After visiting Fort Lancaster State Historic Siteand Fort Davis National Historic Siteon the carful of kids’ weeklong exploration of West Texas, we’re headed to Big Bend National Park. One of the least visited of the big national parks, it should be on everyone’s list for it’s iconic desert landscape feels like an epic 1950s western.
A silent snow shower sneaks in overnight at Fort Davis, we open the shutters in our room at the Indian Lodge tothis beautifulview.The carful of kids marvel at the wonder of it before the snow starts to fade into the desert landscape.
Before packing up our gear for Big Bend, the carful of kids grab an easy breakfast.Black Bear Restaurant,located at the Indian Lodge in the Davis Mountains State Park, serves up a hearty breakfast buffet (open Wednesday through Sunday, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.).
Heading south on Texas Highway 118, the carful of kids drive through Alpine. After Alpine, there’s NOTHING until you get to Terlingua 80 miles away, so gas up. Luckily we did, because the gas station right before the Big Bend National Park entrance is out of gas.
Big Bend National Park for Kids
The carful of kids continue intoBig Bend National Parkthrough the western entrance at Maverick Junction near the tiny town of Terlingua. I choose this entrance because of the availability of lodging and limited services. The other entrance at Persimmon Gap doesn’t have any visitors services.
At theCastolon Visitor Center (open November until April from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.),we grab the Junior Ranger booklets and find a covered picnic table outside the 80-year-old general store and make some sandwiches. There’s limited food to buy in Big Bend so we brought our sandwich fixings and packed in our own water. Due to a drought and a water shortage; the park urges visitors to use less than five gallons of water per person/per day.
Our next stop is Santa Elena Canyon wherethe carful of kids reach the Rio Grande, the river that separates Texas from Mexico. It spans 1,900 miles from its origin in southern Colorado and carves its way through rock towards the Gulf of Mexico.
The carful of kids stop at all the turn-outs and overlooks as the sun races west. At every glance, I see the majestic landscape paintings of my favorite art museum.
There’s not a soul in sight along the river.Even during the busy family travel season, the park is quiet in most areas.
It’s getting late and the carful of kids want some dinner. There are a couple of restaurants in Terlingua, we opt to head to our cabin instead.
Lodging outside of Big Bend National Park
The lodging options in Big Bend National Park are limited, the rooms at theChisos Mountains Lodgefill up fast during the family vacation season. I was not able to find one after months of trying.
After a little research, I found theFar Flung Outdoor Centerin Terlingua outside the western entrance of the park; they exceeded my expectations. Far Flung is primarily a river outfitter, running river trips year-round as well as Jeep and ATV tours; they have 12 cabins available.
When we drive up after a full day of exploring in Big Bend National Park, the outdoor lights on our cabin greet us. The cabins are immaculate and well-equipped. Ours has two queen beds, a kitchenette (no stove), a large bathroom with a shower and WiFi, a Big Bend luxury.
All the units face a desert garden, full of birds and a frolicking cottontail rabbit. In the garden, you will find a couple of gas grills. Wegrab our burger patties and a bottle of wine, we head outside to grill up dinner under the stars. The carful of kids love the dry, desert night-air so much, we have dinner outside too.
At night, they light the fire pit that acts as a beacon for relaxation. Sit around it with a glass of wine and stare at the stars of your childhood. For the kids, there’s always a marshmallow that needs to be roasted.
Big Bend is a designated International Dark Sky Park so outdoor lighting is minimal. Pack a lantern or flashlight to get around safely at night.
A great ending to a great day.
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.
Up Next:The carful of kids return to Big Bend National Park for more exploring.
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.
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