One of our goals as a family is to travel to all the National Parks. We have made quite the dent so far in this endeavor and since we live in Denton, Texas, the next park to cross off our list was Big Bend National Park. To get to this park, we had an 8-hour drive ahead of us (keep in mind this is just to the entrance of the park on the North side). Since we traveled here during December, we had more time to enjoy the journey and so we broke the drive into two days, stopping in Midland, Texas 5 hours into the drive. Midland has a few gems I will talk about below and then we will talk about the amazing hikes and cool photo opportunity we had during our visit to Big Bend National Park and of course, where to stay!
Midland & The Petroleum Museum
With planning any trip, ample research must be done. Since we like to drive at least 5 hours every leg of a trip, we found that Midland would be our stopping point. While researching this area, we found out that Midland is the mega of oil production in Texas. They have a cool museum you can visit that will take you 230 million years into history. This museum is open Monday-Saturday from 10-5 and then Sunday from 2-5. It costs $12 for adults and kids 5 and under are free. We loved how interactive and well-kept this museum was. It has stations for kids to engage and understand the oil industry and even a mini ride. Outside you can find several different types of oil digging equipment which our kiddo loved exploring and taking pictures with. If you are not in a hurry on your trip to the National Park, add this to the list of stops where your kiddos can stretch their legs and learn something new!
Did you know that George W. Bush grew up in Midland? Well, while here you can visit his childhood home which is a short drive from the Petroleum Museum. We didn’t go inside during our trip, but we did stop for a picture. If you are into Presidential history, this is a unique and quick spot to stop at while on your journey out to Big Bend.
The next morning, we woke up early, and continued our drive. Our next stop was Fort Stockton, the place we would be staying outside of Big Bend National Park. This was the closest accommodation we could find near the park that was not outrageously expensive. We are IHG members and so we stayed at the Holiday Inn Express and had a 1.5 hour drive each day to the park entrance. We were able to get breakfast at the hotel on our way out each morning and arrive at the park early to start exploring. If you are looking for accommodations on property, Big Bend does have Chisos Mountains Lodge but make sure to book early as the rooms fill up fast. If you are like us and don’t mind the drive, you will get to enjoy the amazing sunrises each morning over the mountains during your drive in. Whatever your preference, this is a must-see National Park. Now, let’s talk about the trails!
Santa Elena Canyon Trail
This trail is a must-do when you visit. This is where we got an amazing photo opportunity to stand in two countries at once in the Rio Grande. This trail is 1.7 miles round trip and is rated as moderately difficult. The trail starts at the water’s edge as you look deep into the Canyon. From here, you are in for a bit of a climb and some switchbacks before you reach the top and begin your descent into the canyon floor once more before arriving back at the Rio Grande where you can walk out into the middle of the water and take your photo between Mexico and the United States. We loved this trail, especially the lush green plants growing along the Rio that sheltered us from the sun. We did this trail with our 2-year-old at the time, and she loved it, especially getting to play in the water at the end. Add this trail to your plans and truly enjoy the breathtaking views from within the Canyon!
Disclaimer: this trail is not for the faint of heart and is very strenuous. If you are looking for a challenge and summiting the highest point in the park, then Emory Peak is for you. This trail is rated as strenuous and is 10.5 miles round trip. We also did this trail with our 2-year-old but had her in a carrying pack while going up and then let her do some hiking on the way down. One thing I will say is that the last quarter mile is very steep and requires a scramble up an exposed rock face for the last 25 feet. Make sure you have shoes with good traction and plenty of water and snacks to tackle this summit. Also please bring bear spray and know how to use it as there are signs on the trail that you may encounter bears. We didn’t encounter any bears on our trip but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Come prepared and you will truly get to enjoy spectacular views atop Emory Peak.
HOW TO: Big Bend National Park
TO DO BEFORE YOU GO:
Make sure your vehicle is ready for the adventure ahead by having an oil change and filling up the fluids. Have jumper cables packed and a safety kit inside the car just in case your car breaks down. The drive to the park and to different trails in the park require long drives and can be isolated from any help, so come prepared.
Hiking boots, sunscreen, camelbaks, child carrier, water jugs to fill up your packs, snacks, hiking polls, hats, extra socks, towel if you plan on going into the Rio, bear spray, and road trip fun packs for kids to keep them entertained.
Music, books, coloring pack, window stickers, I Spy game, stuffed animal, blanket, pillow, small toys, tablet (only if needed). We also like to bring printouts of what is unique to the area and about the National Park we are visiting so that we can learn about the park, animals, etc. while we are adventuring.
- Petroleum Museum
- George W. Bush childhood home
There will be parking spots at all trail systems you plan on doing. The only busy parking lot we encountered was Emory Peak. This trail takes you to the highest point in the park and is very popular. Through our research we found that there can be a line several hours long just to park, so plan to leave your accommodations early to find a spot. We left before 4AM from our hotel and had no trouble getting a parking spot and beginning our hike. Arriving early to any location really has its benefits!
We like to bring solar chargers with us to make sure our devices have a full charge for adventuring. Also, we use back seat organizers to organize snacks and toys for our little one so she can access all her stuff with ease. We don’t have to shuffle through bags which can be frustrating on the road. Lastly, fill up as often as you can to ensure you have a full tank as some of these places are remote and not easily accessible when you are in or near Big Bend National Park. Enjoy the wander everyone!