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 there takes effort. Because of it’s isolation, knowing where to camp in Big Bend National Park will definitely make exploring the park much easier. Here’s a few campground tips.
What’s the Best Time of Year to Go to Big Bend?
November through mid April is the busiest time to visit Big Bend. March is especially busy because of the kids being out of school for spring break. It’s important to note 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 reservations in advance since all of the campgrounds fill up. Even the National Park Service doesn’t advise driving all the way to Big Bend in these months without reservations.
If you don’t mind hot weather, then visiting in the summer months is a good option. Even though we would have liked to have hiked more than we did, visiting in June made us feel like we had the park mostly do ourselves.
if you need more than just camping info, check out my guide to visiting big bend nationl park
Camping Inside Big Bend National Park
Big Bend National Park has four developed campgrounds. Three are National Park Service campgrounds and one, RV’s only, is run by a park concessioner. Big Bend NP also has primitive back country sites. One of the unique things about backcountry sites is that some of them are pretty close to the road so they don’t require any hiking in. However, you must always have a permit will probably need a high clearance vehicle.
presently, all camping is reservation only. I try to keep this article updated but always check NPS.gov or Recreation.gov for the lastest, up to date info
Some of the campgrounds accept reservations, otherwise, they are first come first served. Learn more about how to get a campsite in a first come first served national park campground in this post.
Chisos Basin Campground
- Open year round
- Elevation 5400 ft.
- 60 sites, 40 are reservable year round
- 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. 60 reservable Nov 1-April 15
- 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’s perfect for water activities and boating. It would be a great place to stay in any months other than summer. It was 112F degrees when we were there in June. Our campground host said “ain’t nobody down there but the javelinas”.
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 or Recreation.gov for varying 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-first come first served
- No hook-ups.
- $16 for tents
Located on the western side of Big Bend, Cottonwood Campground is the smallest of the three developed campgrounds. Sites have picnic tables and grills. There are pit toilets and water available. This campground is especially good 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.
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. 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 cute 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 at dinner at the Mountain View Restaurant in the lodge a couple of times. The food was surprisingly good and affordable. 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 Campgrounds
- When you arrive at the campground, 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 the 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. When we visited, even charcoal fires were prohibited. If allowed, only use the fire ring or the bbq grill 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 wildlife. That includes squirrels and chipmunks.
- If your campground has pit toilets, know the rules and don’t throw trash in the toilet. It’s a good idea to have hand sanitizer, soap and extra toilet paper on hand.
- 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.
- Follow Leave No Trace principles for the outdoors and leave your campsite and the park, better and cleaner than when you got there.
- Have fun!
Camping Outside Big Bend National Park
If you can’t get a campsite in the park, you can try Terlingua. When we visited Big Bend NP in summer, the showers at Rio Grande Village were closed for the season. In search of a shower, we drove back to Terlingua and paid $2 for a 6 minute shower at Big Bend Resort. It was really clean and the shower area was spacious. They have rooms, a lodge, a tent and RV campground and offer guided tours.
As another option, Big Bend Ranch State Park is 80 miles to the west. Check their website here for campground rules for 2020.
Purchase an America the Beautiful Park Pass
If you haven’t yet purchased an America the Beautiful Park Pass, there’s no better time to do it. You can save money at over 2k interagency park sites across the country. It’s $80 and is good for a year.