Houston to Big Bend National Park Road Trip

Embarking on a road trip from Houston to Big Bend National Park is an adventure that promises to captivate your senses and immerse you in the mesmerizing landscapes of Texas. As you leave behind the bustling cityscape of Houston, you’ll journey through diverse terrains, witness the changing vistas, and experience the untamed beauty of the Lone Star State. This road trip invites you to traverse vast distances, discover hidden gems, and ultimately arrive at the majestic wilderness of Big Bend National Park. From the vibrant cultural scenes of San Antonio and Austin to the enchanting charm of Fredericksburg and the awe-inspiring vistas of the Davis Mountains, every mile of this journey presents a new opportunity for exploration and connection with the natural wonders that await you. So fasten your seatbelts, embrace the open road, and let the allure of adventure guide you on this unforgettable road trip from Houston to the untamed wilderness of Big Bend National Park.

Quickest Route and Distance from Houston to Big Bend National Park

The shortest distance by road from Houston to Big Bend National Park is just over 600 miles. The route follows the I-10 W from Houston to San Antonio before continuing to Marathon along US-90 W. It then turns south on US-385 S towards the park. It’s a route that typically takes around 10-11 hours to drive, depending on traffic and road conditions. While it’s undoubtedly the shortest route, it’s not always the quickest. The I-10 W route, which loops north after San Antonio, is considerably longer at 645 miles, but it’s also much faster. This means the drive from Houston to Big Bend National Park can be completed in 9-10 hours.



Travel Time

I-10 W, US-385 S

645 miles

9-10 hours

I-10 W, US-90 W, US-385 S

601 miles

10-11 hours

Houston's modern skyline
The modern city of Houston is the starting point for this amazing road trip.

Best Road Trip Route Between Houston and Big Bend National Park

The geography between Houston and Big Bend National Park means there are limited road routes between the two locations. Big Bend is situated west of Houston and close to the Mexican border, with just two main roads into the park, US-385 and US-118. However, don’t mistake the lack of roads for a lack of attractions or variety in this road trip route.

For this guide, we’ve chosen two routes to focus on, and they both offer excellent but contrasting experiences. Each route travels through one of Texas’ great cities, while they both provide a great variety of scenery and stops along the way. In an ideal world, you’ll be making a round trip from Houston to Big Bend National Park, so you can travel one way and return the other, thereby getting to experience both routes. 



Travel Time

Short Route via San Antonio

601 miles

10-11 hours

Alternative Austin Route

634 miles

9-10 hours

Both routes begin in downtown Houston and head west on the I-10. The routes follow the same path for 73 miles before the alternative routes turn north-west on SH-71 at Columbus. From here, it’s a further 88 miles to Texas’ capital city of Austin. From Austin, the route heads west along US-290 before you eventually re-join the I-10. In turn, you will then meet with US-385 and head south towards the park. The short route, in contrast, continues along the 1-10 for a further 124 miles from Columbus, taking you to sizzling San Antonio. From here, you follow US-90 west before turning south at Marathon along US-385 and thereby joining with the alternative route for the final stretch. 

Highlights Between Houston and Big Bend National Park

The Houston to Big Bend road trip includes not one but two of Texas’ best cities along the way. It’s these two amazing cities that differentiate the two routes and are the standout attractions along this 600-mile-long road trip route.  

San Antonio: Where History Meets Vibrant Culture

San Antonio is a vibrant and bustling city with a great blend of rich history, colorful culture, and modern amenities. As you drive into the city, you’ll be greeted by the iconic skyline, with the towering Tower of the Americas at the forefront.

The city is well known for its many attractions, including the world-famous Alamo, a must-visit for any history buff. You can also explore the historic missions, including the Mission San Jose and the Mission Concepcion, which offer a glimpse into the city’s fascinating past.

One of the highlights of San Antonio is the San Antonio River Walk, a beautiful network of walkways along the banks of the San Antonio River lined with shops, restaurants, and attractions. You can stroll along the river or hop on a riverboat tour for a unique perspective of the city.

In addition to its historical and cultural attractions, San Antonio is also known for its lively nightlife and culinary scene. From authentic Tex-Mex cuisine to craft cocktails and live music venues, there’s no shortage of entertainment options in this vibrant city.

View along the San Antonio River Walk
The San Antonio River Walk is the beating heart of the city, particularly at night.

