See the Chisos Mountains and the Chihuahuan Desert in 3 days.
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.
Way Start from the Chisos Basin Visitor Center, 7 miles south
of the Panther Junction Visitor Center on the Chisos Basin road.
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.
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).
Vega Trail Test
your routefinding skills on this rugged route through the Deadhorse
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