Winter Road Trip

Where Mountains Float: Why Big Bend Is the Ideal Winter Trip

Big Bend beckons Texas travelers for the winter.

By Geneva Diaz Published in the Winter 2022 issue of Houstonia Magazine

Balanced Rock, left, and Santa Elena Canyon, right, at Big Bend National Park.

With hundreds of miles of desert and mountain trails to hike, bike, and explore, Big Bend National Park is an adventure lover’s paradise. Sprawling over more than 801,100 acres and across 1,250 square miles in West Texas, (118 miles of that shared with the Mexican border) Big Bend was founded in the 1930s and named after a particularly large bend in the Rio Grande river. Over the centuries, the area that now constitutes Big Bend has been home to giant flying dinosaurs, Native American tribes, early pioneers, and a whole host of natural wonders including fossils, hot springs, mercury mines, and more bird species than any other national park in America.

Often too hot to fully enjoy during the Texas summers, winter is when the park truly comes alive, with mild and clear days usually in the 70s. A perfect time to explore this natural work of art that, for most of us, is just a relatively short drive away.

Hikers enjoy a classic Big Bend sunset view of the Window.

Mild winter days provide plenty of great hiking and exploring opportunities, from front to backcountry. Take a short hike up Grapevine Hills where you’ll see the iconic Balanced Rock formation. Hike to Hot Springs and soak in the naturally heated 105° mineral salt water. Families can perch at the edge of high-walled canyons and enjoy the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive through the Chisos Mountains. Santa Elena Canyon Trail is also a must visit if you want to kayak along the Rio Grande. Glenn Springs Road, Old Ore Road, and Old Maverick Road are other popular backcountry routes. And a visit to the pool of water at Ernst Tinaja, near the south end of the Old Ore Road, is a Big Bend highlight.

One trail that should not be missed is the Nature Trail at Rio Grande Village. With the Sierra del Carmen Mountains to the east and the iconic “Hollywood Sunset” view of the Chisos Mountains to the west, this is the ultimate place to take in the dramatic colors and majestic scenery of Big Bend. The trail is relatively easy with only a slight elevation gain. And once you're at the top, you’ll understand what it means when people refer to Big Bend as Texas’ gift to the nation.

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