Exciting Stops On A Houston To Big Bend National Park Road Trip

The Lone Star State is known for its Old West vibe and a combination of rugged mountains and scenic flatlands. Big Bend National Park is arguably one of the top natural wonders of the state and a perfect place to visit on road trip in Texas

Driving from Houston to Big Bend can be a lot more exciting than you realize, thanks to the interesting cities and cool parks along the way. 

Whether you’re looking for a few pit stops between Houston and Big Bend or hoping to expand your road trip into a week-long adventure, this guide will highlight all the best places to visit.

Distance From Houston To Big Bend National Park

It’s about 600 miles between Houston and Big Bend National Park. Depending on whether you take some detours, this could add more miles to the trip. 

Visiting Austin is highly recommended, in which case the drive from Houston to Big Bend will be closer to 650 miles.

How Long Do I Need Driving From Houston To Big Bend National Park?

USA Houston to Big Bend National Park Road Trip - How Long do I Need Driving from Houston to Big Bend National Park

A non-stop drive between Houston and Big Bend National Park would take about 10 hours. Although this is doable in a day if you start early, we’d highly recommend taking the drive a bit slower and breaking it up into a few sections. 

There are plenty of places to stop in between Houston and Big Bend, from cities to state parks, so it’s easy to find camping or hotel accommodation along the way.

We’ve included some time estimates here if you’re looking for some good points to break up the drive and potentially stay overnight:

DriveDistanceDrive TimeAccommodations
Houston to San Antonio204 miles3 hours 15 minutesWhere to stay in San Antonio
San Antonio to Austin80 miles1 hour 20 minutesWhere to stay in Austin
Austin to Pedernales Falls State Park44 miles1 hourWhere to stay in Johnson City
Pedernales Falls SP to South Llano River State Park112 miles2 hoursWhere to stay in Junction
South Llano River SP to Seminole Canyon State Park153 miles2 hours 40 minutesWhere to stay in Del Rio (45 mins away)
Seminole Canyon SP to Big Bend National Park (entrance)174 miles2 hours 40 minutesWhere to stay in Terlingua
Lodges within the National Park

Best Time Of Year To Drive From Houston To Big Bend National Park

Spring is considered the ideal time of year to visit Big Bend National Park, thanks to the pleasant weather. However, you’ll also need to deal with the most tourists during this time, especially around mid-March when a lot of schools have spring break. 

Summers in Texas can be very hot, which can make it more difficult to enjoy a hike in Big Bend unless you’re an early-morning person and like to be active before the sun warms things up too much. 

Fall can be a good time since the temperatures have started to cool down, but you also won’t need to deal with the chance of things freezing overnight which will often happen during winter nights in Texas.

Best Stops on a Houston to Big Bend Road Trip

As you make your way west from Houston to Big Bend, here are some of the spots you might want to stop at. Some of these are good for a quick break, while for other places, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to spend a night or two to get the chance to explore!

San Antonio

About three hours west of Houston, San Antonio is one of the top places to visit on a drive to Big Bend. Known as the Alamo City, San Antonio has a unique combination of modernity and history that blend to create a fun and diverse atmosphere. 

USA Houston to Big Bend National Park Road Trip - Alamo

The historical site of the Alamo is one of the top attractions of the city. To enter the Alamo church, you need to get a free-timed ticket. Keep in mind that during weekends and tourist season, these spots can fill up quickly, so it’s best to reserve well in advance! 

After seeing the Alamo, you can stroll down the San Antonio River Walk and check out some of the shops and local Tex-Mex eateries. You could either make San Antonio an afternoon stop or spend the night and then continue your Houston to Big Bend drive the following day.

  • You’ll cut around 2 hours off the total journey time if you skip the next two stops; you could always drive via Austin one way and San Antonio the other to shave a few miles off the total journey.

Austin

Although visiting Austin requires a slight detour from the shortest route between Houston and Big Bend National Park, we’d highly recommend adding this stop to your trip. 

USA Houston to Big Bend National Park Road Trip - Congress Bridge

The capital of Texas is known for its live music scene as well as beautiful parks for hiking, swimming, and boating. 

Whether you’re traveling with kids and want to check out the fun Austin Duck Adventures tour, or you’re more interested in visiting the jazz and blues venues, there’s something for everyone to see and do. 

We’d recommend making sure you plan time to see the famous Congress Bridge Bats. Every night nearly 1.5 million bats fly from their home under Congress Bridge (and help rid the city of mosquitoes)!

