Discover a wilder side of Texas in the solitary and dramatic Chisos Mountain Range
Picture Texas, and the soaring Chisos Mountain Range doesn’t instantly spring to mind. But for an adventure of elemental drama, this great abiding presence in Big Bend National Park delivers a new and unexpected view of the colossal state. This is a region – sweeping from Punta de la Sierra in the southwest to Panther Junction in the northeast – for those really wanting to get away from it all. Here, we reveal the top five adventures in the mountains:
Camping: The mountains may be rugged, but they’re also accessible. Some choose to make a quick pit-stop here, but to truly feel like a pioneer, bed down here for a night or three in the park’s campsites and camping grounds. The site at Nugent Mountain is blissfully quiet with top-notch stargazing, but it’s the natural bounty surrounding your tent that’ll stir adventure-seekers. For dollars well spent, make tracks to the Chisos Mountain Lodge – the only hotel in the park – and wind up on its terrace with a sundowner for superb Texan views.
Emory Peak: This pristine peak is the national park’s highest, at 2,385m. And while a trek to its crest is no walk in the park, the payoff is the thrilling views from on high. Start out at the Chisos Basin Trailhead and climb through desert scrub and thick forest, following the scents of juniper and sage; keep a lookout for birds of prey gathering to swoop, and for tracks of bears and mountain lions, before scrambling on all fours to its summit.
Lost Mine Trail: If you’re short on time, this trail is your best bet and is just as thrilling as a climb up Emory. Over five miles, the monoliths of Casa Grande Peak, Juniper Canyon and South Rim pop into eyeshot, with knockout views in every direction. Pick up a trail guide to help pinpoint the flora and fauna; black bears, mountain lions, white-tailed deer, rock squirrels and Mexican jays can all be found here.
Sunset at the window: ‘The window’ embodies the spirit of the Chisos – gaze through this immense v-shaped groove in the mountainside and you’ll be left breathless as you stare at the enormity of your surroundings: swathes of desert, blasting of sunlight and a great sweep of sky. It’s a relatively easy hike from the Chisos Basin Visitor Center: a three-mile jaunt through rolling hills and vertical rock walls, that’s open throughout the day. But for the full effect, arrive just in time for sunset. The show of light on the silhouetted mountainsides puts many sunset spots to shame.
Cattail Falls: The national park has a whole bunch of hush hush stuff up its sleeve – not least these enchanting falls and series of pools that are no longer marked on the Big Bend National Park maps. Trickling down the western side of the Chisos mountains, the falls are at their most spectacular after the heavy spring rains and the trail is an easy 1.5-mile hike over dusty desert hills and patches of lush vegetation blooming with wildflowers.