Updated for 2021 – Big Bend National Park isn’t a national park you just happen up on. Located deep in southwest Texas, where the Rio Grande marks the border with Mexico, traveling to Big Bend takes effort. Because of it’s isolation, staying in, or close by, the park makes exploring it much easier. Here’s some options and where to camp in Big Bend National Park.
What’s the Best Time of Year to Go to Big Bend?
November through mid April is the busiest time to visit Big Bend National Park. March and April are especially busy because of spring break. It’s important to remember that there are NO public lands for camping in the vicinity of Big Bend national Park. So if you are thinking of visiting during these busy months, you’ll need to make a reservation in advance. Currently, you can book with Recreation.gov six months in advance.
If you don’t mind hot weather, then visiting in the summer months is a good option. Because of the higher temps, hiking and other activities might be limited but the plus side of visiting in the summer is less people. In fact in late June, we felt like we were the only ones there at times.
READ MORE: Big Bend National Park Guide
Camping Inside Big Bend National Park
presently, all camping is reservation only but always check NPS.gov or Recreation.gov for the lastest and up to date info
Big Bend National Park has four developed campgrounds. Three are National Park Service campgrounds and the RV only campground, is managed by a park concessioner. Big Bend National Park also has some primitive back country sites. One of the unique things about these sites is that some of them are pretty close to the road so they don’t require any hiking in. However, you always need a permit and probably a high clearance vehicle.
Chisos Basin Campground
- Open year round
- Elevation 5400 ft.
- 60 sites
- No hook- ups
Because it’s at a higher elevation, Chisos Basin Campground in the middle of the park, is the best for camping in Big Bend National Park in the summer months. It’s often ten degrees, or more, cooler than the lower altitude campgrounds. The elevation also works to your advantage in winter. Sinking cold air and the way the mountains surround the campground makes it much warmer.
All the campsites have grills, bear proof food storage boxes and picnic tables. Most sites are nicely shaded and some even have the picnic tables on a covered concrete pad. If you have a small tent, you could even set it up on the concrete under the cover for extra protection from pop up thunderstorms, which we experienced when we were there in June. The campground has bathrooms with flush toilets but there are no showers. Water is readily available at fill station throughout the campground.
Southerner Says: RVs over 24 ft. are not recommended in the Chisos Basin campground and there is no room for RV parking. NPS recommends tents should be smaller that 8 x 8 ft.
Rio Grande Village Campground
- Open year round (some amenities are closed during low season)
- Elevation 1850 ft.
- 100 sites
- No hook ups
This area is it’s own little village right next to the Rio Grande River, in the southeastern part of the park. It would be a great place to stay in any month other than the summer months. It was 112F degrees when we were there in June. Our campground host said “ain’t nobody down there but the javelinas” 🙂 However, it is a great spot for water activities and boating.
The National Park Service manages the campground with tent sites and there are no hookups. Tent sites have picnic tables, grills, bear proof food storage and some overhead shelters. Bathrooms with flush toilets and plenty of drinking water are available. During high season there is a camp store, laundry facility and showers.
Rio Grand Village RV Campground
- Open year round
- Elevation 1800 ft.
- see the concessioner website for prices
Adjacent to the tent campground is a 25 site RV campground that is managed by a park concessioner. This is the only area that has hookups and a dump station. 20 of the sites accept reservations and the other 5 are held for first come first served campers. Check the website above for more info and pricing.
- Open year round
- Elevation 2169 ft
- 24 sites
- No hook-ups
- $16 for tents
Located on the western side of Big Bend, Cottonwood Campground maybe the smallest of the three developed campgrounds but it’s location makes it one of the best campgrounds in the park. It’s especially good for birders. There’s even a message board when you enter with all the species that have been spotted recently. Shady and more private, this would make a great second choice after Chisos Basin. Sites have picnic tables and grills and the campground has pit toilets and water available.
In addition to developed campgrounds, Big Bend National Park offers backcountry camping. Permits can be obtained at Recreation.gov or at the Panther Junction and Chisos Basin Visitor Centers. At Recreation.gov, reservation availability is released 6 months in advance. Check the website for all rules, regulations and up to date info. The fee for backcountry sites is $10.
There is group camping available at Chisos Basin and Rio Grande Village. Group camping is currently open to maximum of 8 people. See Recreation.gov for more info.
Lodging in Big Bend For the Non-Campers
Big Bend National Park has other options for those that don’t like to camp. There’s even a park lodge.
Chisos Mountain Lodge
The Chiso Mountain Lodge has both rooms and cottages, a gift shop, a restaurant (with WiFi) and a bar. It’s also one of the only places in the park where we had cell phone reception. However, there was construction on a new cell tower to increase cell coverage in the area.
We had dinner at the Mountain View Restaurant in the lodge a couple of times. The food was surprisingly good and affordable for a park. Items on the menu include: nachos, burgers, salads and meat and vegetable options. I had a chicken fried steak with mashed potatoes that was out of this world. The restaurant also serves breakfast and lunch.
One of the best features at the lodge is the huge deck that gives you a perfect view of the park. It’s a great place to sip wine and watch the sun go down.
The lodge is located near the Chisos Basin Campground. There’s a small grocery store, bathrooms and a place to refill your water supply.
More Camping Tips For National Park
- Check in with the campground host, if there is one. The host takes care of the campground and keeps it orderly. A lot of times, he or she has been in the area for awhile and can offer advice on things like the best hikes and things to see.
- Verify campground rules when you enter. Things like generator regulations and quiet hours may differ at each campground.
- Always check if fires are allowed before you build one. At times, lack of rain prohibits even charcoal fires. If fire are allowed, only use the fire ring or the bbq grill provided and don’t gather firewood.
- Don’t leave food out. The campsites in Chisos Basin have bearboxes. After many years, the black bear has been reintroduced the area and it would be a shame if those bears became accustomed to humans and their food.
- Don’t feed any other wildlife either. That includes squirrels and chipmunks.
- Pay attention to the weather. Even though Big Bend doesn’t get much precipitation, thunderstorms can pop up quickly. We experienced one that came out of nowhere and we actually had to leave our campsite because of the intense lightening. So have a backup plan in case of bad weather.
- There are three camp stores, two gas stations, and a post office located in Big Bend National Park but it’s best to bring what you need. We stopped in Marfa for supplies.
- Follow Leave No Trace principles for the outdoors and leave your campsite and the park, better and cleaner than when you got there.
- Purchase an America the Beautiful Park Pass that saves you money at over 2k interagency park units. The pass is $80 and is good for a year. You can purchase a pass at the park or ahead of time at REI.com or LL Bean.
Camping + Lodging Outside Big Bend National Park
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If you can’t get a campsite in the park, try camping in Terlingua. Since the bathhouses were closed when we were there in off season, we decided to see what we could find in Terlingua Big Bend Resort was exactly what we needed. They have rooms, a lodge, RV and tent camping, and 6 minute showers for $2.
For something a little fancier, stay further west, in Lajitas. The Lajitas Golf Resort is a 4 star property with obviously, a golf course, 3 swimming pools, a spa, zip-lining, equestrian activities and Jeep rentals. There’s a restaurant and saloon on site.
Another option, Big Bend Ranch State Park is 80 miles to the west. Check their website here for campground rules for 2021.
Camping Packing List
Need a spruce up or something new for your camping in Big Bend National Park? Here’s a few of my favorite products that I use every time I go camping.
- A great Hydro Flask water bottle
- Thermarest packable foam pillow
- An America the Beautiful Park Pass
- Mpowerd solar Luci Pro lights
- An Affordable Coleman tent
- A night sky guide for those dark skies