Big Bend: The Outer Mountain Loop

I decided to get more creative with my telling of this adventure and put it in the form of a photo story. All the pictures used were taken on my iPhone and edited in Lightroom. Hover over the picture for the caption. Enjoy!


 The Outer Mountain Loop is the premier trail of Big Bend National Park. It is a 35-mile, 3-day journey, taking you through very diverse terrains and offering the best views in Texas. My friends and I had been training for the couple of months leading up to the trip to ensure we would have the safest and most enjoyable experience possible.  The first part of the trail takes you up the mountain. We took a slight detour to the top of Emory Peak, the highest point in the park, which added a few extra miles. To get to the very tip top of the mountain, you have to scramble up a 20-30 foot rock wall. There is pretty decent cell phone service at the top. I sent a text to my mom to make sure she knew I was okay before we scooted carefully down and hiked back to the main trail.

The Outer Mountain Loop is the premier trail of Big Bend National Park. It is a 35-mile, 3-day journey, taking you through very diverse terrains and offering the best views in Texas. My friends and I had been training for the couple of months leading up to the trip to ensure we would have the safest and most enjoyable experience possible.

The first part of the trail takes you up the mountain. We took a slight detour to the top of Emory Peak, the highest point in the park, which added a few extra miles. To get to the very tip top of the mountain, you have to scramble up a 20-30 foot rock wall. There is pretty decent cell phone service at the top. I sent a text to my mom to make sure she knew I was okay before we scooted carefully down and hiked back to the main trail.

 This is Glenn. He's a goofy guy and was my tent buddy for the trip. After Emory Peak, we proceeded to hike down the mountain, passing through thick forested areas. We were lucky to be in the shade of the mountain the whole time, but the forest came with its own hardships. There were many fallen trees on the trail, and I had a very close call when climbing over one and slipping. My ankle got caught under the tree, but luckily my Solomon boots protected me. The trail eventually started to flatten and clear out, but the first day's hike still seemed like it took forever, despite our quickened pace.

This is Glenn. He's a goofy guy and was my tent buddy for the trip. After Emory Peak, we proceeded to hike down the mountain, passing through thick forested areas. We were lucky to be in the shade of the mountain the whole time, but the forest came with its own hardships. There were many fallen trees on the trail, and I had a very close call when climbing over one and slipping. My ankle got caught under the tree, but luckily my Solomon boots protected me. The trail eventually started to flatten and clear out, but the first day's hike still seemed like it took forever, despite our quickened pace.

 We had already been walking for several hours, and the sun was starting to dip behind the mountain. Jon is looking down the path in hopes of seeing our water cache spot. We were still a few miles away when we spotted a rescue helicopter far in the distance, reminding us that this hike isn't for everybody.  Side note: there are very few, if any, sources of water on the trail, so we had to drive to designated spots and hike in a little bit to the trail and leave jugs of water in designated animal-proof boxes, or we would die. It was recommended we bring one gallon of water per day per person. I carried 6 liters a day, which I would always finish.

We had already been walking for several hours, and the sun was starting to dip behind the mountain. Jon is looking down the path in hopes of seeing our water cache spot. We were still a few miles away when we spotted a rescue helicopter far in the distance, reminding us that this hike isn't for everybody.

Side note: there are very few, if any, sources of water on the trail, so we had to drive to designated spots and hike in a little bit to the trail and leave jugs of water in designated animal-proof boxes, or we would die. It was recommended we bring one gallon of water per day per person. I carried 6 liters a day, which I would always finish.

 We finally arrived at the cache spot and our first campsite, just before sunset. Two park rangers happened to be there to greet us. Their contrasting physical appearances made them look like characters from a sitcom that needs to be made. One was tall, dark, and fit, while the other was shorter, bald, and a little rotund. Despite their comical appearance, the news they brought with them out of the wilderness was sobering. Two hikers suffered from heat exhaustion and had to get airlifted out of the desert. The shade that blessed us so abundantly on the first day would not be with us on Dodson Trail, but we had trained for this. We "cooked" our dry meals, set up camp, and ended what would be the longest leg of the trail, 15 miles.

We finally arrived at the cache spot and our first campsite, just before sunset. Two park rangers happened to be there to greet us. Their contrasting physical appearances made them look like characters from a sitcom that needs to be made. One was tall, dark, and fit, while the other was shorter, bald, and a little rotund. Despite their comical appearance, the news they brought with them out of the wilderness was sobering. Two hikers suffered from heat exhaustion and had to get airlifted out of the desert. The shade that blessed us so abundantly on the first day would not be with us on Dodson Trail, but we had trained for this. We "cooked" our dry meals, set up camp, and ended what would be the longest leg of the trail, 15 miles.

 The sun greeted us the next morning with a rapid rise in temperature. Sixty degrees may sound pretty cold, but it is not when trekking roller coaster hills with no shade while wearing a 40 pound backpack.  This did prove to be the most trying day. The heat caused me to change my zip-off pants into shorts mode, which helps to keep cool but at the cost of having your legs exposed to the angry desert plants. Every plant in Big Bend, except the grass, has thorns or spikes or needles or something sharp and pointy. Every plant. I also took a severe misstep. My Solomon boots saved my ankles yet again, but the strain went straight to my knee.

The sun greeted us the next morning with a rapid rise in temperature. Sixty degrees may sound pretty cold, but it is not when trekking roller coaster hills with no shade while wearing a 40 pound backpack.

This did prove to be the most trying day. The heat caused me to change my zip-off pants into shorts mode, which helps to keep cool but at the cost of having your legs exposed to the angry desert plants. Every plant in Big Bend, except the grass, has thorns or spikes or needles or something sharp and pointy. Every plant. I also took a severe misstep. My Solomon boots saved my ankles yet again, but the strain went straight to my knee.

