify for a waiver, a group must meet all of the following criteria:

  • Educational and scientific groups must submit proof of official recognition as an accredited institution by a federal, state, or local government entity. Private schools or other scientific institutions may submit documentation of tax exempt status granted for educational purposes. Groups or organizations that have been "officially recognized by a school or scientific institution for the purpose of providing education…" must provide evidence of this official recognition.
  • The intended trip must relate directly to the educational or scientific purpose of the visit and to the unique features and resources of Big Bend. The visit "shall not be primarily for recreation purposes." Submit a one-page lesson plan listing objectives, itinerary, and how lessons relate to park resources.
  • Requests from colleges or universities should also include a copy of the course description from the school's course catalog or handbook.

How to Apply
Complete the Fee Waiver for Educational Study form and mail it, along with the criteria listed above, in writing, at least two weeks in advance of your visit to:

Fee Waivers
ATTN: Entrance Fee Coordinator
National Park Service
P.O. Box 129
Big Bend National Park, TX 79834

Or by fax: 432-477-1175

Note: The proposed trip must be sanctioned as an approved school educational activity by an authorized school official. The form must be signed by the school's principal, department head, or other appropriate official.

Additional information
Other than groups traveling as part of a commercial tour, individuals 16 years or under, or individuals 62 years and older possessing Golden Age Passports, or permanently disabled persons possessing Golden Access Passports, are exempt from park entry fees. If an educational fee waiver has not been granted, all others must pay the required entrance fees.

Be sure each vehicle has a copy of the approved fee waiver in its possession at the entrance gate or they will be charged normal entrance fees.

Call 432-477-1121 for additional assistance.

Places To Go

Big Bend offers many interesting places to visit during your stay in the park. It is recommended that your first stop be at one of the parks visitor centers. Here you can obtain all the information needed for a safe and enjoyable experience. Three developed, or frontcountry, campgrounds are located in the park, offering convenient places for camping. Numerous backcountry camping opporunities also exist in the park.

Covering over 800,000 acres, Big Bend is a big place; to help you plan your trip the following pages explore various sections of the park, centered around the five visitor centers and developed areas:

Panther Junction Area
All roads (the paved ones anyway) lead to Panther Junction. Located here is the park headquarters and main visitor center. Just a short distance down the road is one of two gas stations in the park. This is a great place to get started!

Panther Junction Area
All roads (the paved ones anyway) lead to Panther Junction. Located here is the park headquarters and main visitor center. Just a short distance down the road is one of two gas stations in the park. This is a great place to get started!

Persimmon Gap Area
As the northern gateway to the park, a majority of our visitors pass by Persimmon Gap as they enter Big Bend. A visitor center and picnic area are located at the gap. Along the road to Pather Junction are a number of roadside pull-offs and several dayhikes.

Rio Grande Village Area
A winter-time focal point, Rio Grande Village offers two campgrounds (one with RV hook-ups), a camper store with public showers and laundry. The camper store also offers gasoline. The visitor center here is open seasonally. Rio Grande Village is one of the best places to observe wildlife in the park, due to its proximity to the Rio Grande.
 
In the summer the river corridor averages over 100°F. A number of hikes, from easy to challenging start in this area. A soak in the hot springs eases sore muscles.

Castolon Area
The west side of the park offers stunning desert views and opportunities to explore the complex history of the region. The Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive to Castolon offers numerous roadside exhibits and short hikes as well as a visual introduction to the geology of the Big Bend. Santa Elena Canyon looms over the this park of the park, and can be seen for many miles.

The Castolon Historic district offers a visitor center (open seasonally) and a historic store. The nearby Cottonwood campground provides a quiet, riverside camping experience.

 

How Far is it From?

The Big Bend region is vast and isolated. Highway travel between destinations usually takes several hours and available services can be limited.

Mileage from Big Bend National Park Headquarters at Panther Junction to:

Abilene - 392 miles Alpine -100 miles
Amarillo - 481 miles Austin - 474 miles
Beaumont - 697 miles Big Spring - 281 miles
Brownsville - 634 miles Brownwood - 398 miles
Carlsbad Caverns NP, New Mexico - 305 miles Corpus Christi - 526 miles
Dallas - 559 miles Del Rio - 253 miles
El Paso - 329 miles Fort Davis - 128 miles
Fort Stockton - 127 miles Fort Worth - 529 miles
Galveston - 657 miles Guadalupe Mountains NP - 275 miles
Houston - 610 miles Lajitas - 41 miles
Langtry - 211 miles Laredo - 434 miles
Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park - 410 miles
Lubbock - 358 miles Marathon - 69 miles
Marfa - 126 miles McAllen - 577 miles
Midland - 242 miles Monahans - 178 miles
Odessa - 222 miles Ojinaga, Mexico - 93 miles
Padre Island Natl. Seashore - 543 miles Pecos - 191 miles
Presidio - 92 miles San Angelo - 300 miles
San Antonio - 406 miles Sanderson - 123 miles
Study Butte - 24 miles Terlingua - 28 miles
Van Horn - 200 miles Victoria - 526 miles
Waco - 518 miles Wichita Falls - 513 miles

Post Office

A full-service Post Office is located at the Panther Junction headquarters, across the porch from the entrance to the Visitor Center.
A mail drop is also available in front of the Chisos Basin store.

