Backpacking in the Chisos Basin in Big Bend National Park is amazing. If you ever have the chance, I highly recommend the trip. The Chisos Mountain Range is the only mountain range completely contained within a national park in the U.S.

Arrival

Riding into the park

is like being on another planet. Stretching desert landscapes barren of anything taller than the occasional yucca made me think about the natives of this land. How the heck did people live out here in this climate during the heat of Texas summers? How did they manage to travel such great distances across these landscapes? Could I survive the same?

It’s beautiful. Garrett and I didn’t say much for the first bit as we drove through the park. Besides the surprisingly young and good looking park ranger who provided us our 7 day pass to the park, I think we were caught up in our own imaginations and observations. Slowly we began to comment on the scenes in front of us, which naturally lead to taking some photos and videos of our drive in.

Passing Panther Junction, the last stop for fuel and air, we moved on towards our trail head in the Chisos Mountain Basin. As we turned onto Basin Junction Road and climbed the the 1400ft to the basin, the change in temperature became quickly apparent. Dropping from the high 70’s to the low 50’s in the basin we became much more excited to be hiking and sleeping outside. We stopped in to the visitors center, selected our campsites, took the chance to use plumbed restrooms for the last time in the next few days, and prepped our bacpacking gear.

The Practical

Alright real quick, here’s the practical if you’re going to do something similar to what we did

  • Fill up with gas in Marathon, TX to avoid over-paying at Panther Junction
  • Park entrance fee was $30 for 7 days in October of 2019(subject to change)
  • Camping site fees were incredibly low. $6 a night I believe?
  • Reservations in the Chisos Basin are only available November 15-May 31. First come first serve at all other times
  • Parking lots get really full. We parked in overflow which added ~1 mile to our hike(a hard, sucky mile, too)
  • This is your last chance to use restrooms with plumbing

The Pinnacles Trail

is a 3.8mi+ hike from the Chisos Basin visitor center. An elevation gain of just under 2000ft had us breathing hard, and going back and forth between complaining as we got our hiking legs on, and oo-ing and ah-ing over the unbelievable views from the switchbacks. Looking out from the trail, views of the surrounding peaks, the basin below, and The Window kept us going. Carrying a backpack with camping gear of course adds difficulty, so if you’re just doing a day hike you’ll likely conquer this a bit faster than our 3 hour time.

Toll Mountain

is the campsite at the base of the Emory Peak summit trail. The campsite sits on top of the pass between Emory Peak, and, you guessed it, Toll Mountain. The wind really whips through this camp site, so if it’s going to be 30 degrees like it was for us, make sure you come prepared!

Emory Peak Summit Trail

is 1.5mi hike with 830ft of elevation gain. The last ~150-200ft are up a rock scramble that many will be uncomfortable with. We began our summit at 615pm. The sun was already below the horizon, so we went prepared with jackets, hats, and headlamps. This hike was surreal. After hiking ~4.5mi to our campsite with our packs, it was a welcome change to be hiking with minimal gear. Garrett wanted to take his time, so at some point I pushed ahead, leaving him to his own pace. The views were amazing, especially at dusk. I have a full video of the Emory Peak Summit Hike with Binaural Audio that will be uploaded, so if you want to experience it for yourself, grab your headphones and have a gander. We stayed up until after dark, played a bit of flashlight tag with neighbors ~2500ft below us at their campsite, and enjoyed 2(yes, two!) lightning storms on the horizon. The hike down was chilly, and we were glad to have dinner and get some sleep. In total we spent just over 2 hours climbing up and down the Emory Peak summit, including our time taking in the views from up top.

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