Big Bend Ranch State Park

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About Big Bend Ranch State Park

You go to Texas for “big” and no other Lone Star state park does “big” like Big Bend Ranch State Park. We’re talking a park so big that it literally has its own paved airstrip. Weighing in at 311,000 acres, Big Bend Ranch is the largest state park in Texas, and that size allows for lots of adventure. The park features access to the Rio Grande and 238 miles of trails ascending jagged peaks and winding among cliffs and canyons. Choose your own adventure in this desert landscape: hiking, horseback riding, biking, rafting, four-wheeling, kayaking, canoeing, or fishing; stick to the popular sites or explore an area where you’re likely not to see another soul. And whether you decide to camp here or not, we recommend sticking around to do some stargazing, because even the night sky is bigger at this beloved park.

Campgrounds in Big Bend Ranch

Yedra Campsite
Yedra’s two 4x4-only accessible campsites, each suitable only for a single group of no more than eight...
Vista de Bofecillos Campsite
Big Bend Ranch isn’t the most friendly place for anyone with a trailer, or anyone not in a Jeep...
Rancherias Campsite
The main reason to stay at the Rancherias campsite, which like most other campsites in the park only...
Arenosa Campsite
Andrew
Andrew: Bring your own water and skip trying to filter anything from the Rio, its not a good water source and...
La Posta Campsite
This is a great spot if you want some privacy, mostly because it can’t really fit anyone else. La...
Jackson Pens Campsite
Jackson Pens is one of the five campsites in Big Bend Ranch with equestrian pens and is pretty...
Fresno Vista Campsite
Lisa
Lisa: Fresno Vista is an absolutely gorgeous site with complete privacy and views into a small canyon. You...
La Monilla Campsite
Lisa
Lisa: Contrary to the main description here, this site is not flat w/long views. It's actually nestled...
Papalotito Colorado Campsite
The natural temptation when staying at Papalotito Colorado will be to simply sit around beneath the...
Fresno Canyon Campsite
It’s all well and good to set up camp at some high, exposed campsite with a view, but then you’re...
South Leyva Campsite
Travelling with a big crew? Tend to be late or forget to book in advance? Have a chronically late,...
Chorro Vista Campsite
Don’t bother staying here if you want plush camping more akin to your apartment than the wilderness....
Javelin Pens Campsite
This is one of the five campsites at Big Bend Ranch built with equestrians in mind, so if you’re...
Papalote Encino Campsite
Ok, we were confused by this site at first, because we could have sworn that Ayers Rock was in...
Tres Papalotes Group Campsite
If you happen to be a part of a merry band of marauding, history-loving, mountain biking geologists...
Papalote Rancho Viejo Campsite
Papalote Rancho Viejo is pretty much what you would get if you could average together every campsite...
Tascate Campsite
Tascate is a small campsite for about eight people that provides the picnic table and fire ring that...
Madera Canyon Campsite
RVers, this one’s for you. Madera Canyon is the only campground other than Grassy Banks offering...
Paso al Solitario Campsite
This is another one of the smaller backcountry sites in Big Bend Ranch, able to fit around four tents...
Agua Adentro Pens Campsite
We know that you’ve always fantasized about being the hero in an old western flick. No, don’t try to...
Escondido Campsite
Calling Escondido Pens just a campground is like calling the Nestle Wonder Ball, that oh so coveted...
Pila Montoya Campsite
If most campsites are like hostels—you share a space with a bunch of travelers you’ve never met—then...
Mexicano Campsite
These campsites have what the best sites in the park have—a fire ring, a picnic table, mountains...
Papalote Llano Campsite
Papalote Llano & Papalote Llano Nuevo are par for the course as far as Big Bend Ranch campsites...
Los Ojitos Campground
We’ve found a real-life desert oasis here. Los Ojitos is so named because it is just a few dozen yards...
Los Cuates Campsite
Twins have kind of had a bad rep since The Shining. Fear not, though, there are no supernatural...
Las Burras Campsite
Channel your inner McFly, because where we’re going we don’t need roads. On second thought, leave the...
La Mota Campsite
La Mota, Spanish for… The Mota (sorry, we took French), lies just outside the shadow of its eponymous...
Guale Campsite
This is it, the primo site. What are you looking for, stunning panoramic views? It’s a full 360 here....

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Hipcamper Andrew

Big Bend Ranch State Park is easily the most under rated park in the state. If you're looking for a new view from whats just east at the National Park, this will be a welcome sight. So much vast, desolate dessert to explore.

Tips:
Bring more water than you think you need. There is no shade on trail and the sun is unforgiving even in late winter.

Try to plan a trip around a recent rain. I know thats a tall task but the second tallest waterfall in Texas resides in this park and the 12 mile out and back to it through a canyon is well worth the trip

Bring your Texas State Parks pass to save money. If you want to backcountry camp, its an additional entry fee that you can avoid with the parks pass.

Plan your trip around the moon phase. The full or even new moon will ruin the view of the stars and this park offers some of the best stargazing in the nation. Right up there with the national observatory.

Theres a place to stock up in Lajitas should you need it. There's no such offering in the park. The general store offers great local beer, locally roasted coffee and everything you forgot to pack for the trip.

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Hipcamper Andrew

Bring your own water and skip trying to filter anything from the Rio, its not a good water source and is even recommended not to swim in for health reasons. But hey, it sure is pretty to look at!

