Winter Hikes: South Rim Loop in Big Bend National Park

Backpackers.com — Another epic winter hike at your disposal, the South Rim Loop in Big Bend National Park is one for the books — incredible views, challenging summits, and the option to backcountry camp or just day hike all make this one of the best options in the U.S. Of course, you need to be in the relative vicinity of southwest Texas, or willing to travel to Big Bend National Park for the hike.

south rim loop in big bend national park tree

Given that main caveat, there aren’t many extra bells and whistles for this adventure. Due to Texas’ warm climate, even in the depth of winter the South Rim Loop (and Big Bend in general) remain accessible. You won’t even need your snow gear, but it can drop to freezing temperatures.

South Rim Loop

To start, know that Big Bend National Park lies on the border of Mexico, and in all practical cases actually crosses that border. Billed one of the “last remaining wild corners of the U.S.,” Big Bend is home to a diverse landscape: huge deserts, a broad river, high-alpine forest, and massive canyons.

The South Rim Loop is one of many mountain hikes in Big Bend, and we’ve selected it for the versatility and challenge. It’s a 12-14.5 mile round trip hike that ascends roughly 2,000 feet. You’ll get high into the Chisos Mountains and be afforded with stunning views, relative solitude, and unique wildlife.

south rim loop in big bend national park succulent overlook

You start the South Rim Loop trail by following signs for the Laguna Meadow Trail after driving to the Chios Mountains Lodge. You can then continue with the Laguna Meadow Trail for a more gradual ascent into the mountains, or can turn off towards Pinnacles for a steep climb. This will also determine which way you do the loop.

Stay on either of these trails for a number of miles, and at any signage that points you to South Rim Loop, continue on that way. Eventually you will see yourself curving back around the rim, catching stunning views for most of the 12 miles. Here’s a great shot of the view you’ll earn:

Hiking Sources

This hike is a well-documented one, but if done in winter you’ll find a lot less crowds. There are a number of great trail reports that will help to give you a sense of what the hike is like.

  • Texas Hiking: This trip report provides pictures, a detailed map, how to get there and the full range of what you might encounter. A great primer.
  • My Life Outdoors: This trip report is from the perspective of a backpacker that took a two day hike along the South Rim. Perfect for exploring a longer trip, and there’s plenty of story in this piece.
  • SummitPost: This site contains comprehensive information on National Parks and hiking areas, and it does justice for Big Bend. Check it out to learn a lot about the history, geology, and of course the trails.
  • The Big Bend National Park Map.
  • AllTrails Hike Report: For those that use and like AllTrails, this is a version of the South Rim Loop that uses the Boot Springs Trail for a section. While not the full hike we’ve listed here, it’s still an excellent option. And you can download this information and the maps to your phone, if you have the AllTrails app.

Of course, for those that don’t want a 14 mile day of hiking, there are many smaller loops and trails in Big Bend. The National Park Service has a great list of hikes and their respective levels, and most of them can be done in winter. Enjoy the South Rim Loop in Big Bend National Park!

Images in order: Shades of Rust by Adam Baker via Flickr; Still My Favorite Tree by Adam Baker via Flickr

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Daniel Zweier

Daniel Zweier is Editor-in-Chief of Backpackers.com. Beyond orchestrating the daily flow of Backpackers.com, Daniel writes surrealistic short fiction and novels, adventures into the backcountry and abroad, surfs, reads, drinks tea, and obsesses over gear. A lot of gear. Visit his website if you want to learn more about his authorial pursuits.