I want to tell you about the best short hikes Big Bend has to offer, because the hiking there is simply amazing. And since we went in the middle of the summer when temperatures were soaring, we stuck to short easy day hikes. But we still were amazed at all that we saw for not much hiking effort. Big Bend National Park is one of the National Parks that exceeded my expectations in every way. Gorgeous night skies, epic hiking trails, diverse culture and landscape so beautiful you can barely believe it, Big Bend might not get the attention of some of the other national parks- but it certainly should. Located in southwestern Texas just across the Rio Grande from Mexico, Big Bend was like another world for this Ohio girl. Filled with wildlife I had never seen before and desert beauty not found anywhere else, Big Bend National Park stole my heart and I dream of the day when I get to go back.
Best Short Hikes Big Bend National Park
Santa Elena Canyon Trail
I first read about the Santa Elena Canyon Trail online at The American Southwest and couldn’t wait to get on the trail. Let me tell you, the beautiful pictures you see of the canyon don’t do it justice. It is well worth the long drive you must take to get to the trailhead.
I was glad I was wearing my Chaco Sandals on this moderately difficult 1.5 mile hike, because it starts by crossing Terlingua Creek which was practically a mud pit for our mid summer visit. No worries, I just rinsed them off after crossing. Garrett was in Keens and was just as fortunate. The girls were in trail runners and weren’t so lucky. But hey, that’s hiking. They scraped off the mud they could and we were on our way.
The Santa Elena trail is well marked and easy to follow with moderate climbs and heads into the Santa Elena Canyon along the Rio Grande. Colorful with numerous cacti species and sun splashed canyon rock, this hike is a feast for the eyes and a wonderful way to spend an afternoon in Big Bend National Park.
Not especially challenging, this hike would be fine for kids of all ages as long as you keep them close. Not only are there cactus all along the trail, there are some fairly steep drop off too.
Another one of the best short hikes Big Bend has is the Historic Hot Springs hike. Our visit was in the summer, and let me tell you, it was HOT when we took this hike in the middle of the day. We drove the two mile dirt road to the trail head and that was an adventure in and of itself. The Historic Hot Springs trail is easy, well marked and flat and only a half mile long. We passed several unmanned trinket stands selling crafts set up by Mexican Nationals from across the border.
And what an unforgettable thing to come upon at the end of a dusty walk- the remains of a bathhouse foundation right on top of geothermal hot spring water along the shore of the Rio Grande. We had brought our bathing suits for this purpose and we all hopped into the water to soak up mineral water thought to have healing powers. The river was shallow and the kids also loved splashing in the Rio Grande and ran back and forth over to the Mexican side to say they had left the country.
Window View Trail
Located near the Chisos Mountain Lodge and the Chisos Basin Campground where we were camping and only 0.2 miles long along a paved path, we headed to the Window View several times throughout our 4 days in Big Bend National Park. Watching the sun set through the mountains was unbelievably serene and something I will remember forever. Fully accessible to all, this is a viewpoint you will want to visit again and again and is one of the best short hikes Big Bend has that is easy for anyone to do.
Other Things to Do in Big Bend National Park
Besides hiking, there is a lot to do in Big Bend. We spent time doing the Junior Ranger Program where the kids earned badges. We took in many scenic viewpoints along the scenic park roads, relaxed at our beautiful campsite, enjoyed ice cream at the quaint Rio Grande Village store and a delicious buffet breakfast at the beautiful Chisos Mountain Lodge. Even in the middle of summer, temperatures were bearable during the day and were cool enough to sleep well at night.
The wildlife we saw was amazing too! Kit fox including a pup (which I thought was a chihuahua, but that’s another story), javelina, jackrabbits, cottontails, coyote, scorpions, kangaroo rats and too many birds to count were some of the animals we saw during our visit.
If planning a trip to Big Bend National Parks, some helpful resources include Hiking Big Bend National Park: A Guide to the Big Bend Area’s Greatest Hiking Adventures and the morbid sounding, but oh so interesting Death in Big Bend.
If traveling with kids, you might be interested in Who Pooped in the Park? Big Bend National Park: Scat and Tracks for Kids, an adorable board book Hello, Texas!, or the award winning This Is Texas.
Navada Barr’s mystery series also has a Big Bend edition- Borderline which are always fun to read when visiting the park she is writing about.
See why I loved Big Bend National Parks so much? Since Dave couldn’t go with us, I’m dreaming of the day we can get back together and show him how amazing it was.