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11 Best Campgrounds at Big Bend National Park

Camping in Big Bend is one of the highlights of a trip to this outstanding park. Dark skies, birds and wildlife, nature and tranquility are what you'll find. The park has a campground in each of its three distinct regions: Rio Grande Village, Chisos Basin, and Santa Elena/Castalon. The latter is where you'll find the Cottonwood Campground. Each area offers unique hikes and sites, but all of the campgrounds are very good. Choosing where to stay comes down to personal taste or even time of the year. Chisos Basin has a little different climate, with warmer nights and cooler daytime temperatures than Rio Grande Village or Cottonwood. Many of the hiking trails in Big Bend are centered around Chisos Basin, but one of the best hikes, Santa Elena Canyon, is near Cottonwood, and the hot springs, one of the top attractions in the park, are near Rio Grande Village.

You can reserve some sites at Chisos Basin and Rio Grande Village, but each of these also has first-come, first-served sites. Cottonwood campground has only non-reservable sites. You can reserve sites up to 180 days in advance at the Big Bend National Park website. All sites are first-come, first served at all three campgrounds from April 16 to November 14. Here are our top picks for the best campgrounds at Big Bend National Park:

1 Chisos Basin Campground

Chisos Basin Campground
Chisos Basin Campground | Photo Copyright: Lana Law
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Set on a small plateau surrounded by jagged peaks, the Chisos Basin Campground has a dramatic setting, at an elevation of 5,040 feet. This is one of the most pleasant places for camping due to the climate and the proximity to some of the best hikes in Big Bend National Park. As a general rule, the nighttime temperatures can be warmer than those at lower elevations, as the warm air drifts upward, and it's slightly cooler here during the day, which can be a real relief at times. Popular hikes in this area include Lost Mine, Emory Peak, and the Window Trail, the latter of which can be accessed directly from the campground.

The campground has 60 campsites, 24 of which are reservable. All others are first-come, first-served. Sites vary from very private, with barely another site visible, to very exposed, backing on to other campsites with no visible separation. The sun beats down on this area, and not all sites have covered shelters for shade. This can be a determining factoring when trying to choose a site here. Chisos Basin Campground does not have showers but does have flush toilets.

2 Cottonwood Campground

Cottonwood Campground
Cottonwood Campground | Photo Copyright: Lana Law
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For nature and tranquility, Cottonwood Campground is your best option. Set in a lush area, not far from the Rio Grande, this campground sees all kinds of birds and critters, from vermilion flycatchers to the much maligned javelinas. At night, you can sometimes hear great horned owls near the sites. Huge cottonwoods provide plenty of shade during the hot days from spring until fall. The Cottonwood area is much warmer than Chisos Basin due to the lower elevation of only 2,169 feet, but this can sometimes be an advantage when the weather is cold. This campground has 24 campsites, all of which are first-come, first-served. For the most part, sites are large and set well apart from each other. Facilities here are limited to pit toilets.

3 Rio Grande Village Campground

Rio Grande Village Campground
Rio Grande Village Campground | Photo Copyright: Lana Law
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Set near the Rio Grande River, this is the largest campground in the park, although it is divided up and still has the feeling of a more intimate campground. Of the 100 sites, 43 are reservable. This campground is set at an elevation of 1,850 feet, so it is one of the hottest areas in the park. This can be a benefit during the colder months but a definite drawback in summer. Sites are mostly large and offer a fair bit of shade, and most campsites do not have shade covers. Most sites offer good privacy, and some are completely surrounded by trees and shrubs, so surrounding sites are not even visible. The Nature Trail, one of the best short walks in the park, leaves from this campground. Facilities at Rio Grande Village Campground include showers and flush toilets. Generators are allowed throughout the day but must be turned off by 8pm.

4 Rio Grande Village RV Campground

Rio Grande Village RV Campground
Rio Grande Village RV Campground | Photo Copyright: Lana Law
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Located not far from the Rio Grande Village Campground, the RV park is a long and narrow, paved parking area, with RV sites lining the sides. While the parking-lot-style setup is not wonderful, the surrounding scenery is. Large cottonwood trees surround the area, although they are not close enough to provide shade, and you can see the mountains in the distance. Roadrunners and other critters frequent the area. Just down the road from the RV park is a pleasant picnic area and the start of a hike that leads to the hot springs, although this is by no means the shortest access point to the hot springs.

The Rio Grande Village RV, operated by Forever Resorts, offers 25 sites, all with full hookups, and 20 of which are reservable. The elevation here is 1,800 feet, and days can be quite hot, depending on the season. A camp store is nearby with some food and basic supplies.

5 Primitive Roadside Campsites in Big Bend National Park

Primitive Roadside Campsites in Big Bend National Park
Primitive Roadside Campsites in Big Bend National Park | Photo Copyright: Lana Law
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Off dirt roads, tucked into various corners of the park, you'll find backcountry campsites. Unlike many parks where backcountry means hike-in camping, here you can drive your vehicle to your own isolated campsite. If you want to experience the quiet of a desert night out on your own, this is a great opportunity. Light pollution is almost non-existent in the park, which is a designated dark sky park, and on a moonless night, the stars are fantastic. It is important to note that there are no toilets, no water is available, and many have absolutely no shade, so be sure that you are well equipped and bring a shade structure. You need to be completely self-sufficient. If it has rained recently, you may be out of luck, as the roads become undrivable. Backcountry permits are required, but they're free. All of these are non-reservable.

