One of the more popular and iconic hikes in Big Bend National Park is The Windows Trail. The Chisos Basin in the center of Big Bend is a secluded valley surrounded by the Chisos Mountains, with a small “window” in the mountains to see out into the surrounding area. The Windows Trail is the trail that leads to this notch. At 3.6 miles round trip, it is a fairly easy trail to navigate with some fun scrambles near the end through and around a stream.
It was foggy as we started the hike and I couldn’t even see the Windows which normally is visible from everywhere in the Chisos Basin. We parked near the campground and strolled through the campground to the trailhead. The trail was pretty much all downhill, but not a very steep grade. Of course that meant the return would be the opposite. The trail winded through some small stands of trees and other flora.
As the fog began to lift, I was able to start seeing the mountains around us and my first glimpse of “The Window”.
While the hike to this point had been fun, there hadn’t been to much that was notable other than the loads of fog. As we neared the Window, we caught up to a creek that the trail followed allowing us the opportunity to climb, jump and scramble with the risk of getting a little wet if we slipped in. This part was my favorite part of this hike.
The trail finally narrowed to just a gash with what seemed to be a huge immediate drop on the other end with the stream rushing through the gap. Other hikers went as close as they dared seeking the perfect instagram picture, risking what would be a certain and thrilling death with one slip down and out of the Chisos Mountains. I perched as close as I felt safe and got my picture and then we headed back the way we came.
The Windows Trail is a must do when visiting Big Bend National Park. You can knock it out fairly quickly and you get a much better feel for what the Chisos Basin is like from hiking this trail. Thanks for reading. rk
Emory Peak is the tallest point in the Chisos Mountains of Big Bend National Park at 7,825 feet above sea level. The Chisos are a unique mountain range because they are completely contained within the borders of the national park. Even though the mountain is only half the size of its northern Rocky Mountain brothers, the views from the top are astounding.
The trailhead begins in the Chisos Basin, either by the camp store/visitor center or a little further down the hill in the overflow parking (if you are planning an overnight trip be sure to park in the overflow). The trail begins up a couple steep stretches with some loose footing before reaching the first set of backcountry campsites, Juniper Flat.
From here the trail goes flat through the Boulder Meadows area which houses the second set of backcountry sites. After passing Boulder Meadow 5, the trail gets steeper with more switchbacks as you pass the Pinnacles campsites. From Pinnacles the trail is steep and long with switchback after switchback and despite only being a mile will wear you out so be sure to stop and take in the view and enjoy some water.
Once you finish this section you will enter a flat area with Toll Mountain to the East and Emory Peak to the West. Here is the only restroom along the way (it’s literally a hole with a fence around it) and three large bear proof boxes to store your things in. This is a great place to sit down and have a snack before the next mile of the hike. At this point you have hiked about 4 miles and climbed about 1,500 feet.
The next mile is definitely the most difficult stretch with a third of the elevation gained in this mile. After the first long stretch the south side of the park’s views will open up and you will be able to see far into Mexico. The views on this trail start great and get better every time you look!
The last quarter mile is the steepest and has loose footing so be careful as you make your way up to the top of the mountain. The trail ends at the bottom of two large rock formations that make Emory Peak’s peak. The one with the antennae is the higher and true peak. At this point the trail turns into a short 25 foot up rock scramble that isn’t too difficult to traverse. The trick with this part isn’t having technical skill but having nerve because of the thousand foot drops on either side of you as the wind blows through the rocks. After you muster up the bravery to climb up though you are rewarded by views that are only impeded by the horizon.
After spending some time at the top, taking in the views, and munching on a granola bar, you gotta figure out how to get down! After you do that then it’s just a short 5 miles back to your car! The hike down goes by quickly and there are often deer along the trail (I am sure they are there on the way up but I always see them on the way down).
Once you reach the bottom walk right into the lodge restaurant and have a nice steak dinner after your long and difficult hike! The first time I hiked Emory peak it took about three hours but the National Park Service suggests allotting seven hours for the hike so it could possibly take all day so be sure to pack enough food and water for your hike!
Thanks! – Josh
The Chisos Basin Campground is one of three frontcountry campgrounds in Big Bend National Park. There are 60 campsites (26 are reservable online), restrooms, and water. The campground is a well maintained typical National Park campground. All sites are $14 and don’t have RV hooks ups. It is a short but steep walk up to the park lodge, visitor center, and camp store where you can find all the snacks, equipment, souvenirs, and information you can handle. What really makes the campground great are the views! Most sites have a great view through “The Window” looking down to the desert below and on the other side you have the steep cliffs of the Chisos Mountains rising 2,000 feet above you. Overall this is the perfect frontcountry campground to me being small, having restrooms, immediate access to trails, great views, and fairly inexpensive!
My tent with the Window behind
Making coffee with a Butte
Sunset behind the Window
P.S. Thanks to Big Bend being a Dark Sky Park you can see the stars extremely well from anywhere in the park including the Chisos Basin despite its close proximity to the lodge. So if you catch a clear night you will be enjoying the stars from your Chisos Basin campground!
On my last trip to Big Bend National Park the moon kept rising around 5pm (almost two hours before the sun set). Here is a picture of the moon rising above the Chisos Basin.
Thanks! – Josh
The Lost Mine Trail is one of the first things you will pass driving up the Chisos Basin Road from the desert to the mountains in Big Bend National Park. At 4.8 miles round trip and 1135 feet in elevation change, Lost Mine Trail is a moderately difficult trail but despite that it is one of the most popular trails in Big Bend. The parking lot is very small for how much traffic the trail gets and by noon cars are parked all along the side of the road near the trailhead. So if you want to get a good parking spot, I recommend starting this trail early. We woke up at the Rio Grande Village Campground before sunrise and meandered our way up the 25 mile road to the Chisos Basin (stopping at scenic views and roadside exhibits along the way) and arrived at the trailhead on a slightly overcast Thursday morning. Just before reaching the parking lot, a large mule deer crossed the road right in front of our car. We hopped out of the car, grabbed our backpacks, and excitedly hit the trail for our first hike in the Chisos Basin. The trail begins with long stretches of trail going slightly upward before switching back on itself. Within 5 minutes of hiking, the same mule deer crossed in front of us again on the trail and carried on up into the trees. This part of the trail is very cool because it shows of the diversity of Big Bend’s plant life. There are pines, junipers, and fir trees growing alongside prickly pear cactus and agave as well as wildflowers that I’m sure bloom beautifully in the spring.
Desert and Mountain plants growing alongside one another
After this the trail heads east past the pine canyon before steadily climbing upwards via many switchbacks (this is where most of the elevation change is). The whole hike grows increasingly beautiful as you keep going and every time I stopped to look at the canyons below I was amazed of how the view just kept getting better and better. Once you are about 30 minutes from the top there is a huge rock that lots of people were taking pictures underneath. Pretty soon after that the trail straightens up towards it’s peak. This part of the trail reminded me of Angel’s Landing in Zion the way the trail went across the large rock spine but this trail was much wider than Angel’s Landing. We soon reached the rocky end of the trail and sat down to relax and look at the views around us. After this we descended the trail back to our car, excited for the next hike and well pleased with this one. When in Big Bend this hike is a must do and is worth the effort to reach the top. Also I didn’t find the lost mine so let me know if you do
Thanks for reading. – Josh
Evolution of the trail’s view looking towards the Chisos Basin