Emory Peak – the highest summit in Brewster County – offers an exhilarating hike like no other.
With its impressive towering summit, Emory will sweep you into bliss with awe-inspiring panoramas of Big Bend National Park, Chihuahuan Desert, and the Chisos Mountains. On a clear day, hikers can even see the desert-like landscapes of Mexico from the summit. What’s more, the area is a wildlife lover’s paradise, home to whitetail deer, mule deer, mountain lions, lizards, and black bears.
Of course, there are plenty of other cool and fun things around Emory Peak, even for non-hikers. As a matter of fact, there are plenty of attractions and activities for everyone in the Emory Peak region. To help you plan the ultimate trip to this side of Texas, we’ve listed some of the best things to do around Emory Peak.
Summit Emory Peak
There’s no better way to experience the beauty of Big Bend National Park than to scale its highest summit – Emory Peak. With an elevation of 7,825 feet, Emory Peak is also the 14th tallest mountain in Texas. Once you reach the summit of Emory Peak, you’ll feel like you’re on top of the world. Plus, the magnificent view on top will blow your mind as well.
And, unlike other famous hiking trails in America, the path to the top of Emory Peak is relatively empty, so it’s likely for you to enjoy the hike in solitude.
The hike can be pretty challenging, too, especially if you’re not used to hiking above 10,000 feet. Even though the trail is 8.5 miles roundtrip, the hike to the summit is rated as difficult. On average, the hike can be finished around 5 to 7 hours roundtrip, depending on your pace and the number of stops you make.
You can reach the trail by climbing the Pinnacle Trails, which is 3.5 miles from the Chisos Basin trail. At trail base, there’s a semi-technical, 25-foot rock scramble that you need to take to reach the summit.
While there’s no climbing gear needed for this journey, hikers are encouraged to be cautious the entire way up, especially when rock scrambling to the top. Also, make sure to be prepared for the hike. Even if you’re an experienced hiker, the steps, overall altitude, elevation gain, and Texas heat may impact your lung capacity.
Emory Peak is a centerpiece and one of the main draws of Big Bend National Park. That means you need to pay the entrance fee to summit Emory Peak. Here are the fees to enter this wondrous and underrated national park.
- Vehicle (non-commercial and private): $30 valid for 7 days. Vehicles should have a maximum capacity of 15 passengers.
- Motorcycle (non-commercial): $25 valid for 7 days
- Individuals: $15 each valid for 7 days
- Big Bend Annual Pass: $55 valid for one year from the purchase date
Stargazing in Big Bend National Park
They don’t call Big Bend National Park as one of America’s best stargazing destinations for nothing. With its steep elevation, lack of light pollution, and remote location, the national park offers an extraordinary stargazing experience for its visitors.
Here, you get to lay eyes on stars that are sharp, vivid, and shaped like precious diamonds. On a clear night, over 2,000 stars are visible to your naked eye inside the park. Even better, the park’s amazingly dark skies let you see one of the most breathtaking spectacles in the entire universe, The Milky Way.
The national park is a treasure trove o wondrous stargazing spots and grounds, from well-known observation points to campsites. Here’s a shortlist of the best stargazing spots in Big Bend National Park.
- McDonald Observatory
- Rio Grande Village Nature Trail
- Hot Springs Canyon Trail
- Chisos Basin
- Mariscal Mine area
Hike the Scenic Lost Mine Trail
With its rugged and striking natural beauty, it’s easy to see why they call this trail as one of the top Big Bend National Park hikes. Ideal for those who are short on time, this moderate 7.4-kilometer roundtrip hike usually lasts around a couple of hours.
And, you don’t have to do some rock scrambling to reach the lookout and enjoy gorgeous park views. Additionally, the hike will introduce you to the geological formations, animals, and plants that you’ll likely see around Big Bend National Park.
