Trip Number: 13455A
Staff: Phil Snyder
- Hike classic trails from the Chisos Mountains to the Chihuahuan Desert
- Climb cliffs with 100-mile views
- Scramble along the Rio Grande River beneath towering Santa Elena and
- Soak in historic hot springs
- First night in Chisos Mountains Lodge
- Highly rated meals, including two in the lodge restaurant
- Fees, permits, equipment, maps
Photo: Phil Snyder
Big Bend National Park in Texas is the perfect place to wander and wonder.
Experience stunning desert and mountain scenery, identify unfamiliar creatures
and plants, and absorb the solitude of this remote, isolated corner of the world.
This is a hiking vacation for day hikers that covers more than 50 miles of
trails in the park’s three ecological zones: the rugged Chisos Mountains,
rising 5,000 feet above the surrounding desert; the Chihuahuan Desert, with
its arroyos, cliffs and hoodoos forged from volcanic and erosive activity; and
the lush floodplain of Rio Grande River. The itinerary includes classic Texan
trails, including South Rim Loop, Marufo Vega, Lost Mine, The Window, Mule Ears
and The Chimneys. A hike through Hot Springs Canyon brings us to 105-degree,
historically significant hot springs on the edge of the Rio Grande River. We’ll
visit two towering canyons, Santa Elena and Boquillas, with vertical canyon
walls looming as much as 1,000-feet above the trail.
Spring comes early to the lower elevations of Big Bend and, depending on precipitation,
we’ll enjoy patches of wildflowers. Some of the 70 species of cacti also
may be blooming. We’ll see some of the 450 species of migrant birds in
the park, a number that amounts to more than half of all species in North America.
Black bear and mountain lions make their home in the mountains.
This is one the Sierra Club’s first domestic hiking trips of the year.
Get an early start to your hiking season in sunny, southern Texas by exploring
never-to-be-forgotten Big Bend National Park.
Photo: Phil Snyder
There is more information about all of the hikes and the rich history of Big
Bend on the park’s website.
Day 1: Beginning at Persimmon Gap, the northern portal of
the park, our introduction to the famed Chihuahuan Desert unfolds in eight miles
of hiking to Devil’s Den, a limestone slot canyon ripped through the mountains,
and Dog Canyon, the boundary between the Santiago and Deadhorse mountains. We
spend the night at Chisos Mountains Lodge and enjoy dinner at the lodge.
Day 2: After a breakfast buffet at the lodge, hike the 4.8-mile
Lost Mine Trail to soaring views of the distant Rio Grande River and the Sierra
Del Carmen range in Mexico. After setting up camp in a car-accessible campground,
spend the afternoon on a 4.5-mile hike to The Window, a slot canyon on top of
a 200-foot pour-off that drains most of the Chisos Basin.
Day 3: The classic hike of Texas, the 12.6-mile South Rim
Loop Trail, will captivate hikers today. Lunch is on 2,500-foot cliffs with
breathtaking views of hundreds of square miles of desert and mountains.
Day 4: The Chimneys, a 4.8-mile hike, features prominent petroglyphs,
while the goal of the six-mile hike to Mule Ears is a lush spring surrounded
by the harsh beauty of the Chicuahuan Desert. Both Chimneys and Mule Ears are
large rock outcrops that have been used as landmarks for centuries. An optional
hike is through 1,500-foot Santa Elena Canyon, sharply carved by the Rio Grande
River. By the end of the day, we’ll be in a new campsite near Rio Grande
Day 5: In the middle of the six-mile Hot Springs Canyon Trail,
soak in 105-degree hot springs on the banks of the Rio Grande River. The springs
are enclosed within the foundation of an 80-year old bathhouse that was part
of an historic and semi-restored resort.
Photo: Phil Snyder
Day 6: The Marufo Vega Trail, a strenuous but spectacular
14-mile loop over the Deadhorse Mountains to the Rio Grande, is a trip highlight.
A less difficult but equally inspiring hike is an option: the eight-mile historic
Ore Terminal Trail, which follows an abandoned tramway that carried silver,
lead and zinc from Mexico until 1919.
Day 7: Boquillas Canyon is a short, colorful hike along the
Rio Grande River and will be followed by lunch at Dugout Wells.
Big Bend National Park is in one of the most isolated corners of the country,
resulting in relatively few visitors. The closest airports in Texas are Midland-Odessa,
225 miles from the park; El Paso, 325 miles away; or San Antonio, 420 miles
away. Amtrak stops in Alpine a few times each week, about 70 miles away.
The trip begins at 9:30 a.m. (CST) on Sunday, Feb. 17 at Persimmon Gap, the
northern entrance to Big Bend National Park, which is about 40 miles south of
Marathon, Texas. The trip will require an overnight in Marathon, Alpine, Lajitas,
Terlingua, Big Bend National Park or some other “nearby” location
Saturday night in order to gather on time in the park Sunday morning.
