Big Bend is temporarily closed due to a positive case of Covid-19 in the park community. check the NPS website for updates.
Big Bend National Park isn’t a national park you just happen up on. Located deep in southwest Texas in the Chihuahuan Desert where the Rio Grande marks the border with Mexico, traveling there takes effort. Because of it’s isolation, camping in Big Bend National Park is a smart choice. Here’s your options.
Camping Inside the Park
Big Bend National Park has four developed campgrounds and some primitive back country sites. One of the unique things about the primitive sites is that some of them are actually roadside so they don’t require any hiking in.
Some of the campgrounds accept reservations, otherwise, they are first come first served.
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 campground 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. Because of sinking cold air and the way the mountains surround the campground, it’s 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.
Bathrooms with flush toilets are available in the campground but no showers and thre are plenty of places to refill your water supply.
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, 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 112 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 no hookups. Tent sites have picnic tables, grills, bear proof food storage and some overhead shelters. There are bathrooms with flush toilets and plenty of drinking water available. During high season there is a camp store, laundry and showers.
Rio Grand Village RV Campground
- Open year round
- Elevation 1800 ft
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 for more info and pricing.
- Open year round
- Elevation 2169 ft
- 24 sites-first come first served
- No hook-ups.
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 caters to bird watchers 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.
Camping in Big Bend For the Non Campers
Big Bend National Park has other options for those that don’t like to camp. It even has a park lodge.
Chisos Mountains Lodge
The lodge has both rooms and cottages, a gift shop and a restaurant (with WiFi) and bar. It’s also one of the only places in the park where we had cell phone reception. However, construction was on going on a tower to increase cell coverage in the area.
The lodge also has a restaurant and we ate dinner there a couple of times. The food was surprisingly good and affordable. Items on the menu include: nachos, burgers, salads and some 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 of the park. It’s a great place to sip wine and watch the sun go down.
The lodge is located close Chisos Basin Campground. There’s also a visitor center and a small grocery store on site and plenty of drinking water to refill your supply.
More Camping Tips
- When you get to 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 participation, thunderstorms can pop up quickly. We experienced one that came out of nowhere and we actually had to leave the area because of the intense lightening. So have a plan in case of bad weather.
- 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 sites across the country.
- Follow Leave No Trace ethics for the outdoors and leave your campsite, and the park, better and cleaner than when you got there.
- Have fun!