 A much deserve rest awaited us at our water cache at the end of the Dodson. It was nothing short of a miracle I made it. My knee impeded my steps, constantly in pain. I had to carefully place every step, trying to keep as much weight off my injured leg as possible - a hard task when you're walking. I legitimately feared I would have to cut my journey short at the next cache spot. Luckily, Blake (right) brought lots of ibuprofen. I popped four of them and my knee was as good as new! For a few hours, at least.

A much deserve rest awaited us at our water cache at the end of the Dodson. It was nothing short of a miracle I made it. My knee impeded my steps, constantly in pain. I had to carefully place every step, trying to keep as much weight off my injured leg as possible - a hard task when you're walking. I legitimately feared I would have to cut my journey short at the next cache spot. Luckily, Blake (right) brought lots of ibuprofen. I popped four of them and my knee was as good as new! For a few hours, at least.

 In order to get a jump start on the next day, we decided to hike as far as possible before sunset. This was my favorite part of the trip. The trail was a dry creek that passed through one of the most beautiful canyons I have seen. The orange rock illuminated everything by brilliantly reflecting the setting sunlight. I wish it could have lasted hours, but it didn't.  Time was of the essence! The surrounding vegetation was very thick and not conducive to setting up camp, and we were running out of sunlight. The ibuprofen was also wearing off. It wasn't until after dark that we found a spot. It was barely large enough to fit both tents and slanted just enough that I would wake up at night having slid off my sleeping pad.

In order to get a jump start on the next day, we decided to hike as far as possible before sunset. This was my favorite part of the trip. The trail was a dry creek that passed through one of the most beautiful canyons I have seen. The orange rock illuminated everything by brilliantly reflecting the setting sunlight. I wish it could have lasted hours, but it didn't.

Time was of the essence! The surrounding vegetation was very thick and not conducive to setting up camp, and we were running out of sunlight. The ibuprofen was also wearing off. It wasn't until after dark that we found a spot. It was barely large enough to fit both tents and slanted just enough that I would wake up at night having slid off my sleeping pad.

 The situation was dire the gloomy dawn of the third day. The pain in my knee had been waking me up throughout the night and was no better in the morning. I feared a mountain lion would notice my injury and pick me off as I straggled behind. An ibuprofen breakfast was my only hope to brighten our future. It brought me to maybe 40%, but that would have to be good enough. This was the coldest day, with a high in the forties, but the clouds rolled back shortly after we packed up.

The situation was dire the gloomy dawn of the third day. The pain in my knee had been waking me up throughout the night and was no better in the morning. I feared a mountain lion would notice my injury and pick me off as I straggled behind. An ibuprofen breakfast was my only hope to brighten our future. It brought me to maybe 40%, but that would have to be good enough. This was the coldest day, with a high in the forties, but the clouds rolled back shortly after we packed up.

 With all the strength we had left, we hiked back up the mountain from the deep, dark valley. Once we were up there, we had to hike back down to finish. The flurry from the night before had covered the downhill trail with snow. It was the first snow I had seen in Texas in 6 years, and it was in a desert. Texas is crazy, man.  At this point, we were all ready to be finished and decided to skip another detour to the famous South Rim Trail that would have added an additional 5 miles. Next time.

With all the strength we had left, we hiked back up the mountain from the deep, dark valley. Once we were up there, we had to hike back down to finish. The flurry from the night before had covered the downhill trail with snow. It was the first snow I had seen in Texas in 6 years, and it was in a desert. Texas is crazy, man.

At this point, we were all ready to be finished and decided to skip another detour to the famous South Rim Trail that would have added an additional 5 miles. Next time.

 We made it! We were tired, bruised, scratched, bleeding. I was limping for the rest of the trip, but it was all worth it. This is the longest hike I have ever done, and we celebrated with beer. It was my first beer of the year, and I saved it for this very moment.  I truly believe you don't experience Texas fully until you've gone to Big Bend. We all came out on the other side of this trail with a much greater appreciation of what Texas has to offer in its backyard.

We made it! We were tired, bruised, scratched, bleeding. I was limping for the rest of the trip, but it was all worth it. This is the longest hike I have ever done, and we celebrated with beer. It was my first beer of the year, and I saved it for this very moment.

I truly believe you don't experience Texas fully until you've gone to Big Bend. We all came out on the other side of this trail with a much greater appreciation of what Texas has to offer in its backyard.

 After cooking a chili dinner, it was time to truly treat ourselves. We walked down a short trail that ran along The Rio Grande, the end of our country. Our destination was hidden behind the high grass. A hot spring is nestled on the bank of the river, separated from the river by a manmade wall, which I hear used to belong to a bath house back in the day. We soaked in the steaming bath, listening to nothing but the soothing river, until the only light you could see came from the stars. All our senses were immersed in Big Bend. It was the most perfect spot in Texas, and it was all ours.

After cooking a chili dinner, it was time to truly treat ourselves. We walked down a short trail that ran along The Rio Grande, the end of our country. Our destination was hidden behind the high grass. A hot spring is nestled on the bank of the river, separated from the river by a manmade wall, which I hear used to belong to a bath house back in the day. We soaked in the steaming bath, listening to nothing but the soothing river, until the only light you could see came from the stars. All our senses were immersed in Big Bend. It was the most perfect spot in Texas, and it was all ours.


Thanks for reading! If you made it this far, you might be interested in seeing more photos. I have uploaded more to my Flickr account, which includes pictures of more iconic Big Bend landmarks like Santa Elena Canyon, Balance Rock, and the beautiful night sky. You're also always welcome to follow me on Instagram or subscribe to my newsletter if you want to keep up with my goings on.

If you ever want tips on how to do outdoors or other adventure stuff, let me know! I love helping people get outside.