• Brett Stanton

Trip Report: Marufo Vega Trail, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Backcountry Camping in One of the Country's Most Remote Areas


Three hikers march through a vast Chihuahuan Desert scrubland on the Marufo Vega Trail in Big Basin National Park, Texas.

Hiking in Big Bend National Park, TX - Photo Credit: Andrew Helmbrecht


 

Enjoy another edition of our Trip Report series! This backpacking and backcountry camping adventure, tackled back in January 2017, offers a great path for exploration of one of the most remote and beautiful National Parks in the contiguous United States. Check out videos from this and other Pathloom Trip Reports on our Tiktok and our YouTube! If you've gone on an epic backpacking trip recently and want to tell our readers about it, we'd love to feature you on a guest blog! E-mail blog@pathloom.com for more info.

 

Trip Info:


  • Trip Type: Backpacking/Backcountry Camping (Can also be done as a long day hike)

  • Season: January 2017 (Winter) - Note: due to sweltering summer temperatures (often exceeding 115℉), it is highly recommended to take this hike in either late Fall, during the Winter, or in early Spring.

  • Location: Big Bend National Park, TX

  • Total Distance: 13.5 miles

  • Elevation Gain: 2,660 feet (net gain)

  • Duration: 2 days / 1 night

  • Trail Type: Lollipop loop

  • Direction: Northeast to Southwest

  • Permit: Required, but available online up to 180 days in advance.


The mighty Rio Grande cuts through canyons in Big Basin National Park, Texas.

Big Bend National Park, TX - Photo Credit: Abby Voce



Overview:


The Marufo Vega Trail is a difficult/strenuous long day hike or one night overnight trip.


This hike requires significant preparation, even for those experienced with the outdoors. Due to contaminants in the only water source on the trail (the Rio Grande), you’ll need to pack in all of your drinking water from a safe-to-drink source you find before you start your hike. This can make for some particularly heavy overnight packs, even though you’ll only be out there for a night.


Additionally, this hike features mostly strenuous, steep terrain, especially for two significant climbs (one difficult climb on day one, and an even more significant ascent on day two).


Flash flooding is also a serious concern on this hike. To avoid deadly flash floods, be sure to stay out of any dried-up riverbeds or U-shaped terrain if you see bad weather rolling in. While dehydration isn’t quite as prevalent in the winter months where temperatures are much more moderate, be sure to carry more water than you think you’ll need (and don’t forget to account for the water you will use for cooking!)


Finally, be prepared for some faint trails, and note that you may have to use your wayfinding skills to ensure you’re on the right trail. Due to the desert terrain, various “fake trails” as we came to call them, can be deceptive, so just be sure to bring a map and be 100% confident before you set off down any path.


With the right preparation, you’ll have an incredible hike. This is one of the most beautiful and remote locations I’ve ever experienced (fun fact: Big Bend is one of the furthest spots you can be in the U.S. from the nearest traffic light!) This hike also features my favorite backcountry campsite of all time (and I’ve seen quite a few)!


Rocks, rocks, and more rocks as far as the eye can see along the Marufo Vega Trail in Big Basin National Park, Texas.

Big Bend National Park, TX - Photo Credit: Abby Voce



Trip Planning:


Permits:


Permits are required for all backcountry camping in Big Bend National Park. Most backcountry campsites are available for online permitting up to 180 days in advance through www.recreation.gov or through the recreation.gov call center at 1-877-444-6777. You can also swing by either the Panther Junction or Chisos Basin Visitor Centers (as we did) to get your permit before you head out.



Camping:


This hike features camping zones organized into ‘checkpoints.’ We found an incredible campsite while heading Northwest between the 7 and 6 checkpoint signs on the below map.


A map of the Marufo Vega Trail in Big Basin National Park, Texas.

Map courtesy of National Park Service



Itinerary:


Day 1: Marufo Vega Trailhead → Rio Grande Camp Zone (b/w checkpoint 7 and 6)


On day one, we headed to the Chisos Basin Visitor Center to grab our permit for the hike. After a beautiful drive from the visitor center to the Marufo Vega/Ore Terminal Trailhead, we got situated and geared up for the day. This trailhead had signs everywhere warning of frequent theft of valuables, so we made sure to stick our phones and wallets in our backpacks rather than leave them behind in the car.


Luckily we found ourselves in the park in January, and thus began our day in perfect 75℉ weather. As early as March, however, temperatures can exceed 100℉ and can get up to and even over 115℉ by July. With that being said, I wouldn’t attempt this hike after late February.


It's a bird! It's a plane! Actually, its just some more rocks. Marufo Vega Trail in Big Basin National Park, Texas.

Big Bend National Park, TX - Photo Credit: Abby Voce



The initial route traced a washed-out sandy area, but soon climbed steeply to a high plateau. Following this plateau, we dipped down into a series of rugged drainage basins. As mentioned earlier, make sure you’re prepared to quickly exit this section of trail in the event of bad weather to escape any flash flooding concerns. After approximately 3.5 miles the trail forks into two routes: a northern route and a southern option.


