Backcountry in Big Bend National Park

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.

Be prepared

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.

Backcountry zone camping

Zone camping allows backpackers to camp just about anywhere in the desert high areas, so long as

  • groups are less than 15 people,
  • they are at least half a mile from any road, and
  • 100 yards from any trail, site, water source or cliff edge.

Always camp 100 yards or more away from dry creek and river beds.  Flash floods can happen, even if there is no rain around.

Backpackers need a backcountry permit and need to designate which zone they will be sleeping in for each night of their trip.  While bureaucratic, this does mean you’re guaranteed it won’t be anywhere near crowded and even more importantly, the local vegetation and wildlife also won’t be crowded out.

Roadside primitive camps

Roadside primitive camps are spots just off trails only suitable for four wheel vehicles, horses and mountain bikes. Often there’s not much there, but a cleared parking lot and a flat area to pitch a tent, but as long as you’re self-sufficient, that’s all you need.  There are no toilets, and also be aware no or little shade.  Grab a backcountry permit to use these campsites

Horseback riding

Unlike many national parks, horses are welcome in Big Bend and there are many suitable trails for a great tour.  Most travel with a support vehicle on longer trips as all water supplies have to be carried in.

Rock climbing

Most of the rocks in the park are unstable and not suitable for technical rock climbing. Some people so it, but there are some regulations to keep in mind.

Backcountry dangers

Aside from the lack of water, the main issues to keep in mind when travelling back country in Big Bend include the sun and heat, and the local wildlife.

Big Bend is the home of black bears and mountain lions.  They are not common, but be aware they are around.  Keep children close by and don’t them run ahead on trails. If you do come across a bear or mountain lion, try and look large, scream, shout, wave your arms, throw rocks etc.  Do not run.

Keep an eye out for snakes and poisonous insects.  Shake out clothes and shoes before putting them on.

Wildlife should never be feed.  Keep all food securely and close at hand.

Links and further information