Camp in Big Bend National Park
Who needs a 5-star hotel room when you can sleep under a thousand stars? Camping is truly one of the highlights and most fascinating experiences in the Emory Peak region. Not only will let you gaze on the beautiful dark starry skies, but it offers a tranquil and relaxing experience as well. Not to mention, camping in Big Bend opens up a plethora of opportunities for outdoor adventures.
If you’re wondering where to camp in Big Bend National Park, you may want to take a look at our suggestions.
- Study Butte RV Park
- Big Bend Resort & Adventures RV Park
- BJ’s RV Park
- Maverick Ranch RV Park
- Rancho Topanga Campground
- Big Bend’s primitive roadside campsites
- Rio Grande Village RV Campground
- Rio Grande Villa Campground
- Cotton Campground
- Chisos Basin Campground
A word of advice: make reservations ahead of time for any of the park’s camping grounds if you plan to visit it during spring break or around the Christmas and Thanksgiving holidays. These are the busiest times of the year, and campsites inside the park quickly fill up. Reservations for camping in Big Bend are available from mid-November to mid-April and may be made up to 6 months in advance.
Stay at Chisos Mountains Lodge
Want to spend a night inside the national park, but not ready to rough it up? Why not book a stay at the park’s single lodge – the Chisos Mountains Lodge? With its luxurious and cushy accommodations, you’ll surely have a pleasant break and a good night’s sleep at Chisos Mountains Lodge. And since it’s perched at a high elevation of 5,400 feet, all the rooms offer vistas that seem to stretch on forever.
- Address: 1 Basin Rural Station, Big Bend National Park, Texas, USA
- Contact number: +1 432 477 2291
Visit the Museum of the Big Bend
Located inside Sul Ross University, this interactive museum blasts you through the history of West Texas, from the mighty dinosaurs to the Indian battles. Inside the museum, you’ll find a deceptively spacious room filled with intricately designed dioramas and artifacts.
Even those who aren’t fond of museums will love this treasure trove, which will deliver a quick crash course on the history and beauty of Emory Peak and its surrounding lands. And, the best part is, you can enjoy the exhibits and lessons for everyone’s favorite price of zero dollars.
- Address: Sul Ross State University, 400 N Harrison Street C-101, Alpine, Texas, USA
- Opening times: 09:00 AM to 05:00 PM from Tuesday to Sunday. 01:00 to 05:00 PM on Sundays. Closed on Mondays.
- Contact number: +1 432 837 8730
Take the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive
No list of the best things to do around Emory Peak is complete without the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. After all, it’s a beautiful journey through one of America’s finest hidden gems, Big Bend, winding along the famed Rio Grande. What’s more, it’s one of those epic road stretches that unfolds before you in a string of experiences and views. Along the way, the 30-mile road showcases some of the geologic and historic features that the area is known for.
The drive hits the western slopes of the magnificent Chisos Mountains and climbs up to Sotol Vista, where you can savor outstanding vistas. Afterward, the road winds down to the Rio Grande and winds up at Santa Elena Canyon trailhead, in which the pavement ends.
Discover the art galleries nearby
With its picture-perfect views and wide-open skies as inspiration, it’s no wonders artist continuously flock to this national park. And, you’ll find plenty of art galleries to visit, following your hike to Emory Peak. In Alpine’s downtown area, you’ll discover several galleries and working studios showcasing photography, paintings, illustrations, and other artworks created by local artists.
Likewise, you’ll see an abundance of artworks on display throughout the restaurants, galleries, and hotels in Marathon, such as the Gage Hotel.
Explore the photogenic landscapes of Big Bend National Park like a cowboy by going on a horseback riding adventure. The national park has a multitude of trails open to horseback riders and even has campsites that are equipped with corrals. If you have your own horse, you’re allowed to explore the park on a horse, as long as you have secured a permit.
Don’t have a horse? Luckily, some stables offer horseback riding tours inside the park, such as Big Bend Stables and Lajitas Stable. Whether you’re looking for a difficult multi-day trek or a relaxed one-hour ride, there’s a horseback riding adventure that suits your needs and preferences within the park.
