Big Bend Ranch State Park is located in far West Texas very close to Big Bend National Park. You do not just happen upon this park – it is a trip that you have to plan and make an effort to visit. So what is there to do there and where should you stay?
Big Bend Ranch State Park is the largest state park in Texas. The landscape that you’ll be camping and driving through is the rugged Chihuahuan Desert. You will see plenty of ocotillo cactus, rugged mountain ranges, and hot desert sand. Sunrises and sunsets can be quite stunning and are well-suited for the visiting photographer.
There are trails throughout the park for those who want to get out and explore. Trailheads however do not always have a trailmap or any information about the trail, so be sure to ask at the visitor center for trail information. In addition, turnoffs to the trails (or campgrounds for that matter) can be hard to spot as signs are small and not always next to the entrance or facing the correct way on the road. On your visit, a good idea is to dub someone in your car navigator so they can keep an eye out for things you want to visit! One of our favorite stops in the park was the Contrabando Movie Set very near the Lajitas park entrance. Several movies including Dead Man’s Walk, Journeyman, and Streets of Laredo were filmed here.
Another nice thing about visiting this park is that you’re not going to be on top of other visitors. The park encompasses 300,000 acres and is quite out of the way, meaning you’ll pass relatively few other visitors. One thing however that we were disappointed to see was litter strewn intermittently along the roadside.
On your visit expect it to be hot if you are visiting during the summer – average July temperatures average 99 degrees! January however can get as low as 36 degrees, so go dressed accordingly.
There is camping at Big Bend Ranch State Park, however it is all primitive – meaning you will not find any sites with running water and electricity. For those wanting to do backcountry camping – you’ve found the right place! There are plenty of campgrounds for you to choose from.
If you’re wanting to do car camping, your best bet is to go to one of the campgrounds that have a self-composting toilet, that way you will not have to purchase one of the portable potties from the visitor center.
On your visit, you can camp in the “interior” of the park or within view of the river. In the interior of the park you’ll find self-composting toilets at South Leyva. Check with the park for additional campgrounds with toilets on the interior. The campgrounds along the river (not on the river!) with the composting toilets are Colorado Canyon, Madera Canyon and Grassy Banks. These campsites each have one or two loops of campsites (no electric or water) where you can pull in your car and set up your tent.
If you’re coming in through the Barton Warnock Visitor Center, the closest campground is Grassy Banks. Expect to find these sites fairly small, relatively close together, and fairly unscenic with no view (despite the name, you will find no grassy banks!!). In addition, on our visit we noticed horse manure in and around our site, as well as trash in the surrounding brush.
If you’re wanting to camp at one of the three river campgrounds mentioned above, a better bet is a couple of miles up the road at the Madera Canyon campground – where you’ll find both a lower and an upper loop. If you camp on the upper loop you’ll get nice views of the surrounding canyon.
The campsites at the park all have a picnic table and a fire-ring (check with the ranger however to see if there are any fire bans). None of them have shade, tent pads, or any other features. The composting toilet is generally on the outer edge of the loop, and there are trash cans scattered throughout. On our visit, we found that the toilets were relatively clean (for a composting toilet) and stocked with plenty of toilet paper.
If you are coming in from Alpine, TX, take 118 South to Study Butte. From there turn right heading west on 170 West past Terlingua into Lajitas. In Lajitas you want to stop at the Barton Warnock Visitor Center to pay your entrance fee, get a camping permit, and pick up some maps.
If you’re coming in from Marfa, TX, take 67 South to Presidio. At Presidio, turn leaving heading east on 170 east into Big Bend Ranch State Park.
At the time of this writing, if you do not have a TX state park pass, the entrance fee was $3 per person, in addition to $8 if you are overnight camping. Regardless of if you’re car camping or primitive camping, you will need to get a camping permit from the visitor center. So plan accordingly!
Get more info at the official Big Bend Ranch State Park website.