Big Bend National Park: a Texas-Sized Desert Adventure

Our cozy cabin at Far Flung Outdoor Center is a great find in the Chihuahua Desert. Big Bend for kids, west texas trips with kids,
Our cozy cabin at Far Flung Outdoor Center is a great find in the Chihuahua Desert.Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

What’s better during a road trip, the carful of kids sleeping in or enjoying abeautiful sunrise alone as it climbs up over the mountains? I get both at our cozy little cabin atFar Flung Outdoor Center in Terlingua, Texas. The carful of kids will explore Big Bend National Park for a second day but first we need some breakfast.

Since I’m in the Chihuahua desert, it’s chilly in the morning though the days warm up nicely. The Far Flung river guides are preparing for their float trips that run year-round.

This is my morning view with a cup of coffee before the carful of kids wake up. Far flung Outdoor Center, Big Bend with kids, West Texas Trips
My morning view with a cup of coffee before the carful of kids wake up.Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Our cabin’s kitchenette doesn’t have a stove just a microwave and small refrigerator. I came prepared with little cereal boxes, oatmeal and yogurt. The cabin features two queen beds,a large bathroom with a shower and WiFi, a Big Bend luxury. Each of the twelve units face a desert garden with a couple of grills if you brought patties or steaks. There’s even a fire pit to enjoy the desert night sky.

Chisos Basin

Later, we’ll enterBig Bend National Parkthrough theMaverick Junction Entrancesince we explored Santa Elena Canyon and Castolon already. The carful of kids will drive to the Chisos Basin, for some family-friendly hiking.

Be sure and hike the Window View Trail, just viewpoint is at the end of the short family-friendly hike. Big Bend National Park, West Texas Road trip for kids.
Be sure and hike the Window View Trail, this is at the end of the short family-friendly hike.Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

TheChisos Basinis the hub of activity in Big Bend–a 60-site campground (26 sites are reservable), Chisos Mountain Lodge and Restaurant, a Visitor Center, a store and seven trail heads. Arrive early in the day, parking is limited during school holidays.

The carful of kids check in at the Visitor Center (open 8:30 a.m to 4:00 p.m.) and look over our hiking options. I spot the map that displays all the recent encounters with black bear and mountain lions; the kids watch the video explaining what to do if you meet one on a trail. We are prepared to hike.

Hike along the Chisos Basin Trail. It's a great 2-mile hike for older kids. Big Bend National Park for kids, west Texas,
Hike along the Chisos Basin Loop Trail. It’s a 1.8-mile hike for older kids that’s close to all the activity of Chisos Basin.Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The carful of kids’ first hike is theWindow View Trail, an easy, paved .3-mile walk to a viewpoint–nice and don’t miss it. It’s stroller-friendly.

TheChisos Basin Loop Trailis next, a 1.8-mile round trip hike that’s rated moderate.The Chisos Basin Loop is good for families with older children as it gets away from the buildings but you shouldn’t encounter bears or mountain loins. Though my boys insist on carrying large rocks the whole way to protect us from predators, just in case.

After a hike the carful of kids are hungry for lunch, it’s a bit crowded in Chisos Basin during the day and the picnic tables are a ways from my parking spot. After talking with the park ranger, we decide to move onDugout Wellsfor a picnic.It’s in a grove of trees that serves as an oasis in the middle of the Chihuahua Desert.

Big Bend National Park, Texas travel,
Want to explore Big Bend National Park but don’t know what to expect? Got you covered.Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Note: Chisos Basin Roadhas several sharp, steep S-curves and isn’t recommended for RVs and trailers though it’s a pleasant drive and should not be missed.

Rio Grande Village

The carful of kids head to the Rio Grande Village on the far east side of the park but first we need gas. ThePanther Junction Visitors Centerhas it. The unofficial rule of West Texas is if you see gas, buy gas.

TheRio Grande Villageis another hub–125 campsites, a Visitors Center (open 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.), a store and the Mexican Border Crossing. I check at the Visitor Center about the conditions in Boquillas Del Carmen–an isolated village across the Mexican border.

All sounds great; passports in hand, ready to cross except–they are CLOSED. They are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. Ouch, seems like I read that somewhere. Maybe next time.

At the Boquillas Del Carmen overlook, the carful of kids take in the view of Mexico and beyond. Big Bend National Park, west texas for kids
At the Boquillas Del Carmen overlook, the carful of kids take in the view of Mexico and beyond. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

We head toBoquillas Canyon Overlookinstead, where you can see the village ofBoquillas Del Carmen–it’s very small and isolated. On a rock I find some handmade souvenirs left by the villagers of Boquillas. They watch their wares from their side of the river and when a purchase is made they wade across the Rio Grande and collect the money left in the jar in front of the rock.

Big Bend National park, West Texas Road Trips with kids, The national parks of West Texas offer these FREE patches to kids who complete their Junior Ranger booklets.
The national parks of West Texas offer these FREE patches to kids who complete their Junior Ranger booklets.Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Boquillas Canyon area is popular for backcountry camping and 4x4ing. The sun is hanging low in the sky and the carful of kids need to turn in their Junior Ranger booklets for a cool patch before heading out.

Getting to Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park is open every day, all day. The 7-day admission is $20 for a private vehicle or you can purchase an annual America the Beautiful Pass for $80 to gain entry into the majority of the national parks and monuments.

Big Bend National Park is 100 miles south of Alpine, Texas, along Texas Highway 118. Alpine has an Amtrak and Greyhound station though there’s no public transportation into the park. You can also enter Big Bend National Park along U.S. Highway 385 from Marathon, Texas.

Know before you go:

  • National Parks are popular destinations during school breaks and holidays–make reservations as early as possible. Lodging reservations are available 13 months in advance.
  • Parking can be an issue at the Chisos Mountains Lodge area during the middle of the day.
  • Bring food and refillable water bottles for your visit. Food service is limited.
  • Drones are not permitted at any NPS location.
  • There are 184 camping sites in Big Bend National Park, not all of them are reservable.
  • There is a gas station and general store in Big Bend National Park.

Up next:A visit to Garner State Park and Lost Maples State Natural Area.

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Catherine Parker has a passion for travel and seen all 50 U.S. States. As a former flight attendant with one of the largest airlines, there isn't a North American airport that she hasn't landed in at least once. Since clipping her professional wings after 9/11, she combines her love of the open road with visiting architectural and cultural icons. She is based out of Central Texas dividing her time between writing and restoring a pair of 100-year-old houses. She shares her life with her three kids and her husband.


    • Catherine

      We enjoyed it. Conveniently located close to the park.