Backpacking the Chisos Basin

November 10, 2019

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.


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.

animated photo of the mountains taken out of the side window while driving into big bend national park

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.

mountain views from the chisos basin visitor center
Views of the peaks from the Basin Visitor Center

backpacks packed and ready at the chisos basin parking lot
Backpacking gear loaded up

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.

Sun going down over the chisos mountains, 30 minutes of direct light left
30 minutes of sun left over chisos basin pinnacle trail

Wide angle shot of a rock face in the chisos mountains. Sharp rocks jut downwards
amazing rock faces

A view of one mountain in the chisos range with a tree in the foreground
sneaking views

Garrett with the sun behind him at Juniper Flats
juniper flats has beautiful grassy fields. and tarantulas!

Chisos Basin Trail Head before pinnacles trail
Chisos Basin Trail Head Sign

Green mountainsides of the chisos mountain range
A view of the peaks

Panorama from Pinnacles Trail overlooking the chisos basin
Panorama including the Chisos Basin, Surrounding Peaks, the The Window

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.

Day 2 - The Chisos Mountains

Emory Peak Summit trail head sign, 1.5mi to the peak
Emory Peak Summit 1.5mi

Garrett with a Philippines neck gator emory peak summit trail
Climbing as the sun goes down

View of sunset from emory peak summit trail
Sunset over chisos basin peaks

Sunset from Emory Peak Summit Trail
Sunset over chisos basin peaks

View of the sunset at twighlight from Emory Peak
Sunset between the 2 summit peaks of emory

Tommy with a GoPro on looking over Chisos Basin from Emory Peak
Getting video of the hike!

Chisos mountain peaks barely lit at twightlight from emory peak
Final light of the day stretches across

Tommy on Emory Peak at Sunset
Testing out the new iPhone night mode

Emory Peak Sunset
Emory Peak Sunset

Emory Peak Stars
Stars over Big Bend National Park Emory Peak Trail

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