Big Bend National Park is large and beautiful. Here are our top ten tips to get the most out of your visit, including our favorite place to stay in our RV, amazing BBQ, a boat ride across the Rio Grande into Mexico, and the desert in bloom!
Tip #1 – The best place to camp may be outside of the park. In fact, we found a great RV park just outside of the north entrance called “Stillwell RV Ranch” that had great views, huge campsites, and reasonable prices. The National Park campground was nestled in a tight little valley with small campsites that were crowded very close together. And being inside the park wasn’t that great an advantage, because…
Tip #2 – Expect to drive about an hour from any of the major sites in the park to any other. Big Bend is huge and varied, but nothing is close to anything else. Fortunately, the drives are beautiful.
Tip #3 – Visit in fall, winter, or spring, because in the summer the park is HOT! Even in February things were beginning to heat up in the lower elevations.
Tip #4 – Some of the best BBQ we’ve ever had is about a half-hour north of the park in Marathon Texas. It’s a small town, but the Brick House Brewery and BBQ had big, bold flavors that are definitely worth the drive.
Tip #5 – Take the short hike to Santa Elena Canyon, where the Rio Grande River has cut a dramatic channel through colorful cliffs. It’s one of the most dramatic and beautiful sites in the park.
Tip #6 – Ask a ranger! In the video we specifically refer to asking park rangers about the best places to drive “off road” in our Jeep Cherokee, but this tip can be applied to just about anything you might want to see or do in the park. The rangers love their park, they know all of the best places to go and the best times to go there, and they love sharing their knowledge with visitors. Don’t just ask for directions – ask for advice, and you’ll be glad you did.
Tip #7 – Get gas in the park! There is a gas station right in the middle of the park beside the Panther Junction ranger station, and much to our surprise, we discovered that the price was not only reasonable, it was less expensive than buying gas outside of the park in Marathon.
Tip #8 – Bring your passport! One of the highlights of our visit to Big Bend was a day-trip across the river into Boquillas, Mexico. The “ferry” (a row boat) costs $5 round trip. On the other side it’s about a mile into town. We chose to hire a guide and walk (another $5), but you can also get a ride in a truck ($5) or on a burro ($8). It’s a charming, authentic little Mexican village that exists primarily on income from tourists. You can buy souvenirs ranging from tiny roadrunners made from wire and beads, to “No Wall” t-shirts (The people on both sides of the boarder here are deeply concerned about the potential impact of a wall on their way of life).
Tip #9 – Yes, it’s safe to eat in Boquillas. There are three restaurants to choose from. We went to José Falcon’s where we enjoyed an excellent lunch, but we are told that all three restaurants are equally good. But do stick to bottled beverages.
Tip #10 – The Texas Bluebonnets were in full bloom in February, along with many other desert wildflowers that line the roads and hillsides. There is something magical about seeing the desert in bloom.
BONUS TIP – Stock up before heading toward the park. If you’re coming from the north, your last chance for a major grocery store is in Fort Stockton. From the west there are some stores in Presidio. There is nothing convenient to the park for major supplies. Plan ahead.
Have any other tips? Please share them in the comments below! We love hearing from you, and will try to answer any questions we can.