A new trail at Big Bend National Park will take hikers on a 3-mile loop around Lone Mountain, a Texas-sized hill that bristles with scrub brush and cactus just north of the Panther Junction Visitor Center.
The new trail is scheduled to be built in 2022, Park Superintendent Bob Krumenaker said this week. National Park Service crews will construct the trail, possibly with volunteer or youth corps assistance, to encircle the lower slopes of a 423-foot rise.
“Our goal is to give people an opportunity to stretch their legs when they get to Panther Junction,” Krumenaker said. “It’s not likely to be a destination trail.”
While the trail may not rise to the top of the “must-do list” for visitors to the 801,163-acre park, it will offer them a chance to get acquainted with the stark West Texas Chihuahuan Desert landscape once they arrive. Panther Junction is the park’s primary visitor center. Attached to the park headquarters, it houses exhibits, a theater that screens an orientation movie, a bookstore, and permit sales.
Park entrance and camping fees will fund the project, which is estimated to cost about $129,000. Signs at Panther Junction will direct hikers to the trailhead, located about a quarter of a mile west of the visitors center, directly across from the park’s gas station.
“It’s not a big mountain—it’s certainly dwarfed by the Chisos Mountains—but it’s a lovely walk and you can do it in an hour and a half to two hours,” Krumenaker said.
About 1.5 miles of rough trail already exists on the east and north sides of the mountain, but it has not been well maintained. The Lone Mountain Trail will climb 10 to 20 feet above the desert floor, then level out as it skirts the mountain’s ankles. The finished trail will bring the park’s total trail mileage to 204 miles.
Planning for a proposed trail near Panther Junction began in 2010. At the time, park officials were considering building a 10-mile route open to mountain bikes. The plan proved controversial, though, and since it was first proposed, neighboring Big Bend Ranch State Park has increased its network of mountain biking trails to 238 miles. Nearby Lajitas, located west of Terlingua, also has an additional 21 miles of twisty single-track that snakes around spiky dog cholla, ocotillo, and prickly pear cactus and dips in and out of dry and sandy creek beds.
“We now have abundant mountain biking opportunities in the vicinity, and if there was a demand, it’s essentially evaporated,” Krumenaker said, adding that Big Bend National Park’s 191 miles of dirt roads have always been open to bicycles. Bikes are not permitted in the national park’s back country wilderness areas.
“This planning process has been too prolonged,” Krumenaker said. “Closing that loop, making the decision, and doing some relatively small but measurable improvement the public will enjoy are all are satisfying.”
If you head to the park, pack a face mask. They’re required inside public buildings, including restrooms, and outdoors when you’re within 6 feet of people not in your group.