Unwind and play golf at Lajitas Resort
Need to escape your monotonous urban grind? Then, head to Lajitas Golf Resort and play some golf! Designed by a PGA Hall of Famer, this resort boasts an 18-hole, world-class golf course.
Moreover, the resort has a smorgasbord of facilities and activities for the entire family, including the Equestrian Center, Cowboy Action Shoot, and Stand Sporting Clay Shoot. On top of it all, the resort offers a relaxing away-from-it-all getaway, thanks to its famous natural beauty, rugged desert environment, and solitude.
- Address: HC 70, Lajitas, Texas, USA
- +1 432 424 5000
See the stunning sunset over the “Window”
A great way to end a day in Big Bend is to savor the sunset views over the v-shaped canyon known as the “Window.” From this vantage point, you get to see the sun plunging beautifully from the sky and into the seemingly never-ending desert.
To get to this vantage point, you need to take a 0.3-mile hike from the Chisos Basin Visitors Center. Besides the marvelous sunset, the backdrop is also extraordinary, and the desert mountains are so magnificent to behold.
Check out the Fossil Discovery Exhibit
Stop by the Fossil Discovery Exhibit, after your visit to Emory Peak, to learn more about the region’s geology and prehistoric creatures. Established in 2017, this exhibition center has outdoor rooms filled with informative displays and plaques. The most impressive features and pieces include a giant pterosaur as well as the bronze skulls of a Bravoceratops and a giant allegation.
- Address: Fossil Bone Exhibit, Big Bend National Park, Texas, USA
- Opening times: 24 hours a day daily
- Contact number: +1 432 477 2251
Bird watching in Big Bend
Big Bend is a paradise for bird watching enthusiasts. It’s location, along a migration route and near the 100th meridian in the continent’s middle, makes it ideal for bird watching throughout the year. In winter, northern bird species migrate to the park for the warmer climate. In spring, wing creatures from the tropics come here to breed. The Colima warbler, one of the park’s highlights, is a Mexican species that nests in the Chisos Mountains, Big Bend National Park, from April to September.
The national park has an array of excellent birding locations, thanks to diverse habitats, including moist forested canyons, riparian river corridor, and open desert.
For a sure-fire bet, check out these critical bird habitats.
- Terlingua Abajo
- Hot Springs
- Blue Creek
- Sam Rail Ranch
- Dugout Wells
- Cottonwood Campground or Santa Elena Canyon
- Chisos Mountains
- Rio Grande Village
Hike the Santa Elena Canyon Trail
The Santa Elena Canyon Trail is arguably the most spectacular hike in Big Bend National Park. At first, the trail may not seem intriguing, especially for experienced hikers, with a roundtrip length of 1.7 miles. But, this path will, hands down, appease your wanderlust with tons of incredible views.
The hike will take you to the Rio Grande River’s edge and into the Santa Elena Canyon, wherein towering 1,500-feet-high rock walls rise up on every side above the hikers.
When the flowing water is relatively low, you may wade out into the Santa Elena Canyon from the trail’s far end. Then, you’ll ascend for about 80 feet, and enjoy enthralling visas above the river.
See the national park from a bird’s perspective
Book an aerial adventure with a tour operator like Rio Aviation, and see the landscapes of West Texas from a bird’s point of view. With an air tour, you’ll be soaring above majestic landmarks, such as Santa Elena Canyon and over the national park, as well as Big Bend Ranch State Park.
Don’t forget to bring a camera to capture amazing aerial shots of Big Bend National Park and Emory Peak. Alternatively, you may also relax and soak up the bird’s eye views of the park’s beautiful valleys, mountains, and canyons.
To make things even better, the pilot will share a myriad of information about Emory Peak and the surrounding areas.
Unwind in the Langford Hot Springs
Unless you’re a hardcore hiker or backpacker, hiking Emory Peak will likely make your muscles cry out for relief. And, thankfully, you can rejuvenate your weary spirit and muscles by taking a dip in the Langford Hot Springs.
