Visiting Big Bend National Park in Winter: A Complete Guide

Tucked into that crevice in southern Texas up against the Mexican border, Big Bend National Park offers a dramatic desert landscape with a lot of natural wonders, such as towering canyons, hot springs, and the Rio Grande.

Because parts of the park sit at nearly 8000 feet in elevation, Big Bend occasionally gets some snow in the winter. But for the most part, winter sees comfortable temperatures that are perfect for a visit.

Big Bend is a really fun place. But is it worth visiting in the winter? The short answer is yes!

For the longer answer, along with weather predictions, packing advice, hiking trail recommendations, and other personal tips from my own visit to Big Bend in February, keep reading.

big bend winter hike
The view from Lost Mine Trail in winter.

Big Bend in Winter: Typical Weather

Winter in Big Bend National Park (December through March) typically sees mild and dry weather.

According to the National Park Service, daytime high temperatures from December to February range between 63-67° F (17-19° C). In March, the average high jumps to 75° F (24° C.)

Night temperatures can be much chillier in the winter, often dropping to below 40° F (4° C), so warm layers are necessary for evening adventures.

Camping is not ideal at this time of year, unless you’ve got warm clothes and a winterized sleeping bag, such as this camping sleeping bag from Farland (Amazon link.)

big bend national park sign

Here’s a table showing Big Bend weather for the coldest months of the year:

MonthAverage High (°F)Average Low (°F)
November7046
December6339
January6137
February6741
March7547

Snow is rare in this desert environment, but it falls every couple years in higher elevations like the Chisos Mountains. Sometimes, it’s a dusting, and sometimes, it’s a bit more.

The park is incredibly beautiful when it snows. The NPS has a page showing photos of snow in Big Bend.

Winter is actually one of the best times to visit Big Bend. Summer (June through August) is not ideal, since temps can exceed 90° F (32° C.) But summer visits are still fine if you limit your hiking to the cooler morning hours.

To find the Big Bend forecast for the immediate future, as in the next day or two, see this NOAA page and look for the “Big Bend” listing near the top of the page.

How Many People Visit Big Bend in the Winter?

big bend road trip texas

According to the National Park Service, over the past few years, these are the months which saw the most visitors to Big Bend National Park:
1 March (around 83,000 visitors on average)
2 April (~58,000)
3 November (~57,000)
4 December (~52,000)
5 February (~47,000)
6 January (~45,000)

These statistics make sense. March and April are often spring break, so families and kids get time off from school. Summer isn’t popular because it’s too hot.

January and February are popular for all the reasons we’re mentioning in this article. Word has gotten out that this is a great park to visit during the winter. In fact, Big Bend makes out list of the best national parks to visit in February.

Top Winter Activities in Big Bend

santa elena canyon
Standing near the Rio Grande. The mountain on the left is Mexico. The one on the right is the USA.

Big Bend in winter offers a great chance to see the park’s most popular spots (and off-the-beaten path spots) with comfortable temperatures and little rain.

1 Hiking Trails

Big Bend has so many cool hiking trails. Here are a few worth keeping in mind for a winter visit.

Santa Elena Canyon Trail: This easy 1.7-mile round trip takes you through a dramatic canyon along the Rio Grande. The views here are remarkable — you can literally stand in the canyon between the U.S. and Mexico!

The Santa Elena Canyon Trail does require a short creek crossing, but in winter, the water level should be low.

Lost Mine Trail: A moderate 4.8-mile round trip, this trail offers panoramic views of the Chisos Mountains. In winter, the trail’s high elevation means chilly weather and frequently cloudy conditions.

lost mine trail view

When I hiked the Lost Mine Trail in February, initially, a thick layer of fog covered the entire top of the mountains, so I had no view. But after a few minutes at the summit, the skies cleared and the view appeared!

Window Trail: This 5.5-mile trail leads to a view of “the Window,” a break in the rocks with a view of the valley below. This trail was chilly when I hiked it in February – bring a knit hat!

Don’t confuse the Window Trail with the similarly-named Window View Trail. That one is a much shorter stroll that isn’t particularly challenging or rewarding.

window view trail
Standing at the end of the Window Trail.

2 Scenic Drives

Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive: This is the primary park road that leads to Santa Elena Canyon. It has several pullouts and points of interest along the way. You’ll get great views of the Chihuahuan Desert as you drive.

Chisos Basin Road: This road leads to the main visitor center and lodge at Chisos Basin. It’s the highest point in the park, so you’ll feel the winter temperatures more here than elsewhere. Many of the best hikes are here, such as Lost Mine and Window Trail.

