Big Bend is only our second National Park since we left home in October 2018 and we were extremely excited to get here. It is in a pretty remote spot and while we researched quite a bit ahead of time, we were a little unsure of what to expect. We planned to stay at one of the campgrounds inside the park rather that an RV park outside, because we wanted the full Big Bend experience. However, the campgrounds have no hookups and most of the sites are first come first serve, so we went in kind of just hoping for the best. We ended up having an amazing experience camping and exploring Big Bend, it really is a such a unique park.
Here is our best advice and some helpful tips for your visit to Big Bend:
This max speed limit in the park is 45 miles an hour. The roads are windy, narrow and sections are really wavy causing your RV to sway like crazy. Take it slow and appreciate the views. The contrast from desert to mountains is incredibly beautiful. We went in the beginning of April, which was perfect timing for the bloom of the bluebonnet wildflowers along the roadside. Every few miles on the main road there are small pull offs to park and plenty of exhibits to see along the drive.
There are 4 visitors centers throughout the park: Panther Junction (HQ), Rio Grande Village, Chisos Basin, Castolon. Each visitor center has information, food, water, bathrooms, 2 had gas (Panther Junction and Rio Grande Village) and WiFi
RV Camping in Big Bend
While Big Bend has some availability for online reservation through Recreation.gov for Rio Grande Campground and Chisos Basin, its only between November 15 to April 15 and most of the campsites are first come first serve. Our original plan was to get a permit for a backcountry campsite but there are a limited number of them which can accommodate RVs. Our back up plan was to stay in the Rio Grande village Campground. Since we were quite nervous about getting a spot, we made sure to get there as early as possible. A visit to Panther Junction sent us to the Rio campground because there were no backcountry spots open. So, we spent three nights at Rio Grande Campground and one night at Cottonwood. From what we saw there was a lot of turnover at each campsite. If you are there early enough, you should be able to find a site but each night they were all filled up.
Here’s our Recommendations
If your rig is 30 feet or over:
Automatically work your way toward Rio Grande Village. There are not many other options. There are few backcountry sites that can accommodate larger RVs, and Chisos campground does not allow any RV's longer than 24 feet. Even in Rio Grande, rigs over 37 feet had to park sideways in the site to fit. At Rio, there are two sections of the campground a generator area and a generator free zone. We stayed in the generator section because the sites were bigger and more open for sun to power our solar panels.
If you're looking for full hook ups:
You only have 1 option in Big Bend. Head towards Rio Grande Village RV campground (next to Rio Grande Village campground- confusing I know). They have reservations sites and first come first serve spots, but only about 25 in total. It is not run by NPS, no view, and is basically a glorified parking lot that looked full every night we were there.
If you are in a tent/ pop up camper/B Class/ Truck Camper:
Stay in the Chisos Basin camground. This campground is centralized to the park and a lot of the hiking trails take off from here. There are steep windy and narrow roads leading into the campground so RV's have to be under 24 feet and trailers have to be under 20. Sites are small but your really close to some great trail heads and in the middle of most of the other popular destinations within the park. (Read more on Big Bend Trails Here)
If your smaller than 30 feet and don’t need generators:
You can also stay at the Cottonwood campground. We stayed here for one night as it was more convenient to a few of our planned hikes. A lot of the sites are really small and meant for tenters and pop ups. There are a couple of larger sites though, we were the only Class A there along with one other travel trailer. The rest of the sites were full of tenters, vanlifers, and pop ups. It is also a much smaller and more undeveloped campground than Rio so get there early.
If you want to back-country:
Get to Panther Junction as early as possible. Backcountry is first come first serve. We got there an hour after opening and we had no luck. All the sites that were able to accommodate our size and RV capabilities were booked for the week. But if you are in something smaller like vanners or truck camper or anything with high clearance and 4x4 wheel drive there were many options for you.
Campsites and Water
Each campsites vary in amenities and size but almost all of them had a bear/javelina boxes. Potable water that can be easily added to your RV can be found by the dump station at Rio Grande Village. Just make sure to use a water regulator as the spigot had really powerful water pressure. At all the visitors centers and in a couple of places within the Rio campground there were also potable water spouts to fill your water jugs for drinking. At Cottonwood, in the front of the campsite there was a building where you could get potable water (no dump station at Cottonwood though).
There are two gas stations in Big Bend. One in Panther Junction and the other in Rio Grande Village. The gas prices are obviously higher than outside the park. We got gas in Alpine before we came in at 2.79. At Rio Grande Village, the gas was $3.09. You should expect to be driving a lot while inside the park. We had to fill up the RV and the Jeep during our visit. They ask you to leave a deposit or card on file and then you are allowed to pump.
We went in April. The climate fluctuated dramatically each day. In the morning it would be in the mid 40s but would quickly heat up during the day to over 100 degrees. The hottest part of the day was in early evenings. Since we camped in Rio Grande Campground we didn’t have any hook ups. The temperature inside our RV reached the high 90s everyday even with the vent fans on and windows open. Since we travel with our two dogs and cat, we needed to make sure we finished all our hikes by noon. We spent the afternoons and evenings outside in the shade with the dogs and cat where it was cooler.
Despite the temperatures and somewhat primitive conditions, we had an incredible time RV camping in Big Bend. We are so happy we made the long drive to visit. Hopefully, this answered some of your questions and provided you with some direction for planning your Big Bend adventure.
Let us know if you have any other questions in the comments below.
By: Kevin Quiambao