Big Bend National Park: Exploring the Chisos Basin Area

Chisos Basin at Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park is located in the southwestern part of Texas and can roughly be divided into three parts: east, central, and west. The central part is the Chisos Basin (Chisos Mountain) area, which boasts spectacular high mountain landscapes. The winding Basin Road climbs 2000 feet from the flat desert to enter the mountainous area. Fortunately, this mountain road is not long; even starting from Panther Junction at the border with the eastern part, it actually takes less than 20 minutes to drive to the location of the visitor center. This is the starting point for the park's most popular hiking trails. For those with limited time, you can simply take the short Window View Trail to see the magnificent mountain scenery. Although the distances are shorter compared to other areas, spending a whole day in this area is not difficult. We spent a day in Chisos Basin, completing both the Window Trail and the Lost Mine Trail. If you are truly keen on hiking or want to go backpacking, you can climb Emory Peak. Most visitors tend to stay the longest in this area, so it is also the only place in the entire national park with lodging and restaurants.

Before heading into the mountains, it's worth making a stop at the Chisos Basin Visitor Center. Inside, there are some informative displays where you can learn about the wildlife found in these high-altitude areas. Just in front of the visitor center, you'll find the Window Trail and several other trailheads. It's important to note that hiking in the Chisos Basin area is very popular, and parking at the visitor center and the trailhead for Lost Mine Trail can be highly competitive. It's best to arrive early in the morning to secure a parking spot.

Window Trail

The trailhead for the Window Trail is right next to the visitor center and is a 5.6 miles round-trip hiking trail. It is called the Window Trail because it leads to a spot between two mountains known as the "Window," which is the endpoint of the trail. The Window View is beautiful even from a distance. If you don't have the time or cannot walk too far, you can actually take the Window View Trail next to the Window Trail to a viewing platform, which is only 0.3 mile. On the Window Trail, you can get a view of the Window after just a few steps, but the scenery is beautiful all along the way, making the hike very worthwhile. This is a moderate difficulty trail, but if you plan to hike it the same day as the Lost Mine Trail, it's still best to bring a hiking stick. If it weren't for the foldable hiking poles I brought in my luggage on the plane, I probably wouldn't have been able to complete it.

After descending 1 mile into the basin surrounded by mountains, you'll come across another entrance. Adjacent to this entrance is actually the campground of the national park. So, if you can secure a spot at this campground, you can save yourself from walking that extra 1 mile.

When we actually got to the Window, we finally realized why it is called Window, it really looks like a window from the opening of the mountain. Climbing down from the rocky platform in front of you, you can look out from the window.

Lost Mine Trail

Finding a parking spot at the Lost Mine Trail can indeed be quite challenging, with only 15 available spaces. We were about to give up, but luckily, we spotted a spot on our way back and hurriedly pulled in. The Lost Mine Trail is a 4.8-mile round trip hiking route that takes about three hours to complete. It's no wonder this trail is in high demand—it's truly stunning.

The first section of the trail still had remnants of autumn colors around Christmas time when we visited. After walking about 1 mile, we entered into the vast expanse of high mountains and desert landscape. The entire journey to the summit was accompanied by this magnificent scenery. Since we arrived late, by the time we descended, the sun was just setting, creating yet another beautiful scene against the backdrop of the evening glow.

Further reading

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