3 Other Attractions and Activities

In addition to these picturesque hiking trails, Big Bend also offers a range of other activities that you can enjoy during the winter months:

Hot Springs: Bring your swimsuit! The Hot Springs Historic District houses a natural hot spring that is particularly inviting during winter thanks to its 105-degree mineral-rich water. It’s right next to the Rio Grande, and you can even hop in the river and swim if you like.

hot spring rio grande

Rio Grande Village: This area in the southeastern part of the park is less-visited, but has some nifty canyon scenery, a visitor center, and views across the river to the Mexican town of Boquillas. I saw two coyotes right next to the visitor center parking lot!

Bird Watching: The park is home to roughly 450 different species of birds — more than any other unit in the national park system! Spring is the ideal time for birdwatching, but winter brings a variety of migratory birds to the park as well.

Camping: Big Bend’s developed campgrounds can be found in three of the park’s most interesting spots: Rio Grande Village, Chisos Basin, and Cottonwood, near Santa Elena Canyon. Bring a warm sleeping bag!

Fossil Discovery Exhibit: Located on Main Park Road in the northern end of the park, this is a roadside information center with exhibits about fossils that have been found and dinosaurs that once lived in the area.

fossil discovery exhibit

Night Sky Viewing: Some folks do come to Big Bend purely for the star-watching, since the winter skies are mostly clear. The Sotol Vista Overlook is regarded as a good spot for stargazing.

Preparing for a Winter Visit

A winter adventure in Big Bend starts with the planning stage. Pack the appropriate gear for all kinds of weather, just to be safe.

big bend in winter

For the most part, you just need to bring whatever you’d normally bring for a chilly autumn trip, since winter temperatures in Big Bend are more like autumn everywhere else.

Essentials include warm layers of clothing, a knit hat and gloves, waterproof hiking boots, and a sturdy backpack. A waterproof case for your phone isn’t a bad idea either, although precipitation is minimal during the winter here.

Accommodation Options

Aside from campgrounds, Big Bend has limited lodging options inside the park. Here’s a list of available lodges and hotels in nearby towns like Terlingua.

chisos mountain lodge restaurant
The restaurant at Chisos Mountains Lodge.

Chisos Mountains Lodge: The only lodge located within the national park, Chisos Mountains Lodge provides 72 rooms conveniently located right in the heart of the park. Amenities include a restaurant and gift shop. Check pricing and availability.

Terlingua Ranch Lodge: This 425-acre resort has cabin-style rooms and RV sites. It’s a pet-friendly accommodation featuring a swimming pool and a bar/restaurant with weekend entertainment. Check pricing and availability.

El Dorado Hotel: Situated in Terlingua, the El Dorado is a basic hotel with an on-site High Sierra Bar and Grill. It’s not luxurious, but it’s a good budget option for Big Bend winter visitors. Check pricing and availability.

Disclaimer: While Big Bend’s winter beauty is enchanting, keep safety in mind. Dress in layers, stay hydrated, and make sure your hiking gear is suitable for chilly conditions. Check weather forecasts and trail conditions before embarking on any outdoor activities.

FAQs About Big Bend National Park

What is the nearest big city to Big Bend?

That would be El Paso, Texas, which is about 4.5 hours north of Big Bend by car. San Antonio is six hours east of the park. Yes, it’s a long drive from any airport to get here!

Is there cell service in Big Bend National Park?

You should get a signal in the Chisos Basin and Panther Junction areas, though it may be weak or sporadic. Don’t expect cell coverage in the Rio Grande Village area.

Free wifi is available for park visitors at the Chisos Basin and Panther Junction visitor centers, the Chisos Mountain Lodge, and the Rio Grande Village camp store.

What kind of wildlife lives in the park?

Though they’re rarely seen, black bears and mountain lions do live in Big Bend. More commonly seen are rattlesnakes, coyotes, mule deer, and javelinas, which resemble little wild pigs. I saw a few roadrunners scampering around as well.

How much does it cost to enter Big Bend?

The national park fee here is $30 per vehicle. That fee provides seven days of access to the park.

How much time do you need in Big Bend?

It’s a large park, and you’ll need to do a lot of driving to see everything. I’d recommend a minimum of two full days in the park. Three days would be ideal.

See this itinerary for three days in Big Bend to help plan out your activities.

How many visitor centers are there?

Big Bend has five visitor centers. Panther Junction and Chisos Basin are open year-round. The Rio Grande Village, Persimmon Gap, and Catalon centers are only open from November through April, as they close during the hot summer months.

Is the entire park desert?

You may picture a barren landscape, but Big Bend has much more diverse vegetation than I expected. The mountains had sections of thick forests, and the hiking trails had some wildflowers.

What else can I do in Texas near the park?

You can make Big Bend National Park part of a southern Texas road trip, along with other drivable locations such as San Antonio, the Prada Marfa store and Guadalupe Mountains National Park.

Would you ever consider visiting Big Bend in winter?