Scenic Drives in Big Bend
There is no quicker or more effective way to cover the neverending expanse of Big Bend National Park than by car (unless you fly!). Big Bend is unique, in that it provides visitors with more interior roads and access than most national parks in the US. So I’ve compiled a list of some of the top Big Bend scenic drives for you to check out! If you’re looking for more information or ideas send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or, if you’d prefer let us do the planning, while you sit back and enjoy a guided drive around the park. Check out the various routes available on our Jeep Tours! We can provide informed insight into the area because after all, it is our backyard. Or if one of the scenic drives below inspires you then we can arrange it through one of our customizable, step-on guide tours! We even have Jeep Rentals if it’s just the right set of wheels that you’re missing.
There are some-110 miles of paved roads crossing and weaving throughout the park. The most renowned of them is Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. It provides a great variety of sights and showcases the famed rugged geological diversity that the area is known for, passing along the western slopes of the Chisos Mountains (with a great mix of hiking trails) and ending at the trailhead at Santa Elena Canyon. Santa Elena Canyon is a stunning 1,500-foot chasm of limestone divided by the mighty Rio Grande that is definitely worth visiting. The drive also includes a stop at Sotol Vista (considered by many to be one of the best panoramas in Big Bend), Mule Ears Peak lookout, Cerro Castellan, and Tuff Canyon, as well as a bunch of side trips to various abandoned ranches and sites. There is even a small store at Castolon that sells snacks and souvenirs.
There are another two paved scenic drives that head to the park headquarters at Panther Junction. One from Persimmon Gap, which is the north entrance and provides a gentle descent with views of the Rosillos Mountains to the west and the Dead Horse Mountains to the east. The second is from Maverick Entrance Station that includes a drive through some incredible desert scenery, the area’s infamous mountain terrain, as well as past various roadside wildlife exhibits. From Panther Junction, there is an additional paved road to Rio Grande Village which descends almost 2,000 feet over the course of 20 miles. It features more stunning vistas and stops, including at the Boquillas Hot Springs and other hiking trails.
With over 150 miles of dirt roads, there is a ton of adventure out there waiting to be explored. There is a two-mile gravel road that leads down to the Hot Springs Historic District, aptly named Hot Springs Road. Grapevine Hills Road is a 2.2-mile roundtrip route from the trailhead that leads to the alluring Balanced Rock, where boulders sit precariously on top of one another, and can be accessed from Panther Junction. Another is Old Maverick Road, which is a 14-mile route that passes through the Terlingua Creek badlands that lie on the western side of the park. With some historic gems along the way, you won’t be disappointed as you descend into Santa Elena and the Rio Grande. Dagger Flat Auto Trail gets its name from the forest of giant dagger yuccas (palm-like, bladed-leaf trees) that you’ll encounter at the end of the seven-mile drive. This small valley is a must-see for nature lovers. Towering at 20-feet high, the giant yuccas bloom stunning white flowers in April so plan ahead if you’re able to!
Outback Dirt Tracks (for 4WD only)
For the serious outback drivers amongst us, there are some more challenging and lesser-tamed trails to test out. The most popular and well-known is River Road. Traversing the southern side of the park, you might be surprised to learn that although the exhilarating 51-mile track generally follows the course of the Rio Grande, it is not viewable from the drive. There are plenty of side roads along this passage, which provide access to the river, the Mariscal Mine and to the Mariscal Rim Trail being particular highlights. Glenn Springs Road is another challenging option that follows the east side of the Chisos Mountains and places you at Glenn Springs: a lush desert spring well-worth the 16-mile tour. Black Gap Road is not for the faint-hearted, but if you’re willing to take on the unmaintained road in a 4WD, you’ll be connected from Glenn Springs to River Road in 8.5 miles. Old Ore Road is another great option, following 26 miles of track that was once used to transport ore from Mexican mines by mules—expect excellent views of the Chisos along the way.
If you’re keen to take on some of these challenging routes but would prefer that someone experienced handles the driving get in contact with us and we will gladly arrange a tour for you. While tackling the outback roads is a thrilling experience, having a guide to point out the geography, geology, nature, and history along the way makes it that much more spectacular. We can’t wait to see you back in the Bend soon!