With its spring naturally heated water, the soothing pool is known for its power of rejuvenation and healing. Once you’ve finished soaking in the springs, head east to Hot Springs Canyon to savor panoramic views of the Rio Grande and rugged canyons.
Kayak the beloved Rio Grande River
The Rio Grande River offers an exceptional kayaking experience that you literally won’t experience elsewhere. Although there are many great places to kayak, you’ll rarely get a chance to paddle on an international border. And, that’s what makes this experience so unique!
Also, this journey will take you through striking canyons and past majestic wide-open valleys and cliffs. Whether you choose a multi-day trip or an afternoon excursion, you’ll undoubtedly have an unforgettable adventure kayaking the Rio Grande River.
Drive Old Ore Road
Old Ore Road, one of the best drives in Big Bend, is 26 miles of beauty and unpaved picturesque glory. This historic road was once was used as a transport path for mining companies in the early 1900s. In general, the road follows the route used by pack trains and mules a hundred years ago.
Today, it has become one of the quintessential things to do around Emory Peak. As you drive this road, you’ll get excellent views of the national park as well as the Chisos Mountains across the lovely Tornillo Creek drainage. Just keep in mind, though, that the road is rugged and rough, meaning you need a sturdy vehicle to drive it.
Visit a Mexican village
A trip to Emory Peak and Big Bend is a chance for you to travel to another country – Mexico. At the Boquillas Crossing, the border security will scan your passport before you can head down to the river and catch a rowboat. The boat will then pick you up and take you to the Rio Grande River’s Mexican shore, where you may hop on a vehicle, donkey, or horse. From Rio Grande River, it’s around a mile up to the village.
If you’re in the mood for walking, you may do, until you reach the village. But, take note that the trip to the village is all uphill. It’s best that you pay for a ride into the Mexican village, and walk down back to the shoreline once you’re done. There are a few restaurants that offer authentic food and beverages in the Mexican village of Boquillas del Carmen, making it a nice place to enjoy your lunch break.
The crossing, by the way, is open from 09:00 AM to 06:00 PM from Wednesday to Sunday year-round. It may, however, close at 05:00 PM in December and January. On a side note, tourists are advised to return at least 30 minutes before closing time.
Hike Balanced Rock
Looking for a not-so-mainstream and off-the-beaten adventure near Emory Peak? You’ll love the Balanced Rock in Big Bend National Park! It’s the perfect blend of adventure, beauty, and solitude. Even better, the entire family can come along because it’s quite easy.
The trail is deemed as an easy hike and is 2.2 miles roundtrip.
Although the path is relatively flat, there’s no shade along the way, and the final 0.25 miles involve a little climb up and around a few boulders. Once you’ve conquered these obstacles, you’ll be treated to some great views on the Balanced Rock.
Eat at Chisos Mountains Lodge Restaurant
Treat yourself to an array of surprisingly mouthwatering comfort and Tex-Mex food at Chisos Mountain Lodge Restaurant! Open for dinner, lunch, and breakfast, the restaurant also offers take-out lunch for picnics and hikes.
Aside from tasty Tex-Mex dishes, the restaurant has a salad and soup bar as well as serves delightful wine. A must-try here is the “Texas Toothpicks” (fried and battered strings of jalapenos and onion with a dipping sauce).
And, while there, spend some time admiring the view, which might be the best from any building within Big Bend National Park.
- Address: 1 Basin Road Station, Big Bend National Park, Texas, USA
- Opening times: 07:00 to 10:00 AM, 11:00 AM to 04:00 PM and 05:00 to 09:00 PM daily
- Contact number: +1 432 477 2292
Visit the Terlingua Ghost Town
At first glance, you might think that it’s a fabricated tourist trap or some abandoned movie set. But, the truth is, the Terlingua Ghost Town was a legit mining town that turned into an abandoned site when its miners left their homes and walked away.
