Vernon Bailey Peak is one of the two main peaks that make up the northwestern rim of the Basin in Big Bend National Park. Pulliam Peak and the massive Pulliam Bluff form the rest of the rim. These 2 peaks, along with Ward Mountain, were once a massive Magma chamber called a Pluton that cooled at a relativley shallow depth, believed to be around 2000 feet under ground. This intrusion of magma is called the Chisos Mountains Pluton, and was believed to be intruded around 30 million years ago. This area was then covered by the Chisos Formation and the South Rim Formation, both of which still leave evidence of themselves on the peaks. The South Rim Formation is composed primarily of Riebeckite Rhyolite, which can also be found on the eastern side of Burro Mesa, as well as covering Goat Mountain and Cerro Castellon. Try to imagine this region covered in magma erupted from volcanoes that dwarf the Mt. St Helens eruption, it really makes you appreciate what beautiful landforms can be created from such violence. Once the Chisos region was uplifted and overlying sedimentary layers were removed, the weather -resistant Granite was exposed, making way for the formation of the picturesque Basin by means of erosion of the remaining less resistant sedimentary layers. Being on the undeveloped side of the Basin, it is very isolated. Chances of running into another hiker or climber are very slim. Wildlife is also much more prominent here. Bear bedding areas can be spotted pretty easilly, as well as many other small mammals. Views from the top are unhindered to the west and north, giving you a better view of this section of the park than from the higher Emory Peak.
View of the Chisos from the Grapevine Hills. Photo © 01ACRViper
To get to the trailhead, travel 26 miles south from the entrance station at Persimmon Gap to Panther Junction. Take a right, travel 3 miles to the Chisos Basin turnoff, then another 6 to the Visitor Center parking lot. From here, follow the signs at the end of the lot to The Window trail head. Continue down the trail ~1 mile, and cut across the creek where you see the best way. From here, it is a hard bushwack to the base of the mountain, and the creek you need to follow to get to the top.
Because Vernon Bailey is located inside Big Bend National Park, there is a $15 per car entrance fee, which is good for 7 days. There are no fees to hike or climb, however a free backcountry permit is required to camp. There are no areas to camp past The Window trail, so you must either camp at the Chisos Basin campground, or the backcountry sites near Emory Peak.
Big Bend National Park
Big Bend, TX 79834
When To Climb
Winter months are the ideal months to climb in the Chisos, but early spring and late fall can be nice as well. Avoid climbing during spring break due to enormous throngs of people, unless you enjoy the crowds. Summers are still climbable, but a very early start is highly recommended to avoid the high afternoon heat. The top 300 feet of Pulliam and Vernon Bailey Peak, as well as the rdige that connects them, is closed from February 1st through July 15th for Peregrin Falcon nesting, and it is also noted on the GORP Big Bend page that the entire northen Chisos is off limits for hikers. Though these rules are in place, Rangers have said nothing, even when they knew climbing had taken place in closed areas. Climb using your own discretion.
Refer to Red Tape for camping information.
For up to date conditions, call Big Bend National Park at (915) 447-2251. As always when hiking in desert conditions, you must carry all the water you will be needing with you. there is a very small spring in one of the creeks on Vernon Bailey, but it doesn't have enough water to drink, and you should leave it for the wildlife.