By Shawna Graves
My first trip to Big Bend National Park was during a very hot summer in the middle of June, before the days of ubiquitous cell phones and internet access. It was the only time my mom and I could make a long enough road trip to explore all the areas of Far West Texas we’d never seen. Camping in Big Bend National Park was our grand finale. It was the hottest time of year, and I was moving at a snail’s pace – I couldn’t believe my mom had better stamina! But we were both game for come-what-may! Even the dry-sauna air was part of the exhilarating experience of this special land.
Stick to morning and early evening for best results when hiking in the hot season. This is evening time on Ernst Tinaja Trail.
To cope with the heat, we kept hiking to a minimum. Early one morning we did the whole Window Trail. It was amazing and kind of tough for us beginners, but we were enchanted with all of the scenery. Thank goodness we brought snacks and drinks to refuel! Another morning we started up Lost Mine Trail but turned around halfway up – the elevation change was a bit too much for us, so we decided to hang around the campsite in Chisos Basin, and do pretty much nothing! The scenery had us goo-ga-ga – we were easily amused just by being there. We also attended Ranger talks and learned more about the fascinating region.
Short hikes are great when it’s hot. This is the overlook trail at the Fossil Exhibit in Big Bend National Park.
We didn’t have set-in-stone expectations, so we enjoyed the experience at our own pace. Not once did we regret choosing this bucket list destination, even though we were there during record high temps. After a couple nights of roughing it camp-style, we opted to break camp and find a motel in nearby Terlingua. We had driven down in an old Jeep without AC (we were so hardcore!!) and after a week of frolicking, we were finally ready for some AC!
Boy did we luck out – the place we stayed at had a pool! This was unexpected and wonderful! We had to wonder – should we have gone with this route to begin with??! No, we decided we liked our experience of camping in the unfiltered heat of one of the largest desert ecosystems in the U.S. – but the motel and pool was the perfect ending.
I highly recommend planning a vacation to include at some point, a stay at an AirBnB or motel for newbies and Big Bend regulars alike! Nowadays there are so many accommodations in the area – visitors can find almost any experience they’re looking for – and like my mom and me on our first trip here, you’ll find some experiences you didn’t know you really needed!
My unforgettable first trip had me lusting for a Big Bend life, despite the heat – or maybe because of it! Through many years and many visits, I’ve learned a few things about how to make the most of a hot spell.
Taking Boquillas Canyon Trail to the river to play.
Bring water!! Drink lots of water! Bring more than you think you will need. As a somewhat seasoned, acclimated desert dweller, I still bring water everywhere and keep an extra gallon in the truck. Staying hydrated is vital and being prepared gives peace of mind.
Salty snacks and sports drinks are go-to items, especially for hiking! A salty snack can refresh your stamina on the trails, and with all that water you’re drinking, replenishing salts and minerals is important!
Get wet!! The Hot Springs in Big Bend National Park is refreshing in the summer, believe it or not!! And taking a dip in the cool Rio Grande is the perfect contrast. Locals love to go back and forth – first the hot springs, then the river, then the hot springs again. Boquillas Canyon Trail leads to a shallow spot that has long been popular for taking a dip in. Talk to rangers about where to find good spots to play in the river. Be careful and take proper precautions – there is no lifeguard on duty. You may not have considered bringing a swimsuit and floaties to the Big Bend, but now you know!
The short trail to the Hot Springs is inviting!
4. Wear proper desert attire!! Bring a good long sleeve outdoor shirt to protect your skin from over exposure. Wear a hat. Consider pants. Sunscreen is recommended, too.
5. Take it easy during the day. Use the heat as an excuse to slow down! Siestas were invented for a reason!! Plan for morning time or early evening activities. Plan to stay up late watching stars, then nap all day!
6. Hit the cantinas!! There are a handful of dark, shady spots to wait out the heat of the day. These places are iconic desert hideaways. Try Posada Milagro Y Poco Mas in Terlingua Ghost Town (open daily for breakfast and lunch). The latilla roofing, abundant plants, and desert view make this the quintessential chill spot with an Old Mexico vibe. Plus, they have a great menu! Or, during the day, you can head over to Lajitas and chill at the Thirsty Goat, an indoor, air-conditioned bar/pub with live music on weekends. Check out Red Rock Outfitters while you’re there – they have fantastic activities, from zipline tours to stand-up paddleboard rentals (and if you rent a stand-up paddleboard, it’s a great way to get on the water and cool off, too!). And don’t forget your passport to visit Boquillas through Big Bend National Park. There are two restaurants and the Park Bar and pool hall. A visit to Boquillas always puts things in perspective!
Beat the heat at a cantina in Terlingua, Lajitas, Marathon or Boquillas!
7. Take a scenic drive and practice landscape photography. Stay up late and practice night sky photography! Or skip the camera and soak it all in to relish as memories.
This night shot of Terlingua Cemetery was captured by Morteza Safataj.
8. Check out the nightlife. Whether it’s roadrunners coming out at dusk, bats, javelinas or the Big Bend music scene! Have dinner at the Starlight in Terlingua with live music most nights or try the Gage in Marathon. Besides these mainstays, there is a new brewery and BBQ joint in Marathon – Brick Vault – and it’s hopping! Both Terlingua and Marathon have mom and pop pizza joints, and great TexMex, too. If you’re an early bird, you won’t be the only one! Birds wake the desert landscape in a burst of song. This is one of the best places for birding!
The Brick Vault brewery and BBQ restaurant is the newest hot spot for keeping cool in Marathon!
9. Do a little day shopping. There are super eclectic galleries and shops in Terlingua, Lajitas, and Marathon. Each is unique and local.
10. Catch a sunrise and sunset. Big Bend sunrises and sunsets are unparalleled and can be quite drawn out. Sotol Vista in Big Bend National Park and the Porch in Terlingua are classic places to congregate. Lajitas offers a special occasions chuckwagon dinner with great views of the sunset, too. But you really can’t go wrong anywhere! There is no shame in pulling safely over to the side of the road to get a better photo of one of our hauntingly majestic sunsets!
During the summer, early evenings and morning times are EVERYTHING!!
Finally, enjoy Big Bend at your own pace and visit with an open mind. For some of us, it takes a few visits before we venture into deeper backcountry territory, while others may be prepared to go rogue from the get-go. Each person finds their own connection to this land, and that’s what’s important – to connect to the wilderness and natural world that Big Bend offers. To know is to love this beautiful land.
Oh! One more thing, come prepared for extreme weather conditions – it’s very hot in the summer and can get very cold during the winter, or even at night! That is part of the mystery, charm, and beauty of this iconic, sometimes harsh west Texas land.
We hope you enjoy your adventure and stay in touch with us @VisitBigBend!