Find out how to hike Big Bend's South Rim Loop with Emory Peak in one day!
The 12.6 mile South Rim Loop at Big Bend National Park is a bucket list hike for many, but adding the Emory Peak spur allows for one long, beautiful day hike with sweeping views from the highest peak in Big Bend (and it only adds 3 more miles).
This is without a doubt the most rewarding hike in Big Bend National Park. The views from both Emory Peak and the South Rim Loop are jaw-dropping to say the least, and well worth the 16 mile trek.
Trail Name: South Rim Trail & Emory Peak Spur
Parking: Chisos Basin Visitor Center
Length: 15.6 miles (12.6 South Rim + 3 miles for Emory Peak)
Time: Can take anywhere from 6-10 hours
Elevation: Emory Peak, 7,825' (Over 2,400' in ascension from the trailhead)
You can choose to hike just the South Rim Loop, but why not add on Emory Peak? You'll pass right by it and the views are worth it. You got this!
How to Get Here
This trail starts at the Chisos Basin Visitor Center. If you're staying at the lodge, you can simply walk right out of your room! If not, there is a large parking lot at the visitor center.
What to Pack
Make sure you bring as much water as you can. My Camelbak only holds 2.5L, but I think 3 litres would have been perfect. Be sure to pack a lot of energizing snacks, too! You'll be burning a lot of calories so you want to make sure you take a few breaks to eat.
When to Hike
This trail is open year-round, however, certain parts may be closed from Feb 1 - May 31 due to Peregrine Falcon nesting. Usually the Northeast Rim portion of the trail is closed, but that's not the route we're taking here so it shouldn't affect the hike. Either way, make sure you check with the NPS first!
Spring and Fall are the best times to hike this trail - Summer would be brutal. I hiked in mid October and it was warm but enjoyable!
This is a decent day hike, I'd start no later than sunrise to allow as much time as you need.
We ended up completing this hike pretty quickly in just under 6 hours. We began at 7 am and made it back at 12:50pm, including around 30 minutes of rests and breaks along the way.
You have two options for hiking this trail, both beginning at the Chisos Basin.
Begin with Pinnacles Trail: This trail is very steep with many switchbacks, but offers better views, is shorter, and it leads right to the Emory Peak out-and-back trail. Beginning with this trail would mean summiting Emory Peak earlier on in your South Rim Loop hike.
Begin with Laguna Meadows Trail: This trail is much more gradual uphill than Pinnacles, but it offers much less shade and is a bit boring. Beginning with this trail would mean summiting Emory Peak at the end of your South Rim Loop hike.
If you are hiking the South Rim Loop and adding Emory Peak, I recommend beginning with the Pinnacles Trail.
You may read that it's more strenuous, but it was well worth it to do this in the beginning and finish the day with Laguna Meadows. Also, I wouldn't have wanted to hike Emory Peak later in the day, since it was the most strenuous part of the hike! Pinnacles was also a much more interesting hike to begin with and Laguna Meadows offered zero views. Hike Pinnacles while you have the energy.
We were so happy we did it this way!
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
You should be fine if you simply remember to follow the South Rim Loop after completing Pinnacles/Emory Peak, then you'll make your way down Laguna Meadows.
Here's my (extremely) makeshift map for you:
The bottom right shows an unnamed loop trail near the Boot Canyon Trail - that would be the Northeast Trail, but we're not adding that extra loop to this hike so I left it off.
The Hike Rundown
Pinnacles: The 3.8 mile hike up Pinnacles is extremely steep with what feels like endless switchbacks, but it offered pleasant views and it went by very quickly. Once you make it to the top, there are a few places to rest before you begin the ascent to Emory Peak!
Emory Peak: This 3 mile out-and-back trail begins right after Pinnacles, and it was best we did this early on with energy. It was all uphill and we had to take many breaks. If you have a fear of heights, you may not make it to the peak. The end of this trail requires A LOT of scrambling and climbing. I found it fun, but it may make others a bit anxious.
Boot Canyon Trail & South Rim: The Boot Canyon Trail follows Emory Peak and continues to through the South Rim Trail (you may see names like Southwest Rim and Colima Trail, these are both correct and are simply part of the South Rim Loop!) Just remember to stay on the trail for Boot Springs and South Rim - the only trail we aren't including in this hike is the Northeast Rim Trail.
*The most sweeping views are along the top of the South Rim Trail and at Emory Peak!
Laguna Meadows: Return back to the Chisos Visitor Center via the Laguna Meadows Trail. This trail doesn't offer many views, but it is relatively gradual and easy. Your knees will be happy you saved this trail for the end, and not the Pinnacles Trail.
Above shows Emory Peak views at the top and along the way
Above shows views along South Rim Trail and Zach taking a quick nap in the sun
Above, one of my favorite views on the hike back down towards the Chisos Basin
Above, finally steps away from finishing the Laguna Meadows Trail!
Almost 16 miles later, you've made it back! This is an ultimate bucket list hike, so be proud of what you've accomplished, and treat yourself to a very large meal at the Chisos Mountain Lodge Restaurant!