Illustration: Erwin Sherman

Jaw-dropping hikes like the Window Trail and South Rim draw visitors back to Big Bend National Park year after year. But with 1,252 square miles to roam, the park also teems with trails less traveled. Many visitors stick to five or six popular trails, but for hikers who want to go farther, go wilder, and get off the beaten path, park officials recommend these four secluded options.

Ernst Tinaja

A slow and bumpy 5-mile drive on Old Ore Road is just a prelude to a hike through the hottest and driest part of the park to reach this out-of-the-way oasis. But the payoff is worth it: a deep pool of water surrounded by swirling orange rock formations embedded with fossils of prehistoric oysters and other geologic humdingers.

The road to the trailhead passes primitive camping spots and a single gravesite. According to park officials, the grave belongs to an early Mexican settler, but let it also serve as a cautionary reminder to not monkey around with Mother Nature—the elements are powerful out here. As with other desert drives in Big Bend, don’t count on cell phone service, carry plenty of water, and make sure to have a spare tire.
Round-trip hike: 1 mile.
Trailhead: Old Ore Road 7 miles north of Rio Grande Village

Hot Springs Canyon Rim

A spring-fed soak feels doubly delicious if, rather than taking the short walk from the parking lot of the Hot Springs Historic District, you hike through staggering red mountains to get there.

From a trailhead at the Daniels Ranch, the trail immediately winds up a hillside surrounded by views of the Chisos and Del Carmen mountains. Soon it offers the mighty sight of the Rio Grande River below. The trek isn’t difficult, but there’s not a lick of shade. Time your journey well, and take at least one gallon of water per person.

As you approach the hot springs, keep your eyes out for the softball-sized nautilus fossils in the stone at your feet as you stairstep down toward the river, a stunning reminder you’re hiking on terrain that once was underwater. Upon arriving at the rock-lined pool that edges the Rio Grande, slip in for a soak in 105-degree waters. But don’t get too relaxed: You still have to hike back to the village.
Round-trip hike: 6 miles.
Trailhead: Daniels Ranch in Rio Grande Village

A hiker balances on the edge of Upper Burro Mesa Pouroff, a shady sanctuary in the desert between the Chisos Basin and Castolon. Photo: E. Dan Klepper

Pine Canyon

What could be more awe-inducing than the sight of a 150-foot waterfall thundering down in the desert? But to be among the lucky few who are greeted by a gushing tower of water at the end of this hike, you have to time it just right—only a heavy rain reaps such a dramatic reward. You also have to be willing to bounce along 6.4 miles of unpaved road to even get to the Pine Canyon trailhead.

Waterfall or not, the hike is a beautiful ramble that begins in mid-elevation desert but ends in a shady woodland of pine, oak, and maple—trees that are a precious rarity in the desert.
Round-trip hike: 4 miles.
Trailhead: Pine Canyon Road 12 miles south of Panther Junction

Upper Burro Mesa Pouroff

Don’t judge a hike by its trailhead; water-carved wonders await at the end of the Upper Burro Mesa Pouroff.

“At the trailhead, it doesn’t look interesting at all,” says Tom VandenBerg, the park’s chief of interpretation. “But after the first couple of hundred yards, you drop into Javelina Wash, then a little canyon that gets narrower as you go. You end up in what essentially is a giant pothole scooped out by the water that’s rushed there over millions of years. At the edge of this little cave-like room is a vertical crack where all the water flows out, dropping hundreds of feet. It’s amazing, one of my favorite hikes.”

Whether you catch it after a rainstorm or not, this hike invites you to scramble over boulders as you descend into the canyon. There you can gaze up at cliff walls overhead and relish a shady sanctuary in the middle of the desert.
Round-trip hike: 3.6 miles.
Trailhead: Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive 16 miles northeast of Castolon

Where do you want to go today?

Where do you want to go today?

From the February 2019 issue

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