Tips for Your First Motorcycle Trip to Big Bend National Park

Texas - 2021-04882

Taking a motorcycle trip to Big Bend National Park is one of the best ways to see Texas on two wheels. In this blog, I’ll be sharing tips about visiting this remote National Park, including where to stay, what to pack, things to do, and more!

In March of 2015, I made it to Big Bend National Park by motorcycle for the first time. Since then, I’ve been back numerous times, and have gotten to see quite a bit of this incredible park, as well as learn a thing or two about visiting this remote region of Texas.

Big Bend is so remote, that it can be a logistical challenge for some who. However, it’s worth your time to visit Big Bend if you haven’t yet. Especially if you’re on a motorcycle! Big Bend National Park comes highly recommended by riders in the state of Texas.

If you’ve never been to Big Bend before, this blog should help you get a feel for things to know before you go, including where to stay, what to pack, and things to do inside Big Bend National Park. Even if you don’t plan to get there via motorcycle, there are plenty of helpful tips throughout the blog.

About Big Bend National Park

Motorcycle Rides | Visit Big Bend National park
Views of the Chisos Mountains from the West Entrance of the Park

If you’re born and raised in Texas and you’ve never been to Big Bend, there’s a valid reason for that. Big Bend is buried deep in west Texas. And I mean, DEEP. The Big Bend is actually a region of west Texas, but the park itself is situated right along the U.S.-Mexico border, sharing 118 miles of the Rio Grande River, which runs through the park. (If you’d like to learn more about the Big Bend region, I highly suggest visiting the Museum of the Big Bend in Alpine. You can learn more about that, here.)

Due to its remoteness, Big bend is one of the least visited national parks, with roughly 4-500,000 visitors per year. To put that into perspective: 4 million people visit Yellowstone annually. In addition to the park being so isolated, beneficially, Big Bend National Park is a Dark Sky Park, and has the darkest skies in the continental United States. If you enjoy star gazing, this is the place for you!

Tent Camping underneath the Milky Way in Big Bend National Park
Motorcycle Camping in the Chisos Basin – Right Under a 180-degree view of the Milky Way!

Getting There

El Paso is the closest major city to Big Bend National Park, and is 300 miles away. Midland, TX is the closest airport, at 200 miles away. From Austin, you’re looking at a 450 mile trek. No matter which route you take to get to Big Bend, it’s going to be an adventure. 

The closest Eagle Rider motorcycle rental locations are in San Antonio and Austin. If you plan on flying in and renting a bike, you’ll need to start your journey in one of these two cities.

Best Times to Visit

The park’s busiest time of year is between October and April when the park sees “colder” temperatures. Yes, this is the desert, so even a cold day in January could be 80 degrees. March, particularly during Spring Break, is the park’s absolute busiest month. March and April are months in which the desert sees significant wildflower blooms, so this also draws crowds to the remote desert region. If you can, try and plan your trip before or after March if you want to avoid the crowds.

Big Bend National Park is significantly less busy from May to September due to the heat. If the blistering summer heat wasn’t going to scare you away from visiting Big Bend, maybe the tarantulas will. From June – August (definitely August), tarantulas migrate and mate in west Texas, making your chances of seeing one of them highly likely. I’m personally not a huge fan of spiders. While tarantulas are completely harmless to humans, I’d rather not “up” my chances of seeing one crawl across my tent, or the roadway for that matter. (Insert a Harry Potter meme of Ronald Weasley crying about spiders, here. That’s exactly what I look like when I see a spider. Why couldn’t it be follow the butterflies?!)

Fees & Permits

The entrance fee to Big Bend National Park is currently $30 per vehicle and $25 per motorcycle. This fee will cover access for an entire week. I always recommend that anyone who enjoys National Parks to purchase an Annual Pass. They’re $80 for 12-month access to all National Parks and even other areas. You can purchase one at any National Park entrance station.

Camping fees start at $14 per night in addition to the entrance fee. If you’re on an ADV or overlanding vehicle, and plan to take advantage of the dirt roads throughout the park, there are numerous primitive campgrounds. These primitive campsites require backcountry permits, which are $10.

Motorcycle Roads | Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive | Big Bend National Park
Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive is a must-do for anyone visiting Big Bend.

Things to Do in Big Bend National Park on a Motorcycle

Motorcycle Roads in Big Bend National Park | Rio Grande Tunnel
The Rio Grande Tunnel near the Rio Grande Village and Boquillas Crossing.

