Driving to Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park is probably the most isolated US National Park in the contiguous 48 States-certainly that I’ve been to. Big Bend National Park takes some effort to get to any way you slice it. There’s no airport nearby that is easily accessible and it’s a good 4-hour drive from El Paso or Midland-Odessa, the 2 closest commercial airports. I actually flew into El Paso and out of Midland-Odessa and El Paso is a much more scenic drive. Here are my thoughts on driving to Big Bend National Park.

Driving to Big Bend National Park

Balanced Rocks in Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park is in far West Texas, literally on the Mexican border. In fact, you can cross into Mexico from Big Bend. In order to get there from El Paso, you’ll pass through the funky town of Marfa and the interesting art fixtures outside of it. Prada Marfa has become pretty famous and I must admit it was pretty cool to see.

Prada Marfa

Prada Marfa is one of the art installations you’ll see driving to Big Bend National Park

Prada Marfa literally comes out of nowhere some 30 miles north of Marfa. I actually passed it and had to turn around to take photos. I was fortunate because I got to see it at night and during the day because of my driving times going to and from Big Bend National Park. Prada Marfa is an art installation. It is not a real Prada store and the merchandise inside is fake. There is also a fake Target south of Marfa but it’s not well maintained and is pretty ugly (see 2 photos below).

Prada Marfa at night

Prada Marfa at night is a cool contrast to daytime. I was glad I got to see both.

I had always heard Marfa was a cool place but honestly I wasn’t impressed. I was going to stay there one night but hotel prices were absurd for crappy accommodation. Then after driving around it I didn’t feel it was worth it and continued on. I ended up staying in a place called Alpine about 50 miles south of Marfa; which actually was interesting albeit not very exciting. From Alpine, it was a 30-minute drive to Marathon and then into Big Bend National Park.

Fake Target store

Fake Target store south of Marfa you’ll pass driving to Big Bend National Park.

Driving to Big Bend National Park is a gorgeous drive through exactly what you want in West Texas. You pass gorgeous mountains and scenes out of the Serengeti. You can drive 100mph even though I was pulled over twice but also got out of tickets twice thanks to my PBA card! It always helps to know cops!

After you leave Marathon, it’s a windy drive into Big Bend. You do need to pay entry of $10 per person unless you have a National Parks annual pass (as I do)-which you can buy for $80 at any park. Then the park is your oyster but you need to pick and choose what you want to see and do if you only have one day as I did.

Of course you can camp in the park and do multiple days and do more things but do some research and plan your trip beforehand. This will help navigate the massive park much easier. I chose to do the scenic drives in the north of the park and the Balanced Rock hike which is about 2.5 miles round trip. All in all I was in the park about 6-7 hours. I thought that was pretty perfect considering it was a 4-5 hour drive back to Midland!

Gorgeous landscapes in Big Bend National Park

Gorgeous landscapes in Big Bend National Park

The balanced rock hike was the highlight of Big Bend National Park for me. You felt like you were in Sedona but really got a feel for the park and how rustic and untouched it really is. The hike is shaded depending what time of day you go but definitely bring water because it’s always hot. The last quarter of the hike is straight uphill to get to the balanced rocks themselves. What a view when you get up there!

Reverse view of Balanced Rocks in Big Bend National Park

Reverse view of Balanced Rocks in Big Bend National Park

Once you arrive, remember to take it in and go through the rocks as well to get the view both back and of the massive valley ahead. There shouldn’t be too many others on the hike. I think I saw 4 other people on the hike both ways. I really liked it and would recommend it. From my research it is the most scenic point in the park and very doable on a daytrip.

Natural desert beauty is everywhere in Big Bend National Park

Natural desert beauty is everywhere in Big Bend National Park

I don’t mean to underscore the long scenic drive at alsl because it was beautiful. Driving all around West Texas is stunning and Big Bend is probably the prettiest spot of all. Just make sure you have enough gas before you enter the park because you’ll drive at least 150 miles in the park. There are gas stations available at certain points but they’re very spread out and not 100% reliable. So fill up beforehand.

Driving to Big Bend National Park was a long, fun experience. I love driving and road trips as everyone knows. This summer I will be visiting at least 13 US National Parks as I try to visit them all. Big Bend was my 37th of 60 and I can’t wait to see the rest!

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  1. Nice post and nice information about Big Bend National Park! Thank you so much for sharing your fantastic photos and wonderful experience with us keep posting.

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