Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park

Sights to See

Primitive Dirt Roads

What is a "Primitive Dirt Road?"
These are maintained roads where a high clearance 2WD vehicle is able to travel safely at low speeds on long dry straight-of-ways, without losing control due to wash boarding, ruts, or dips. All primitve dirt roads may be rocky with areas or soft gravel or sand that makes travel unsafe for sedans or RVs.

Some road sections may require a high clearance 4WD vehicle, in four-wheel-drive, driven by a driver experienced in 4WD drive techniques to drive the road without getting stuck.

As always, road conditions are highly dependent on weather; rains often make these roads more difficult to pass.

Old Ore Road
26 miles (43km)
Used in the early Twentieth Century to transport ore from Mexican mines to the railroad station at Marathon, the Old Ore Road generally follows the route of used by mule and pack trains a century ago. The road provides excellent views of the Chisos Mountains across the Tornillo Creek drainage to the west. The Ernst Tinaja, located approximately five miles from the southern end of the road, is a popular destination.

Passing through the foothills of the Dead Horse Mountains, the Old Ore Road usually requires a high-clearance vehicle; four-wheel drive is strongly recommended due to some rugged terrain.

Glenn Springs Road
16 miles (26km)
The Glenn Springs Road skirts the east side of the Chisos Mountains, then bounces over the southwest flank of Chilicotal Mountain to the site of the Glenn Springs community. As the road descends from Glenn Springs to the River Road, it generally becomes smoother.

Pine Canyon Road
4 miles (6km)
From the Glenn Springs Road this short road leads to the Pine Canyon Trail. There are four backcountry roadside campsites located along this road.

Juniper Canyon Road
5 miles (8km)
From the Glenn Springs Road this short road leads to the Juniper Canyon Trail and Dodson Trail junction. There are two backcountry roadside campsites located along this road. This road is rocky and rough and usually requires four-wheel drive.

Black Gap Road
8.5 miles (14km)
This road connects the Glenn Springs Road with the River Road. This road is generally not maintained by the park, and is four wheel drive required at all times.

The River Road
51 miles (82km)
The River Road traverses the southern portion of the Big Bend. While generally following the course of the Rio Grande, the road usually runs a considerable distance from the river, especially in its middle section. Due to the length and usually rough condition of the road, allow a full day to drive from end to end. Numerous backcountry roadside campsites are located along the road, allowing for an extended exploration. The west end of the road is lesser used, and generally in a rougher condition; the road crosses numerous washes, and is often impassable after rains.

Castolon Today

Today, visitors camp where farmers once worked the fields. Cottonwood Campground has 35 sites, but is the most primitive of Big Bend's "developed" campgrounds. There are no hookups or dump station. The campground has pit toilets and running water (although it is a good idea to bring your own drinking water). Cottonwood Campground is a popular place for birdwatching and, occasionally, solitude.

The La Harmonia Company Store is still in operation, although these days it caters to visitors instead of farmers and ranchers. The store is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, closed for lunch. Prior to the closure of the border crossings in the park in 2002, many of the people from the village of Santa Elena, Mexico shopped and received their mail at the La Harmonia Store.

From November to April, volunteers and rangers present interpretive programs including guided walks, and evening programs (check the weekly activity schedule posted at visitor centers and campgrounds throughout the park). The visitor center at Castolon is also open seasonally during this time.

A Castolon Historic District guidebook is available for $1.00 at the visitor center, or from the La Harmonia Store.


For most people, the Castolon area is a place to stop on the way to the spectacular Santa Elena Canyon. But for those who take the time, it can be a great place to explore the human history of Big Bend. Castolon is certainly not the only area in the park that is historically significant, but it is perhaps the most intact. A trip to Castolon is, in many ways, a journey back in time, albeit to a time not too long ago. Castolon’s history is really not that “old”—farming and ranching continued in the area until 1961. The Castolon Historic District is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Panther Junction Area

Park Headquarters & Visitor Center

3,750 ft. (1,143m) above sea level

Services and Facilities
Panther Junction Visitor Center is open 8 am to 6 pm daily (except Christmas Day). The Visitor Center includes exhibits and a book sales area. Entrance passes and backcountry and river use permits are available. The U.S. Post Office offers mail service Monday through Saturday (closed Sundays and holidays). There is no overnight camping or food service at Panther Junction.

Gas Station
The Panther Junction gas station, 200 yards to the west of the visitor center, is open every day. The station offers gas, diesel, and minor repairs, as well as groceries.

Grapevine Hills Road & Trail
An easy 2.2 mile round-trip hike up a sandy wash surrounded by massive boulders.

Dugout Wells
A picnic area and half mile nature trail are located at this former ranch community site, six miles south of Panther Junction.