Big Bend Ranch State Park | Outdoorsy

Big Bend Ranch State Park
Guide

Introduction

There is a common phrase in the south that states “everything is bigger in Texas” and for Big Bend Ranch State Park, this statement proves to be true. It is the largest state park in Texas, with over 300,000 acres of land which connects to Big Bend National Park and bleeds into two of Mexico’s national parks. The park is half the size of Rhode Island and was initially one of the 15 largest ranches in the US. It was bought in 1988 by the Texas government and opened its doors periodically in 1991. In 2007, it was made open to the public year-round, serving as the perfect RV camping destination.

Big Bend Ranch State Park is the place to take your RV when you want to enjoy the solitude of nature and get away from it all. Many of the camping sites will require you to take a bit of jostling on the road as you drive to your site. There are hardly any hookups in the entire park, but water holes, streams, and rivers provide water to the park’s visitors. Campsites are littered all over the park and can be anywhere from 20 minutes to two hours apart from each other. You could go days without seeing another person if you wanted to.

The park is separated into a few different zones to help you better navigate the area: backcountry, front country, primitive areas, and equestrian sites. Take your family and your favorite horse exploring through the hills and valleys of this great park. You can even discover a ghost town that was used for movie sets called the Contrabando. There are over 50 campsites, all with various amenities. You can go birding, take your canoe or kayak along the many rivers and streams that run through the park, or hike the 280 miles of trails. There’s so much for you to find here at Big Bend Ranch State Park when you bring your RV.

RV Rentals in Big Bend Ranch State Park

Transportation

Driving

Located in West Texas near the Mexican Border, Big Bend Ranch State Park offers a large expanse of unspoiled nature without being too far off the beaten path. The park has two main entrances you can choose from: Fort Leaton Historic Center near Lajitas or Barton Warnock Visitors Center near Presidio. They lie to the east and west of the park, respectively. You can find either of the entrances by traveling along the scenic FM 170, which runs along the Rio Grande and through the center of the park. This road is curvy at parts, but is well-maintained and should cause no issues, even for those navigating big rigs. At each entrance, you will be able to buy park permits, annual passes, hunting licenses, and other necessities you may need on your stay.

The majority of the roads traversing through the park are unmaintained dirt roads. Large trailers and motorhomes are discouraged from driving into the backcountry and the center of the park. It is recommended that if you plan on driving through the park that your vehicle comes equipped with high clearance and four-wheel drive. The Fort Leaton Entrance is near the town of Presidio, and you will need to stock up on groceries, gas, and water, and get a map to help you navigate through the park.

When traveling in the park, you can drive your car, walk, or ride a 4X4, a horse, or a bike. Driving only in your RV is not recommended, though, because of the dirt roads. Due to the distance between the different facilities, it is also recommended that you either rent or bring your own portable toilet with you. Roads in the park may close due to inclement weather, so be sure to call ahead and check with the park staff before your visit. The park experiences hot summer days and cooler nights, so you might want to bring a jacket with you, especially if you plan on visiting in the winter months.

Parking

Public Transportation

Campgrounds and parking in Big Bend Ranch State Park

Campsites in Big Bend Ranch State Park

Reservations camping

Primitive Drive-in Sites

There are over two dozen drive-in sites available to overnight guests at Big Bend Ranch State Park. These sites are scattered throughout the interior of the park and are about as primitive as they come. You won't find any hookups available, but sites are spacious and you'll have plenty of privacy. Although sites are roomy, the roads to reach them may be difficult to navigate for large motorhomes or those hauling trailers.

Each site is equipped with a picnic table and fire ring, and restrooms can be found at the Visitor Center at Sauceda Headquarters. Vault toilets are also located at various places throughout the park. Guests will need to haul out all trash and human waste collected during their stay. The drive-in sites can accommodate either eight or twelve guests, and furry friends are also allowed.

The drive-in sites are available year-round, and reservations are required. You can book your site for up to five months in advance.

Alternate camping

Agua Adentro Pens Equestrian Campground

Agua Adentro Pens is one of the simplest campgrounds to visit if you have a two-wheel drive with low clearance. It offers pens for you to keep your horses, but requires you to bring your own feed. If you need water, the park’s staff at the Sauceda Ranger Station, which is six miles away from the campground, have a map with water sources you can use. The campground offers fire rings, pens for your horses, and easy access to the Oso Loop, Old Entrance Road, and Las Burras Road trails.