Today, it has turned into a popular spot for tourists and photography enthusiasts. As you explore the town, you’ll find cactus, semi-friendly rattlesnakes, ruins, tall tales, mine shafts, and decaying buildings. In recent years, it has been revitalized slightly with a fully operational bar or saloon, a highly acclaimed restaurant, and rustic Texas lodgings.
Visit the Mariscal Mine
Get a real feel of a ghost town and uncover the history of the region’s mercury mining history by visiting Mariscal Mine. Abandoned for decades, the mine was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. Here, you get to see a complete set of ruins that has yet to be officially converted into a tourist attraction. Moreover, there are a lot of pleasant views on the way to the mine.
Tourists and explorers with high-clearance 4-wheel-drive vehicles may tackle over 50 miles of unmaintained and ruggedly beautiful dirt roads in Big Bend National Park. These rough roads were used for mining, mineral prospecting, livestock wrangling, water line construction, and fence building.
Guides of these tours don’t just drive, but they will also explain in great detail the fauna, flora, geology, and history of the region.
Check out the Panther Junction Visitor Center
The main visitor center of the park features a bookstore as well as remarkable exhibits on its desert, river, and mountain environment. There’s an elaborately and finely produced 22-minute movie detailing the wonders of Big Bend National Park. Plus, it also has a sprawling replica of Big Bend’s topographical folds.
- Address: 310, Alsate Drive, Big Bend National Park, Texas, United States
- Opening times: 09:00 AM to 05:00 PM daily
- Contact number: +1 432 477 2251
Tour Fort Leaton
Established in 1848, Fort Leaton is a can’t-miss attraction for anyone visiting the Big Bend region. Named after an Indian bounty hunter, it’s a hidden gem, and one of the state’s largest and best-preserved adobe structures.
Like any informative historic site, the fort does a terrific job of showing the cultural, economic, and political history of the area. Furthermore, there are a few interesting videos you can watch, including a film about Pancho Villa.
And, even if you’re not a history buff, you’ll still have a blast touring the premises and the finely kept Mexican Revolution era fort.
- Address: FM170, Presidio, Texas, USA
- Opening times: 08:00 AM to 04:30 PM daily
- Contact number: +1 432 229 3613
Experience the Chisos Basin Loop Trail
The Chisos Basin Loop trail gradually climbs through shady stands of juniper, oak, and Mexico pine with tons of astounding views of the window and peaks surrounding the basin. This 1.8-mile roundtrip trail also has dense vegetation that provides a good habitat for mountain lions and bears. You may catch sight of the tracks where these animals crossed the trail. Also, keep an eye on the hummingbirds and Mexican jays along the way.
Experience the South Rim Trail
Fit and experienced hikers who are craving for a heavy dose of adventure should hike the strenuous South Rim Trail. Nestled in the Chisos basin area, the trail is often labeled as the most picture-perfect hike in Big Bend National Park. But, it requires a great deal of effort and energy to savor the reward of this physically demanding hike.
The hike will take up 2,000 feet of elevation on the cliff’s rim, and will treat you with jaw-dropping views of the desert below. Rated as strenuous, this hike is 12 to 15 miles long with an option to hike the magnificent Emory Peak.
Swim with the fish at Balmorhea State Park
Surrounded by the desolate Chihuahuan Desert, the biggest spring-fed swimming pool on earth boasts an unlikely location. And, though it’s a little far from Marathon or Alpine, it’s worth a visit. The crystal clear, pristine water hovers about 70 degrees year-round and teems with jet-black catfish and silvery minnows.
Grab a set of snorkeling gear, and see schools of fish up close. Or, you may just chill on the grassy lawn and soak up the sun before you dive back in.
Take in the dramatic views at the Sotol Vista Overlook
A visit to the Sotol Vista Overlook should be on your list of things to do around Emory Peak. Anyone who visits the overlook will be wowed by a dramatic 360-degree view of the park’s western side, including the Santa Elena Canyon, Burro Mesa, the Chisos Mountains, and Goat Mountain.