There are 123 miles of paved roads within Big Bend National Park. Many of which offer pristine views of the Chisos Mountains and the surrounding desert landscape. The Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive is 30 miles one way, and has been considered one of the top scenic drives in the state of Texas. A second must-see, is the Chisos Basin Road. While it’s a short six-mile venture into the basin, the road sees steep grades and hairpin turns and isn’t recommended for RV’s and large vehicles.

Highway 170, better known as “The River Road”

If you enter the park from Marathon/Persimmon Gap entrance station, you’ll get to have a beautiful view of the Chisos as you make your way south on Highway 380 to Panther Junction. If you take a left in Panther Junction, the main park road will take you 20 miles south to the Rio Grande Village campground and Boquillas border crossing. This road is also where you’ll find the Rio Grande Tunnel, the first tunnel ever constructed on a Texas roadway.

If you are a Dual Sport rider, you’ll be happy to know that there are even more miles of primitive roads in Big Bend than there are paved. In fact, I saw more dual sports in Big Bend than I did cruisers. You can read more about those roads, here. If getting off the highway is more your style, this is definitely a National Park that you’ll have fun in.

Outside of the park is the famed River Road. Highway 170 runs through Big Bend Ranch State Park, within feet of the Rio Grande River at times. This road is one of the best motorcycling roads in Texas.

Things to Do in Big Bend (Not on a Motorcycle)

Santa Elena Canyon | Hiking Big Bend National Park

Big Bend has plenty to offer if you want to get off the bike and into the outdoors. From easy & difficult hiking trails, border crossings, and dips in the famed Langford hot springs, there’s plenty to do outside of riding. 

The Window Trail in the Chisos Basin is a great place to see the sunset.

Easy hikes include the Santa Elena Canyon, Boquillas Canyon, Rio Grande Village Overlook Trail, and the Burro Mesa Pouroff. Two more difficult (and longer) hikes are the Lost Mine and Window trails. Both are located in the Chisos Basin and are quite popular.

The Langford Hot Springs have been called “The most famous hot tub in Texas.” Depending on how you get to them (via a dirt road or a 5 mile round trip hike), you’ll get a pretty good view of the Rio Grande as well as a mineral soak in a 105 Degree pool that sits on the river’s edge.

Fossil Discovery Center in Big Bend National Park

The Fossil Discovery Center at Big Bend is a newer exhibit at the park. Spanning 130 Million years, Big Bend is one of the best places in North America to study fossils. Over 1200 different fossil specials are known from the park, including a tyrannosaur, a prehistoric alligator, and the world’s largest known flying creature. If you see the sign and wonder if it’s worth stopping for, the answer is absolutely! I spent an hour walking through and reading as many of the info boards as I could.

Into star gazing? You’re in luck. The skies of Big Bend are some of the clearest you’ll find in the United States.

Time Needed to See Big Bend National Park

You can ride the entire park in one day, if you stick to pavement routes and are diligent with your time sightseeing. If you don’t plan on enjoying any additional sights on foot, you could very easily spend one night in the park. If you wish to enjoy some of the longer hikes and an adventure across the border, a 3-night stay is recommended.

>>>>> Read Next: “One Day in Big Bend National Park”

Where to Stay

Motorcycle Camping Big Bend National Park
My campsite at Rio Grande Village! It was perfect.

In the Park, there are quite a few camping options. There are three improved campgrounds: Cottonwood, Chisos, and Rio Grande Village + RV Park. Each campground offers easy access to different regions of the park. Outside of these campgrounds, there are primitive campsites that can be accessed via unpaved roads, and the Chisos Mountains Lodge. 

Where to Stay In Big Bend National Park

Camping in Big Bend

Big Bend offers established and dispersed camping. Both require reservations and/or permits.

  • Cottonwood Campground: Located near the Santa Elena Canyon and Castolon Historic area. This is a much smaller campground than the other two.
  • Chisos Basin Campground: In the heart of Big Bend lies the Chisos Basin Campground. This is by far the most popular campground of the three due to it being in the “middle” of the park. Due to it’s higher elevation, this campground tends to see colder temperatures, even in the summer months.
  • Rio Grande Village Campground: If a sunrise trip to the historic Hot Springs, or a lunch across the border in Boquillas are on your to-do list, the Rio Grande Village would be a great campground to stay at. There are coin-operated showers at the visitor’s center just up the road.
Motorcycle Camping in the Chisos Basin of Big Bend National Park
My campsite in the Chisos Basin was beautiful! You’re surrounded by mountains here.
Over 150 Mountain Lion Sightings are reported every year in Big Bend National Park. Many of which are in the Chisos Basin!

Lodging In and Near Big Bend National Park

Chisos Mountains Lodge: If camping isn’t your “thing,” the Chisos Mountains Lodge may be a better option if you wish to stay in the park and not in nearby Terlingua. The lodge also offers the only dining experience within the park. You can learn more about the lodging options, here.