There’s enough to see and do in Austin that we’d recommend spending a night or two. Continuing on from Austin to Big Bend, you’ll have roughly 8 more hours of driving if you don’t stop.

Pedernales Falls State Park

This picturesque state park is about an hour from Austin and a perfect stop to stretch your legs (or spend a night camping if you’re looking for more adventure!). 

USA Houston to Big Bend National Park Road Trip - Pedernales Falls State Park

The park is popular for hiking, mountain biking, paddling, and river rafting, not to mention having some of the unique scenery in the Texas Hill Country. 

Pedernales River offers a variety of waterfalls, from the most iconic cascading fall, which requires a hike to reach, to gentler, tumbling falls over smooth rocky surfaces. Often the water will be low enough that you’ll be able to walk across the falls themselves and explore the rocky bends and crannies formed by erosion from the river. 

There are also nice picnic areas and a visitor center, making it a pleasant place to stop for lunch during your drive from Houston to Big Bend. 

South Llano River State Park

The slow-moving South Llano River makes this State Park ideal for families in search of water activities. Canoes, kayaks, and inner tubes can be rented on-site for an afternoon of floating down the river! 

USA Houston to Big Bend National Park Road Trip - South Llano River

Fishing is also a popular activity in South Llano, and there is fishing gear available to borrow for use in the park if you don’t want to take up space by packing your own. 

On hot summer afternoons, you probably won’t want to get out of the water, but if you come during cooler seasons, there are also some great hiking trails that are worth exploring.

Seminole Canyon State Park

Seminole Canyon is known for its unique pictograph drawings on the canyon walls left behind by historical civilizations. 

USA Houston to Big Bend National Park Road Trip - Seminole Canyon State Park

Not only is the ancient rock art incredible to see, but the hiking trails along the Rio Grande are also absolutely beautiful! Keep in mind that to see the canyon area itself you need to be part of a guided tour, but many of the other park trails are openly accessible to everyone. 

Seminole Canyon is a great place to stop for an afternoon to stretch your legs, or the park also has some campsites with showers and restroom facilities if you want to spend a night by the Rio Grande. 

Big Bend National Park

As you make your way west from Houston to Big Bend National Park, you’ll enter the Chisos Mountains, which form a scenic landscape combining rugged, craggy outcroppings and desert shrubs. 

USA Houston to Big Bend National Park Road Trip - Big Bend National Park

The Rio Grande River runs right through the park, which offers great opportunities for swimming, canoeing, and kayaking which are perfect activities for hot summer afternoons. Plus, up in the mountains, you can also enjoy slightly cooler temperatures (usually by 10 or 15 degrees) than in the rest of Texas. 

Santa Elena Canyon Trail is one of the top hikes in the park, which takes you through roughly two miles of stunning canyon curves (about 1,500 feet high!). Keep in mind that this hike is a bit tricker with children, so it’s best for teenagers to adults. 

In Rio Grande Village, you can also find some interesting pictographs which have been painted on the rock walls by historic cultures in the area. Rio Grande Village is also known for its natural thermal hot springs which are particularly popular during cooler months. 

Planning Your Stay In Big Bend National Park

The park has an admission fee of $30 for standard vehicle, valid for 7 consecutive days. You can use any America The Beautiful Pass (or families, see if you’re eligible for a 4th grader pass!)

There are several developed camping and RV sites in Big Bend, as well as back country camping for travelers who are hoping for more wilderness adventure. 

No need to worry, though, if you’d rather not stay in a tent during your Houston to Big Bend road trip. Terlingua is one of the closest towns to Big Bend and is a popular place to stay. Plus, it’s known for its historic ghost town where you can visit the abandoned buildings (if you feel brave enough). 

The Chisos Mountains Lodge offers simple, rustic-style accommodation in the park itself if you’d rather not camp; keep in mind that reservations fill up quickly, especially during the spring season.

More Tips for Road Tripping from Houston to Big Bend National Park

  • Pack layers of clothing to make sure you can adapt to how much the temperature will drop at night. Even though the afternoons can be sweltering, you don’t want to freeze once the sun goes down! 
  • Some of the parks and small towns on the drive from Houston to Big Bend can be far between, so be sure to fill up on gas when you have the chance. 
  • Accommodation within Big Bend itself will often fill up six months in advance, so plan ahead to reserve your spot as soon as possible.
  • Continue this journey north all the way from Houston to the Grand Canyon, via Big Bend for an even more epic southwest USA road trip!
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