If you have a high-clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicle, Big Bend's primitive dirt roads provide many opportunities to get off the beaten path and explore the remote corners of this park. Some of these roads traverse bedrock and washes, making them extremely rough. A slow speed is mandatory for safe passage. Be prepared with plenty of water, a jack, and a good spare tire. On these isolated, infrequently patrolled backcountry roads, a disabled vehicle can become a life-threatening situation. We were out there wheeling a couple years back and only saw another vehicle once in a 10+ hour day. Take it serious. Let's take a closer look at Off-Roading in Big Bend National Park.
Old Ore Road
26 miles (43km)
Used in the early 1900s to transport ore from Mexican mines to the railroad station at Marathon, the Old Ore Road generally follows the route used by mule and pack trains a century ago. This road is rough and requires a sturdy vehicle to negotiate. The road has excellent views of the Chisos Mountains across the Tornillo Creek drainage to the west. Ernst Tinaja, five miles from the southern end of the road, is a popular destination. We love this trail, its not difficult and you don't even need 4x4 capabilities. The scenery on this trail is beyond incredible.
Black Gap Road
8.5 miles (14km)
This challenging road connects the Glenn Springs Road with the River Road. This road is not maintained, and 4-wheel drive is required at all times. This is also a Jeep Badge of Honor Trail. This is the second time we've driven this trail. A built rig is not needed to complete it even at the single obstacle at the southern end of the trail. At some point the park service poured concrete on the top of the obstacle and stuck a few rocks in it to give the impression you are off roading. The concrete now makes that obstacle little more than a small step with plenty of traction on the top.
51 miles (82km)
River Road traverses the southern portion of the park, roughly connecting the areas near Rio Grande Village and Castolon. While generally following the course of the Rio Grande, the road runs a considerable distance from the river, especially in its mid-section near Mariscal Mountain. You cannot actually see the river along the River Road unless you take a side trip to one of the primitive roadside sites located next to the river. Due to its length and usually rough road conditions, allow a full day to drive from end to end. Primitive roadside campsites (permit required) located along the road, allow for extended exploration. The west end is lesser used, and generally in a rougher condition. Unless you have full confidence in your high-clearance vehicle, consider backtracking from the Mariscal Mine and coming out through the Glenn Spring Road. River Road crosses numerous washes and is often impassable after rains. We had no issues on either the East or West River Road. The times we have been there however were dry. A park ranger told us to take heed after a rain because even built rigs get stuck when its wet.
Glenn Springs Road
16 miles (26km)
The Glenn Spring Road skirts the east side of the Chisos Mountains, then bounces over the southwest corner of Chilicotal Mountain to Glenn Spring, a lush desert spring. In 1914 a large candelilla wax camp was constructed. The numerous dry washes along this road may become extremely rough after heavy rains, making four-wheel drive necessary. As it descends from Glenn Springs to the River Road, it generally becomes smoother.
Pine Canyon Road
4 miles (6km)
From Glenn Springs Road, this short road climbs gradually into Pine Canyon and provides access to the Pine Canyon Trail.
Juniper Canyon Road
5 miles (8km)
From the Glenn Springs Road, this short road leads to the Juniper Canyon Trail and Dodson Trail junction. This road is rocky and usually requires 4WD.
Protect Big Bend
Always stay on established roadways. The effects of off-road driving last up to 50 years, and result in compacted soils, heavy erosion, and destroyed vegetation.
Off-Roading in Big Bend National Park is fun, just be sure to follow the rules and plan ahead.