Outside of the Park, there are a plethora of RV parks, campgrounds, motels, and Air BnB offerings between Terlingua and Lajitas. From the research I’ve done, all privately owned campgrounds in town seem to be missing a common thing that the National Park campsites have: shade. Some also do not have potable water, so do your research. I’ve stayed at the Lajitas Resort once. The pool is a nice touch in the summer when it’s hot out.

Where to Eat Near Big Bend National Park

Motorcycle Camping
I camped for two nights in Big Bend and cooked half of my meals in my Jetboil.

Unless you plan to cross the border at Boquillas for Lunch, or to grab a meal at the Chisos Mountains Lodge, your options for food within the park are very minimal. Terlingua/Study Butte is the closest town to Big Bend. I’d suggest bringing snacks and prepackaged camping meals to cook at your campsite if you are planning to camp in the park.

DB’s Rustic Iron BBQ – Terlingua, TX

In Terlingua, there are a handful of bars and restaurants to choose from, literally. This is truly the wild west, and food options are Pretty limited. Here’s a few to get you started:

  • The Starlight Theatre is a go-to for many.
  • DB’s Rustic Iron BBQ: A must-stop for any BBQ Lover.
  • Taqueria el Milagro: Great Tacos!
  • Long Draw Pizza
  • High Sierra Bar and Grill
  • If you choose to venture west towards Lajitas, the Thirsty Goat Saloon offers food, drinks, and some beautiful views of the Rio Grande.

In Marathon, Brick Vault Brewery and BBQ is a must stop for anyone traveling to or from Big Bend. Mind you, Marathon is 75 miles from Panther Junction, so I would suggest checking this place out on your way in or out of town.

Additional Tips For Planning Your Trip to Big Bend

Watch for Wildlife

One Day in Big Bend National Park | Boquillas Canyon

West Texas has a healthy mule deer and javelina population. You’ll likely see mule deer grazing near the highways throughout the day. Depending on the time of year, you will likely see snakes on the roads as well. At dusk, the wildlife population gets even more active, bringing rabbits and other critters onto the highways. Drive with extreme caution after dusk. 

Javelina, black bears, mountain lions, and coyotes are common in Big Bend National Park. The campgrounds offer bear boxes to store your food and cooking items in when not in use because of this. I use these odor proof loksak bags that add an additional deterrent to having these fuzzy critters paying my campsite a visit. This should go without saying, but, don’t intentionally feed the animals. 

Come prepared!

The park has little to no cell phone coverage, and is nearly 100 miles away from the closest hospital. Know your route and gas stops prior to venturing into Big Bend country, and pack plenty of water. The visitor centers and campgrounds have potable water available.

There are visitor centers at Panther Junction, the Rio Grande Village Campground, Chisos Basin, and Castolon that sell beer, water, snacks, fuel canisters, hydration packs, first aid kits, and other common camping items, just in case. I personally wouldn’t rely on these visitor centers to have what you need, though. Due to the area’s remoteness, it’s not always readily supplied with items you may need. I would suggest stopping for any last minute essential items prior to arriving in Big Bend in places like Alpine, Fort Stockton, or Marfa.

What to Pack for your trip to Big Bend National Park

Satellite Communicator: If you’re planning to ride any of the primitive roads in the park, I’d highly suggest having a Satellite Communicator, like my Garmin inReach Mini. These are great in case things just don’t go according to plan in an area with minimal cell signal.

Avoid Overheating and Sunburns: The Texas sun is brutal. We all know that. Tie it into a blistering, desolate desert, you’re going to want to pack a few things to hinder the heat and sun exposure. Sunscreen is a must, as well as a long sleeve shirt. Without a hat, you will absolutely burn your scalp to a crisp, no matter what time of year it is. Be sure to keep your head covered!

The desert is cold, too. In addition to packing layers to protect yourself from the sun, you’ll want to pack layers for the temperature variations. Depending on where you choose to camp, and what time of year it is, you could very well see 30 degree temperatures at night. The desert is a dry heat, yes, but it’s also a dry cold, and that can be bone chilling if you’re not prepared for it. As always, watch the weather before your trip and pack accordingly.

Stay Hydrated: I always carry a 48oz Nalgene bottle with me on my bike. As previously stated, water is almost as scarce as gasoline in this region, so make sure you are prepared. Never leave camp or a visitor’s center without your water bottle filled.

Camp Kitchen: If you plan on camping, bringing a Jetboil or camping stove to cook your meals is ideal, as food options are pretty limited in the park. I take my MiniMo with me, in addition to some DIY camp meals, on all of my motorcycling adventures. 

