14 miles round trip | ½ day hike candidate: No way Jose
About: A full day aggressive hike or can be broken into two days with some backcountry camping. This hike offers the best of the desert. With Carmen and Dead Horse Mountains as a backdrop, coupled with stunning river views, desert flora, and dramatic landscapes, this rewarding hike won its place as one of my favorite desert hikes.
It was a cool (60’s), overcast, Thanksgiving Day when we decided to set out on this one. Weeks away from the winter solstice, we knew there wasn’t much light in the day and the sun sets early.
With this in mind, we got up early and headed out. The problem was we were staying past Terlingua and this was on the complete opposite side of the park. In other words, it took forever to drive to the trailhead… it’s a big park and speed limits are 45mph (respect park rules). It was about 60 miles from Ten Bits Ranch to the trail head which takes about an hour and a half. So leaving at 7:30 AM, we got there just before 9:00 AM. Sunset was 5:30 PM-ish so we had to get a move on.
The trail took us about 8 hours total, we clocked about 15 miles. We didn’t speed hike nor did we have too much time to take long breaks and soak up scenery. There is also a .5 mile side trail on the south fork that takes you down to the Rio Grande. We didn’t have time to do this.
Speaking of the south fork, there is a split in the trail marked by a large boulder and an obvious sign pointing out the north fork and the south fork. They connect as part of the Marufa Vega loop. See “Tips” below for the recommended way.
The trails elevation changes often and the trails can be rocky and unstable. Make sure you are capable of doing 14-15 miles of mountainous desert terrain before you set out. The trail can be a little elusive at times. Pay attention to the trail cairns (stacks of rocks marking the path) and the false trail markers (a row of rocks on the ground saying, “don’t go this way”).
Use caution and view the NPS trail guide.
Pros: Great hike to do during Thanksgiving. While the rest of the park is ridiculously crowded, this hike has little to no traffic given how aggressive it is.
Also, the first part of the trail is part of Ore Terminal trail too. You get to follow an old steel terminal cable slaying in the desert with support structures in ruins. The desert has been reclaiming these structures for nearly 100 years.
Cons: Not a hike to do when the weather gets too warm. You are open to the sun most of the time and you need to bring lots of water, you won’t find any along the way (aside from river water far in). We stashed a gallon at the fork to make sure we had some for the last leg after we completed the loop.
Tips: When you come to the split, take the south fork. It is MUCH easier to go down that way than to come up. You will still have to do some scrambling up on the north fork, but it is not as sheer.
The trail map on All Trails was pretty accurate, have this handy just in case.
Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️½ with that extra half just for the sense of accomplishment you have when you complete this trail.