National Parks

Big Bend National Park

BIG BEND NATIONAL PARK, TX - DECEMBER 8, 2007: View of the Rio Grande River from the cliffs along the hot springs trail to Rio Grande Village. The Rio Grande is a natural border seperating Mexico (on the right) from the United States (left). In the distance the Sierra Del Carmen Mountains are visible. (photo by Ian Shive/Aurora)
At more than 800,000 acres, Big Bend National Park is unique, remote, and isolated. It is in southwestern Texas,  330 miles from El Paso. There are mountains, desert, and 120 miles along the Rio Grande River, which separates the United States and Mexico. There are some 1,200 species of plants, more than 450 species of birds, 56 species of reptiles, 75 species of mammals, as well as fossils and historic landscapes and buildings. Due the park’s size, remoteness, and climate, one has to choose where and when to run carefully. Among the best places to run in Big Bend National Park are some of the more accessible trails, such as the Chimneys Trail, Boot Canyon, and along the Rio Grande. Some of the roads are also good for running, especially off season. The high season for Big Bend National Park is February to April, where there is desert bloom and the weather is best. Summers are very hot, with temperatures typically exceeding 100F.

Notes:
  • Please plan and hydrate accordingly.
  • Some Visitor Centers are closed in summer.
  • Exercise caution regarding wildlife — bears, mountain lions, and snakes can pose a danger. Best to run on an open trail with good vistas, and recommended to bring a whistle, especially if you are alone or in a more remote area.

Trails for Running

Chimneys Trail

Up to 7 miles one-way.  Start: Ross Maxwell Scenic Dr., Mile 13, or Old Maverick

A terrific, open desert trail that provides a great taste of the park, with a gradual elevation gradient. Start at the parking area at the 13-mile mark of Ross Maxwell Scenic Dr. A good run is 2.4 miles each way to reach the Chimneys (high pinnacles). It’s possible to run 7 miles one way to Old Maverick Road near Luna’s jacal, especially if you have a shuttle partner! Or, start at the Old Maverick End. The dirt trail is a good surface for running.

Mountain Trails in the Chisos Basin Area
The Chisos Basin Visitor Center is a focal point for some of the best mountain hiking in Big Bend NP. There are some good running options here, but most involve climbs and some challenging footing. A few options, from the Visitor Center:

  • Laguna Meadows Trail. MAP. One of the gentler trails in the area. The first two miles are more gradual, with a ~500 foot climb. After that, it’s more intense, to 3.6 miles and the intersection with the Colima Trail.  A shorter, gentler option is to combine the beginning of the Laguna Meadows Trail with the Chisos Basin Loop Trail (~1.7 mile loop).
  • Boot Canyon. MAP More of a run/hike, but a nice opportunity for a more shaded run, with big trees and cooler temps. From the visitor center, the Pinnacles Trail is 2.9 miles, steady climb. Very steep near Pinnacles Pass. Then join the Boot Canyon Trail, which is less of a climb, to the intersection with the NE Rim Trail, at 4.5 miles. It’s another ~1 mile to the intersection with the South Rim Trail. Note: this is a challenging run. And be aware of possible bear and mountain lion.

Rio Grande River Trail

2.8 miles one way.  Start: Daniels Ranch, near Rio Grande Village

A run and hot springs – what could be better? The Rio Grande Hot Springs Trail goes from Daniels Ranch, near the Rio Grande Visitor Center, for 2.8 miles one-way to Hot Springs Rd. The hot springs are at about the 2.3 mile mark. The trail is steep and rugged at first, climbing 300 feet in the first half mile along a series of stairs and switchbacks to a rim with good views of the river. The last mile of the trail is along the river.

Roads for Running

There are 250 miles of roads in Big Bend National Park. Some of the roads, such as Chisos Basin Rd. and the road from Panther Junction to Rio Grande Village are long and have significant elevation. The roads in the park are fine to run. Even though many don’t have a shoulder, there is not significant road traffic, except perhaps in high season. Our recommended roads and sections for running are:

  • Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. MAP. 30-mile road is the signature drive in the park, with many scenic overlooks and exhibits, including Sotol Vista, Mule Ears Overlook, and Tuff Canyon. Among the  wonderful vistas, runners might particularly enjoy the Santa Elena Canyon vistas near the western end of the route. The total elevation gain is 1682 feet over 30 miles. The first 8 miles climb about 1,000 feet, with the steepest section between between miles 6.5 and 7.5, at 7% grade, just north of the Upper Burro Mesa Trail. Miles 8-12 are a steady downhill, with a couple of steep sections, and the southern half of the drive is fairly flat.
  • Maverick Entrance Station to Panther JunctionMAP. About 23 miles, known as the park route between Maverick and Panther Junction. in along Panther Junction Rd. & Gano Springs Rd. . Beautiful desert scenery, and great mountain views. The section closer to Maverick Junction has a gradual climb, and the section closer to Panther Junction is level to declining. The entire road gives great vistas of the Chisos, Christmas, and Rosillos Mountains
  • Old Maverick Rd. MAP.  A nearly 14-mile  dirt road passing along the Terlingua Creek badlands on the west side of the park, descending to the Rio Grande and Santa Elena. One of the flatter roads for running in Big Bend NP.