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Adventure Guide: Big Bend National Park

Texas-sized solitude is practically guaranteed when you explore the high peaks and striking river canyons of this lightly visited wilderness.

3 Outer

Loop Trail

See the Chisos Mountains and the Chihuahuan Desert in 3 days.

©Steve Howe

If you’re looking to take on a well-marked loop with fascinating sidetrips–and

you don’t mind some stiff elevation gain and loss–this 30-miler is your Big

Bend dream hike. It climbs over the forested Chisos Mountains, then plunges

2,850 feet down Juniper Canyon before making a long traverse through the foothills

of the Chihuahuan Desert on the remote Dodson Trail. From this trail’s far

(western) end at historic Homer Wilson Ranch, you’ll hump back up the Chisos

to recross the range just below 7,825-foot Emory Peak, the park’s highest summit.

The Outer Loop is a stout tour. Your 10-mile first day starts with a steep

climb and a long, knee-pounding descent. The 11-mile second day is a sun-drenched

rollercoaster on the Dodson, whose stony trailbed is hard on feet (sturdy boots

recommended). Your third day is comparatively easy, with a gradual 2,200-foot

climb up Blue Creek Canyon, a scenic stroll through the pygmy forests of Laguna

Meadows, and a quick descent back to Chisos Basin.

If you’re not ready for a return to the trailhead, linger awhile: Take the

South Rim Trail east from Laguna Meadows for outrageous vistas that stretch

well into Mexico. Make this loop easier by caching water at the Homer Wilson

Ranch (.25 mile from the Wilson Ranch Overlook on TX 118). Ultralighters can

do this trip as a taxing one-nighter by camping near the springs of Fresno

Creek (mile 14.9), but should check with park rangers to make sure this intermittent

source has water.

The

Way Start from the Chisos Basin Visitor Center, 7 miles south

of the Panther Junction Visitor Center on the Chisos Basin road.

  QUICKFIXES
 

Emory

Peak 360° views

highlight this aerobic climb to Big Bend’s highest point.

Emory Peak rises

6,000 feet above the desert, offering big panoramas, a breezy escape

from the heat, and an excellent 9-mile trail hike. From busy Chisos

Basin Visitor Center, climb 2.5 miles up the Pinnacles Trail to a cool,

fragrant pine forest in the Chisos Mountains. Continue south on the

Boot Canyon Trail until you reach a junction with the mile-long Emory

Peak Trail. Near the summit, a short section of easy scrambling puts

you on the 7,825-foot peak. You can include Emory on loop routes up

to 17 miles long, via the South Rim and Laguna Meadow Trails.

Glenn

Springs/Juniper Canyon Roads Roll

through mountain-bike heaven on these fast, wild jeep tracks.

Big Bend contains

more than 150 miles of rough backcountry dirt roads, but this 25-mile

out-and-back stands out due to its challenging but fast nature and

firm surfaces–not the usual sand pits that plague desert biking. Start

from the signed Glenn Springs Road turnoff, approximately 6 miles east

of Panther Junction Visitor Center on TX 118. Turn around at the Juniper

Canyon campsite, or combine this with Black Gap and River Roads for

an extensive (and waterless) multiday bikepacking journey. Take the

Trails Illustrated #225 Big Bend National Park map and the Road Guide

to Backcountry Dirt Roads of BBNP ($2). Rentals, shuttles, and additional

beta are available from Desert Sports in Terlingua (888-989-6900; www.desertsportstx.com).

Marufo

Vega Trail Test

your routefinding skills on this rugged route through the Deadhorse

Mountains.

This rough, 14-mile

cairned loop heads north from Boquillas Canyon Road near Boquillas

Canyon Overlook, climbs the austere Deadhorse Mountains, then plummets

800 feet to the Rio Grande downstream from Boquillas Canyon. As it

climbs the southwest slopes of the range, the trail splits into north

and south forks. Both forks descend to the river, and connect via a

trail along its Texas (western) bank. Routefinding is easier counterclockwise,

from the south fork to the north fork, because cairns are more pronounced

at the north fork’s river junction. There is no water along this potentially

oven-hot route, so carry 5 to 8 liters per person. Watch your routefinding;

several intersections are easily missed. Download an NPS map of the

trail at www.nps.gov/bibe/backcountry/marufovegatrail.htm.

 

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