Top 10: Big Bend // Matt Kirouac – Parks Project

By Matt Kirouac

Instagram: @matt_krc
Age: 30
Location: Chicago, IL
Occupation: Writer + Editor

Where to stay

Get ready to call it a night in one of the best places in the park.

Big Bend Holiday Hotel

The Big Bend Holiday Hotel in the Terlingua ghost town is a dream. It’s sort of like a funky, desert-chic motel, but with dilapidated playgrounds and churches. They’ve got several affordable rooms and suites, including the adorable Cinnabar Suite with custom tiling and a fireplace.


Where to hike

Sometimes the best views take a bit of work.

Lost Mine Trail

I loved the Lost Mine Trail near Casa Grande Peak. It’s about five miles roundtrip, with some intense switchbacks, but for the most part it’s a comfortable — and gorgeous — ascent. The valley vistas are stunning from the top, and it’s a great trail to spot wildlife; a black bear crossed the trail about 20 feet in front of us.

Where to enjoy a cold one

Because we both know that you deserve a reward after a strenuous hike, so always pack a cold one.

Thirsty Goat Saloon

The Thirsty Goat saloon at the Lajitas Golf Resort and Spa is quite an eyeful. Not only can you see the Rio Grande and Mexico from the bar, but you can witness something truly special: the town’s goat mayor drink beer. Every part of that sentence is literal.  

Where to refuel

Eating & drinking is just as important as camping & hiking.

Starlight Theatre

The best restaurant in the Big Bend area is The Starlight Theatre in Terlingua. Decked out like an old-timey, Wild West-era saloon and music hall, the restaurant features surprisingly progressive and inventive twists on Tex-Mex cuisine, like chicken-fried wild boar strips with beer gravy and tequila-marinated quail with blueberry-balsamic sauce.  

Must-see landmark

If you're only gonna see one thing while you're here, make it this thing.

Santa Elena Canyon

Quite simply, the Santa Elena Canyon is the most essential stop in the entire park. It’s majestic and awe-inspiring, with 1,500-foot cliffs providing comfortable shade. As you enter the canyon (assuming the Rio Grande isn’t too high, turning the trail into muddy quicksand), the environment shifts from arid desert to lush river flora. The deeper you go, the more quiet and serene the canyon becomes.


Selfie spot

You didn't actually visit the park if you didn't get a selfie in front of something iconic ;)

Rio Grande Hot Springs

The hot springs are a fun spot for photos, selfie or otherwise. These natural jacuzzis are nestled alongside the Rio Grande, segmented by a short rock wall, so you can perch yourself on the edge and stick one foot in the hot spring and one in the fast-moving river. It’s the rare location where selfies are regularly photo-bombed by Mexico in the background.

Where to see sunrise/sunset

If you're gonna visit a park, always make time in your agenda for sunrise & sunset!

Window Trail

The Window Trail earned its name from its panoramic, perfectly framed desert views, making it a prime spot to drink in a sunset. It’s about six miles roundtrip through Oak Creek Canyon, and well worth the haul as the sun illuminates the tree-lined valley in front of you with shades of pink and orange, before disappearing behind the distant mountains.

Radical Activity

Every park has a somethin' radical to get yourself into.

River Rafting

A guided raft trip down the Rio Grande is an afternoon well spent. The towns outside the park have a few outfitters who provide supplies and curate floats down the iconic river. Depending on the time of year, there might be some white water or it might just be a tranquil voyage along the Mexico/U.S. border. Either way, it’s quite a spectacle. 

Secret Spot

Shh! Don't tell too many people, but here's the insider's favorite place.

Devil's Den Trail

In the less visited northern part of the park, the Devil’s Den trail is a great place for solitude. Along with its more remote location, the trail winds for about three miles to a narrow canyon, which you can enter or simply hike around the perimeter. Either way, you’re likely to have it to yourself.

Quintessential Scenic Drive

When your legs start to give out from hiking, hop in your car and go for a drive!  

Chisos Basin Drive

The Chisos Basin Drive really packs a photogenic punch. It’s not a long drive, only about six or seven miles, but within a short period of time the paved road gains thousands of feet of elevation as it rises from the desert into the park’s mountain area. You’ll see the transition from cacti (with the occasional roadrunner sighting) to craggy trees and rocky canyon walls, culminating at a visitor center area ample hiking trails branching off it. 

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