These sites are great for car camping or tent camping. Bring your own wood as foraging for it isn't allowed. Also, don't be creeped out by the structure across the river, its just a horse barn :)

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Hipcamper Lisa

Fresno Vista is an absolutely gorgeous site with complete privacy and views into a small canyon. You will need a high-clearance vehicle to access this site. My 2WD Jeep did great despite a very rugged access road (go slowly), but check with Rangers on current road conditions for any site in this park. It is extremely remote and rugged. Take a full size spare tire (or 2: help is far, far away). This is desert camping so take plenty of water and be sure the rangers know where you will be hiking. Safety should not be taken lightly in the desert. The rewards are high though, with beautiful scenery and complete solitude. Leave your dogs at home lest they become mountain lion bait. Plan to have at least 2 nights in the park to make it worth it.

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Hipcamper Lisa

Contrary to the main description here, this site is not flat w/long views. It's actually nestled between the foothills of the Bofecillos, which provides shelter from the winds that can be an issue at more exposed sites (good for cold weather camping). There are no vistas here, however, so it's a trade-off, but it's not a far drive/hike/bike ride to get to some sweeping views. This is very close to several trailheads making it a great home base for several nights. There is no shade structure here as at other sites in this park, & the desert sun can be brutal. You need 4WD high clearance vehicle to get to this site. One hill on the road in has a few hairy spots to navigate & the road to the actual site is overgrown w/vegetation.

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History of Big Bend Ranch State Park

Big Bend Ranch State Park is Texas’ largest state park, at over 300,000 acres. It extends along the Rio Grande from southeast of Presidio to near Lajitas, in both Brewster and Presidio counties. Just a stone’s throw from Mexico to the south, the park is in an area so remote and rugged that it has been called El Despoblado, or “The Uninhabited.” In spite of that name, this awe-inspiring region boasts a rich human history.

George A. Howard bought a few tracts of land in the Bofecillos highlands in 1905 to add to his nearby uplands property. This became the Chillicothe-Saucita Ranch. The Bogel brothers—Gus, Gallie, Graves and Edward—began buying small ranches, including Howard’s ranch, in the 1910s. The buildings and corrals of their headquarters, Saucita, endure today at the heart of Big Bend Ranch State Park.

Hit hard by a drought and the Great Depression, the Bogels sold their 38,000-acre ranch to Manny and Edwin Fowlkes in 1934. The Fowlkes increased their holdings to near 300,000 acres, adding fences, stone dams and water pipelines. But the 1950s drought and a global wool market crash forced them to sell.

In 1958, Len G. “Tuffy” McCormick bought the ranch, listed as one of the 15 largest ranches in the United States and described as half the size of Rhode Island. Among other improvements, McCormick gave an easement for the river access road to the Texas Highway Department. That road is now the scenic Camino del Rio.

Subsequent owner Robert O. Anderson bought the ranch in 1969. He became, as owner of the Diamond A Cattle Company, the largest private landholder in the United States. In the 1980s, he partnered with Walter Mischer to market the ranch as a private hunting preserve.

Thanks to the efforts of individuals and groups involved in land conservation, TPWD purchased the ranch in 1988. The park opened on a limited basis in 1991. It opened fully to the public in 2007.

Water sustains life in the desert, making a place livable or even welcoming. For over 10,000 years, people have settled in the canyons, mountains and valleys of Big Bend Ranch State Park, typically near water sources. The materials and structures they left behind tell stories of triumph and hardship in the sometimes hospitable but often relentless land.

More than 500 prehistoric campsites and shelters, cooking areas and rock art sites dot the park. Many of these are near drainages, springs or tinajas, but some sites are on upland areas away from obvious water sources.

Prehistoric hunter-gathers used the rocks in this area to make the tools they needed to survive in this desert environment. Grinding stones, bedrock mortars, chipped stone tools and burned rock middens have been found here.

Prehistoric peoples left pictographs (rock paintings) here. They painted humans, animals, insects, star patterns and other motifs about 3,000 to 500 years ago. Later residents left pictographs of horses, longhorn cattle, Spanish saddles and crosses.

Pedro de Rabago y Teran traveled through this area in 1747, searching for suitable sites for presidios. Beginning in the 1840s, explorers, surveyors, missionaries, traders and freighters began passing through. They took the Texas Chihuahua Trail, which followed Alamito Creek through what is now the northwestern corner of the park.

During this time, trouble brewed on the border. Americans continued moving westward and the United States annexed Texas in 1845. President James K. Polk tried to negotiate with Mexico to set a firm border between the countries, but Mexico did not want to part with any of its territory. The Mexican War (1846-1848) followed. By September 1847, the Americans had seized Mexico City. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed in 1848. It ended the war and ceded territory from California to Texas to the United States. The boundary between the two countries in Texas would be the Rio Grande.

In 1860, 2nd Lieutenant William H. Echols led a camel caravan through the Terneros Creek valley, in the western and northern areas of the park. Secretary of War Jefferson Davis authorized the trip. Its mission was to determine if camels could be used for military operations on the arid western frontier.

By the 1880s, several hardy families had established ranches in the area. Ranchers kept herds of cattle, goats and sheep.

Deep in Fresno Canyon, the remnants of the Crawford-Smith Ranch illustrate the challenges of ranching in the high desert. A spring and Fresno Creek made this an ideal location. Ranch owners grew fruits and vegetables, raised goats and operated a wax-rendering plant. Brothers James and Guy Crawford ran the ranch from 1914 to 1930; the Smith family took over in the 1930s until 1946.

Wax-rendering plants extracted wax from native candelilla plants to waterproof World War I military supplies. Visitors can see the ruins of wax-rendering operations in the eastern portion of the park. Most date to the first half of the 20th century.

Terlingua and Shafter sprang up around the turn of the 20th century, after silver and cinnabar were discovered in the area.

Although silver was not mined within the boundaries of the present-day park, cinnabar was. Miners produced flasks of mercury from cinnabar ore. Mercury was a precious commodity during World War II, when the military used it for instruments. Abandoned cinnabar mines and prospects can be found in the park.