Big Bend National Park
With over 100 miles of lightly-used paved roads and 160 miles of backcountry dirt roads, Big Bend National Park offers the two-wheeled traveler plenty of options. This is Texas' premier mountain biking destination, because of the panoramic views, desert solitude, and unexpected beauty of the Big Bend. Although biking in the desert, far from water and medical facilities, requires that you prepare meticulously and proceed cautiously, the rewards for the careful traveler are incredible and enchanting. The following trails offer visitors access to the breathtakingly beautiful backcountry of this unique region.
If you have a shuttle available:
Panther Junction to Rio Grande Village This easy, paved, 20-mile ride should take cyclists between 1.5 and 2.5 hours to complete. Although there are some hills, the ride is mostly downhill as the elevation drops 1900 feet. Be wary of large motor homes and trailers traveling this road, especially in late winter and spring. For a variation, ride to Hot Springs on the 2-mile unpaved spur road 16 miles from Panther Junction. Your shuttle can meet you at either Rio Grande Village or Hot Springs. The ride allows outstanding views of the Sierra del Carmen and the Rio Grande in the distance.
Panther Junction to Rio Grande Village via the Glenn Spring Road This 35-mile (10 paved, 25 unpaved) ride of moderate difficulty should take between 4 and 6 hours. Pedal six miles toward Rio Grande Village on the paved road, then turn right onto the Glenn Spring Road. Follow the Glenn Spring Road for 15 miles as it skirts the Chisos Mountains and leads to a flowing spring before joining the River Road. Turn left and follow the river road for 9.6 miles to its junction with the paved road. Turn right and ride on the paved road for four miles to Rio Grande Village.
Panther Junction to Castolon via the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive This strenuous, 35-mile paved ride will keep you pedaling for 3 to 6 hours. The ride traverses some of the most scenic terrain in the park, skirting the Chisos Mountains and passing interesting geologic features and historic sites. Although the elevation loss between Panther Junction and Castolon is 1580 feet, the terrain is challenging with many steep hills.
Old Ore Road This 26-mile ride is strenuous, and will require 4 to 6 hours of your time, but it's well worth the effort. It's best taken from north to south for an easier ride and great views of the Chisos Mountains. The road is rough and rocky and the terrain is challenging. Park on the edge of the Dagger Flat Auto Trail at the north end of the Old Ore Road.
Old Maverick Road This 14-mile unpaved adventure will take about 1.5 to 2 hours. Start from the parking lot near the Maverick Entrance Station. This route is easiest from north to south. There are many good views along the route, which ends at Santa Elena Canyon. Seasoned riders can return to Maverick for a strenuous 26-mile trip.
If you do not have a shuttle available:
Glenn Spring Loop This strenuous 35-mile loop on unpaved roads will take at least half a day, or maybe all day if you make frequent stops. One of the more popular mountain bike rides in the park, it begins at Glenn Spring, makes a counterclockwise loop around the west side of Tally Mountain, following Black Gap Road. Then it cuts east onto the River Road back up to Glenn Spring. On the way, you'll pass the remains of dwellings, the ruined Mariscal Mines and Mariscal Mountain.
Panther Junction to the Chisos Basin This strenuous 20-mile paved trip will keep your heart pounding for 2 to 4 hours. Ride three miles west of Panther Junction to the Basin Junction, three miles of gradual uphill. At the Basin Junction, turn left and ride seven miles to the Chisos Basin. This road is very steep, with 15 percent grades. The elevation gain is 1650 feet. Watch for traffic and be ready to pull off the road if necessary. This ride is an aerobic challenge even for those in excellent physical condition. The ride down is exhilarating. Watch for animals and obstacles on the road and make sure you don't break the 45 mile per hour speed limit!
Grapevine Hills Road This moderately-difficult 15-mile trail on unpaved roads will take about 2 or 3 hours round trip. Park at the junction of the paved road and the Grapevine Hills Road for this ride past interesting rock formations. For variety, hike the two-mile round-trip Grapevine Hills Trail en route. Return the same way.
Paint Gap Road Count on 1.5 to 2 hours to make this 5-mile roundtrip ride on unpaved roads. Park at the junction of the paved road and the Paint Gap Road. The road has a variety of substrates including sand and rocks, and is especially rough near the end. Return the same way.
Dagger Flat Auto Trail This easy 18-mile jaunt on unpaved roads will take about 2 or 3 hours roundtrip. Park near the junction of the paved road and the Dagger Flat Auto Trail. This route is fairly flat, with a gentle uphill on the way out. Watch for sand along the wayyou can get bogged down. There are many interesting plants. Return the same way.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication