A road trip from Austin to Big Bend National Park is a Texan adventure like no other. What makes Big Bend unique is its sheer grandeur – a sprawling desert landscape, rugged canyons, the Rio Grande, and a night sky adorned with stars. It captivates visitors with its remoteness, offering solitude and a chance to reconnect with nature. The park has been called ‘the country’s most surprising and dramatic national park’ and with good reason!
Big Bend wows visitors with its stunning vistas, including the iconic Santa Elena Canyon and the Chisos Mountains. The park’s diverse ecosystems house a rich array of wildlife, from desert reptiles to mountain lions. It’s a hiker’s paradise with over 150 miles of trails, and the Rio Grande offers opportunities for rafting and canoeing.
For Austin residents, a road trip to Big Bend is a must because it’s a complete departure from city life. The park’s tranquility and natural beauty provide a welcome escape. Witnessing the desert’s vibrant sunsets and the Milky Way in the night sky is a surreal experience. It’s a reminder of the vast, untamed wilderness that Texas has to offer, making it a destination every Austinite should explore at least once in their lifetime.
You can easily visit Big Bend National Park on a three to four day road trip from Austin. The road shows off the scenic vistas of Texas hill Country before meandering through barren mountains and deserts of West Texas and the Big Bend region. Add in the dinosaur fossil and wildlife in Big Bend and you’ll know why this road trip is a hit with kids!
Also Read: Best Road Trips in Texas
Here is our detailed itinerary for the Austin to Big Bend National Park Road Trip.
Also Read: 21 Best Road Trips from Austin, Texas
How far is Big Bend National Park from Austin?
Driving from Austin to Big Bend takes about 6 hours.
You will be taking US-290 to I-10 then continue on the interstate till Fort Stockton.
Exact Time & Distance: Via US 290 W & I-10 – 6 hrs 41 mins, 437 miles
Best time to visit Big Bend National Park
Big Bend National Park is open year-round.
The best time to visit Big Bend National Park is from November to March. You can avoid the summer heat and other visitors during this time.
Our favorite time to visit is spring when Texas bluebonnets and other wildflowers are blooming in the park.
The weather is pleasant, but be aware that the park can get crowded with visitors during these months, especially during spring break.
If planning a visit over Thanksgiving or Christmas, then we recommend advance reservations.
For summer or fall visit, carry plenty of water and hike early morning or late afternoon to avoid the heat.
Essential Stops on Austin to Big Bend National Park Road Trip
If you are planning a road trip from Austin to Big Bend National Park, make sure to stop at the following spots:
Austin is the capital of Texas and the fourth-largest city in the United States.
It is an amazing city that has plenty of things to do.
When you are here, you can visit the Texas State Capitol and take a free guided tour to understand its history and heritage.
There are many other things to do in Austin, like visiting Zilker Park, swimming in Barton Springs, or enjoying the restaurants and nightlife on Sixth Street.
Starting in Austin, take Highway 290 through the Texas Hill Country.
Dripping Springs is 20-minutes away from Austin and has a small town feel.
One of the top attractions in Dripping Springs is Hamilton Pool; it’s an natural spring fed swimming pool in a limestone canyon that has beautiful clear water.
Dripping Springs offers many other recreational opportunities like canoeing and tubing, hiking, historic buildings and art galleries in downtown, and wineries.
Johnson City is a charming city located on the Pedernales River.
It makes a great pit stop along the way to Big Bend.
Popular places to visit are the Chenault House, Sam Rayburn Museum, and Big Creek Park.
Luckenbach is a small town near Fredericksburg in the Texas Hill Country.
This place has become one of the most famous places in Texas for its population of 3 and for its country music events.
The population of Luckenbach might be small, but it’s a fun place to visit!
Fredericksburg is a German town in Texas that you can visit when you are on the way from Austin to Big Bend National Park.
The city of Fredericksburg has a charming downtown filled with German restaurants, wineries and breweries, and boutique stores.
One of Fredericksburg’s best attractions is Enchanted Rock.
It’s a large pink granite dome that is located in scenic Llano County and has a rich history involving Native Americans and settlers.
Junction is a rural town that’s filled with rolling hills and beautiful landscape.
It’s located in the middle of Texas Hill Country and makes a great stop on the drive from Austin to Big Bend.
Junction is home to South Llano River State Park and London Hall, one of the oldest dance halls in Texas.
Sonora is a small town in the south of Texas famous for its caverns.
Caverns of Sonora is a privately-owned cavern that is open to visitors.
On a tour of the caves, you can see different formations including stalactites, stalagmites, columns (or pillars), flowstone and soda straws.
Sonora’s Historic Main Street is a charming mix of vintage stores and classic architecture.
You can see historic buildings such as the Sutton County Courthouse, Miers Home Museum, and the Old Sonora Ice House Ranch Museum on a quick stroll.
