Big Bend National Park Driving Loop

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Big Bend National Park is not just large in size, it is huge! The crown jewel of the area the park offers more than 800 thousand acres of wide-open spaces. There are miles upon miles of hiking trails and open roads to explore! While the hiking is amazing it’s not fore everyone and you can still enjoy the beauty and splendor of Big Bend on driving tours through the park.

Alpine – get up and go! It’s always a good idea to get an early start when heading to Big Bend National Park especially during warmer weather. You can also avoid large crowds and longer waits by getting an early start.  

Magoo’s Place or Judy’s Bread and Breakfast are some of the local favorites for a big sit-down breakfast. If you want to grab and go there are several fast-food options or Alicia’s famous “Trashcan Burrito.” If you are only wanting a quick cup of joe both Plaine and Cedar Coffee have a huge selection of hot and cold coffee drinks made with beans from local roasters.

While there are dining options for lunch on this daytrip there are also many beautiful places to stop and have a picnic lunch. Plan ahead and grab gourmet salads or sandwiches from some of Alpine’s unique eateries like Desert Rose Provisions or Petit Bijou. We also have wonderful grocery stores, Porters and Blue Water, that offer lots of options for a picnic lunch.

Alpine to Marathon 30 miles on US 90

Along the way…

Picnic areas and scenic outlooks offer amazing views of the Glass Mountains.

Marathon Attractions

Food Options – There are several breakfast options in Marathon too as you head south to the park. The Oasis Café is open 7 days a week serving traditional breakfast plates. The French Grocer is also open everyday from 8a-9p with breakfast options as well as plenty of choices to pack a picnic. Another great place to get wonderful coffee and food in Marathon is the V6 Coffee bar. They are also open daily from 7a-5p with breakfast, lunch, snacks, smoothies and adult drinks.

Places to See – You can stop and take a tour of the stunning gardens at the famous Gage Hotel. If you are looking for a place to fish or do some of the areas best birding The Post is a great stop. This small park located 5 miles south of Marathon is the site of Peña Colorado Springs. This year-round spring long-provided fresh water to the Comanche and other nomadic native peoples, serving as a stop on the Comanche Trail.  

Marathon to Persimmon Gap Big Bend National Park Entrance 40 miles on US 385

Along the way…

There are several picnic areas along the way but be warned, these do not have facilities! They are simply safe places to pull of the road and stretch, enjoy the view, have a picnic and dispose of trash properly.

You will also see historic makers as you head south toward the north entrance of Big Bend National park. Some of these are official State Historic Survey plaques and others are part of the “Big Bend Snapshot”. These markers are located throughout Brewster County and offer a brief history of the people and events that helped shape the area.

For a more in depth look at the history of the area don’t miss the Hallie Stillwell Hall of Fame. This is a unique museum that is devoted to Hallie Stillwell and tells the story of how her and her family struggled to make a life in the rugged west. You can pick up a key for the self-guided tour of the museum from the Stillwell Store.

Persimmon Gap Entrance – Big Bend National Park

There is a $30 charge to enter Big Bend National Park. But the pass is good for 7 days so it allows you to split seeing the park into multiple day trips. If the park entrance is unmanned you may still enter and pay the fee at another visitor center in the park interior. Those who have a national park pass, yearly Big Bend pass, or lifetime pass simply have to show those passes and will not be required to pay a fee. The Persimmon Gap Visitor Center offers detailed maps, exhibits, a gift shop and restrooms. This visitor center is open seasonally but the restrooms are open year-round. Pro tip- Go to the restroom here! Also make sure you grab the latest edition of “The Paisano”. It is the Big Bend National Park visitor and information guide.

Persimmon Gap to Panther Junction 33 miles on US 385 all paved

Along the way…

As you travel into the parks interior you will have amazing views of the changing landscape along with several roadside exhibits that offer information about the plants and animals that live in the Chihuahuan Desert ecosystem.

Approximately 15 miles in you will see the Dagger Flat Auto Trail, 14 miles round trip. If you love desert flora this is the trail for you. The trail is self-guided but there is an electronic or printed guide that is available on the National Park Service App for free or you can purchase the printed copy. The guide allows you follow the numbered posts teaching you how to recognize native plants.

The payoff is a valley full of Giant Dagger Yuccas. To see the Daggers in full bloom you will want to visit in Spring. Also be aware that the is an unpaved road, speed limits are 25 miles an hour and you must watch for slow or stopped vehicles. Another warning; as tempting as exiting the trail and taking Old Ore Road may be, DO NOT go down this primitive road unless you are in a 4×4 vehicle.

