These are the 5 hikes in Big Bend National Park that you cannot miss! Big Bend has so much to offer, but make sure the best hikes are on your list.
First time going to Big Bend? Make sure you check out my Ultimate Guide to Big Bend for even more helpful info!
1. Lost Mine Trail
Length: 4.8 Miles
Level of Difficulty: Moderate, with a Strenuous incline in the beginning
The Lost Mine Trail offers sweeping views of the Chisos Mountains comparable to those on the South Rim Trail, with less than half the mileage!
If you only have time for one trail at Big Bend, I would recommend this one. Hike to the very end of the trail for the best views of the mountains.
There is a small area for parking in front of the trailhead that fills up by 9:00 or 10:00 am on crowded days - make sure you get an early start to get a parking spot or go later in the afternoon. I've heard that the views from the top are stunning just before sunset!
I hiked this trail on a late June morning and it wasn't too hot - bring plenty of water (2 L) and you'll notice along the trail that there are some shaded areas to rest.
2. Window Trail
Length: 5.6 Miles
Level of Difficulty: Moderate
This is a unique, must-do hike that starts at the Chisos Basin trailhead and takes you down to the "Window," which frames the desert.
Depending on when you hike the Window Trail, there could be a flowing creek and wet slickrock once you reach the end.
This trail is unique because you work a bit backwards - you descend on the way in and ascend on the way back.
The trail had a flowing stream in October, but it was completely dry when we hiked it the next time in June.
Careful - it can be very slippery once you reach the end!
We hiked this trail once in the morning and once at sunset. It was beautiful at sunset but make sure you allot enough time to make it back to the Chisos Basin before it gets dark!
Hiking in the morning is a great option too - a lot of the trail is shaded as you get further down, but the first mile is completely unshaded, so make sure it isn't too hot when you plan to hike back up.
3. Santa Elena Canyon Trail
Length: 1.7 Miles
Level of Difficulty: Moderate
This is a beautiful, short hike that embodies Big Bend National Park with the Rio Grande running right through the trail.
The Santa Elena Canyon trail begins at the end of the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive (which is another must-do, so you're crossing two things off the list here)!
Depending on the season, you may have to actually cross the river to get to the trail. In October, it was up to our calves, but by June it was completely dry.
The further you go in the trail, you'll notice lush vegetation all around you.
In the photo below, the trail begins across the river at the small path opening on the right.
The end of the trail allows for an up-close look at where the canyon walls and river meet
The morning is a beautiful time to hike this trail. I try to make sure I catch the sunrise on Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive so I arrive at the Santa Elena Canyon pretty early.
4. South Rim Loop + Emory Peak
Length: 15.6 Miles
Level of Difficulty: Strenuous
This is a rewarding day hike that brings you to the tallest peak in Big Bend, ascending over 2,400 feet in a few miles and offering jaw-dropping views along the loop of the endless mountain range.
You can hike just the South Rim Loop, but I recommend adding Emory Peak since it's already along the hike. You can do it! Start this trail at sunrise to ensure you have enough time - it can take anywhere from 6-10 hours.
We did this hike in October and began around 7 am at the Chisos Basin Visitor Center and finished relatively quickly at 12:50pm - just under 6 hours with about 30 min of breaks included.
Here's an overview of what the entire trail looked like, since there are a few different names:
Pinnacles Trail > Emory Peak spur > Boot Canyon > South Rim > Laguna Meadows Trail
The toughest part of this hike was the ascent up to Emory Peak - it was all uphill and in the sun, so I'm glad we ended up doing that part early on in the hike.
By the end of this 16 mile hike, I had the biggest blood blisters on my ankles that I've ever seen... make sure you bring band-aids! All in all, 100% worth it.
Click here a more detailed look at how we hiked the South Rim Loop and Emory Peak in 1 Day.
5. Grapevine Hills Trail
Length: 2.2 Miles
Level of Difficulty: Easy
This is a pleasant, short, family-friendly hike that ends with a small amount of climbing to see the notable "Balanced Rock" formation.
To access this trail, you must drive 7 miles on a dirt road which is typically accessible by all vehicles - you just might have to drive slowly.
This trail is pretty much consistently flat until the end with minimal shade, but that doesn't mean it's not interesting!
We did this a very late afternoon in June and luckily it was a little cloudy and not as hot in the afternoon. I'd avoid around 12pm-3pm in the Summer!
Balanced rock once you reach the end!