Photo by Michael Amador

Soon it will be both easier and more expensive to book a site in Big Bend National Park’s vast desert expanses.

If you’re traveling from afar, you won’t have to worry about scrambling for a spot to pitch your tent at the last minute. The park will increase the number of developed campground sites that can be reserved in advance—and make some backcountry sites reservable, too. But you’ll pay slightly more: Nightly fees at the park’s developed campgrounds increase from $14 to $16, and backcountry permits (including river trips and roadside camping) change from $12 per permit to $10 per night. Group campsite fees change to a flat fee per site, instead of a nightly per person fee.

The park will use the increased revenue to improve visitor facilities and help fund about $90 million in deferred maintenance needs, Superintendent Bob Krumenaker said, while the new booking policies will help the park deal with crowds. “The reservation system will allow many visitors to plan their stays ahead of time and guarantee they have a campsite when they arrive,” Krumenaker said.

Campground reservations

Nothing compares to the disappointment of driving for hours only to arrive at a completely full campground. Chances of that happening at Big Bend become less likely starting Jan. 15, when two-thirds of the campsites in the Rio Grande Village and Chisos Basin campgrounds open to reservations up to six months in advance—up from the current allotment of half. Rio Grande Village is next to Boquillas Canyon; Chisos Basin is perched in the “sky island” in the park’s center. Cottonwood Campground, near the historic Castolon historic area that housed the U.S. Cavalry during the Mexican Revolution—the barracks burned in a wildfire last May—will remain first come, first served.

Backcountry permits

Starting Feb. 1,58 primitive car camping and backcountry campsites will be available via the online reservation system, too. Included are spots tucked in the steep, shady hollows of the Chisos Mountains, and roadside sites on the desert floor at Grapevine Hills, Paint Gap, Croton Spring, K-Bar, Hannold Draw, Nine-point Draw, Nugent Mountain, Pine Canyon, Robbers Roost, and Twisted Shoe. More sites may be added to the reservation system later, park officials said.

The changes mean visitors can plan backcountry routes and get their permits before driving to the park.

The March 2024 cover of Texas Highways Magazine

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