If you are unable to hike or are short on time, we have solutions. You won’t get to experience everything Big Bend has to offer but you will definitely see some of what it’s all about. Stop at all the points of interest marked along the roads. Below is a list of recommendations but definitely go through the Scenic Stops and Overlooks for additional recommendations.
There is a guided tour as you drive along this documented dirt road. I am not sure if they offer the paper trail guides anymore as the printed trail guides seem to be coming more and more rare.
Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive
It’s not called “scenic drive” for no reason. There is plenty to see and do on this drive without having to hike great lengths. Ross Maxwell is the primary south-bound road on the west side of the park. This drive will amaze and astonish. There are lots of stops and scenic points that you should take advantage of while navigating. The end of the drive, heading south, will take you right to Santa Elena Canyon.
Drive into the Chisos Basin
This drive is probably one of the most amazing drives in the country. You start out in the desert and then start to climb your way slowly, along auto-switchbacks, up as the environment turns alpine. You start to see “watch for bears” signs and your temperature gauge begins to drop. Once you make your way across the ridge, you then quickly get breathtaking views of the basin along with the famous Window.
Panther Junction to Rio Grand Village
From Panther Junction to Rio Grande Village, your visual surroundings seem to change every few miles. You will cross through the stark Chihuahuan desert landscape that looks like the bottom of an ocean as the ocotillos grow in their odd patterns resembling kelp like plants swaying in the current and growing up towards the sun. This drive then turns to beautiful backdrops where you can snag some pics that will easily resemble something you would see straight out of Texas Highways magazine.
Hint: If you are only doing an auto tour, don’t miss the famous FM 170 that takes you from Study Butte through Big Bend Ranch State Park.