Toiletries: Whether you plan to shower at one of the visitor centers, or take a dip in the Langford Hot Springs, you’ll want to pack a towel. I use these quick dry towels, which pack up to next to nothing in size and come in extremely handy. It also wouldn’t hurt to pack some extra toilet paper, or soap.

I also use this Stuff Travel Pack from REI to go on hikes, use the shower facilities at campgrounds, or whatever else I need. It packs down fairly tiny and is quite useful beyond being used for hiking.

Bring Your Passport. There’s a border crossing on the east end of the park, which takes you into Boquillas del Carmen. You’ll pay a few bucks for a boat ride across the Rio Grande, where you can enjoy authentic tacos and margaritas for lunch. The border crossing is only open at certain times and days of the week, which you can learn more about here.

Gas Stations

Gas Stations are more common than water fountains, but they’re still sparse. Inside the park, there are only two Stations: Panther Junction and the Rio Grande Village. Outside of the park to the west, you’ll find gas in Lajitas, Terlingua, and Study Butte. To the North, there is an Alon in Marathon at the intersection of Highway 385 and Highway 90. And in Alpine, you’ll find a handful of gas stations throughout the town.

The gas station at the Rio Grande Village Visitor’s Center only offers unleaded fuel, no premium or diesel. The Rio Grande Village is a 40-mile round trip from the fuel station in Panther Junction, so I recommend utilizing the fuel options there. If you fill up in Panther Junction, venture down the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive to the Santa Elena Canyon, into the Chisos Basin, and then back to the Panther Junction Fuel Station, you’ll be at about 100 miles of fuel usage.

Have any other questions? Drop them in the comments below! 🙂

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Staci Wilt

I’m Staci: a freelance journalist, photographer, and marketing consultant. I primarily focus those skills around my passions of motorcycles, travel, and food…and yes, we will count margaritas and craft beer in that last category. Thanks for checking out my blog!
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  1. Homer Pena on July 10, 2021 at 8:40 AM

    I want to ride my motorcycle 1100 Honda to big bend. I’m 68 years old, will I be ok by myself or are there group rides scheduled? I want to camp out in the open. Best route to take from Corpus Christi Texas? Thank you.

    • Staci Wilt on July 11, 2021 at 10:57 AM

      Hey Homer! You may want to look into Facebook groups to see if there are any group rides headed towards Big Bend from your area if you are not comfortable traveling alone. 🙂 The best route is the one that works for your schedule, although I would suggest heading towards Del Rio and then up the 90 for the most scenic views in comparison to the Interstate. Big Bend is beautiful, and if you choose to travel alone, you’ll still have a great time! Be sure to plan your campsites ahead of time as most campgrounds in Big Bend do sell out prior to arrival. 🙂

    • Heath on November 28, 2021 at 1:50 PM

      Honda 1100?? Are you an old GL rider? My step dad has been all over on his 11GL

  2. Rambo Ram on November 9, 2021 at 8:36 PM

    December still a good time to ride to big bend?
    Any other place you recommend for a 4 day trip?
    Camping +airBNB+rent motorcycle, flying in from CA
    Thank you

  3. Christopher on January 30, 2022 at 9:27 AM

    Will u need a passport
    Hows the cell service

    • Staci Wilt on January 31, 2022 at 9:33 AM

      Check for all passport and border crossing information 🙂 will also let you know what cell service to expect depending on your provider, I believe.

  4. Burt on August 12, 2022 at 10:38 PM

    Does anybody have a copy, PDF or link, to Riding the Big Bend Country, the article printed in Cycle Guide about 1973, maybe September? Written by Frank Conner. Thanks.

    • Staci Wilt on August 27, 2022 at 11:39 AM

      I definitely haven’t heard of this but Google is going to be your best option here!

  5. donald mcmeeken on December 12, 2022 at 5:28 AM

    will head out there from Houston Feb / Mar. Will follow the blog for some tips. Thanks

    • Staci Wilt on December 12, 2022 at 11:44 AM

      Awesome!!! Enjoy West Texas for the both of us! 🙂

  6. Rick Ramsey on January 9, 2023 at 6:14 AM

    Exactly the kind of info I needed to prepare for a trip there with Missus Wife. Thank you.

  7. Scot on March 10, 2024 at 6:36 AM

    Headed there today! Thanks for the tips and will add anything I encounter that I think will be of interest

  8. GQ on March 14, 2024 at 12:03 AM

    Headed out from San Antonio March 19-22nd. Great info for a first time visit.

    • Staci Wilt on March 14, 2024 at 10:06 AM

      Awesome!!!! You’re going to love it.

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