We arrived in the Big Bend area late Monday afternoon and since we wouldn’t have time to kayak out to a campsite that day, we stayed at a motel in the nearby town of Alpine. We stayed at the Sunday House Inn which was average as far as motels go but had huge rooms that we were able to store the kayaks in overnight. From Alpine to Castalon, the nearest ranger station to the Santa Elana Canyon river takeout, it was a two hour and fifteen minute drive. There are closer towns but the lodging options are limited. The other town with a good amount of lodging is Fort Stockton, but that is an even further drive.
Lodging in Big Bend
There are three developed campsites in the park, Cottonwood, Chisos Basin, and Rio Grande Village. We would not recommend Rio Grande Village in hot weather. We stayed there the last night of our trip and even with the trees, there was no escaping the heat. Because of its sheltered area it also didn’t get much of a breeze. Chisos Basin, with it’s higher elevation, will be cooler in hot weather. Cottonwood, is also at a slightly higher elevation and has much larger trees, under which to escape the heat.
A nice feature of Big Bend’s developed campsites is that they limit the noise of the RVs. If there’s one thing tent campers uniformly hate, it is listening to the sounds of an RV’s generator all night instead of the relaxing sounds of nature. Big Bend has quiet, no generator hours from 10pm until 6am. In addition, they have separate, generator free, areas for tent campers. It was a relief to be able to fall asleep to the sounds of owls hooting and crickets chirping, instead of loud motors, even if we were sweating.
There are many backcountry camping sites throughout the park but all are off of gravel roads and some off of 4 wheel drive, high clearance roads only. Even the gravel roads, which are perfectly manageable for most cars (not RV’s and trailers), can become impassable to all but four wheel drive after rains. The soil of Big Bend is made up predominately of clay and after rains the mud reaches monstrous proportions. Do not expect any development in these areas. There may be a sign to designate the area and maybe a ring of rocks to designate the campsite itself. You will need a backcountry permit to use these sites which are $12 or $7 if you hold an annual pass.
Chisos Mountains Lodge
Conveniently located in the center of the park, the Chisos Mountains Lodge is the only formal lodging in the park. It offers three different types of rooms from lodge, to motel, to cottages. There is also a restaurant and store near the lodge. I would recommend you buy all supplies outside of the park though because prices on many items are often doubled.