Chisos Basin is a development center in the heart of Big Bend National Park. It’s located in the heart of a beautiful basin in the heart of the Chisos Mountains. Because the interior of the Chisos Mountains are higher, better sheltered, and a little wetter than the Chihuahuan Desert that makes up the rest of the park, you’ll find actual trees here. These include oak, maple, and juniper, among others.
In fact, there’s a rich variety of habitats here, with grasses, shrubs and bushes, a mix of trees, and a profusion of wildlife in these mountains. Both black bear and cougar patrol the mountains, along with rattlesnakes, skunks, scorpions, and other things best left alone.
The Basin provides the usual point of departure for most of the mountains in the park. It’s also the heart of the park’s backcountry trail and backcountry camping network, though the Chisos Mountains make up only a small share of the park’s total land area.
View from Emory Peak
View on the Pinnacles Trail
Big Bend is an isolated park, especially since there's no access from the Mexican side. It's about six hours from El Paso, a full day from Dallas, San Antonio or other big cities in Texas. Midland-Odessa is closer, perhaps four hours.
You'll eventually need to be on US-90, a good east-west road running somewhat parallel to I-10 on the north. The main access will be south on Hwy 118 from Alpine or Hwy 385 from Marathon. Either of those will take you about two hours to reach Panther Junction, the park headquarters and center of the road network.
From Panther Junction, go several miles west to the Chisos Basin Road. From there, it's about six miles on a narrow, windy road into the basin.
Emory's Shadow on Ward
If it were located along the interstate, you’d call the Chisos Mountain Lodge a cheap, 1950s-style motel. Because it’s the only lodging in the national park, and it’s a long drive from any alternatives, you won’t call it cheap. But it’s still a 1950s-style motel with substandard facilities at standard prices. It’s operated by Forever Resorts, one of the large concessioner chains in the national park system.
The lodge also offers meals on a somewhat restricted schedule. Call ahead to verify the options. The food was uninspired when I was there, but the views out the picture windows were very nice.
Morning over Chisos
There’s a developed campground at the Basin complex. It’s designed mostly for tents. RVs over 24 feet, and trailers over 20 feet, should not attempt the road into the basin, which has steep turns and up to a 15% grade.
The campground is next to the Basin loop trail and a short walk to the other facilities, if that’s what you’re looking for. Flush toilets, running water, grills, and picnic tables are available. There are pay showers available nearby.
Alpenglow on the Chisos
There’s another better alternative in the 42 backcountry campsites scattered around the basin’s trails. Some of these sites are less than a mile from the trailhead, so they would be an option even for families with small kids - - or for people who feel the need to carry too many creature comforts into the backcountry like hammocks, beer, or small kids. These campsites require a $10 fee, and they supposedly fill up quickly at spring break. A couple of them might occasionally have access to water but it’s best to assume that you have to bring all your own water.
There’s a grocery store in the basin with basic canned food and similar products. It also has a wide variety of cheap camping supplies if there’s something you forgot.
There’s a ranger station, a visitor center, and a backcountry permit station inside the visitor center. There is no gas station in the Basin. There’s a station at Panther Junction with restricted service hours. In many logistical matters, Big Bend will test your ability to plan ahead.