Carpooling is strongly encouraged to help reduce participant costs and our
environmental footprint, and because there is limited parking in campgrounds
and at the trailheads. Each vehicle will need a national park entrance pass,
which is $20 for the week.
Accommodations and Food
Photo: Phil Snyder
The first night of the trip will be in double rooms at the Chisos Mountains
Lodge, where we’ll also enjoy two meals -- all included in the price of
the trip. The remainder of the week is at two developed, car-accessible campgrounds
in Big Bend. Group sites are large, private areas exclusively for tents, with
picnic tables, flush toilets and shade ramadas. Showers are available in Rio
Grande Village, and both campgrounds have a small store nearby.
The trip price includes highly rated meals, beginning with lunch on day one
through lunch on day seven. We provide all cooking equipment, except for personal
plates, cups and utensils. One of the benefits of a base-camp trip is that the
kitchen can be more elaborate, starting with plenty of strong, percolated coffee
(or tea) in the morning, with fresh food, from eggs to salads to vegetables.
Fish and chicken are on the menu, but vegetarians can easily be accommodated;
however, if you avoid dairy products, this trip is not for you. If you have
special dietary requirements, contact the leader before signing up. We follow
the Sierra Club tradition that everyone helps cook and clean.
To fully appreciate this outing, you should be in good physical condition
and enjoy challenging day hikes. Our hikes will vary from half-mile nature walks
on flat terrain to a rugged and optional 14-mile hike with up to 2,000 feet
of elevation gain. While you will be carrying a relatively light day pack, water
is rare on Big Bend hikes, and as much as a gallon may be needed on the 14-mile
Marufo Vega Trail. Our highest expected elevation is 7,250 feet.
The weather in Big Bend is usually challenging. Hikers on previous trips have
experienced everything from snow to temperatures in the mid 90s. High winds
and rain are possible anytime.
Equipment and Clothing
Photo: Phil Snyder
A detailed equipment list will be shared with the group. Participants will
use their own personal camping gear, including a tent; sleeping bag rated to
at least 20 degrees; reliable raingear; day pack; and well-broken-in, lug-soled
boots. Birders will want good binoculars and everyone will want cameras to photograph
the terrific scenery.
- National Geographic/Trails Illustrated Map of Big Bend National Park
- Parent, Laurence, Hiking Big Bend National Park.
- Big Bend Natural History Association, Hiker's Guide to Trails of Big
- National Park and Road Guide to Paved and Improved Dirt Roads of Big
Bend National Park.
- Abbey, Edward, Disorder and Early Sorrow, an essay in The Journey
- Big Bend National Park: http://www.nps.gov/bibe/
- Big Bend National Park Daily Report (weather): http://www.nps.gov/bibe/daily_report.htm
- Big Bend Now: http://www.bigbendsentinel.com/
Photo: Phil Snyder
Big Bend has been preserved as a national park since 1944, but influences past
and present, inside and outside the park affect the integrity of its various
ecosystems. We will see and discuss destructive activities such as overgrazing
in the early part of the last century, introduction of exotic, invasive species,
degradation of air quality from industries outside the park, and the disappearance
of the area's historical and pre-historical archaeological record by the thoughtless
removal of artifacts. We will also delight in the ways the landscape is repairing
itself with the return of native grasses, black bears, and Mexico’s Carmen
Mountains White-Tailed Deer. We will talk about and practice Leave No Trace
See the How to Apply for an Outing section for more details on registering for this trip and details
about our Reservation and Cancellation Policy.
The payment of a deposit does not confirm you as a member on the trip. Participants must be approved by the trip leader. After signing up for this trip, you will be sent a confirmation packet containing approval materials (Participant Approval Questionnaire, Medical Form, Liability Release Form). Each applicant (including those on the waitlist) must fill out these forms and promptly mail them to the trip leader. The leader will review the approval materials and notify you of your acceptance in a timely manner.
Phil Snyder's passion for hiking began on the Appalachian Trail in 1975. Although his AT project is incomplete, Phil's enthusiasm for walking in woods, canyons and desert remains, and is especially high for Big Bend, where he is returning for his seventh consecutive year. One of his Sierra Club goals is to introduce hikers to the challenging, picturesque trails of the Midwest, especially parks around Lake Superior. Phil is mostly retired, a freelance writer, Motorcycle Safety Instructor, and community volunteer in Appleton, Wisconsin.
Melinda Goodwater has been leading backpack trips for Sierra Club Outings for more than 17 years. She quit her full-time job when it got in the way of her trips and has been leading adventures ever since. She leads treks from Nepal to Alaska to the desert southwest. When not in the wilderness, Melinda still does consulting work as an electronic engineer. Melinda has training in CPR and is a wilderness first responder. She is an avid fan of long trails (a reasonable section at a time), so don't be surprised if you bump into her in the wilderness sometime!
General Notes About Sierra Club Trips