Planning to visit Big Bend National Park with your dogs? You’ll need to plan ahead! But don’t let the strict pet policies and harsh desert environment deter you. Big Bend is one of the last remaining wild corners in America. It’s a treasure worth exploring.
The Big Bend National Park is named for a vast curve in the Rio Grande River as it cuts between the mesas in this stunning area of southwest Texas. Encompasses more than 800,000 acres along 118 miles of the Rio Grande, this ruggedly beautiful region has a complex and fascinating history.
Tucked in a corner in southwest Texas, Big Bend is truly an “off-the-beaten-path” destination. But being isolated in this harsh landscape breeds strong community. The people tough enough to inhabit the Big Bend area are close-knit, creative, and friendly.
So when you visit “Big Bend,” remember that the area is also home to the communities of Marathon, Study Butte, Terlingua Ghost Town, and Lajitas. Offering a wide variety of accommodations, services, and entertainment, they provide endless possibilities for adventure and discovery.
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Big Bend National Park With Dogs
When we pointed the RV toward Far West Texas our goal was to visit Big Bend National Park. Little did we know how much we’d enjoy our stays in Marfa, Fort Davis, Alpine and Marathon! After two weeks, we finally tore ourselves away and made the 48 mile drive from Marathon down to the national park gates. We were ready to begin exploring Big Bend with dogs!
The most captivating thing about Big Bend is its diversity. The massive canyons, vast expanses of desert, forested mountains, and ever-changing river provide a stunning variety of scenery. And it doesn’t end at the landscapes! The abundance extends to the wildlife and the recreational opportunities. It’s an outdoor lover’s dream!
The Rio Grande River is a source of life as it flows along the border, separating the United States from Mexico. From mountain lions and black bears to the tiny Big Bend gambusia (a fish found only in the park), Big Bend supports an astounding range of animals. In fact, the park boasts more types of birds, bats, butterflies, ants, and scorpions than any other national park in the United States.
While most people simply enjoy touring along the roads, Big Bend offers a full range of things to do. Between Big Bend National Park and Big Bend Ranch State Park there’s more than a million acres of public lands to explore! And outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy birding, camping, hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, off-roading, paddling, mountain biking, and wildlife spotting.
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Pet Policy At Big Bend National Park
Unfortunately, pets are not allowed on any trails, on the river, or in the backcountry at Big Bend National Park. Leashed pets can walk only on roads, in developed campgrounds, and at primitive roadside campsites. So, your pet can go only where your car can go.
You’re probably thinking, “Then why would I take my dog there?!” But there’s still a lot you and your dog can do together in Big Bend! For example, there are more than 200 miles of dirt roads running through the park, and most of them get very little traffic. Walking your pet along some of these roads is like have a nice, wide trail all to yourself.
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You can also enjoy some of the more popular scenic overlooks, like Santa Elena Canyon, from the parking areas. It’s the perfect place for a sunset picnic!
And if your heart is set on hiking some of Big Bend’s 200 miles of trails, find a local boarding facility or pet sitter for your pet. Never leave a pet in your vehicle. The temperatures – even in the winter – can climb dangerously high very quickly.
After a couple of days sightseeing in Big Bend National Park with dogs, it’s time to check out the rest of the Big Bend area!
Big Bend Ranch State Park
Just down the road from the national park is Big Bend Ranch State Park. The largest state park in Texas at over 300,000 acres, it’s a must-do when exploring Big Bend with dogs.
The pet policies here are slightly more pet friendly than the national park with two trails, Closed Canyon and Hoodoos, both allowing leashed pets. Dogs are also welcome within a quarter mile of all roads, trail heads and designated campsites throughout the park.
Closed Canyon Trail
Closed Canyon is a short trail that meanders though a narrow slot canyon. Hiking here is nice in warm weather because the canyon walls provide shade. Even in the winter, it’s best to get out early, carry plenty of water, and stay out of the sun.
Named for the unique geological features in this area, Hoodoos is a short trail that provides great views of the Rio Grande. However, there is no shade, and the trail is a bit rocky. Dogs with sensitive paws might appreciate dog boots.
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The Scenic River Road
Much of the scenic River Road from Lajitas to Presidio runs through Big Bend Ranch State Park. And, as you might have guessed, it follows the course of the Rio Grande. But what you may not know is that it’s regularly voted the most scenic drive in Texas!
Watch for the turn-out, overlooks, campgrounds, and picnic areas along the way where you and your pet can stretch your legs and admire the scenery.
Terlingua Ghost Town
Terlingua is a former mercury-mining town, located between the national park and the state park. When mining ended in the 1940s, the ghost town started its new life as an off-beat tourist destination.
Abandoned and decaying buildings, mine shafts, and the old cemetery now stand alongside the trading post, Starlight Theatre, and old jail (now restrooms).
