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Big Bend National Park is one of my all-time favorite National Parks to visit with kids. The park’s enormous size provides so many opportunities to explore different landscapes. From the Chihuahuan Desert to the Chisos Mountains to the Santa Elena Canyon to Boquillas Overlook; Big Bend National Park cannot be missed. Big Bend National Park is visited by approximately 440,276 visitors annually. The National Park is 801, 163 acres and ranks as the 13th largest National Park in the United States.
Every visitor to Big Bend National Park must make a stop at the Panther Junction visitor center. This is the only visitor center in the Park open every single day from 8:30-5:00 PM. There you will be greeted by a staff of Park Rangers who can help you plan your day to day activities and notify you of imminent weather or road closures. Due to the vastness of this National Park, you may not see another Ranger during your visit, so be sure to ask what you need to while you’re there. While inside of Panther’s Junction, definitely watch the Orientation video which plays every 30 minutes.
When to Visit Big Bend National Park:
The peak months to visit to Big Bend National Park are between November 15 and April 15. This is when the majority of the park’s annual visitors make their way through the park.
The rainy season starts in mid-June and lasts through October.
The summer is the harshest season within the park. Due to the temperate high desert climate, the weather can become unbearably hot making hiking and outdoor activities dangerous.
Getting to Big Bend National Park:
Big Bend is amazing, but it is one of the most remote National Parks. To give you an idea of how long it will take to get the park, here are a few examples. El Paso to Big Bend National Park is 4 and a half hours. Austin to Big Bend is 6 hours and 45 minutes. Dallas to Big Bend is 7 hours and 40 minutes. Houston to Big Bend National park is 8 hours 35 minutes. San Antonio to Big Bend is 5 hours 48 minutes. As you can see, getting to this amazing National Park will definitely require some driving on either end of the trip.
Where to Stay when visiting Big Bend National Park:
Big Bend National Park Lodging:
Chisos Basin Camp Ground: There are 60 sites available at $14 per night. This site is open year round. For stays between November and April, make reservations online.
Chisos Mountain Lodge: There are 73 rooms starting at $143 per night. This lodge is simple, but convenient. It is located within the Chisos Basin and has a gift shop, laundry, free parking and many other amenities. It sells out quickly, so reservations are highly recommended.
Rio Grande Camp Ground: There are 100 sites available at $14 per night. This site is open year rounds and reservations are highly recommended. This is the main camp site in Big Bend National Park.
Rio Grande RV Park: There are 20 full hook up sites available by reservation. There are an additional 5 sites which are first come, first serve. Sites are $33 per night for 2 people and $3 per person over 2. Register at the Rio Grande Village Store or call 1-877-386-4383.
Where to stay Outside of Big Bend National Park:
There are no resorts in Big Bend National park, but there are several places to choose from outside the park.
Big Bend Resort and Adventures: This is where we stayed for 2 nights in our RV. You can book actual hotel rooms here or get some great RV sites. The location can’t be beat as it’s less than 2 miles from the park entrance. There is a gift shop, a convenience store, a restaurant, laundry and great wi-fi.
Base Camp Terlingua: Big Bend National Park is also called the International Dark Sky Park because of how dark the sky gets and how amazing the star gazing is in the area. Base Camp Terlingua is a hub of Tipis, Bubble homes and newly renovates places to stay. I can’t wait to try this spot out. The best part – this company pays it’s employees LIVING wage instead of just minimum wage.
Lajitas Golf Resort: Tucked away in Texas' historic Big Bend between Big Bend National Park and Big Bend State Park lies Lajitas Resort, the perfect setting for your away-from-it-all adventure. Our 27,000 acre Texas resort is famous for its solitude, natural beauty and rugged desert environment. The resort's unique destination is rich in Old West history. The resort offers an 18-hole golf course, full spa, clay shooting and equestrian activities. **This resort also has a full hook up RV park on the property.
Here are the Top 7 things to do in Big Bend National Park with Kids:
1) Rio Grande Village Visitor Center (and RV Park). This stop is about 20 miles from Panther Junction and is where we stayed the night. There are full hookups in this RV park; it is the only full hookup site in Big Bend National Park. An easy drive from the Rio Grande Village, you will find the Boquillas Canyon Overlook. This stop looks straight out to the Sierra Del Carmen and over to Boquillas, Mexico. Boquillas Canyon can only be faintly seen, but the canyon itself (you can hike there) is over 1,300 feet deep! Another unique experience in this part of Big bend is the Hot Springs. Only 2 miles from the Rio Grande Village you will also be able to visit the Hot Springs. While the springs generally aren’t safe for small children, I definitely recommend this for families with older children.