A backcountry ranger recommended we start with the Southern fork to make our return ascent more manageable, so we headed south. The south fork afforded us the opportunity to hike through an amazing promontory with endless mountain views and glimpses of the Rio Grande far below.


While pulling off the trail for water, one of our friends actually tripped and ended up sitting on a cactus. As you can imagine, that caused quite the delay, but we had some good laughs before descending steeply into Boquillas Canyon towards the Rio Grande River.


A Cactus Closeup along the Marufo Vega Trail in Big Basin National Park, Texas.

Cactus in Big Bend National Park, TX - Photo Credit: Scott Carnahan



The descent down can be fairly precarious at times due to the intense grade, but I was still glad we had been advised to head this way. I can’t imagine how out-of-breath I would’ve been if I had tried to ascend this direction instead!


When we finally reached the low point of the trail, we found ourselves on an elevated shelf under the setting sun overlooking the Rio Grande (marking the US / Mexico border) - I’ve never felt more at peace (seriously). After setting up our little tent village - each picking an elevated pad on the larger plateau - we settled in for dinner. While we ate, we were greeted by a beautiful sunset illuminating the towering granite mountainscape in the distance. Not a bad place for a meal!


The sun setting over the Rio Grande with a tent setup in the foreground on the Marufo Vega Trail in Big Basin National Park, Texas.

Our campsite looking out over the Rio Grande - Photo Credit: Nicole Quinn



While most of my backpacking trips are with two or three others, we had a group of six for this journey. This larger group consisted of some people who were on their first-ever night in the backcountry, and several others who hadn’t seen each other in years. In many of my previous camping experiences, the truly ‘social’ nights were typically reserved for car camping adventures. In this case, having this tight-knit group reconnecting and experiencing the bliss of the backcountry together really added to the overall moment, and contributed strongly to how fondly I remember this place.


After a long night spent laughing and chatting and exploring around our site, we all settled into bed.


If you’ve got solidly good weather, I highly recommend sleeping without your rain fly. There will likely be no people around, and Big Bend is classified as an International Dark Sky Park. At this particular location, surrounded by the towering walls of the Boquillas Canyon and the meandering Rio Grande River, you’re literally 100+ miles from any significant source of light pollution. On a clear night, you can expect a truly awe-inspiring night sky, and I hope you’ll have as epic of a stargazing experience as we did on our trip.


The Rio Grande flows lazily in this stretch of the Marufo Vega Trail in Big Basin National Park, Texas.

The Rio Grande in Big Bend National Park, TX - Photo Credit: Scott Carnahan



Day 2: Rio Grande Camp Zone (b/w checkpoint 7 and 6) → Marufo Vega Trailhead


After a slow morning taking in our campsite one last time, we packed up and headed out towards checkpoint 6. A steep ascent awaited us when we reached the signpost marking this checkpoint, and it was a grueling climb to make it back to the fork and the sign at checkpoint 5. However, we were once again glad we were traveling in this direction, as the climb from sign 6 to sign 5 was nothing compared to the steep descent we had tackled the day prior.


5 more beautiful miles backtracking our way to the trailhead stood between us and the completion of yet another successful backpacking trip, and they went smoothly and as expected.


Once we were back at our cars, we were already planning our return trip -- a campsite like that is one in a million!


A brilliantly hazy sky wisps clouds over scrublands and Prickly Pear cacti, with the Chisos Mountains looming in the distance. Big Bend National Park, Texas

Chisos Mountains: Big Bend National Park, TX - Photo Credit: Scott Carnahan



Gear:


Backpack & Storage:


Hiking:


Shelter:


Sleep System:


Camp Kitchen:


Food:


Hydration


Clothing:


Tools, Electronics and Miscellaneous:


Hygiene:


Emergency/First Aid:


A brilliantly bright sky filled with puffy clouds over Chihuahuan Desert scrublands at Big Bend National Park in Texas

Big Bend National Park, TX - Photo Credit: Scott Carnahan


 

Check out this and many other great backpacking adventure videos on the Pathloom Tiktok, and on our YouTube! We've got many more videos planned for the future, follow us to get notifications for when they go online! If you've gone on an epic backpacking trip recently and want to tell our readers about it, we'd love to feature you on a guest blog! E-mail blog@pathloom.com for more info.


If you’re looking to get out there for an adventure of your own, and could use a bit of guided leadership for the experience, check out some upcoming trips from our partners at Cairn Leadership. Our team is really looking forward to the Joshua Tree Climbing Adventure in mid-October and encourages our community to register for this epic trip using the code PATHLOOM at check-out for $100 off!

 

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Check out these other articles by Pathloom which you may enjoy:


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The Resilience of the Redwoods: Big Basin’s Rise from the Ashes

Leave No Trace Principles

Types of Camping

Where the West Begins



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