The postal code for Big Bend National Park is 79834. To have your postcards and letters hand-cancelled with a Big Bend postmark, bring them into the post office during regular hours.

Open
Open All Year; Monday-Friday: 8:00 am - 1:00 pm & 3:00-4:30 pm

Phone
432.477.2238

Mail Delivery for Visitors
If you plan on an extended stay in the park, it is possible to have mail sent via general delivery to the post office (advance arrangements strongly suggested). Due to homeland security restrictions, the National Park Service cannot accept UPS or FedEx packages addressed to visitors.

 

Directions

While the isolation of Big Bend National Park is a drawing point for many visitors, it also means that your trip must be well prepared and carefully planned.

Big Bend National Park is located in southwest Texas, hundreds of miles from the nearest cities and transportation hubs. There is no public transportation to or in Big Bend National Park. You can drive your own vehicle, or take a plane, train, or bus and then rent a vehicle to get to Big Bend.

Several highways lead to Big Bend National Park: TX 118 from Alpine to Study Butte or FM 170 from Presidio to Study Butte (then 26 miles west to park headquarters) or US 90 or US 385 to Marathon (then 70 miles south to park headquarters).

Distances between towns and services can be considerable. Always be sure you have plenty of gas, oil, food, and water for your trip. The park has four camper stores, but supply and selection can be limited. There are also small stores in the communities outside the park. The last major shopping areas (grocery and hardware stores) are Alpine, Fort Stockton, and Del Rio.

Convenience Store

Convenience stores are available and open year-round at Rio Grande Village, the Chisos Basin, and in the historic La Harmonia store at Castolon. Basic camping supplies, groceries, and souvenir items are available at all three locations. The Panther Junction Gas Station also has limited groceries.


Location
Chisos Basin Store: 432.477.2291
Rio Grande Village Store: 432.477.2293
Castolon Store: 432.477.2222

Interpretive Themes

Primary Interpretive Themes for Big Bend National Park and Rio Grande Wild & Scenic River
Interpretive themes convey park significance. Primary interpretive themes are the key ideas through which the park’s nationally significant resource values are conveyed to the public. They connect park resources to the larger ideas, meaning, and values of which they are a part. They are the building blocks — the core content — on which the interpretive program is based. Each primary theme may connect to a number of specific stories or subthemes. These elements are helpful in designing individual services, ensuring that the main aspects of primary themes are addressed.

A—The convergence of desert, mountain, and river ecosystems in Big Bend National Park supports a remarkable diversity of life and provides abundant opportunities to experience and learn about the natural world.

B—Big Bend's rugged and remote wilderness, spectacular river canyons, vast expanses, panoramic vistas, dark night skies, and proximity to Mexico provide outstanding recreational opportunities, and inspire wonder, reflection, and rejuvenation.

C—For thousands of years, the Big Bend region has been a focus of human activity—bringing people together from all directions, sometimes in harmony and sometimes in conflict.

D—Survival strategies and adaptations of living things in the Chihuahuan Desert are as wondrous as the environment is extreme—often defying our expectations about the ability of life to thrive in such conditions.

E—Abundant fossils in Big Bend National Park, including some found nowhere else in the world, record the existence and demise of dinosaurs and the flourishing of mammals, enabling us to ponder evolution and our own impermanence in the world.

F—Diverse, well-exposed, and accessible geologic features enable us to learn about the processes that shaped, and continue to shape, the Earth and influence its inhabitants.

Commercial Tour Fees

Commercial tour groups pay an entrance fee based on the capacity of the tour vehicle. Golden Age, Golden Eagle and Golden Access passports are not valid for free entry with commercial tour groups (except for sedans).

Sedan (1-6 persons) $25 plus the individual entrance fee ($5) for each passenger*

Van (7-15 persons) $75

Mini-Bus (16-25 persons) $100

Motor Coach (26+ persons) $200

Note: Passenger capacity does not include driver.

*Individuals with a National Parks Pass, Golden Age or Golden Access passports, or the Big Bend Annual Pass, do not pay the individual entrance fee in sedans. However, the $25 commercial fee for the group still applies.

Bus Drivers Please Note:
The idling of buses while loading, unloading, or waiting for passengers to re-board is prohibited. Drivers must turn the engine off before passengers disembark and turn the engine on only after all passengers have boarded.

