You ever pull up a recipe on the internet only having to scroll through 7 pages about someone’s grandmother before you get to the actual recipe? Nobody reads that content, so let’s jump right to the list of things to do with your kids in Big Bend:
1. Become a Junior Park Ranger
It’s quite an honor to be sworn in as a Junior Ranger at a national park. Most national parks have a program that is a fun and educational activity for the whole family. Stop by the visitors center and ask a ranger for the workbook. Completing the activities also gets you aquainted with the park. Once completed, return to the visitors center to be sworn in.
2. Play Minecraft
If your kids love(d) playing Minecraft, how about visiting a real mine from 1900. Yes, that’s correct, Mariscal Mine was started 123 years ago though finally decommisioned in 1940. Click here to see maps and learn about the mines history and see maps from the National Park Service. Let your kids now this mine was going when Theodore Roosevelt was president (1901-1909). The Big Bend area was a booming mining region for quicksilver in the early 20th century. For an extra experience, have dinner at the Starlight Theatre in Terlingua. It was an actual old theater built to entertain the miners.
3. Play on Your Phone
Ok, ok, I know the point of many vacations to national parks is intended to reduce screen time. But instead of taking their phone away, why not give them a fun and educational experience showing them that a phone can be more than texting, social media, and games? Several amazing free (or free trial) apps will augment and enhance your visit. Here are a few I like:
Merlin Bird ID by Cornell Lab
I love this app. Start recording and birds are immediately identified by their song. The app then gives you additional information about the bird. You can also ID birds by photo. See how many birds you can get on one recording!
Pro-Tip: Download your region you will be visiting priort to getting there. The download can take a long time and many locations have no cell signal.
Big Bend has an overwhelming diversity of fauna. From the desert floor to the alpine climate in the Chisos Mountains, there most certainly be some plants and cacti that grab your attention. PlantSnap is a simple-to-use app where you can quickly identify plants, flowers, and trees using your phone’s camera.
Gaia GPS: Mobile Trail Maps or All Trails: Hike, Bike, & Run
Learn how to follow a trail and use a GPS using one of these apps. I use both. I find All Trails a bit easier to use however Gaia’s map data is quite impressive. Each allows you to download almost any trail you intend on hiking and even search for nearby trails. It’s always a good idea to have a GPS on you anyway.
Pro-Tip: Running a GPS all day will tax your battery. Have a batter-charger backup. Also, download the trails you intend on hiking prior to your visit.
Well, this one does exactly what the name says it does. Take a picture of a rock and have it identified. Big Bend has a lot of rocks. But don’t take any! Not only is that disrespectful to the park and future visitors, but it’s also illegal.
4. Hike Instagram Worthy Destinations
Nothing can motivate a teen to hike more than the promise of a selfie at an obscure and dramatically intriguing geological formation. “Just hiked like 128 miles through the desert, nbd.” Here are a few recommendations:
- Balanced Rock at the end of Grapevine Hills trail
- Ernst Tinaja, a short hike from the Ernst Tinaja camping site
- Santa Elena Canyon
- The Window Trail
5. Volcanoes and Lava Fields
Both the Big Bend National Park and Big Bend Ranch State Park have an amazingly rich history of volcanic activity. You can still witness the aftermath of violent eruptions, collapsed volcanic domes, and lava fields. While driving the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive you’ll come across many exhibit signs where you can pull over and read about the volcanic history and view what remains of these eruptions.
6. Visit the Dinosaur Fossil Exhibit
Big Bend is a gold mine for paleantologists. This amazing exhibit will cerainly ignite your child’s imaganation. The Big Bend Conservancy raised more $1.5 million to support the construction of the exhibit Fossil Discovery Exhibit.
7. Soak in Natures Hot Tub
In 1909, J.O. Langford was granted a homestead which included the hot springs now known as the Hot Springs District. J.O. developed the springs and had visitors from across the country seeking the hot springs healing properties. Legend has it, those healing properties are real.
Pro tip: Click to purchase a fascinating book about J.O. Langford’s adventures as a homesteader. It’s a quick read and gives a good history of Big Bend as well.
8. Explore Secret Ruins
Let your childrens imagination run wild while exploring historic ranches, homesteads, and settlements. Sam Nail Ranch and the Dorgan Sublett house are easy, well documented, trails pictured below. But, if you want a real adventure of undocumented settlements that existed long ago, click here.
9. Half the Park is After Dark – Stargazing
Big Bend is home to the largest certified dark sky reserve in the world. On a clear night, when you look up at the night sky, you are guaranteed to see stars like you have never seen them before. It’s truly mind-boggling. Be sure to allow your eyes to adjust to the darkness by not allowing any light for 20 minutes. The difference in having your eyes adjust is staggering. The photos below are a few examples of my astrophotography. These photos were taken with an SLR camera using a 35mm and 100mm lens. No telescope. The first pic is of Andromeda, a whole other galaxy. McDonald Observatory, also seen below, is located in the relatively nearby Davis Mountains.
10. Stay at Ten Bits Ranch
After 10 years of staying at Ten Bits, I still get giddy about planning my upcoming stay. Ten Bits Ranch looks and feels like a town straight out of the old west. Not only is it aesthetically exciting, but there is also plenty to explore. Just to the north is “Commanche Cave” which you can hike up to and get amazing views of the property. You can also hike south and find a unique canyon that looks like nothing else in the region. There are no marked trails so hike at your own risk, beware of cactus, and bring lots of water and a GPS if you do set out. There is a large community cantina where you can cook dinners and congregate with other guests or your large parties. There’s also a firepit for s’mores. Tell Cowboy and Sis that Big Bend Guide sent ya!
I hope this helps make your trip to Big Bend National Park with your family much more enjoyable. Let me know how you’re trip went in the comments below.
And don’t forget:
RESPECT the land, park rules, the community, and fellow visitors, and always leave it better than you found it.
Here are a couple of videos I made…