The South Rim Trail is an extremely popular hike in the Chisos Basin Mountains of Big Bend National Park. It can be hiked over a looong day from the Chisos Basin Visitor Center but, not wanting to rush, we chose to hike the South Rim Trail as part of a three-day backpacking camping trip.
Spectacular Views as Far as the Eye Can See
There are several different trails and routes that will get you to the South Rim Trail.
The shortest route is to hike south up the Laguna Meadow Trail to the SW junction of the South Rim Trail. According to the map, it’s ~5.8 miles (~9.3km) to the SE 1 campsite / Boot Canyon Trail Junction. After hiking a short part of the South Rim, walking north on the Boot Canyon Trail all the way back to the visitor center will add another ~6.3 miles (~10km). The total hiking distance will be ~12.1 miles (~19.4km). Note that during Peregrine Falcon Breeding Season (February 1 to May 31) this is also the best South Rim loop option.
For a longer hike, you can hike the rest of the South Rim and East Rim Trails. The additional mileage is only ~2.3 miles (~3.7km), making the larger loop total ~14.4 miles (~23km).
For a REALLY long day, you can also hike the ~3.2 mile (~5.1km) return Emory Peak Trail. Given the elevation gain and typical temperatures in Big Bend National Park, I would be very hesitant to tackle a ~17.6 mile (~28.1km hike) in one day.
Map of Chisos Mountain Trails and Campsites
Note that the Laguna Meadow Trail offers more trees and shade than the Boot Canyon Trail. Therefore, I highly recommend hiking this portion of the trail when you expect temperatures to be the highest.
If you plan to hike the South Rim Trail in a day, you’ll want to find accommodation in or around Big Bend National Park. The day hikes are simply too long to comfortably pair with a long-drive from Marathon, Marfa, or Alpine.
We planned our South Rim trail hike as part of a 3-day, 2-night, backcountry camping trip in the Chisos Mountains. Although we had to carry a lot of weight to our campsites, this allowed us to spend a full day hiking the ~5 mile (8km) North-East and South Rim loop.
After sleeping in Laguna Meadow #2 our first night, we packed up our gear and carried it to the Boot Canyon campsite. Hiking with just a small backpack and a day’s worth of water was bliss compared to carrying all of our camping gear and water.
From the Boot Canyon campsite, we hiked the East Rim Trail via the Boot Canyon Trail. The North-East and South Rim Trail combine into a ~5 mile (~8 km) loop around the plateau, offering expansive views to the east, south, and west along the way.
The scenery really changes as you hike the Rim Trail loop, as you’ll see in the photos below.
Big Bend National Park is Massive
Views NE from East Rim Trail
Sara Enjoying Views NE from East Rim Trail
Me in My Happy Place • Absorbing Big Bend’s Spectacular Scenery
View South from South Rim Trail
View South from South Rim Trail
View SW from South Rim Trail
Backcountry camping along the South Rim Trail would be amazing. Backcountry campsites in Big Bend are only reservable in-person up to 24 hours in advance. Because we arrived at Big Bend in the late morning, all of the campsites along the rim were reserved. Consequently, we spent the first night at Laguna Meadow 2 and the second night at Boot Canyon 1. They were both decent sites, but they did not offer the same views as the sites along the rim.
While all of the campsites looked good, I think my dream campsite is NE4. The campsite is located a short walk off the East Rim Trail so it offers both privacy and stunning views. I can only imagine how spectacular it would be to watch the sunrise with a mug of cowboy camp coffee.
Fish-Eye View South from NE4 Campsite
If you enjoy hiking and are in Big Bend National Park, the South Rim Trail should be at the top of your list of things to do. The geography and climate make it one of the most unique hikes I have ever done!