Winter Desert Hiking

Hot Chihuahua! Big Bend National Park’s desert landscape came through with heat, spectacular hiking, and endless vistas.

We stopped at the Panther Junction Visitor Centre for a little information and asked about hikes. The ranger suggested short, but scenic walks such as Santa Elena Canyon and the Window Trail.

So which one did we pick? We took the trail to the tallest peak in the park, of course.

Emory Peak trailhead takes off from the Chisos Basin Visitor Centre, climbs a moderate 2,500 feet over 3 ½ miles, and is worth every rock step along the way.

Once past the lodge and green water tower, the trail meanders through several grassy meadows before switchbacking up to lichen-encrusted rock pillars.

The CCC would have been proud of the trail crew upgrading the route.

At every vantage point, it seemed the view couldn’t possible get any better, but it did. We continued past the food storage lockers at the pass and on up to the summit – getting our first views of Mexico.

The last several hundred feet of the trail became a little steeper and rockier before reaching two alternate scrambles. The small summit on the left, slightly lower, was an easy climb up and down. The tallest point in the park was on the right – involving a little more work finding foot and handholds.

Two hours and 15 minutes from the parking lot, we were at the top with a 360-degree view of Big Bend, soaking up the sun and endless vistas.

A view from near the highest point in Big Bend National Park. Photo: B.Kopp

If you go:

  • Know that temperatures are a minimum 10 degrees cooler in Chisos Basin trails than they are down on trails by the Rio Grande.
  • Be prepared for a wide range of potential wildlife sightings – from rattlesnakes to mountain lions to black bears to javelinas.
  • Take more water than you think you’ll need – the heat and wind in this desert environment is dehydrating.
  • You’ll be thankful for a warm sleeping bag in the middle of a desert night.

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