This campsite provides a quiet getaway from the busy city life with a beautiful view of the night sky. There are no shower rooms, hookups, or restrooms, but there are showers and meals at the Sauceda Ranger station when you drop by. You are allowed to bring your own generator and water. On your way to the campsite, be sure to stop by one of the ranger stations to get firewood. You are prohibited from bringing your own firewood and gathering firewood from the outdoors. Remember to only burn fires in the designated areas and to leave a campsite clean for the next visitor. You can stay a maximum of 14 days at a time and can book up to a year in advance. To make a reservation it is best to call ahead and remember to do your best to arrive before night falls due to the lack of street lights on the roads in the park.

Hike-in Backcountry Sites

If you'd like to get out of the RV for a night or two and are feeling adventurous, then grab the tenting gear out of the teardrop and get to hiking. Big Bend Ranch State Park allows backcountry camping, but there are no designated sites, meaning you'll have to choose a spot for yourself. Backpackers are asked to stay on designated trails and pack out all trash on the way out. You'll have only what you bring with you, and fires are not permitted. This kind of camping is not for everyone, and a permit is therefore required. More information and permits can be found at the Sauceda Ranger Station, the Barton Warnock Visitor Center near Lajitas, or the Fort Leaton Historic Site in Presidio.

Sauceda Bunkhouse

If you're searching for hostel-style accommodation at Big Bend Ranch State Park, consider renting a bed at the Sauceda Bunkhouse. Back in the 1960s, this lodge was used by hunting groups passing through the area, but the building is now rented out as a bunkhouse for park visitors. The lodge can sleep a maximum of 30 people, with women's accommodation on one side and the men's on the other. The bunkhouse is equipped with indoor plumbing and electricity, but no heat or air conditioning is available. Guests will find a community kitchen, bathrooms, and plenty of seating, along with a fire pit, picnic tables, and lots of additional parking outside.

Off Site Campgrounds

If you are looking to park the RV at a site with modern facilities, head southeast over FM 170 to reach Big Bend National Park. Here, guests will find hundreds of RV sites, some of which even offer full hookups. Be warned that although the national park appears nearby on the map, in reality, it is actually more than two hours away. But if hookups are what you seek, you'll need to put in the miles to reach them -- and who doesn't love a scenic road trip anyway?

Seasonal activities in Big Bend Ranch State Park

In-Season

Mountain Biking

On your way into the park, you can pick up a mountain biking trail guide to learn more about the trails available. Trails are rated from easy to difficult, and it is recommended that you stick to the trail that matches your level of expertise. One trail within the park that is especially good for bikers is the popular Horsetrap Trail. This is a 4.5-mile loop trail that runs from an old spring. It offers good views of most of the park sites, including Fresno Peak and La Mota Mesa.

You should always check the weather before you go for a ride and bring water, food supplies, a first aid kit, and sunscreen along in the Airstream. When you go biking, take a buddy with you for support and your own safety. If you plan to ride alone, then bring a satellite phone with you because cell service is almost non-existent in the park.

Horseback Riding

You can bring your horse to the great outdoors of Big Bend Ranch State Park and experience the true “wild west.” There are some designated areas for horseback riding, with plenty of wide-open space for you to race across the beautiful terrain. One excellent trail for horseback riding is the Puerta Chilicote Trail. This is a short, five-mile partial loop that goes through one of the most rugged and remote parts of the park. It winds through Fresno Canyon and Bocadillos Highlands, where there are lots of wildlife-viewing opportunities.

You are welcome and even encouraged to bring your horse along on your RV vacation, since there are five equestrian campsites within the park. If you bring your own horse, they must pass the Coggins test with 12 months or less. It is recommended that you bring water and food with you when you go horseback riding as well. Mules are also allowed on the trails, but make sure you bring their documentation too.

Hiking

Big Bend Ranch State Park is the perfect destination to get out of the campervan and hit the trail. There are plenty of trails that run through the park, showcasing the unique scenery and rise and fall of the mountains and valleys. Some of the trails are very primitive, and only recommended for hiking rather than riding a bike or horse.