6 Rancho Topanga Campground

Rancho Topanga Campground
Rancho Topanga Campground | Photo Copyright: Lana Law
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Located on the west side of the park, not far from Terlingua, Rancho Topanga Campground is a tenting-only campground and a good option if you can't find camping in the park. This family-run establishment is the best campground for tenters outside the park. The campground is set at the base of a hillside and is relatively scenic. Facilities include showers with hot and cold water, a luxury you can't always find at some of the hotels in Terlingua, flush toilets, water at every site, and the campground is pet-friendly. The 25 sites are spread across a large area of desert and there is no shade, so be sure to bring your own canopy if you are planning on spending time at the campground during the day.

7 Maverick Ranch RV Park

Maverick Ranch RV Park
Maverick Ranch RV Park | Photo Copyright: Lana Law
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Associated with Lajitas Golf Resort, this is a beautiful RV park in a scenic setting in the Painted Hills, about 20 miles from the west entrance to Big Bend National Park. One of the great advantages of staying here is that guests have full use of the facilities at Lajitas Golf Resort, including the pool and all the activities offered through the resort. The park itself has a number of large trees spread around the grounds, and each site has a picnic table. The park is pet friendly and offers wireless internet, cable TV, full hookups, bathrooms, showers, laundry facilities, and a dog park.

Although this is primarily an RV park, with 100 RV sites, 60 of which are pull-through, they also accommodate tents. Rates vary depending on the season and the length of stay, including daily, weekly, and monthly pricing.

8 BJ's RV Park

BJ's RV Park
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Although this is not the closest campground to the park gate, it is one of the closest and a reasonable option for RVers. Located on the west side, in Terlingua, BJ's RV Park offers 29 sites with hookups, and it can accommodate any size of RV. Amenities include flush toilets, showers, and Wi-Fi. This park is simply a patch of desert on the roadside, but what it lacks in scenery and ambience it makes up for with convenience if you are planning on visiting the park. The park prides itself on low light pollution, so that you can see the amazing night skies of West Texas. BJ's RV Park is also pet friendly.

Official site: http://bjrvpark.com/

9 Big Bend Resort & Adventures RV Park

Big Bend Resort & Adventures RV Park
Big Bend Resort & Adventures RV Park | Photo Copyright: Lana Law
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Big Bend Resort & Adventures is only about four miles from the eastern entrance to Big Bend National Park, making it incredibly convenient. This is a huge campground, so if you are stuck, you can usually find something here. It can accommodate large rigs, as well as tents, and it offers full hookups and wireless internet access. Pets are welcome, and reduced rates for monthly stays are available. Parking areas are not paved.

10 Study Butte RV Park

Study Butte RV Park
Study Butte RV Park | Photo Copyright: Lana Law
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The undeniable advantage of staying at this RV park, if you cannot find camping in the park, is that it is only three miles from the west entrance of Big Bend National Park, making it the closest camping option to the park. This is a small facility but offers showers, Wi-Fi, full hookups, and some tent sites. The campground has a small store with a gift shop, but directly across the street is Cottonwood General Store, with an excellent selection of groceries and camping supplies. You can't miss this place as you drive through Study Butte. The gift shop is a bright green color, and the statue of liberty stands proudly in front on the roadside.

11 Marathon Motel and RV Park

Located in Marathon, about 40 miles from Big Bend National Park, the Marathon Motel and RV Park offers an RV area with 19 sites offering full hookups, and a separate tenting area. Facilities include bathrooms, showers, cable TV, and a dump station. This is the best option if you are arriving from the east. The main problem with this location is the train track right across the road. At night, the trains will blast their horns as they go through Marathon.

Where to Stay near Big Bend National Park

If the weather isn't cooperating, campgrounds in the park are full, or you just want a break from camping, you can find some awesome choices on the edge of the park. It's important to note that the difference in price between low-quality budget places and luxury resorts and hotels is not that great. Most accommodation near the park is pricey, but high-end hotels are actually very good value.

  • Luxury Hotels: If you are arriving from the east, you will probably want to base yourself in Marathon, about 40 miles north of the park. This is the closest town on the east side. Here, the historic Gage Hotel is a destination in and of itself. The golden age of meeting strangers around a fire in the evening is brought back to life with the "no TVs in guestrooms" policy. You can find a TV in one of the common areas if need be. Rooms have a historic luxury about them, whether it's a room in the main lodge, where you'll find wooden ceilings and open beams, or a tastefully decorated suite surrounding a quaint courtyard. The lovely outdoor pool is a welcome treat on a hot day. On the west side of the park, you'll find no shortage of comfort or activities at the luxury Lajitas Golf Resort. This western-themed resort features an 18-hole golf course, outdoor pool, and an activities center where you can sign up for ziplining, canoeing down the Rio Grande, horseback riding, and other organized events.
  • Mid-Range Hotels: In Marathon, experience something a little different at Eve's Garden Bed & Breakfast. This sprawling, adobe-style, fantasy-like inn features indoor organic gardens that bloom year-round. Vibrant colors and uniquely decorated rooms create an experience-based stay. Common areas, including the courtyard with a pond and tea room, invite guests to relax or mingle. Near Terlingua, on the west side of the park, is the Terlingua Ranch Lodge, about 40 minutes from the park. It offers another one-of-a-kind experience. A collection of remote, rustic-style cabins set among scenic mountains and desert offer a chance to fully appreciate the night sky from your patio or soak in the tranquility of the area from the pool. This lodge is off on its own and is best suited for those looking to get away from towns and cities. There is one restaurant here, and occasionally, live music.

More Outdoor Adventures around Big Bend National Park

Big Bend is a playground for outdoor adventures and full of unique sites. Plan your days in the park with our list of the Top Things to Do in Big Bend. If you are interested in exploring some of the park on foot - one of the best ways to see the landscape - have a look at our article on the Best Hikes in Big Bend National Park. Wondering where to go next? Don't overlook the West Texas towns of Amarillo, for at least a stop at Cadillac Ranch, and Lubbock, the hometown of legendary Buddy Holly, and today, a hot spot for live music.

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