Big Bend is remote. It’s about a 5-and-a-half-hour drive from El Paso and a 7-hour drive from San Antonio. But if you’re looking for solitude and a unique running experience, this might just be the place to head. Mountains, desert, cactus, canyons, washes and, of course, the Rio Grande await. The following are our favorite spots to explore by foot within its parameters.
Dog Canyon Trail
This trail is located in the northern-most section of the park, just south of the Persimmon Gap Visitor Center. If you've been in the car for hours and are itching for a run, Dog Canyon is a good place to start. Park in the small lot on the side of the road and in just a few steps you’ll be on the trail, headed towards the canyon and solitude.
Follow the rock cairns and about 1.2 miles in, look for the rusty sign about eye-level that'll point you in the right direction. If you get in far enough, the only sounds you're likely to hear are your own footsteps. That and your own laughter echoing off the canyon walls at having found such an epic spot.
Grapevine Hills Trail to Balanced Rock
Drive (or run) the unpaved Grapevine Hills road, which will take you to the Grapevine Hills Trailhead. From there, run along the wide gritty path that eventually leads to a short (.25 mile) easy boulder scramble.
If the panoramic views from the top aren’t enough to motivate you to lace up, how about standing under a massive boulder?
The Chimneys Trail
The “chimneys” somehow seem closer than they actually are (it’s 2.4 miles one way). The trail is fairly flat but it’s super rocky and technical so your pace is most likely to be slower than normal.
As you approach, look for the pictographs and petroglyphs at the base of the southernmost chimney. They’re about three feet high and can be seen from the trail. If you go closer to get a look, be sure not to touch them since the oils from your finger can damage them.
There are two similarly-named trails in Big Bend that contain the word “Window,” but they couldn’t be more different. One is the Window Trail which is a 5.6 mile jaunt through Oak Creek Canyon that leads to the Window pour-off. The other is the .3-mile Window Trail View which is a paved and wheelchair accessible trail with benches for watching sunrise and sunset. We picked the longer trail, but either one are great options depending on your mood and what you’re looking for.
Hot springs soak post-run, anyone? You’re in luck. Just a few miles west of the Rio Grande Village Visitor Center you’ve got a couple of options.
There’s the Hot Springs Loop which is 1.4 miles, the 3-mile Hot Springs Canyon Trail, and the most direct route – the Hot Springs Historic Trail – that’ll get you in the water in about a quarter mile.
What to Know Before You Go
Do not rely on springs you see on maps to keep your water bottles filled. Sometimes they are dry. Be prepared and carry more than you think you’ll need.
Pack and dress with extremes in mind and remember that temperatures will be lower at higher elevations. We experienced not only sun and heat but windy and chill while visiting.
There is very little cell phone signal within the park. You can get a wifi signal at the Chisos Mountain Visitor Center and the Rio Grande Village Visitor Center but do not rely on it for navigation.
Be aware of changing weather patterns and flash floods, especially if your route will take you through canyons and washes or near the Rio Grande.
Rattlesnakes, copperheads, mountain lions and bears all call Big Bend National Park home. Know what to do if you encounter one.
Check the park website before leaving for your adventure to make sure you are up to date with road closures, visitor center hours, etc.