Big Bend Ranch State Park
Guide

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Introduction

There is a common phrase in the south that says “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 in Big Bend Ranch State Park

Driving

Big Bend Ranch State 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. 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. 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 navigating 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, or ride a horse or 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 Transport

Campgrounds and parking in Big Bend Ranch State Park

Campsites in Big Bend Ranch State Park

Reservations 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 6 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.

South Leyva Campground

South Leyva is another campground suited for low clearance two-wheel drive vehicles. It is a wonderful location for late arrivals, large groups, and nature photographers. It is one mile from the visitors’ center in Sauceda Ranger Station and a quarter mile from the access roads. South Leyva provides a beautiful view of the Sierra Ricca Mountains in Mexico on a clear day and the La Mota Mountain at dawn and dusk. There are no showers or hookups available, but you are encouraged to bring your own generator.

There is a primitive toilet on the campsite, but you also have access to the Sauceda Ranger Station one mile away from the area. There are fire rings at the campsite, so remember to ask for firewood on your way there. If you are interested in taking an exploratory hike, then the South Leyva Campground offers easy access to the Leyva Canyons drainages. You can stay a limit of 14 nights at a time and book a spot up to a year in advance. It is recommended that you call the park in order to reserve your spot, but if you arrive later than anticipated the rangers will help you navigate to your site.

Arenosa Group Campground

Arenosa Group Campground is easy to locate and resides 25 miles east of Presidio. This campsite offers fire rings, picnic tables, lantern posts, toilets, and trash cans. There are no hookups available but you are encouraged to bring your generator. This campsite is ideal for primitive camping with a gorgeous view of the Rancherias trail system, the Closed Canyon Trails and “the Hoodoos.”

Arenosa Campground is prone to flooding, so in the rainy season, you can go to either South Leyva or Madera Canyon Campgrounds which provide beautiful views. Be sure to call ahead to see if a specific campground is closed due to inclement weather. You should stock up on gas, water, and food before making it to this campground or the majority of the campgrounds for your own well-being. You are not permitted to bring your own firewood or gather firewood from your surroundings. You can ask the park staff for firewood and they will gladly help you out. There is a 14 day limit on how long you can stay but you are able to book your reservations a year in advance by phone.

Grassy Banks Campground

Located on the Rio Grande off FM 170, Grassy Banks Campground is a wonderful place to reserve if you want a relaxing fishing location. You can set up your lawn furniture and relax as you catch your dinner. With the scenic views of the Rio Grande and the valley full of trails, this campground makes you want to stay more than the 14-day limit.

There are little creeks and ponds that litter the valley, and the Contrabando Trail system is less than four miles away from the campsite. Referring to the name of the campground, there is an abundance of soft green grass for you to lay or have a picnic. Amenities include a toilet, fire rings, picnic tables, lantern posts, and three sheltered and three open campsites. Due to its proximity to the Rio Grande, it is prone to flooding, so be sure to call ahead of your visit to check if the campground is still open. You can reserve a spot up to a year in advance but it is important to check the weather before you visit. Be sure to stock up on groceries, water, and fuel before you take a trek into the desert. Firewood can be obtained from the rangers when you enter the park and pick up a guidebook as well.

First-come first-served

First-Come, First-Served

There are no first-come, first-served camping options at this state park.

Alternate camping

Seasonal activities in Big Bend Ranch State Park

In-Season

Hiking

This is the perfect destination to get out of the camper and hit the trail. There are plenty of trails that run through Big Bend State 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 drive through Fresno Canyon and then hike through 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 seven-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.

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 here 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.

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 four and a half 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 along the water, food supplies, a first aid kit, and sunscreen. 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.

Off-Season

Seeing the Big Bend State Park Longhorn Cattle Drive

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 to going back in time to see a vision of the Old West.

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 at your RV campsite.

Taking River Tours

Big Bend River Tours offer river tours with various lengths from half a day to multiple days. They are the oldest outfitter serving the Big Bend area and offer a unique look at the wildlife in the park. The cost of the tour will differ based on the number of people and how long you would like for the tour to last. They offer canoe, kayak, white water rafting, and paddling tours for all ages. You can also go on their hiking, horseback riding, or park tours that they offer throughout the year.

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