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EXPERIENCE TRUE BACKCOUNTRY WHILE CAMPING IN BIG BEND NATIONAL PARK
A beautiful, rugged, and unforgiving place, Big Bend is full of adventure with some of the best camping known to man. Tips for backcountry or dispersed camping in Big Bend National Park, including where to stay for the best views.
With over 801,000 acres, there's plenty of room for camping in Big Bend National Park. While the park is quite rugged and desolate in some places, we found it to be a beautiful paradise away from the rat race of life.
The only thing is, per Lockcuff family habit, we really didn't do a whole lot of planning before we went. I take that back… I did make sure to pack our passports because we planned to visit Boquillas while there.
So on the way down I started looking for dispersed camping options and quickly found out we really should've done our research beforehand on this trip. It's ok, though, because thankfully, cell phones are great for on the go research (as long as you have service).
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT CAMPING AT BIG BEND IN TEXAS
While Big Bend does have 3 developed campgrounds, backcountry camping in primitive roadside campsites was our first choice. Since we were visiting in May when it's extremely hot (true Lockcuff fashion), we had no problem reserving a site.
Which brings me to my next point… You HAVE to reserve your site and purchase a backcountry permit in person during visitor center hours, up to 24 hours in advance. It's not like your typical dispersed camping experience where you just go out and pick a site; you have to actually pick a site when you get your permit.
So, take it from me… This means even if you arrive at 5:15, and the visitor center closes at 5, you're out of luck until the next day. Also, cooler times of the year are when campsites really fill up; so you want to arrive early on to reserve a site.
The park has links to each campsite with photos. It was enough for us to just read descriptions, look through photos, kinda research the roads campsites are on, and pick a site that resonated with us.
Looking for more camping options in the USA? Check out how we find the best free places to camp.
WHAT BIG BEND CAMPING IS REALLY LIKE
It wasn't hard for us to pick a site. We knew we wanted solitude and a beautiful view.
Big Bend has campsites on what they call “improved dirt roads” and “primitive dirt roads.” Primitive dirt roads require a high-clearance 4-wheel-drive vehicle. The road may get quite rocky, even sandy; and rain can make them impassable.
Of course, we decided on a primitive dirt roadside site, and we set off for Glenn Springs Road, which eventually came to Juniper Canyon Road. Just to give you an idea of how long it took us to get to our site… From the paved road, we had about a little over an hour's ride on dirt road out to our campsite at Robbers Roost.
While it was a really long, really bumpy ride, the views were worth every single jolt. Of course, a thunderstorm hit on our first night out; but as that thunderstorm passed, we were hit with the most beautiful sunset over the mountains and a very surreal lighting like I'd never seen in my life.
It was so surreal and with storms all around us, it were as if God cleared the clouds over our tent and allowed us a glimpse of His majesty. I've never experienced anything so beautiful in all my life.
PRIMITIVE ROADSIDE CAMPSITE IN BIG BEND NATIONAL PARK
Robber's Roost was way out in the desert, with no one else around for miles. However, the site was really well developed with adequate parking, enough room for 3 tents, and a bear box to store food and anything else with a scent.
It provides amazing views of the Chisos Mountains, beautiful sunrise mornings, gorgeous sunset nights, colorful views of the Texas and Mexico desert, a stargazer's paradise, amazing sleep, and peaceful desert sounds in those early morning hours. Every part of me longs to be back in that beautiful desert atmosphere.
THINK BEFORE GOING OUT INTO BIG BEND BACKCOUNTRY
I wish we had a picture of the park sign we saw that read something like, “Please call your family and tell them you don't have cell phone service so they're not calling and reporting you missing.” Apparently, this happens a lot at Big Bend.
In all seriousness, it can be a very desolate place, and we learned a few lessons while trekking Big Bend even for the short time we were there this trip.
Before you head out, though, get the permit. Even though the permit isn't used to check on your safety, it allows rangers to talk with you and make sure you know what you're getting yourself into and also warn you of the dangers.
They use the permits to track how many people use the backcountry campsites, as well. And if you get caught without a permit? Not good. Permits are $12, and when you get yours, you can extend it out as long as 14 days.
SAFETY TIPS FOR DISPERSED CAMPING IN BIG BEND NATIONAL PARK:
- Tell people when and where you are going and plan check-ins, so they can report you missing if they don't hear from you; otherwise, the rangers will not know to look for you unless someone calls. Certain visitor centers have Wi-Fi, and there is 3G service in some areas of the park, just likely not where you'll be camping. Stay in touch with your loved ones.
- Stay connected by carrying a radio so you can attempt to call someone if you need help.
- Carry at least a gallon of water per person, per day, for however long you'll be there, extra if you plan to use a portable shower for camping. Even if you plan to drive out the next day, carry extra because you never know what will happen, and you need water in order to survive. We consistently reached over 100 degree temps while there.
- Carry extra fuel. Gas stations are few and far between.
- Carry plenty of spare tires. We have 4. Even the ranger mentioned this to Dan; when Dan said we had 4, he said, “You've been down that road, huh?” Yes, we have, 10,000 feet up on a mountainside in Colorado in the dark, and it was not fun.
- Wear sunscreen. Even if you don't plan to be out in the sun long, wear it anyway.
- Wear proper clothing and shoes, especially shoes. There are rattlesnakes, scorpions, etc. Protect yourself and your little ones.
- A hat goes a long way for shade. Because there will be no shade. No shade at all, besides the occasional rock or boulder.
- Plan strenuous activities, like hiking to Santa Elena Canyon and other places, for early in the mornings or in the evenings when it's cooler; be sure to pack a good hiking carrier for little ones.
- Cactus is everywhere; it is a desert environment. While it's beautiful, it can also be quite attractive to little ones. Zeke found out the hard way that cactus hurts.
- Watch your kids closely, especially if you're in the middle of nowhere and a long way from cell service or help.
- Pack along a first aid kit.
- Stay low during a thunderstorm.
- Keep things tied down well; and keep all loose items stored when you're not at the campsite. Winds can come up strong in the desert.
- Campfires are banned. Even charcoal grills were not allowed while we were there. It's so dry, and all it takes is one spark.
- Keep food put away and closed up; bear boxes are provided because bears and javelinas are pretty prevalent in the park.
- Pack it in, pack it out, including all trash. Leave no trace.
If it's not camping you want but rather lodging, Park Ranger John has all the details on Big Bend Lodging.
FALL IN LOVE WITH BIG BEND!
We can't wait to go camping in Big Bend National Park again, likely in the cooler weather this winter. We fell in love with this beautiful, wild, rugged park and everything it has to offer.
Have you gone camping in Big Bend National Park? Are you planning a trip? Let us know in the comments!