What You Need To Know About Backcountry Camping in Big Bend National Park

Backcountry camping in Big Bend National Park in south western Texas is the ultimate way to experience the magic that is Big Bend.

Recently, we scouted all of the Primitive Roadside Campsites on the “improved” dirt roads. There are many more place to camp on “primitive” dirt roads, but according to the National Park, the primitive roads “may be rocky with areas of soft sand that are unsafe for sedans or RVs.”

There are 3 campgrounds and 1 RV park in Big Bend, the rest of the markers on the map below represent backcountry camping.

big-bend-camping-map
Primitive camping at Big Bend isn’t first come first serve in the traditional sense. Upon arrival, you’ll want to go straight to Panther Junction (the main visitor center). There is a lot of competition for these campsites, so it’s a good idea to get your spot squared away first thing.

A ranger at Panther Junction will tell you what sites are suitable for your size rig and the availability. If you’re lucky enough to score a site, a 14 day permit costs $12. During peak season*, getting the same spot for 14 days straight is unlikely. We talked to a few people that were bouncing between sites because most campsites were available for only a few nights.

For example, let’s say you arrived on Monday, and there is one spot available for 3 days. You could then pick another spot to move to on Thursday; but if that spot opened up on Tuesday, someone else could have it for Tuesday and Wednesday, and would then be forced to move because of your reservation on Thursday. Unfortunately, this seemed to be a common scenario during our visit.

Reservations can only be made in person, and only within a 14 day period.

Nine Point Draw

nine-point
Nine Point Draw is a single spot on the north side of the Park that can accommodate up to 2 vehicles and 4 horses (though there aren’t any corrals).

Initially, we didn’t think Nine Point Draw was a good choice due to its distance from the center of the park, however, after a day of scouting, it turned out to be one of our favorites because of it’s easy access, great views, isolation and cell service. It was one of the few spots where we didn’t see another person, and it’s right next to Dog Canyon Trail. The turn-around is small and was a little difficult with our 27 foot trailer. We recommend trailers 25 feet and under.

AT&T: (3 bars 4G) DOWNLOAD 4.27Mb/s, UPLOAD: .56Mb/s
Verizon: 2 bars extended

Hannold Draw

hannold-draw
Hannold Draw is one of the few backcountry spots that’s big rig accessable. It is a single spot that can accommodate up to 3 vehicles and 8 horses. As you can see from the photo, this spot does have a horse corral. What you can’t see, is the number of construction vehicles that also occupy this spot.

There is AT&T 4G and Verizon extended at this location.

K-Bar

k-bar
K-Bar 1 and K-Bar 2 are down a narrow bumpy road. K-Bar 1 is good for smaller rigs, and apparently the big rig pictured at Hannold Draw spent some time camping at K-Bar 2 as well.

AT&T: (4 bars 4G) DOWNLOAD 4.36Mb/s, UPLOAD: 1.55Mb/s
Verizon: 4 bars extended

Government Springs

government-springs
Government Springs is the coveted spot spot for big rigs. It’s a huge campsite and is easy to access. The only downside is, it is at the beginning of Grapevine Hills, so there may be some traffic since the road leads to 4 more campsites and a trail.

AT&T: (3 bars 4G) DOWNLOAD 4.9Mb/s, UPLOAD: 1.33Mb/s
Verizon: 4 bars extended

Grapevine Hills

grapevine-hills
Grapevine Hills 2 & 3 are side by side, which is great for if you plan on camping with friends. Otherwise, if you’re looking for isolation, this isn’t the spot for you.

AT&T: (4 bars 4G) DOWNLOAD 3.33b/s, UPLOAD: 1.7M6b/s
Verizon: 4 bars extended

The road gets a little more rough as you travel to GH-4 and GH-5. We wouldn’t recommend 4 to anyone (it’s not very level), but 5 is nice and private for for small rigs with clearance.

Paint Gap

paint-gap
Paint Gap 1, 2 and 3 are easily accessible spots. Spots 2 and 3 are side by side, so you may have neighbors if you end up there. Paint Gap 4 is for high clearance vehicles only, and not suitable for large RVs. Paint Gap 1 is our pick out of the 4.

Cell coverage for PG-1:
AT&T: (3 bars 4G) DOWNLOAD 3.19b/s, UPLOAD: .71M6b/s
Verizon: 2 bars extended

Croton Springs

croton-springs
Croton Springs consists of 2 side by side campsites and each site can accommodate 2 vehicles. It was very busy when we visited. Both sites were occupied and the nearby trail attracted additional traffic.

Rattlesnake Mountain

Rattlesnake-Mountain
Rattlesnake Mountain is an isolated spot on the west side of the park. The only drawback is, it’s a little bit small. If you end up here and you’re in anything bigger than a car, you may have to back your way in.

Cell phone data collection fail. We forgot to do a speed-test here, but there is likely AT&T service, because it is just up the road from Ocotillo Grove.

Ocotillo Grove

ocatillo-grove
Speaking of backing in, the camper we met at Ocotillo Grove had to do just that all the way from the road with his trailer. The reward, however, is a nice private site and the fastest internet we could find in the park.

AT&T: (4 bars 4G) DOWNLOAD 7.8b/s, UPLOAD: 1.6M6b/s
Verizon: 4 bars extended

Terlingua Abajo

terlingua-abajo
Just past Ocotillo Grove, down a rough road is Terlingua Abajo. There are 3 side-by-side campsites and that are suitable for small rigs only.

Tips For Backcountry Camping in Big Bend

Consider camping outside of the park and coming in for a day trip to to reserve your backcountry site.

Consider staying the night at one of the rest-stops outside of the park and roll in first thing in the morning and on a weekday to get first pick.

If you make a reservation for a Primitive Roadside Campsite at Big Bend and don’t plan to use it, other campers would appreciate it if you let the ranger know.

Our Top 5 Primitive Roadside Campsites at Big Bend

1. Government Springs
2. K-Bar 2
3. Paint Gap 1
4. Nine Point Draw
5. GH 2&3

Honorable mention: Rattlesnake Mountain