Big Bend if you Only Have One Day

If you’re short on time you can still explore Big Bend in one day. Here is a quick itinerary for those who only have one day to explore.

Big Bend is huge, so a lot of people ask, can you even enjoy it in one day? Sure you can! You just have to realize you’re only going to be scratching the surface on everything this national park has to offer.

Right off of the bat, I’m sharing with you what I did on my one-day adventure to Big Bend. They issue a park newspaper that has a variety of itineraries depending on how much time you have, and this is loosely based on that. You can access those here.

Big Bend is on the southwestern section of Texas as it butts up to the Rio Grande that separates us from Mexico. The landscape is vast, the wildlife is plenty, and the things to see/do are immense. You need to decide what kind of experience you’d like to have at this national park.

You obviously can’t camp in a day trip, but you can hike, so do you want that to be informative or just for exercise and nature-y?

Dinosaur Exhibit

I traveled through the park east-west, so the first main adventure you can visit is the newly renovated dinosaur exhibit. There is a ton of amazing information here that’s fun for the entire family.

You’ll learn about the excavations that have happened in this park, why the park needed to secure the fossils, and read more about the types of species you can find.

Fossil exhibit at Big Bend national park

On the outside of the environmentally-friendly exhibit check out the replica fossils that feature information about different sizes of fossils that were found. Great kiddo interaction here.

On the opposite side, a short hike takes you to the top of another exhibit that offers up information about the volcanic activity that formed some of the ranges you’ll see off in the distance.

There’s really a lot of great information here that could easily be stretched out. This site also has a pit toilet if anyone needs to use the restroom.

Panther Junction

Not so much a hike as it is a place for information, Panther Junction will feature information about the park, it’s where you’ll sign up for backpacking passes, and you can grab some souvenirs. Normally there are additional videos and exhibits, but they were still closed at the time of my visit due to the Covid pandemic.

There are restrooms here and a gas station next door but be advised, power does go out at this park from time to time, so if that happens the station will be unavailable. Here you also find a post office and bookstore. Be on the lookout for Big Bend stamps!

Chisos Basin

Down the road, you can make your way down into the trees of the Chisos Basin. The winding road works its way down into the depths of the park where you will need to navigate the amplitude of cars and people making their way in/out of the trailheads.

Chisos Basin has a lot to offer, and where I spent most of the time during the day I was there. If you’re staying at the park you can stay at the lodge that has an adjoining restaurant. There is also a gift shop here with a good selection of camping/hiking gear as well.

The change in the scenery here is vast, and being 2000 feet lower than you started, the air feels slightly crisper than when you started.

There are eight trails of varying degree here:

  • Window view trail
  • Window Trail
  • Window Trail Campground Connector
  • Basin Loop
  • Laguna Meadow
  • Pinnacles (to Emory Peak)
  • Lost Mine
  • Campground to Lodge

Short on time, I opted to only hike the window view trail. It’s less than half a mile and paved, but you get a pretty good sense of the ‘Window View’ from above, and plenty of amazing scenery around you. For more details about the trails visit the NPS site here.

The Window at Big Bend National Park

Other Notable Day Trip Items

There are a handful of different things you can explore that I didn’t have time to check out, but maybe you will too.

The Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive takes you to multiple sites including: Sotol Vista, Mule Ears Overlook, and Tuff Canyon.

You should also head toward the Santa Elena Canyon and explore the trail at the end of the road. This section is where most people will tell you counts as ‘visiting Big Bend’ if you are only able to hike this area. The area is very picturesque and you get a great sense of the park from here. Read Texas Trailhead contributor, Bill Brooks, talk about his adventure in that area.

What are some things you recommend in a one-day trip to Big Bend National Park? Leave a comment below with your favorite adventure ideas!

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