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Big Bend’s Southeast Rim. Photo by Laurence Parent
5 miles / Sky Island
From the desert surrounding the Chisos Mountains, the South Rim lords above the scrublands like a fortress, its cliffs sheer enough to turn back an invading army. And from on top? “It’s one of the great views of the national park system,” says Big Bend Chief of Interpretation David Elkowitz. “It’s up to a 2,000-foot drop, and if you look out on a clear day, you can see the Rio Grande and the mountains of Mexico. There’s very little made by man in that view.” And the soaring terrain near the park’s center forms a sky island, where wetter, cooler conditions shelter plants and animals you won’t find anywhere else in Big Bend—such as Douglas fir, Arizona cypress, and the Sierra del Carmen whitetail deer.
Getting to the most dramatic views means hiking past bulbous rock spires on the Pinnacles Trail and through the lush ecosystem of Boot Canyon to top out on the Northeast Rim. Wind past spiky cacti and agave to your first big vistas of the rolling hills below, then connect to the Southeast Rim Trail for a clifftop stroll with views extending to Mexico’s Sierra del Carmen mountains. The scene changes again on the Southwest Rim Trail, where you’ll see the volcanic landscape of the Sierra Quemada and the twin Mule Ears peaks. Your island may be ringed by high-in-the-sky panoramas, not water, but the result is the same: You’ll want to dig your toes into the sand and stay awhile.
Trailhead 29.229368, -103.295453
Total hike 14.6 miles (loop via Laguna Meadows Trail)
Camping Allowed at 12 designated sites along the rim. Request permits ($10), in person only, at any visitor center up to 24 hours before your trip.