Looking out across the park and beyond from the South Rim

If you read our post about planning this trip, you know that it was our first time backpacking, ever. To say we were pumped was an understatement. We were willing to leave both of our families on Christmas day and take on a 9 hour roadtrip to get the job done.

In the end? So worth it. 

One of the highlights of the trip, and the hike Pattie was looking forward to most was to the South Rim. Here’s a chronicle of that journey. 

South Rim

“The South Rim is probably the classic hike of Texas.”

“the mountains drop off in precipitous cliffs and steep, rubble-choked slopes to the desert thousands of feet below…”

“…there are few better places in Texas to watch the sunrise and sunset”.

“Views stretch for miles, far beyond the Rio Grande into Mexico.”

“…one of the most scenic areas of the park.”

“vast stretches of the Chihuahuan Desert sweep south from the mountain foothills 2,500 vertical feet below.”

That’s how our guidebook described what awaited us on our first backpacking trip in Big Bend.

When you read about hiking to the South Rim at Big Bend National Park, you’re presented with a feat of a 12.6 mile roundtrip loop involving 2,000+ feet of climbing. Some people, electing not to sleep with the mountain lions, embark on this journey all in one day, starting early in order to beat the stars. Some people turn it into a multi-night trip, staying at two or more locations along the rim in order to leisurely explore all it has to offer. We decided for a one night out and back trip via the Boot Canyon/Pinnacles trails on our way up and Laguna Meadows on our way down.


The hike up to the rim is strenuous and not suited for beginner hikers. For perspective, it took us just about four and a half hours to get to our campsite at the rim. We did choose the steeper of two approach options for our hike up, and because of that choice, we arrived at the rim tired and worn out from the climb.

Pinnacles Trail
Boot Canyon Trail

While the Pinnacles and Boot Canyon trails were beautiful, winding up through oaks, junipers, and pines – the real gem of the trip was going to be the view from the rim.

To say we were tired as we hiked up the Pinnacles and Boot Canyon trails would be an understatement. Neither of us had particularly ‘trained’ for this hike, or done any significant athletic exercise of any sort over the last month or two, so it turned out to be quite a challenge for us to climb the 2,000+ ft up to the rim. When we arrived at the rim, we were immediately struck by the expansive views and our first instinct was to put down our packs and start taking photos. However, we knew that time was precious.. With sunset approaching, and not wanting to miss any ounce of that experience, we decided to first set up camp, then enjoy the views.

We had booked the Southeast Rim #2 campsite, which means when we got to the rim, we still had to hike about another half a mile to our home for the night. At after trekking down the path a bit and passing a couple of hikers who were camped out at Site #1, we arrived at a little turn off to the left with a #2 sign. From that junction, which was right on the ridge, we were about 200 yards from our official site. The space was shaded by trees and had several roomy flat spaces for tents, so we quickly threw up our setup and got our things situated for the night. We knew we’d be hiking back in the dark, so we figured it was better to get everything sorted then rather than later.

Southeast Rim #2 Campsite

Unfortunately, because of the strenuous hike, we had consumed a lot of our water on the way up to the rim. Water is scarce in Big Bend. In fact, only one of the three park offices contains showers, and everywhere you look in the park there are posted signs warning visitors to plan accordingly. The backcountry website advised we carry 1 gallon per person per day. Looking at our water levels, then at our freeze dried dinner, which required 2 cups of water to cook, we decided to forgo a hot meal and instead eat a dinner of beef jerky and bars. We technically had enough water for the next day, but we decided to be over cautious and save it for drinking purposes only.

Before heading out to the rim for sunset, we grabbed our camera and backpack with some water & our flask of whiskey. We then stored all of our food and otherwise appealingly scented products such as toothpaste in the bear box. While sightings of bears in Big Bend are much more rare than in many other national parks, they none the less live in the area along with mountain lions, javelines and coyotes, all of which may be allured by the scent of human food.

The time had finally come to relax and enjoy the views. We hiked back up our little side trail to the rim and made our way along taking photos and searching for the perfect spot to watch the sunset.

They were all the guide book had promised and more.

South Rim

After taking a gazillion photos and drinking in the views (and our whiskey), we headed back to camp to get a good night’s sleep. The next day held a lot: we wanted to catch the sunrise, then hike back down to the car, drive to the next trailhead and hike out again.

In the morning, the clouds made the views entirely new. They settled low in the mountains, making our vantage point seem even more elevated and distant from what our eyes gazed on below.

We definitely see now why the guidebook referred to this hike as
“…some of the best views in Texas.” We’ll be back, South Rim … we’ll be back.

For more information about backpacking in Big Bend National Park, check out the guide book we used to plan our time.

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