There are plenty of easy trails like the Ojito Adentro that you and your family can enjoy. Another easy and short trail is the Sauceda Nature Trail, which offers great mountain views and a good sampling of the Chihuahuan Desert flora. Another unique route the whole family can enjoy is the Geologic Hike of Los Portales, which lets visitors explore the rich geological history of Big Bend Ranch State Park. Visitors can also drive through Fresno Canyon and then hike through the two smaller El Solitario canyons -- the oldest rocks date back some 500 million years!

If you want a challenge, then pick up a map on your way into the park and hike the Arroyos de Los Mexicanos. Another trail for the adventurous is the Encino Loop Trail, which is a 7-mile loop that’s mostly rolling hills, colorful brush, and generally very un-desert-like.

For experienced hikers, the Dome Loop Trail is a must, even if you only tackle a portion of it. This is a 20-mile trail that goes through the heart of the park. It’s quite rocky and hilly, but most of the inclines are not too steep, and much of the trail is pretty smooth. Don’t miss the hill, which is entirely covered with calcite crystals.

There are a few trails that require permits due to their difficulty. Be sure to pack your hiking boots, sunscreen, and plenty of water, and enjoy the beautiful mesas, canyons, tinajas, and unique rock structures.

Ranger Programs

If you're not quite sure where to begin your adventure at Big Bend Ranch State Park, consider partaking in one of the many ranger programs offered throughout the year. These events are a great way to learn more about the park, and most programs are family-friendly. Events could include backpacking basics, orienteering courses, guided hikes, or even book clubs! Stop by the Visitor Center to learn about which programs are available during your stay at the park.

Off-Season

Taking River Tours

There are a number of private local tour operators that offer river tours with various lengths from half a day to multiple days. A river tour with an experienced guide is a great way to learn about these majestic waters and take a unique look at the wildlife in the park. You can choose from canoe, kayak, white water rafting, and paddling tours for all ages. Some operators also offer hiking, horseback riding, or park tours throughout the year.

Stargazing

Big Bend Ranch State Park sits in the darkest part of Texas and allows you to see the night sky without the abundant light pollution in many areas of the state. The park became an official International Dark-Sky Park in 2018, celebrating the view of the sky without light pollution. The rangers and many of the park’s visitors set out to view and study the stars year-round. You can see many of the constellations on moonless nights with more clarity than you would if you were in the city. So bring your favorite blanket or chair and enjoy a nice cool drink under the beautiful night’s sky right outside of the pop-up.

Seeing the Big Bend State Park Longhorn Cattle Drive

RVing at Big Bend Ranch State Park during the off-season has its unique perks. Every spring, cowpokes ride out to find newborn Longhorn calves, brand them, inoculate them, and send them back out to the wild. Sounds purdy easy, right? But these little calves can be almost anywhere in the entire park, and especially given the vastness of the landscape, they are not easy to spot. Full-grown longhorn, on the other hand, weigh about a ton apiece. Seeing a cattle drive in this environment is about the closest you're going to get the Old West.

Nature Viewing

When most people think dessert, they think, dry, barren, and flat. But that couldn't be further from the truth. At Big Bend Ranch State Park, visitors will be treated to an up-close look at the park's wildly unique flora and fauna. The Chihuahuan Desert landscape ranges from high mountain peaks down to low river valleys, and the plants and animals that live amongst this ancient geology are just as varied.

Although native bighorn sheep disappeared from the mountainside decades ago, restoration efforts have led to the reintroduction of the species to the park. Visitors will also have a chance to see jackrabbits, coyotes, kangaroo rats, and grey foxes. Beware of mountain lions and black bears, which have also been known to wander through the park.

Avid birders should not hesitate to pack their binoculars along in the motorhome, because there are over 300 bird species that call the park home. Ojito Adentro is a favorite birding spot in the park, along with any springs or rivers you can find. If you listen closely, you'll likely hear the song of the bell's vireo. Keep your eyes peeled zone-tailed hawks, cactus and rock wrens, and vermillion flycatchers, among others.

Find the perfect campsite.