2) Boquillas, Mexico: If you are visiting Big Bend National Park, I suggest bringing your passport and take a morning or afternoon to head into Boquillas, Mexico. Plan to spend 2.5-3.5 hours on this adventure. Be sure to bring plenty of cash with you. Crossing the Rio Grande by boat is $5 per person for a round trip adventure. Then you must hire a burro or truck to bring you into the town which is another $5 per person for a round trip journey. Lunch is cheap and delicious. A full meal will cost you $7 per plate and the Margaritas are absolutely delicious. There isn’t much to do in Boquillas, so just enjoy the slow pace while you devour some authentic Mexican cuisine. Adults must have a valid passport and young children can get in with their parent’s permission and a birth certificate.
3) Santa Elena Canyon: The Santa Elena Canyon is approximately 43 miles from the Panther Junction visitors center. Along the drive you can stop at three amazing stopping points; Sotol Vista Overlook, Tuff Canyon Overlook and Mule Ears View Point. All three offer breathtaking and interesting views of different terrains inside of Big Bend National Park. The best part of all three? If you’re traveling with children, you don’t have to hike to reap the benefits of the view. Simply drive up and get out! This drive is pretty long for a National Park, so take your time. As you get close to the Canyon you’ll pass the Castolon Visitor Center which was closed in early 2019 due to massive damage from a forest fire. However, the road is open to Santa Elena. There is an overlook that is worth stopping at along the way. The massive Santa Elena Canyon gives a perfect backdrop for photos. Once you’re done, load up and keep driving. You will drive directly down to the access to the canyon. There are restrooms and picnic tables to stop for a meal or a quick refresh. From there you will walk along a well beaten path to the mouth of the canyon. Most visitors stop and enjoy the views from the shores. If you are feeling adventurous, cross the Rio Grande River and take the hike up into the Canyon. I was able to do this hike with a 2-year-old on my back in our Toddler Tula and my 4-year-old walked. Access will depend on whether the river is high or low and the strength of the current. However, if it’s walkable, go for it! The views inside the Canyon are impressive.
Instead of Hiking the Santa Elena Canyon, check out this Canoe Trip through the Canyons of Big Bend National Park
4) Fossil Discovery Exhibit: As Big Bend’s newest addition, the exhibit is a full open air museum featuring the Park’s ancient life and how it has changed over the years. The exhibit is 8 miles north of the Panther Junction visitor center, it is handicap accessible, and it is open from dawn to dusk. Definitely add this free guided journey through history to your Big Bend adventure.
5) Chisos Basin: The Chisos Mountains are the only mountain range fully contained within a National Park. (Did we mention Big Bend National Park is massive?) This mountain range is home to the Chisos Basin and is completely surrounded by the Chihuahuan Desert. There you will find a restaurant, camping and another Visitors Center. There are so many hikes ranging from very easy to very hard within the Chisos Basin. We easily completed the .3-mile Window View Trail which is a paved trail located near the Basin store. The Mountain Range is over 7,000 feet, so the weather is always cooler inside the Basin. Be very cautious of hiking with small children because they have a large and active population of bear and mountain lion within this area of the park. Chisos Basin is located 12 miles from the Panther Junction Visitor Center.
6) Swim in the Rio Grande River: If the river is calm, get in and take a swim! This river runs from Colorado down to Texas. It is the physical boundary between the United States and Mexico. Since the weather can get very hot in Texas, it’s always a good idea to cool off. The area around the entrance to the Santa Elena Canyon provides a good spot to walk in and enjoy the water.
6) Hike: Hiking is the premier activity in Big Bend National Park. See this post on the Best Hikes in Big Bend National Park with Kids.
Big Bend National Park is the perfect destination for families. The different climates, endless adventures and the phenomenal star gazing makes this a fit for entire family. No matter whether you camp out, stay in the Mountain Lodge, stay in or out of the park. No matter where you choose to spend your days exploring. You will love this place. West Texas has a way of getting into your soul and leaving you itching to get back.
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