Big Bend National Park is one of the least visited national parks in the lower 48, but it’s also one of the coolest. You can kayak the Rio Grande or hike, bike, and camp in the Chisos Mountains, towering nearly a mile above the Chihuahuan desert. The 4.8-mile Lost Mine Trail offers sweeping views of Casa Grande and Juniper Canyon; the strenuous South Rim covers nearly 15 miles with a 2,000 foot gain in elevation. The landscape is dotted with cacti and yucca plants, mesquite, Arizona cyprus, maple, aspen, and Ponderosa pines. Keep your eyes peeled for elusive bobcats, mountain lions, and black bears—or, more likely, termite nests and rodent holes.
For those who aren’t into dirt and sweat, scenic drives abound: Big Bend has more than 100 miles of paved roads, plus primitive dirt roads for you 4WD showoffs. The 6-mile Chisos Basin Road has some of the park’s most dramatic vistas—and also one of its prettiest campgrounds (60 sites total; 26 reservable from Nov. 15 through May 31). The 30-mile Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive is a solid runner-up, dropping you in front of the Sotol Vista and Mule Ears overlooks, and ending at the 1,500-foot limestone walls of storied Santa Elena Canyon, right at the Mexican border.
We recommend entering the park at Highway 385 near Persimmon Gap, doing the park thing for a few hours, and exiting at TX-118, near the touristy “ghost town” of Terlingua. Here you can stop by the truly spooky Terlingua Cemetery, with its weatherbeaten wood crosses and graves marked by piles of stone. For souvenirs, don’t bother with Terlingua proper—look for the oddball gem & rock shop Many Stones on TX-118, about two miles south of the park exit. Affable owner Ring Huggins has got agate, jasper, ryolite, bromeliads, hand-painted hubcaps, dinosaur bones, and stories for days.
Big Bend National Park: Hwy 385, TX; 432-477-2251.
Terlingua Cemetery: TX-118, Terlingua, TX; no phone.
Many Stones: TX-118, Terlingua, TX; 432-371-2994.