Texas Travel

The best hikes in West Texas

By Paige Phelps 5.2.13

When my brother told me he was planning a trip to see me in Big Bend, I immediately started imagining our travel itinerary.

“Whatever we do, I’d really like to spend a day driving down to the National Park for a day hike, at least.”

My brother, citified as he is, didn’t sound excited.

“Everybody always gets excited about hiking but you know that hiking is the same thing as walking, right?” he joked.

So let me be clear: Yes, hiking is walking. But it is walking in nature. And in Big Bend, you really don’t get much prettier vista views and encounters with the flora and fauna than you do when you’re out in nature on a hike.

Easy West Texas Hikes

A great place to wander a few miles in the foothills overlooking gorgeous undulating volcanic rim rock is the Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute, which is located between the towns of Alpine and Fort Davis.

The nonprofit scientific organization has easy hiking trails that are great for the little ones and you can even bring along your (leashed) dog. Geological markers and info kiosks point out ancient formations in front of you and don’t be surprised to run into a few wild animals, javelina included.

The foothills behind Sul Ross State University are an often overlooked treasure for tourists searching for something to do in town. After a steep climb to the top of the hill, flat paths wander around “S Mountain” to fun, storied little places coveted by students for several generations including the bike tree (it is what it sounds like) and “the desk,” which is a particularly charming landmark of an old metal college desk perched at the top of a ledge overlooking the wide expanse of land toward the East. Write your name in the ledger inside the desk or leave a poem or a few words of your own. This is a good hike for kids and pets on leashes too.

Intermediate Big Bend Hikes

The Lost Mine Trail at Big Bend National Park is a popular three- to four-hour hike with a trailhead not too far from the Basin. The climb is gradual but it does cover five miles and more than 1,000 feet, plus the altitude can be a factor for some hikers, so know what you can handle. Little ones are not encouraged to hike BBNP above a certain level because of mountain lions. The payoffs are the amazing views and the fact that the entire way back is all downhill!

Hikes that originate from Big Bend Ranch State Park are one of the best ways to see fantastic formations, such as El Solitario, a Caledera so big it can be seen from space. (Reserve a Park Ranger for an interpretive tour.)

End your day in the comfort of the old Sauceda Ranch House, which has a bunkhouse, camping sites outside, and private rooms that are nicely furnished for even the fussiest traveler.

Hiking Safety

Now, unlike a leisurely walk through your urban neighborhood, you’re going to need a few things to keep you safe and, well, let’s be honest here, alive.

Remember plenty of water (a gallon a day is recommended, more in hot months), good hiking shoes and Cool-Max technology clothing, worn in layers, are essential and please never, ever hike alone or always have a GPS locator or satellite phone on you and someone waiting for your call and an idea of your location.

Each hike in West Texas is unique and breathtaking in its own way. Some of the best guides are people who live and breath the natural world, like Mike Long of Desert Sports, who can tailor a day or week or even longer trip to suit you and your traveling companion’s needs.

So do yourself a favor and take a hike.