West of the park headquarters a spur road leads south for about six miles, up into the Chisos Basin, which is ringed by dramatic peaks – the one gap in the rocky wall here is called the Window, looking out over the Chihuahuan Desert. Several of the park’s best hikes depart from either the road here or from the trailhead, near the store by the visitor centre.
Lost Mine Trail
An ideal morning outing in the Chisos Basin, this 4.8-mile out-and-back rises 1100ft through a series of moderate switchbacks to a ridge with breathtaking views of Juniper Canyon, the far rim and Mexico beyond.
South Rim Trail
From the Chisos Basin trailhead, the 12-mile loop hike to the South Rim is one of the most popular in the park, and the views deep into the interior of Mexico are humbling. Count on a gruelling 8hr – most of which will be completely exposed – or 10hr if you elect to include the rim trails.
Marufo Vega trail
For the serious (and experienced) hiker, the 13-mile loop hike to the river on the Marufo Vega trail is one of the most stunning in the entire National Park Service. It offers views of the Sierra del Carmen mountain range in Mexico and a descent into a rarely visited slick-rock canyon. Feral burros (wild donkeys) sometimes wail here at sunset, and subsistence Mexican farmers set up camps to harvest candelilla across the border. Pick up the topographical map of the trail from one of the visitor centres and check with a park ranger about the current conditions before setting out.
Rio Grande Village Trail
This gentle hour-long hike from the Rio Grande Village campsite leads past a wildlife-viewing platform before ending with expansive views of the river and nearby mountains.
At three separate stages within the park’s boundaries the river runs through gigantic canyons. The westernmost, Santa Elena, is the most common rafting trip, with mostly gentle Class II–III floats; outfitters are available at Terlingua.
Driving 20 miles southeast of Panther Junction brings you to the riverside Rio Grande Village – unless you choose to detour just before, to bathe in the natural hot springs that feed into the river. The hot springs can be reached via an easy 15-mile walk along the signposted dirt Hot Springs Rd.