I would call myself a casual hiker at most. It was never something I really sought out to do on my own and even when I did go hiking, it would be no longer than 3 miles. And then I fell into a crowd that loved hiking. So now I hike.
Quick Info on Big Bend National Park
If you’re looking for a great place to do some serious hiking, Big Bend National Park is it. Not only does it cover an amazing amount of geography—from desert to mountain ranges—, but it’s huge. The park covers 801,163 acres, starting from the Rio Grande as the border between Mexico and the U.S.
What’s better is that it’s one of the most remote national parks in the U.S., meaning you’re not going to get the same crowds on the the trail as you would at Yosemite or the Grand Canyon. The annual visitor count is only 300,000—compared to the 4.5 million the Grand Canyon reports each year. How great is that? You get to reap the benefits of hiking without trying to shove your way through a crowd of teenagers.
Recently, in 2012, it was named an international dark-sky park, which recognizes it as one of ten places in the world that allowed for dark-sky stargazing. In addition, it has the darkest measured skies in the lower 48 of the U.S.
The South Rim Trail
The South Rim Trail in Big Bend is a whopping 12-14 miles, depending on which parts you omit. The guides all told us that the hike would take about 8 hours, but we completed it within 6. Don’t know about you, but shaving 2 hours off an average time on my first big hike makes me proud!
Our hike started painfully early at 8AM in the morning. We drove from our campground in the Rio Grande Village to the Chisos Basin, where most of the hikes in Big Bend start. Overall, the day offered views of the mountaintops draped in heavy fog—which made for pretty sweet photos but nothing to distract us from our screaming muscles during the climb up.
From this point all the way to the point where the trail splits into two—Emory Peak vs. South Rim—is a hellish incline in the form of endless switchbacks.
I grasped at any excuse to stop, including an incredibly early lunch at 9:45. Yep, 1:45 into the hike, I pulled out a sandwich and noshed on it. And I had yet another 6+ hours to go. What was I going to do?! I’d only packed 2 sandwiches!
My hiking buddy wisely made no comment at my insanely early lunch. Nor did he leave me behind, though I did tell him to multiple times.
What was in the shot before I told him to hide
We marched on through various terrains. The gravel gave way to large rocks and even some streams to cross as we wound our way through the Chisos Mountains, passing many campsites on the way up. (This gave me dreams of my own thru-hike one day)
When I started the hike, I had no idea if I could make it all the way or not. 6 miles—Angel’s Landing—was the most I’ve ever done and even then it was difficult for me. Could I possibly do two of Angel’s Landing? It’s difficult to judge based on how you’re doing on the current hike; if you’re ok on mile 4, who says you’ll still be ok by mile 6? And when you’re 6 miles in, there’s no turning back because it’s another 6 miles out no matter which way you’re going.
This was one of the most primitive trails I’ve ever hiked on; there were parts where we didn’t even know whether we were on the trail until we saw a marker. And I loved it.
Overall, we climbed over 2,000 feet in elevation, most of it within the first few miles of the hike! The tallest point of the hike was somewhere around 8,000 feet.
I have to say that once we hit 8 miles or so, I was ready for it to be over. It didn’t matter that we were looking at gorgeous views or breathing in the crisp, slightly damp mountain air. I just wanted to sit down on on a comfy car seat and scarf down something insanely greasy and satisfying.
But once I settled into the car around 2PM, I looked back on our day and thought about those 12 miles. I now knew what 12 miles felt like and I grew curious to experience what more would be like. I loved moving at 3 mph, taking in the nature and the scenery as we moved through them at a glacial pace. I loved the feeling that I was seeing something no one could from the highway or through the windows of a car. I loved it and I wanted more… on another day.
Trail Length: 12 – 14 miles
Elevation gain: 2,000 ft
Time: 6 – 8 hours
- To make it easier on the knees, go down via Laguna Meadow and up via the pinnacles
- Bring two lunches and a lot of water!!
- If you wanted to cut out a few miles from the overall hike, take the Boot Springs trail when it splits
Have you or would you ever consider doing a thru-hike?