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Best Campsite in Big Bend National Park

Best Campsite in Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park Campgrounds are as diverse as the park itself.  Because Big Bend National Park is so vast, consider camping in more than one of the four national park campgrounds.  Rio Grande Village, Rio Grande Village RV Campground, Chisos Basin Campground and Cottonwood Campground.   If you want to cut to the chase, our favorite campsites are Rio Grande Village #18 and Cottonwood Campground #09.  More photos & details?  Keep reading!

Rio Grande Village campground has some mesquite trees for shade but no hookups.

If you’re interested in staying outside the park, be aware that the driving time may significantly affect your ability to enjoy all that the park has to offer.  We stayed 2 nights in Terlingua to enjoy Big Bend Ranch State Park (no RV campground) and Terlingua’s “ghost town” with the famous Starlite Theatre Restaurant and Saloon. All the RV parks in Terlingua were dusty gravel and sand parking lots. Driving through Lajitas, it appeared there might be choices there that would be better.

Why pick on over the other?  Rio Grande Village is on the far east side of the park, closest to Boquillas (canyon and Mexico border crossing), Panther Junction and the birding ranger walk at the Village Store.  Cottonwood Campground on the far west side is between Catalon (a historic settlement & ranger station) and Santa Elena Canyon, famous for sunrise photos.  Also at the end of the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, another don’t miss.  Chisos Basin would be the campground of choice, high in the Chisos Mountains, except for the tiny campsites and twisty not maneuverable with our 21′ Lance trailer and our Toyota Tundra. But a lot of the park’s best hiking is close to the Chisos Basin and the dark starry nights ranger program is held there.

Rio Grande Village RV Campground – full hookups, 33 sites.

Of the four Big Bend National Park choices, the only one with hookups is Rio Grande Village RV Campground – which is literally an ugly asphalt parking lot. But when it’s 117 degrees outside and the other campgrounds have no hookups, somehow an asphalt parking lot might be a worthwhile trade off for air conditioning – your choice.

Don’t confuse Rio Grande Village RV Campground with Rio Grande Village Campground, one is a parking lot with hookups, one is a basic no hookup campground with some mesquite trees and character.  To further the confusion, they’re next door to each other!

Rio Grande Village #011, no shade, sweltering hot!

We stayed in Rio Grande Village (east side) and Cottonwood Campground (west side).  We had a reservation to stay in Chisos Basin but a preliminary visit revealed how tight and tiny the internal campground roads are, we decided to cancel and go to Cottonwood (no generators!) instead.

Chisos Basin Campground. Photo Courtesy of Trip Advisor.

Chisos Basin is a spectacular campground up in the Chisos Mountains, but it was originally made for tent camping and only a very few of the spots are large enough to accommodate even a small trailer.  We chatted with the residents of the two larger spots & discovered they weren’t planning to leave.  Darn!

Cottonwood Campground, no generators, but LOOK at all that shade!

Website:  Big Bend National Park Camping

Campground/Park Map:  The campground maps available online only show the reservable spots in Rio Grande Village and Chisos Basin; however, our favorite spot in Rio Grande Village is #18, which is first come, first serve.  Here’s a link to a website that’s collected many Big Bend National Park Maps – scroll down to find the full campground maps.  Very useful information!    

Rio Grande Village

Chisos Basin Campground 43 sites are reservable November 15–April 15. Contact recreation.gov or call 1-877-444-6777.

No online map available for Cottonwood Campground as all the sites are first come, first serve.  The campground is one big loop with 24 sites available.  No generators and no hookups.  Cottonwood was our favorite campground and our favorite site – #09.

Rio Grande Village Campground nestled in the mesquite trees on the right side of the photo. Photo taken from the Nature Trail.

Reservations:  A limited number of sites in Rio Grande Village and Chisos Basin campgrounds are available for reservations November 15 – April 15.  Recreation.gov or call 1-877-444-6777.  No reservations are available the rest of the year because there are usually sites available (remember, it’s HOT, so be prepared!).

Local Park Telephone Number: (432) 477-2251 (note:  the park cannot make camping reservations)

Showers:  At Rio Grande Village Camp Store there are paid showers (quarters).

Cottonwood Campground #09

BONUS POINTS!   Washer & Dryer.  Washer & Dryer at the Rio Grande Village Camp Store (quarters).

Scenic Value: We stayed in Rio Grande Village for several nights and then moved to Cottonwood.   In our opinion, the best site in Rio Grande Village is first come, first serve #18 (across from the Wetlands Nature Trail).  The only downside is you can get people parking along the other side of the road to get to the nature trail, especially around sunset.

Cottonwood Campground is more scenic and serene in our opinion, but it’s also more remote.

Cottonwood Campground

Chisos Basin is by far the most scenic of the campgrounds, but again, beware if you have a trailer bigger than a Casita or small RPod.

Cottonwood is a lush oasis with huge Cottonwood trees, compared to Rio Grande Village with its scrub mesquite trees.  No generators means no noise and the remote location (a remote campground in a remote national park).

Vermillion Flycatcher in our campsite both at Cottonwood and Rio Grande Village!

Birds everywhere!  We had a great horned owl and vermillion flycatchers (bright bright red) visit us in campsites, along with lots of road runners and even multiple javelinas (wild pig-like creatures with long snouts).

Javelinas visit our backyard in Cottonwood Campground.

Communications/Satellite TV:  No cell service in the campgrounds.  The camp store at Rio Grande Village had wifi.  Panther Junction visitor center had cell service for Verizon.

Great Horned Owl above our campsite in Cottonwood Campground.

Mosquitos/Bugs:  Surprisingly no bugs in either river oasis campground.  Maybe because it was March and too early for bugs?  Not sure.  It was very very dry (as you’d expect in/so near the desert).

Noise Levels:  Rio Grande Village where generators are allowed has some noise, but Cottonwood is very quiet.  Both campgrounds were very crowded during the time we were there with spring breakers, but despite several large groups, no annoying noise.

Cottonwood Campground … just LOOK at all that SHADE!!!

Campsite:   Rio Grande Village – #18.  We started in #11, a reservable spot with no shade and wicked hot blazing sun on the west side of our trailer in the afternoon.  One afternoon it was 117 in the park and 103 inside the trailer! We were able to use our generator to cool it down a bit, before generator hours stopped at 8 PM.  #18 has some shade and more isolation than #11. BUT it’s not reservable.  So, you may want to consider a strategy of reserving a spot for a night or two just to make sure you have a spot if its anywhere close to spring break and then moving after you arrive to a first come first serve spot.

Cottonwood Campground where nothing is reservable, we were lucky to get #09 which turned out to be the perfect campsite!

Claustrophobia Quotient:  None except if you elect to be in the RV campground (Rio Grande Village RV Campground) which is an asphalt parking lot with rigs lined up next to each other.

Did I mention Road Runners in the campsites?

Access to Essentials: Remote, but accessible in an emergency.  We were able to get gasoline at the Rio Grande Village Camp Store.  There was also gasoline available near Panther Junction mid-park.  We heard tales of sometimes the two park gas stations run out of gas, so beware!  The next closest gasoline would likely be Terlingua, a 40 mile but over an hour drive.

Campsite Price:  Best part!  Sites were $14, but only $7 with our senior national parks pass!  I love camping in national parks, even if there are no hookups!

What’s your favorite campsite in Big Bend National Park?  Please comment and share the campground, campsite number and why!  Cheers!  Jan

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