By: Tavia Carlson, www.bigbravenomad.com
Big Bend National Park is one of my all-time favorite National Parks to visit with kids. The park’s enormous size provides so many opportunities to explore different landscapes. From the Chihuahuan Desert to the Chisos Mountains to the Santa Elena Canyon to Boquillas Overlook; Big Bend National Park cannot be missed.
Every visitor to Big Bend National Park must make a stop at the Panther Junction visitor center. This is the only visitor center in the Park open every single day from 8:30-5:00 PM. There you will be greeted by a staff of Park Rangers who can help you plan your day to day activities and notify you of imminent weather or road closures. Due to the vastness of this National Park, (https://amzn.to/30ySaRR) you may not see another Ranger during your visit, so be sure to ask what you need to while you’re there. While inside of Panther’s Junction, be sure to watch the Orientation video which plays every 30 minutes.
Here are the Top 5 places you must visit at Big Bend National Park with Kids:
1) Rio Grand Village Visitor Center (and RV Park). This stop is about 20 miles from Panther Junction and is where we stayed the night. There are full hookups in this RV park; it is the only full hookup site in Big Bend National Park. An easy drive from the Rio Grande Village, you will find the Boquillas Canyon Overlook. This stop looks straight out to the Sierra Del Carmen and over to Boquillas, Mexico. Boquillas Canyon can only be faintly seen, but the canyon itself (you can hike there) is over 1,300 feet deep! Another unique experience in this part of Big bend is the Hot Springs. Only 2 miles from the Rio Grande Village you will also be able to visit the Hot Springs. While the springs generally aren’t safe for small children, I definitely recommend this for families with older children.
2) Boquillas, Mexico: If you are visiting Big Bend National Park, you must bring your passport and take a morning or afternoon to head into Boquillas, Mexico. Plan to spend 2.5-3.5 hours on this adventure. Be sure to bring plenty of cash with you. Crossing the Rio Grande by boat is $5 per person for a round trip adventure. Then you must hire a burro or truck to bring you into the town which is another $5 per person for a round trip journey. Lunch is cheap and delicious. A full meal will cost you $7 per plate and the Margaritas are absolutely delicious. There isn’t much to do in Boquillas, so just enjoy the slow pace while you devour some authentic Mexican cuisine. Adults must have a valid passport and young children can get in with their parent’s permission and a birth certificate.
3) Santa Elena Canyon: The Santa Elena Canyon is approximately 43 miles from the Panther Junction visitors center. Along the drive you can stop at three amazing stopping points; Sotol Vista Overlook, Tuff Canyon Overlook and Mule Ears View Point. All three offer breathtaking and interesting views of different terrains inside of Big Bend National Park. The best part of all three? If you’re traveling with children, you don’t have to hike to reap the benefits of the view. Simply drive up and get out! This drive is pretty long for a National Park, so take your time. As you get close to the Canyon you’ll pass the Castolon Visitor Center which was closed in early 2019 due to massive damage from a forest fire. However, the road is open to Santa Elena. There is an overlook that is worth stopping at along the way.
The massive Santa Elena Canyon gives a perfect backdrop for photos. Once you’re done, load up and keep driving. You will drive directly down to the access to the canyon. There are restrooms and picnic tables to refresh at. From there you will walk along a well beaten path to the mouth of the canyon. Most visitors stop and enjoy the views from the shores. If you are feeling adventurous, cross the Rio Grande and take the hike up into the Canyon. I was able to do this hike with a 2-year-old on my back in our Toddler Tula (https://amzn.to/2XBhh4y) and my 4-year-old walked. Access will depend on whether the river is high or low and the strength of the current. However, if it’s walkable, go for it! The views inside the Canyon are impressive.
4) Fossil Discovery Exhibit: As Big Bend’s newest addition, the exhibit is a full open air museum featuring the Park’s ancient life and how it has changed over the years. The exhibit is 8 miles north of the Panther Junction visitor center, it is handicap accessible, and it is open from dawn to dusk. Definitely add this free guided journey through history to your Big Bend adventure.
5) Chisos Basin: The Chisos Mountains are the only mountain range fully contained within a National Park. (Did we mention Big Bend National Park is massive?) This mountain range is home to the Chisos Basin and is completely surrounded by the Chihuahuan Desert. There you will find a restaurant, camping and another Visitors Center. There are so many hikes ranging from very easy to very hard within the Chisos Basin. We easily completed the .3-mile Window View Trail which is a paved trail located near the Basin store. The Mountain Range is over 7,000 feet, so the weather is always cooler inside the Basin. Be very cautious of hiking with small children because they have a large and active population of bear and mountain lion within this area of the park. Chisos Basin is located 12 miles from the Panther Junction Visitor Center.
Here are 4 Tips for a safe and successful trip to Big Bend National Park with Kids:
- Bring lots of sunscreen. No matter what time of year you go, there is not much shade anywhere except inside the Chisos Mountains.
- Keep a full tank of gas. Big Bend is absolutely MASSIVE. There are over 100 miles of roadway within the park. Be sure to fill up before you enter the park or be ready to pay significantly higher prices.
- Have a solid plan. Your cell phone will not work in the Rio Grande Village area of Big Bend and will be spotty everywhere else. Be sure someone knows where you are at all times. If you’re hiking, it’s imperative you sign in and out on the hiker’s log.
- Snag yourself a National Park Passport (https://amzn.to/2XwWaVI) and get your kids signed up for the Junior Ranger Program at Panther Junction!
RVshare for Visiting National Parks
Have you ever wanted to stay in an RV? With RVshare, you can arrive at a National Park (or nearby) and your RV is waiting for you. There are even RVshare rentals that you can pick up, all set up, at a campsite in or near a National Park. An RV rental with kids doesn’t get much easier than that! For more on RVshare, check out this blog post: RVshare for Family Travel.
You can use their handy National Park section of their site for RVs available near the parks. Details here: RVshare National Park Info.
Big Brave Nomad
Did you enjoy this post by Tavia? Check out these three awesome posts she wrote on family travel:
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