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South Rim Trail Hike, Big Bend National Park

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The best hike in Big Bend National Park is the South Rim Trail. It’s also been called one of the lower 48’s top one day hikes! Laurence Parent who wrote the guide Hiking Big Bend National Park says it’s probably the classic hike of Texas and any Texas hiker worth his or her salt will someday try to hike the South Rim.

The South Rim Trail hike in Big Bend National Park is 6.3 miles one way with an elevation gain of 1,875 feet. He calls it a strenuous hike – whereas I’d call it a moderate hike. Yes it’s about 13 miles return so you to have to be in reasonable shape but the difficulty I think lies in attempting it when it is really hot or if you run out of water.

Hiking the South Rim Trail in Big Bend National Park
Happy to be doing this exposed part of the best hike in Big Bend early in the AM

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South Rim Trail hike Big Bend National Park

I loved this hike, particularly because you can do it as a loop. It’s less steep to hike to Laguna Meadows and to return via the Pinnacle and Boot Canyon Trails – even though the distances are similar.

If you’re going to do this hike get out of bed early and hit the trail by 7 AM in the warmer months. That way you can be on the rim before it’s too hot. The Laguna Meadow Trail also offers lots of shade on the way up.

Leave the parking lot at Chisos Basin and walk on the paved path to the sign you see in the picture below. Go right on the Laguna Meadow Trail, ignoring the Basin Loop Trail turnoff you see after roughly half a mile.

Climb through the woods on a series of switchbacks through forests of pine and cacti. You’ll hear lots of birds. We saw an Acorn woodpecker in this area. When you reach the saddle the grade decreases and in no time a well placed bench appears which offers magnificent views.

You can see another trail heading out across the hills. It’s called Blue Creek and is often done as part of a longer backpacking trip.

"Sign at the beginning of the South Rim Trail"
Sign at the beginning of the South Rim Trail
One of the Lower 48's Top One Day Hikes: The South Rim Trail
Get an early start to avoid searing heat starting in April

After reaching the Laguna Meadow you gently climb the lower slopes of Emory Peak – the highest mountain in the park.

In under a mile you’ll come to the junction with the Colima Creek Trail. Stay right and continue towards the South Rim. You’ll be there in short order.

Views are superb – on a clear day. Unfortunately the power plants that were built in Mexico not too far from the park are lacking in pollution control devices. Much of the haze you see is pollution.

The South Rim is a great spot to stop and half lunch. We saw many deer munching away on the flowers right at the edge of the rim. Be careful at the top – you are thousands of feet above the slopes below.

One of the Lower 48's Top One Day Hikes: The South Rim Trail
Looking south towards Mexico
One of the Lower 48's Top One Day Hikes: The South Rim Trail
Because of factories in Mexico it can be hazy
One of the Lower 48's Top One Day Hikes: The South Rim Trail
If only the skies had been a little less hazy

The descent from the South Rim Trail 

To descend via the Pinnacle and Boot Canyon Trails continue walking in an easterly direction along the rim. There are lots more places to stop and take in the views.

If you are feeling very energetic you could add in the 3.3 mile Southeast and Northeast Rim Trails – if the Peregrine falcons aren’t nesting. They were when we were there in April so the trail was closed.

On our way down we ran into one of the park rangers coming up on a horse – which would be a lovely way to see this country.

Take the obvious trail down to the left at the junction with the Southeast Rim Trail. Continue hiking through country that looks similar to a lot that I’ve hiked in Colorado – only drier. Eventually you reach Boot Springs where seasonally pools of water can be found.

Colourful red bird on the South Rim Trail, Big Bend
In the open areas bird life was more prevalent
Crunchy walking on dry trails after leaving the South Rim in Big Bend National Park
Crunchy walking on dry trails after leaving the South Rim
Cowboy shaped rock formation seen on the descent off the South Rim Trail
Cowboy shaped rock formation seen on the descent

The option to hike to Emory Peak, Big Bend National Park

Look out to your right for the cowboy boot shaped rock as you continue your descent. Continue until you reach the junction with the trail to Emory Peak. It’s another 1.6 miles one way from this junction to reach the summit.

We elected not to go because of the afternoon heat. From the junction with the Emory Peak Trail it is a steep descent on switchbacks – past beautiful Texas madrone trees, oaks and pines.

The last mile is far more gentle – but by then it’s probably much hotter and you’ll probably be like the proverbial horse to the barn – and ready for the cold drinks and ice cream that are available at the trailhead.

One of the Lower 48's Top One Day Hikes: The South Rim Trail
Enjoyed the sight of some Mexican jays
Texas madrone tree in Big Bend National Park
Texas madrone tree in Big Bend National Park
Prickly pear cactus in Big bend National Park
Wasps pollinating prickly pear cacti

Useful information for the South Rim Trail hike in Big Bend National Park

We didn’t see any snakes or wild animals – just lots of birds and some very serious birders who were after the Colima warbler.

Use some common sense on this trail. Don’t wear sandals, take a light jacket in case the wind blows and carry about a gallon of water per person. It took us three hours to get to the South Rim and a similar amount of time to descend – particularly because you need to watch your footing.

This hike takes you through such a range of environments and landscapes that I would definitely recommend it if you make it to Big Bend National Park.

Order the guide Hiking in Big Bend National Park here.

Further reading on hiking in the United States

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The South Rim Trail hike - the best one in Big Bend National Park and one of the top ones in the lower 48

 

 

 

 

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