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Big Bend Part 2: Chisos Basin

west Texas

This story picks up where Big Bend: Boquillas Canyon ends. Traveling west past Panther Junction Visitor Center, it’s three miles and a left turn onto Chisos Basin Road. This ride is just over six miles but in those 15 minutes of driving the road twists and turns, climbing 2,000 feet with as much as a 15% grade (and thus, it’s not recommended for trailers longer than 20 feet or RVs over 24 feet). Of all the Big Bend scenic routes, this one gives the most intimate view of the national park’s mountains. It’s possibly the most ecologically diverse, too, as the road starts with cactus and ends in pine trees. Created by volcanoes, the Chisos Mountains are located within Big Bend National Park and reach a height of 7,825 feet. They are also the southernmost mountain range in the continental U.S. Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, the road ends after descending into Chisos Basin, created by millions of years of erosion. There’s a visitor center, restaurant with outstanding mountain views, a lodge and numerous hiking trails. Returning to the main highway, the next Wide Open Ride ventures down Big Bend’s spectacular Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive.

Best Time to Visit

Because Texas summers are so hot, Big Bend is most comfortable any other time of year. The blooms of spring and fall also mean more color.

Route & Map  

The shortest drive by far in this four-part Big Bend series, it’s three miles from the Panther Junction Visitor Center to the Chisos Basin Road turnoff and then another six miles to the Chisos Basin Visitor Center. Plan on 15-30 minutes one-way, depending on traffic.

Major Towns

Between Panther Junction and Chisos Basin, there’s gas, a restaurant and a lodge. But expect to pay a premium. To the west of the park, Terlingua offers some services but more plentiful options are available north of Big Bend in Marfa, Alpine and Marathon.


For road conditions and more, visit Big Bend National Park’s official site. Marfa, Alpine, and Marathon provide info on lodging, dining and nearby attractions.

Next rides along this route:
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