Goods & Services

Commercial services within Big Bend National Park are operated by a private company under contract with the National Park Service. This company provides ways for visitors to purchase a memento or a snack, as well as lodging and dining opportunities. Forever Resorts, Inc., the park's concession operator runs the Chisos Mountains Lodge, in addition to camper stores at Rio Grande Village, Castolon, Panther Junction and the Chisos Basin.

Castolon Area

The Castolon area includes most of the western side of the park accessible by the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive and the Old Maverick Road. Below you will find short descriptions of some of the highlights of this part of Big Bend, as a beginning for your own explorations.

Elevation
2,169 feet (661m)

Services and Facilities
The visitor center located in the Historic District is open seasonally. The historic La Harmonia Store, in the same building, offers a full ranger of supplies, and is open year-round. The Cottonwood Campground is located nearby, and offers a quiet camping experience (no generators are allowed in this campground). Picinic tables can be found at the Castolon store, the Cottonwood Campground, and the Santa Elena Canyon Trailhead.

What to do
The Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive anchors this part of the park, and provides access to numerous hikes and scenic overlooks. The Castolon Historic District provides a glimpse into the complex past of the Big Bend through exhibits and historic adobe buildings. At the end of the paved road is Santa Elena Canyon, one of the most famous of the landmarks of the Big Bend; a short trail leads into the canyon.

Pre-Visit Materials

Pre-trip Planning

  • Start early! The logistics of reaching Big Bend National Park and the distances involved require pre-trip planning. A well-organized trip can make the difference between a successful experience and a difficult one.
  • Reserve camping ahead of time. Group campsites are the ONLY camping in the park that can be reserved ahead of time. Sites are located at Rio Grande Village, the Basin, and Cottonwood Campgrounds. The only showers in the park are located at the Rio Grande Village store. Group campsites can be reserved 90 days in advance by calling 432-477-1188. During our busy season (November-May), you should call for camping reservations as early as possible.
  • Request an educational fee waiver. The park entrance fee is $15 per vehicle and is valid for a week. Educational groups are eligible for an entrance fee waiver if certain criteria are met. Contact the park’s fee supervisor at 432-477-1121 to see if your group is eligible.
  • Volunteer your time. Big Bend staff is always looking for eager volunteers to help us with various projects. Consider spending part of your time here helping preserve this amazing resource! Contact the volunteer coordinator at 432-477-1195 to find out about volunteer opportunities.
  • Involve your students in the planning process. Discuss the itinerary, transportation, meals, and lodging/camping plans with your class. This gives them responsibility and ownership of the trip and heightens their anticipation.
  • Have a pre-trip meeting with parents/chaperones. Discussing trip plans with adults will help gain their support, ease concerns, and facilitated signatures on permission slips. A suggested ratio of chaperones to students for elementary age is 1:5. For secondary students the suggested ratio is 1:10.
  • Gather Information. Have students write the park for information. Check out the park’s website at www.nps.gov/bibe. Investigate learning opportunities near Big Bend National Park like The Museum of the Big Bend on the Sul Ross State University campus in Alpine, the McDonald Observatory near Fort Davis, and the Barton Warnock Environmental Education Center and Big Bend Ranch State Park near Lajitas.
  • Incorporate trip information into lesson plans. Many aspects of your upcoming trip can be discussed in a variety of classes and subjects. Be creative! Map out the directions to Big Bend as a geography lesson. Calculate the trip’s budget in math class. Start trip journals as a writing assignment.
  • Consider focusing on one theme. Big Bend is such a huge place that it is impossible to see it all at one time. Planning a trip around one broad theme like biodiversity, geology, or the Rio Grande may make organization easier and help students get the most out of their trip.

What to Pack & What to Expect

  • Be ready for anything. How to dress is dependent on the season and the weather. It can be extremely hot or cold and sometimes it rains and snows! Everyone should be prepared to spend time outdoors under a broad range of conditions. Check on existing weather conditions prior to leaving by looking at our daily report on the website.
  • Water and more water! One of the biggest concerns while visiting Big Bend is dehydration. Make sure everyone in the group is drinking adequate amounts of water. Bring water bottles whenever you are hiking and encourage students to drink frequently.
  • Other essentials. Everyone should bring a hat and sunscreen to protect themselves from the sun’s strong rays. A flashlight is handy for nighttime around camp. Snacks to share for hikes and long car rides are nice. Bring along some games and sports equipment for down time at camp.
  • First aid. Of course, safety and health are of primary concern. A good first aid kit is required. Include a blister kit and tweezers for removing cactus spines. Establish a system for students to bring and take any prescription medication that they might need.
  • Swimming. The Rio Grande may look inviting on hot days, but swimming is not recommended. Strong currents, high pollution levels, and objects hidden under the water can make swimming a dangerous prospect.
  • Desert hazards. Everyone in the group should be aware of dangers like loose rocks, cactus spines, insects, and reptiles. A safety talk upon arrival is a good idea. Remember that all objects in a national park are protected by law and should not be disturbed or damaged.