For a real treat, plan to visit during the world-famous international chili cook-off, which takes place each November.
Crossing to Boquillas, Mexico
Boquillas de Carmen sits on the Rio Grande across from Big Bend National Park and is approximately 135 miles from the nearest Mexican town … as the crow flies. The little village survives on tourism from the United States — folks visiting Big Bend who cross the river to have lunch at the taco stands or the restaurant.
Unfortunately, the crossing is a special tourist-class port of entry where only pedestrians are allowed. If you plan to go, pack your passport and find a sitter for your pet, because he won’t be able to join you on this part of the adventure.
The Boquillas Port of Entry is open Wednesday through Sunday from 9am to 4pm in the winter, and Friday to Monday, 9am – 4pm in the summer. Before following the signs to Boquillas Crossing, head to the Visitor Center at Big Bend’s Rio Grande Village to purchase a $5 ticket for the round-trip rowboat ride across the river.
With tickets in hand, head to the immigration building and get details on the purchases you’ll be allowed to carry back into the country. Then you’re ready, take the short path down to the river.
Once across the river, you’ll have the option to rent a horse or burrow, ride in a pick-up, or walk the half-mile into town. Local authorized guides (wearing official ID credentials) are available to assist you.
The folks here are also available as guides if you’re adventuring into the 520,000 acre Maderas del Carmen biosphere reserve. When you reach town, fill out a visitors form at Mexican immigration. Pay a small entrance fee ($3) and get a wrist bracelet as your receipt, then you’re free to explore!
The Village Of Boquillas
Walking around Boquillas is like stepping back in time. It’s a tiny village, eking out a life in the desert. The people are kind, and speak English well. And, while no one was angling for a handout, they were clearly appreciative of the few dollars we spent. Our lunch at the little restaurant consisted of three of the best bean and cheese burritos I’ve ever had and a Corona. It was perfect.
During our visit we learned that the school kids really need supplies. We saw several displays in Big Bend with beaded figures crafted by the children hoping to collect some money for pencils and notebooks. Next time we’ll take some supplies for the kids with us when we go!
Pet Friendly Lodging In Big Bend
There are several pet friendly hotels in Big Bend to choose from. Pets are allowed in the Roosevelt Stone Cottages 101-103 at the Chisos Mountains Lodge inside the national park, for a $50 fee. However, pets cannot be left unattended in the room or in a closed vehicle, and are not allowed on the trails. There are also several pet friendly campgrounds and primitive roadside campsites in Big Bend National Park if you want to camp with your dogs.
The next closest option to the national park is the Big Bend Resort in Study Butte. They have a pet friendly campground and allow two pets per room at the Mission Lodge and the Motor Inn with a pet fee of $25 per night.
The Holiday Hotel is right in the Ghost Town (very near the Starlight Theatre and other restaurants). They have pet friendly rooms, which require approval and a pet fee. Ten percent of those fees are donated to the local animal adoption center.
The El Dorado Hotel in the Ghost Town also has some pet friendly rooms. Their pet fee is $50 per pet.
Down the road a little further, Lajitas Golf Resort allows two pets of any size for an additional fee of $50 per pet, per stay. The resort also has miles of pet friendly trails if you’d like a place where you can hike together.
In addition to those options, there are tons of pet friendly vacation rentals in Big Bend. Many of these are “off the grid” meaning that they use solar (no air conditioning), have water catchment systems, and some have outdoor toilets. Be sure you know what you’re getting when making your reservation!
Where We Stay
Lajitas lies between the national park and the state park, and that’s where you’ll find Maverick Ranch RV Resort. This is our favorite spot to stay in Bend Bend with our dogs. Most of the resort’s visitors come for the golf course, but we love it for the pet friendly hiking trails!
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When it’s time for the dogs to play, we hit the off-leash dog park or head out on a hike. All the trails – miles and miles of them – on the Lajitas property are pet friendly, and staying at the resort gives you access.
Best Time Of Year To Visit Big Bend With Dogs
What you like to do will determine the best time of the year for you to visit Big Bend with dogs. Our favorite season is spring when the wildflowers are blooming and the average temperatures are in the mid-70s°F — perfect for hiking. That said, spring break usually happens in March, and the park is busy that time of the year.
If you’re planning to spend time on the river, the hotter months of June, July, and August will be best bet. High temperatures in the 90s°F will make playing in the water more enjoyable.
Fall is another great season for those who enjoy milder temperatures. It tends to be wetter than spring, but there’s something magical about rain in the desert!
Last but definitely not least, winter is also a lovely time to visit Big Bend. The weather is much cooler during this time of year, but it will seem mild if you’re traveling from the frozen tundra.
Visiting Big Bend with our dogs is one of our favorite experiences. This place might be a way off the beaten path, but that’s what makes it so appealing. We hope you enjoy it as much as we have.
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