Ozona is a city in West Texas – it’s the county seat of Crockett County.
The town has attractions such as the historic town square and the Crockett County Courthouse, named after Davy Crockett, and the Crockett County Museum.
The museum educates visitors about the history of first settlers and has many artifacts about them.
The nearby Fort Lancaster State Historic Site is great to visit for history buffs.
Fort Stockton is a charming town that consists of many historic buildings.
It is surrounded by beautiful mountains and has plenty of places to explore, including a historic downtown area with some great restaurants.
One of the top attractions in Fort Stockton is the Historic Fort Stockton Museum.
This museum educates visitors about the history of the city and has many artifacts from the 1800s, including weapons and clothing.
Also Read: 24 Best Things to do in West Texas
Marathon is a small town in the Big Bend region of Texas.
It is known as the gateway to Big Bend National Park.
The city has spectacular mountain scenery, historical buildings, charming old downtown area, and plenty of great activities to keep you busy.
The Rio Grande River offers many opportunities for recreation including boating and fishing.
Big Bend National Park
Big Bend offers the opportunity for night sky observing, bird watching, star gazing, and nature photography.
Recommended activities for visitors include hiking in the park, Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, and kayaking / canoeing the Santa Elena Canyon.
The paddling trip on the Rio Grande through deep canyons with ancient walls is one of the best kayaking trips in Texas and will definitely be the highlight of your Big Bend trip.
Big Bend also offers horseback riding, mountain biking, backpacking, wildlife viewing, canoeing, kayaking and rock climbing.
Also Read: Best National Parks in Texas
Things to see near Big Bend National Park
Big Bend National Park is one of the most remote and scenic National Parks in the country.
While the park has striking landscapes and many activities that visitors can participate in; there are many other places to visit near Big Bend National Park.
Here are some of our favorites to add to your Austin to Big Bend National Park road trip:
Terlingua Ghost town is a small town in West Texas.
This abandoned former mining town has many historical buildings such as the Terlingua Trading Company and the Chisos Mining Company.
The Silver King Hotel was built in 1899 by Marcus Daly and it’s still standing today.
Tourists can also enjoy activities like mountain biking, hiking, horseback riding, backpacking and scenic drives on historic routes throughout Terlingua Ranch.
Big Bend Ranch State Park
Big Bend Ranch State Park is located near Alpine, Texas and can be easily seen while visiting Big Bend National Park.
The park has plenty of scenic trails and opportunities for wildlife viewing, camping, picnicking, hiking, and horseback riding.
The park also has primitive campsites for visitors who would like to experience camping in the Texas desert.
Marfa is a very unusual and unique town in the Texas desert.
It was founded in 1883 and is known for its beautiful landscapes and historic buildings.
Two famous attractions here include the Marfa Mystery Lights and the Prada Marfa art installation.
Visitors will find many restaurants and antique stores located in downtown Marfa, including El Paisano Hotel.
Alpine, Texas is a small town in the heart of Big Bend Country.
It is home to Big Bend Regional airport.
The beautiful, small town is a great place for tourists to visit.
From the murals and buildings in historic downtown to Museum of the big bend, Alpine has plenty of attractions and is worth sending a day.
Love history? Stop in Fort Davis!
Fort Davis is a historic Texan city and features many beautiful buildings including Victorian homes.
It is home to the Fort Davis National Historic Site which has several historic buildings including hotel, museum, two residences, schoolhouse, jail, and blacksmith shop.
The mountain scenery here make Fort Davis one of the top cities to visit in Texas.
Balmorhea is a town in the west Texas desert.
It is home to the Balmorhea State Park which offers hiking, wildlife viewing and camping.
The park is a great spot for birdwatchers and other nature enthusiasts.
Visitors can rent out tents or stay in one of the RV campsites that are available within the park.
If you have the time and want to extend the Austin to Big Bend National Park road trip, then consider visiting Carlsbad Caverns National Park and White Sands National Park in New Mexico.
Things to remember while planning the Austin to Big Bend Drive
A visit to Big Bend requires a long drive and a lot of preparation, but for those who make the trip, it’s well worth it.
Prep your car well in advance of the trip with oil changes, tire checks, and maintenance.
Book your hotels or make camping reservations well in advance.
Bring along a paper map so you do not have to search for trails or roads in case of low internet connectivity.
Fill up on gas whenever possible or you could get stuck with an empty fuel tank in the desert.
Nearby towns offer plenty of opportunities to refuel while there are fewer gas stations in the remote desert country.
Pack enough food and water for the trail, avoid hiking alone in the high heat, and carry hats and sunglasses to stay safe from the hot sun.
We hope you liked our Austin to Big Bend National Park road trip itinerary and essential stops.