Big Bend National Park in south western Texas is big enough for anyone wanting to get away from it all – hikers and backpackers, mountain bike riders, horse riders and four wheel drive enthusiasts.
This is isolated, dry and rugged country. Visitors need to be well prepared.
Take a detailed topographical map plus a compass. Many tracks are poorly marked.
Discuss the trip with the local rangers before starting – local circumstances can change. They may be able to give you an idea on local water availability, the state of tracks and other details that can make or break the trip.
Always register your trip and let someone know where you are going and when you will be back.
Water, or lack of it, is the big issue for anyone going backcountry in Big Bend. Visitors need to take their own supplies, at least 1 gallon (4 liters) a person a day.
Hiking and backpacking
Longer walks in the park are generally only for experienced backpackers. This is rugged, dry country, not a stroll in the park. If you are planning on hiking in Big Bend, you should study your trail well before setting out.
The Outer Mountain Loop is the park’s signature walk that draws people from around the globe. (see separate article)
The Marufo Vega Trail can be a long day or an overnight walk. It is 14 miles and the route can be poorly marked, so take a detailed map and a compass. Also take plenty of water, it can get hot out there, and the river water is not suitable for drinking.
The Mesa de Anguila Trial is one of the park’s less utilised walks but offers great views.
Hiking in the desert takes effort and preparation but the scenery and the whole experience can be amazing.
The main issue for hiking in the desert is the lack of water, but heat exhaustion, hypothermia, sun glare, local wildlife, wind and flash flooding can also be a problem.
Know what you’re getting in to. Find out what type of desert you’re exploring and suss out the water situation. There may be springs along the way, but they can run dry. If it does rain anywhere in the catchment area, there are likely to be floods. Camp well away from dry river beds.
Expect heat during the day and, if camping, be prepared for freezing temperatures at night.
Register your walk and/or let someone else know where you’re going and when you’re back.
Take a good map, compass or GPS, consider an EPIRB or similar. Take your mobile phone. Don’t expect it to work everywhere, but it may be possible to pick up reception in higher areas in an emergency.
Walk with others so you have support if someone is injured. Four is the ideal number. Someone can stay with an injured person while the others go for help.
The good thing about food on a hike is that most things taste fantastic after an active day out in the big wide world. The not-so good thing is we have to carry it. Here are a few hints for keeping the load as light as possible, while still having enough food that is, well, edible (find some good recipes here).
There are some great lightweight satisfying foods to take on backcountry trips. Mostly they are dehydrated or freeze dried, but there are also many foods that are light just the way they come. It depends how long your walk is and how minimalist you want to go. Most people on a 3-4 day trip will take a mixture of dry and fresh foods, keeping the lightest stuff to eat last.
No words can describe the awesomeness of the Grand Canyon. It’s no wonder almost 5 million people visit each year. But what do you do once you’ve done the tourist stuff on South Rim with everyone else, or want to avoid it altogether? Thankfully there are so many options to explore the area without the company of thousands of others.
Check out the National Park’s website to find out about the backcountry permits needed. Be prepared and well-equipped for any walk longer than a 15 minute nature walk.
It’s often said that kids don’t get tired on hikes, they get bored. Kids don’t appreciate hours of walking with little variety. Adults sit down to relax when they have a break while kids will take a break from walking by running around, playing, and probably eating.
Love your pet and don’t want to leave him while you trek? Most pets wouldn’t appreciate it, or could be downright dangerous for the local wildlife, so it’s better to park them at home or give them their own holiday elsewhere.
Dogs, though, they’re a different matter. Taking a dog on a hike takes walking your dog to a whole new level. There are many wilderness areas where dogs are not allowed for good reason. Dogs can damage fragile environments, endanger local wildlife or introduce disease. It’s a big world out there though, and there are still many places to take a dog hiking. The trick is to know your dog and be prepared.