Austin: The Melodic Heartbeat of Texas

Austin, the capital of Texas, is a must-visit destination on any road trip from Houston to Big Bend National Park. It’s a vibrant city known for its eclectic culture, music scene, and outdoor recreation opportunities.

As you approach Austin by road, you’ll be greeted by the iconic skyline, with the towering Texas State Capitol at the forefront. It’s an impressive sight, but the high-rise skyline belies the true heart of the city. Austin is renowned for its liberal leanings and fantastic lifestyle. It’s a city packed with many parks and green spaces, including the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and Zilker Park, which offer hiking, biking, and other outdoor activities.

The evenings provide the opportunity to sample another of Austin’s highlights, its music scene, which is widely considered one of the best in the world. The city is home to numerous live music venues, ranging from small bars to large outdoor amphitheaters, and it hosts several music festivals throughout the year.

In addition to its music scene, Austin is known for its culinary scene, which features a mix of Tex-Mex cuisine, BBQ, and international flavors. You must explore the city’s many food trucks and restaurants to sample the local cuisine and experience the city’s unique food culture.

View of the Austin skyline at sunset
Austin's a big city but with small town charm and an amazing music scene.

Route 1 - Short Route via San Antonio

The road trip from Houston to Big Bend National Park via San Antonio is a scenic and diverse journey that combines the convenience of major highways with the charm of quieter roads. The total distance of the road trip is approximately 600 miles, and it typically takes around 10-11 hours to complete, depending on the number of stops you make.

Starting from Houston, you head west on I-10, the major interstate in southern Texas that will take you through the heart of the state. As you drive through the outskirts of San Antonio, you’ll have the opportunity to explore the vibrant city’s attractions, such as the Alamo, the San Antonio Riverwalk, and the Historic Market Square.

Leaving San Antonio in your rear-view mirror, you’ll switch to US-90, a scenic highway that winds through the beautiful Texas Hill Country. This route will take you through some charming small towns such as Hondo and Uvalde, where you can soak in the local culture, enjoy some sensational Tex-Mex cuisine, and explore various historic sites.

As you continue on US-90, the landscape gradually transitions from rolling hills to wide-open spaces. You’ll pass through Del Rio, where you can stop to visit the Whitehead Memorial Museum and admire the views of the majestic Amistad Reservoir. Finally, as you approach Big Bend National Park, the scenery becomes more rugged and breath-taking.

Best Things to see on the Way

There’s a good range of different places to stop and things to do along the way on the Short route via San Antonio:

  1. Splashway Water Park: In Sheridan, Texas, Splashway Water Park is a popular family-friendly destination. It offers a variety of water attractions, including thrilling water slides, lazy rivers, wave pools, and interactive play areas. Visitors can cool off, have fun, and create lasting memories at this exciting water park.

  2. Palmetto State Park: In Gonzales County, Palmetto State Park is a tranquil oasis known for its unique coastal swamp environment. The park features lush vegetation, hiking trails, and opportunities for fishing and canoeing on the San Marcos River. Visitors can explore the diverse plant and animal life, picnic, or relax in the shade of towering palm trees.

  3. San Antonio: San Antonio is a vibrant city rich in history, culture, and attractions. It is home to iconic landmarks such as the Alamo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where visitors can learn about the city’s pivotal role in Texas history. The famous River Walk offers a picturesque stroll along the San Antonio River, lined with restaurants, shops, and vibrant nightlife. Other highlights include the historic missions, the vibrant Market Square, and world-class museums.

  4. Whitehead Memorial Museum: Located in Del Rio, Texas, the Whitehead Memorial Museum offers a captivating glimpse into the region’s history and culture. The museum showcases a diverse collection of artifacts, photographs, and exhibits, including displays on Native American cultures, frontier life, and the influence of the railroad. Visitors can learn about the area’s heritage and the people who shaped it.

  5. Val Verde Winery: Val Verde Winery, situated in Del Rio, is one of the oldest wineries in Texas. It offers a delightful wine-tasting experience, where visitors can sample various award-winning wines made from locally grown grapes. The winery’s charming setting and knowledgeable staff provide an excellent opportunity to learn about winemaking in Texas while enjoying the region’s flavors.

  6. Amistad National Recreation Area: Del Rio is home to the Amistad National Recreation Area, a stunning reservoir that offers outdoor enthusiasts a wide range of activities. Enjoy boating, fishing, hiking, and camping, surrounded by beautiful desert landscapes.

View across Big Bend National Park at sunset
The amazing scenery of Big Bend National Park is the endpoint of this road trip.

