Outer Mountain Loop
ElevationAscent: 6,589' 2,008 m
Descent: -6,589' -2,008 m
High: 7,071' 2,155 m
Low: 3,809' 1,161 m
GradeAvg Grade: 8% (5°)
Max Grade: 43% (23°)
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“This long and strenuous route is the premier backpacking loop in the park.”— Mikhaila Redovian
You'll begin this journey on the Pinnacles Trail. The trail begins with a moderate climb, and has a steady pace to its terminus at the base of Emory Peak. Your route won't be too arduous, and this is a good warm up for the more strenuous terrain to come. Once you've taken this trail to the base of the peak, you'll continue on the Boot Canyon Trail (which essentially continues straight).
By the time you'll have reached the Boot Canyon Trail, the vegetation surrounding the trail will have changed. Following your increasing elevation, the area will become more forested, and you'll enjoy shaded terrain through this section. Follow this clearly marked and easily negotiable trail until its intersection with the Juniper Canyon Trail.
The Juniper Canyon Trail is where you'll begin a rapid descent into the Chisos Basin. The trail is at times quite steep, as you lose more than 2,000ft over the next three miles. When you're not keeping an eye on where you're putting your feet, be sure to take in the incredible views of the Chisos Basin. Eventually, the grades even out, and you'll have an enjoyable and relaxed descent until reaching the low point at about 10 miles. This is also where you'll reach the Dodson Trail.
While the Dodson Trail marks the end of this descent, you'll find that grades are mild, and you'll hardly notice the climbing. Some route finding will be necessary during the first part of the trail, so keep an eye out for cairns that mark your path. You'll really be traveling through the desert at first, and vegetation will be low and scrubby. As you continue, you'll begin to climb a small hill. Once you reach the top, the views are endless! The rest of the basin continues as far as the eye can see, and you'll have a great perspective of the cliffs of the South Rim above. Continue on, and you'll descend the backside of the hill, working your way ever west. The trail is more defined, and you'll pass through a dry stream bed until reaching the Blue Creek Canyon Trail.
After refueling at the cache boxes at Homer Wilson Ranch, mentally prepare yourself for a long climb back to the top of the South Rim. While the Blue Creek Canyon Trail isn't the most strenuous trail in the park, the duration of the climb is enough to tire out even the toughest runners. Add in a lack of shade, and this portion of the journey can seem somewhat punishing. Take your time, stop frequently for water or snacks, and enjoy the views around you.
Once you start to see trees (and shade!) you'll be approaching the Laguna Meadow Trail, the final leg of your journey. After cresting the South Rim, you'll be able to enjoy a gradual descent through forested terrain. As the name of the trail suggests, you'll pass through an open meadow along the way. Take your time, and enjoy the striking difference between the desert and the more alpine terrain that you're passing through.
Soon enough, you'll reach the final intersection with the Pinnacles Trail, and will turn north to return to the parking area, and your vehicle. Give yourself a pat on the back for successfully traversing an incredibly strenuous route!
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Land Manager: NPS - Big Bend National Park