Big Bend National Park

A HIDDEN TREASURE

One of the least visited and most remote national parks, Big Bend seems to be one of the few places in the country where you can literally get away from it all. From an elevation of less than 1,800 feet along the Rio Grande to nearly 8,000 feet in the Chisos Mountains, Big Bend includes massive canyons, vast desert expanses, forested mountains, and an ever-changing river.

Getting There (1,943 MILES)

  • Flight: DC > Dallas-Fort Worth > San Antonio (4 hours)
  • San Antonio > Marathon, Texas (5 hours)
  • Marathon, Texas > Terlingua, Texas (2 hours)
  • Terlingua, Texas > River Road East, Big Bend National Park (1 hour)

A DAY ON THE RIO GRANDE

Adam and I opted for a river tour of the Rio Grande with Big Bend River Tours. There are several tours to choose from, both full and half day, although a lot depends on the water level, which has been particularly low the past several years.

Our group of six set out from the small, but charming town of Terlingua (more on it later) at 8:00 a.m. for a full day canoe trip through Hot Springs Canyon. Our guide, David, was full of knowledge about the park and shared harrowing and hilarious stories of fellow travelers.

The Rio Grande creates a distinct environment in Big Bend National Park and serves as part of the natural border between the U.S. and Mexico. As the tour went on, the river became more and more scenic. Think wild horses drinking from the bank, tall canyon walls towering overhead, and majestic mountains in the distance. Truly the stuff postcards are made of.

Hot Springs Trail

This trip floats through scenic canyons, with easy paddling and no rapids. However, there are a few tricky spots, that took some extra coaching from our guide, but we finally got the hang of it. Stops along the way reveal hidden hot springs, ancient ruins, and incredible views of Mexico's Sierra del Carmen.

We stopped for lunch near Hot Springs Trail and explored the area before a long soak. Heated by geothermal processes and emerging at 105° F., the water carries dissolved mineral salts reputed to have healing powers.

TRIP TIPS

  1. Sunscreen. Trust me. Weeks later Adam is still peeling.
  2. Pack light. We were given waterproof bags, so we simply stored our small backpack inside and attached it to the boat.
  3. Hydrate. It's can be difficult to gauge how tired you've become from paddling and navigating. Drink, refill, and drink some more.
  4. Take all the pictures. We used a GoPro Hero 4 Silver and an iPhone 6s, both in their own water-proof cases, to capture the stunning views from the canoe.
  5. Teamwork. After surviving some rough waters early on, Adam and I settled into a nice rhythm and were cruising downstream.
Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.
— Gustave Flaubert

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