Weather

How hot does it get in Big Bend?
It can get as hot as 115-120° F along the river during late May and June. However, the temperatures will normally be in the range of 88-110° F during the hottest time of the year—the lower end of that range being in the Basin, the hotter temperatures along the river.

How cold does it get in Big Bend?
The winter months (December, January, and February) can bring cold weather, dropping temperatures down into the thirties, and occasionally bringing snow. However, interspersed with these cold spells are spells of very comfortable, warm weather (70s or 80s and even higher sometimes, down on the river). The nights, however, are commonly freezing or below—in the 20s or teens down on the river.

Does it ever snow in Big Bend?
Occasionally, winter cold fronts will bring a few inches of snow (sometimes more) but it doesn’t last long. During snow or ice storms, the road to the Chisos Basin may be closed for a few hours until it's safe again for travel.

 

How big is it?

Big Bend versus ....
Visitors often ask us how Big Bend compares in size to the other National Parks. Here's the rundown of the top 20 as of January 1, 2005:

  1. Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve, Alaska - 13,175,901 acres
  2. Gates of the Arctic National Park & Preserve, Alaska - 8,472,506 acres
  3. Denali National Park & Preserve, Alaska - 6,075,030 acres
  4. Katmai National Park & Preserve, Alaska - 4,093,229 acres
  5. Lake Clark National Park & Preserve, Alaska - 4,030,025 acres
  6. Death Valley National Park, California & Nevada - 3,372,402 acres
  7. Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve, Alaska - 3,283,246 acres
  8. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Montana & Idaho - 2,219,791 acres
  9. Kobuk Valley National Park, Alaska - 1,750,717 acres
  10. Everglades National Park, Florida - 1,508,538 acres
  11. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona - 1,217,403 acres
  12. Glacier National Park, Montana - 1,013,572 acres
  13. Olympic National Park, Washington - 922,651 acres
  14. Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park, California - 865,952 acres
  15. Big Bend National Park, Texas - 801,163 acres
  16. Joshua Tree National Park, California - 789,866 acres
  17. Yosemite National Park, California - 761,266 acres
  18. Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska - 669,983 acres
  19. Isle Royale National Park, Michigan - 571,790 acres
  20. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee & North Carolina - 521,776 acres

Park details

Below are commonly asked questions regarding the park:

Where do I pay my park fee? Do I have to pay a fee? How much is the fee?
Most people do have to pay a park entrance fee, unless they have a one of a variety of entrance passes. The fee is $20.00 per single vehicle per week, and can be paid at the Maverick Entrance Station, the Persimmon Gap Entrance Station, the Panther Junction Visitor Center, or any open outlying visitor center. Commercial Tour Fees apply to all commercial groups entering the park.

How far is it to ________?
From park headquarters at Panther Junction:
Chisos Basin is 10 miles
Rio Grande Village is 20 miles
Santa Elena Canyon is 42 miles
Study Butte is 26 miles
Lajitas is 42 miles
Marathon is 68 miles
Alpine is 100 miles

How many visitors come to Big Bend each year?
In the past few years, Big Bend has had 300,000 to 350,000 visitors each year on average.

Is Big Bend the largest national park?
No, many are larger. Big Bend is the 8th largest national park in the lower 48 states, and only the 15th largest in the entire U.S. Click here for a list of the 20 largest national parks.

When did Big Bend become a park?
Big Bend National Park was authorized by the U.S. Congress on June 20, 1935, and established as the 27th national park in the U.S. (and the first national park in Texas) on June 12, 1944.

When is the busy season in Big Bend?
Spring is our busiest - during March and April and sometimes into May when the Texas colleges and universities are on spring break. Thanksgiving and Christmas can be extremely busy, also. Plan ahead and make lodging reservations early if you plan to visit Big Bend during any holiday period. While you can now make reservations for campgrounds in the park, there are also camping options outside of the park that may take reservations.

How many people work in Big Bend National Park?
When all the positions are filled, there are about 96 permanent National Park Service (NPS) employees in Big Bend. Depending on the season and the budget, we can have from 10-20 seasonal and temporary employees. In addition, we have many volunteers and Student Conservation Association interns who add to our staff, particularly in winter.

Forever Resorts, Inc. employees about 60 employees (more during peak periods) who work in the lodge, restaurant, gas station and stores in the park. The Big Bend Natural History Association (BBNHA) employs four people. A postmaster, U.S. Border Patrol agents, and several school teachers also live and work in Big Bend.