“This long and strenuous route is the premier backpacking loop in the park.
— Mikhaila Redovian
If you're seeking a life-changing route that traverses all the Big Bend has to offer, look no further than this excellent loop. The Outer Mountain Loop begins at the Chisos visitor center, and runners will embark on a journey that will descend into the Chisos Basin before completing a large loop, eventually returning to the mountains and the starting point.
Need to Know
It's important to note that this route can be incredibly dangerous. Water sources are few and far between in the best of circumstances, and in a desert environment like the one in Big Bend, the best circumstances happen very infrequently. Please do not set out on this route in the summer, as it will be nearly impossible to carry enough water to navigate safely. Caching water is also recommended more information on which can be found here
Support is highly recommended if you plan to run this route. It's also important to note that this shouldn't be run in the hot summer months.
Visitors who want to sample each of the varied environments that Big Bend National Park offers will enjoy this loop. While the route is a perfect multi-day loop, extremely fit individuals may try to accomplish the route in a single day. There are also many access points for this trail, but most visitors will start at the Chisos visitor's center, and will complete the trail headed clockwise.
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!
Flora & Fauna
You'll pass through a variety of terrains and ecosystems, ranging from pine forests, to semi-arid environments characterized by scrubby vegetation, to sand-dominated washes.