The Fossil Discovery Exhibit is another 10 miles up the road and a must see! You get an amazing look back in time at what Big Bend looked like and what plants and animals lived here 130 million years ago. The open air exhibit is open from dawn to dusk, has picnic area, wheelchair accessible and an accessible vault toilet.

Be aware that there is no water available at the exhibit site and the parking area does not accommodate space for RVs and buses to turn around.

Panther Junction – Big Bend Park Headquarters

All the mile makers on the drive here on US 385 were telling you the distance to here, the Big Bend National Park Headquarters. This is the center of the park and a great place to talk with Park Rangers and ask them any questions you have. You can request to see a short video about the park as well. If maps are your thing there is a huge topographic map of the entire park as well as some maps for free and others for purchase as part of the Gift Shop. In addition to books and souvenirs this is where you can get the official Big Bend National Park passport stamp and pin.

Due to the amount of driving you do here in the Big Bend it’s important to take note that Panther Junction is the first opportunity to purchase gas after leaving Marathon. The gas pumps are a little west of the visitor center. Panther Junction also has restrooms, water for personal containers, a post office and a small Chihuahuan Desert Nature Trail if you are looking to stretch your legs. This may also be the first opportunity to pay your park entrance fee if the gate and Persimmon Gap Visitor Center were both unmanned.

Panther Junction to Maverick Junction (West Entrance) US 118 all paved 23 miles

While this is only 23 miles be prepared for this stretch of the drive to take longer than that. You will want to take your time to enjoy the breathtaking views as you get deeper into the Chisos Mountains and some of the highest elevation in the park. And again, there are several roadside exhibits that teach about the plants and animals you will see on the drive.

If you want to do a short and very easy trail you can get off of 118 and head into the basin on Chisos Basin Road. While this is a narrow road it is all paved. Once you are in the basin you can go to the Chisos Basin Visitor Center and Chisos Basin Convenience Store. The basin is also home to the only restaurant in the park at the Chisos Mountain Lodge. Always call ahead to be sure they have availability before making plans to dine there.

The basin is also home to the famous “Window”. The Window View Trail is entirely paved with benches along the way that make it a great place to take a stroll with an amazing view at the turnaround. It’s less than 0.3 miles round trip so it’s a great place for people who aren’t able to do longer hikes. Be sure to follow the Window View Trail signs and not the Window Trail if you are looking for an easier hike. The Window Trail also offers amazing views but it is a moderate 4.4 mile hike with elevation changes.

Maverick Junction Exit to Alpine 82 miles on US 118

Along the way…

As you leave the park and head north on us 118 you will be in the small towns of Study Butte and Terlingua. Here you will find a great general store that offers a little bit of everything as well as a gas station that also has a small restaurant and convenience store grab and go items. This area is also home to small shops and galleries that are owned and operated by local artisans.

Note if you are wanting to see the Terlingua Ghost Town, cemetery, Starlight Theatre, or Perry Mansion those historic sites are all further west off of 170 about 10 miles.

The drive north back to Alpine on 118 will be another treat with more breathtaking views of several different mountain ranges. There are markers on the road letting you know the names and elevations of some of the highest peaks such as, Santiago Peak, Kokernot Mesa and Cathedral Mountain, just to name a few. You will also see Elephant Mountain and the wildlife management area that sits at the base of that mountain. There is a driving tour through the wildlife area that is open May 1 to August 31. For more information click here.

Much like the route headed to the park US 118 has several historic markers along the way that you can stop at to learn more about the area. There are also some beautiful picnic areas that are great to pull off and take in the magnificent views.

About 10 miles from Alpine is a housing development called North Double Diamond and among the houses is some beautiful work of art by metal artist Harry Weekley. He calls his collection of work “One Man’s Junk Art Trail” and allows people to come walk through his property to see it. There are maps available at the Visitors Center.

After North Double Diamond you will come upon “Big Hill”. There are pull offs that offer amazing views and great picture opportunities of Alpine from high above. 

Back to Alpine

Designated as a Music Friendly City you can find live entertainment nearly every night of the week! Click here to go to the events page to see where to catch a show!

For dinner here in Alpine there are lots of wonderful options. Just to name a few:

Reata Restaurant- an Alpine original with a full-service bar.

Old Gringo- a full menu plus live music every night.

Spicewood Restaurant- continuing the true cattlemen’s hospitality this is the newest addition to the Quarter Circle 7 Hotel.

La Casita- serving authentic Mexican food in Alpine for more than 40 years.

Century Club Bar and Grill- located right in the historic Holland Hotel this restaurant offers lots of seasonal dishes and drinks.

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