Route 2 - Alternative Austin Route

The road trip from Houston to Big Bend National Park via Austin is another scenic and fascinating journey that allows you to experience the best of Texas. The total distance of the trip is approximately 634 miles and takes around 10 hours to complete, although it’s likely to be considerably longer with the stops along the way. 

You start from Houston and head west on the I-10. In Columbus, you will switch to SH-71, a scenic highway that takes you through some picturesque Texas Hill Country. This route offers rolling hills, charming towns, and vineyards. You can make stops in places like Bastrop, known for its historic downtown, and Marble Falls, which offers beautiful views of the Colorado River.

As you approach Austin, you can take some time to explore the vibrant capital city of Texas. Visit attractions like the Texas State Capitol, Lady Bird Lake, and the vibrant South Congress Avenue.

Leaving Austin, you will head west on US-290, another scenic highway that will take you through the Hill Country and toward Fredericksburg. This charming town is famous for its German heritage, wineries, and unique shops.

From Fredericksburg, you will continue on US-290 until you reach I-10. From here, you continue west to Fort Stockton, where you can switch to US-385, which leads to the majestic Big Bend National Park.

Best Things to see on the Way

There’s also a wealth of attractions and places to stop when traveling on the alternative route via Austin:

  1. Austin: Known as the Live Music Capital of the World, Austin is the vibrant capital city of Texas. It offers a lively music scene, eclectic arts, and a dynamic food culture. Visitors can explore iconic landmarks such as the State Capitol, enjoy outdoor activities on Lady Bird Lake, visit renowned museums, and experience the energetic atmosphere of the city’s famous music venues.

  2. Pedernales Falls State Park: Located near Johnson City, Pedernales Falls State Park is a scenic natural area renowned for its striking waterfalls and rugged landscapes. Visitors can hike along the park’s trails, swim in the refreshing waters of the Pedernales River, go birdwatching, or relax in the serene surroundings. The park is also popular for camping and picnicking.

  3. Fredericksburg: Nestled in the heart of Texas Hill Country, Fredericksburg is a charming town with German roots. It is known for its historic Main Street, with boutiques, art galleries, and delicious restaurants. Visitors can explore the town’s rich history at museums, sample locally produced wines at wineries, and immerse themselves in the warm hospitality and cultural heritage of the region.

  4. Luckenbach: Luckenbach is a tiny, unincorporated town that has become a legendary destination for country music enthusiasts. Made famous by the song “Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love),” the town exudes a laid-back, old-fashioned charm. Visitors can enjoy live music performances in the old dance hall, grab a cold drink at the general store, and embrace the relaxed atmosphere that embodies the spirit of the Texas Hill Country.

  5. Texas Hill Country: Stretching across central and south-central Texas, the Texas Hill Country is a picturesque region characterized by rolling hills, spring-fed rivers, and charming small towns. It is a haven for nature lovers, offering opportunities for hiking, swimming, and exploring scenic landscapes. Visitors can also discover wineries, visit historic sites, enjoy outdoor festivals, and savor the flavors of the region’s renowned barbecue and local cuisine.

  6. Enchanted Rock State Natural Area: Located near Fredericksburg, Enchanted Rock State Natural Area is a geological marvel. It features a massive pink granite dome rising 425 feet above the surrounding landscape. Visitors can hike to the summit for panoramic views, explore the park’s trails, rock climb, stargaze, and marvel at the unique flora and fauna that thrive in this rugged environment.

Best Things to see and do in Big Bend National Park

So you’ve made it to the vast wilderness of Big Bend National Park, so what do you do next? Well, we’re pleased to tell you there is a wide range of activities and attractions for you to enjoy.

Here are 10 of the best things to do in Big Bend National Park:

  1. Hiking: Big Bend is a hiker’s paradise with over 150 miles of trails. The park offers trails of varying difficulty levels, from easy walks to challenging multi-day treks. Popular hikes include the Santa Elena Canyon Trail, Lost Mine Trail, and Window Trail.

  2. River Rafting and Kayaking: The Rio Grande flows through the park, providing excellent opportunities for water activities. You can go on a thrilling river rafting trip or explore the calm waters by kayaking or canoeing.

  3. Scenic Drives: Big Bend has several scenic drives offering breathtaking views of the park’s landscapes. The Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive takes you through diverse desert scenery, while the Chisos Basin Road leads to the heart of the Chisos Mountains.

  4. Wildlife Viewing: The park is home to a wide variety of wildlife, including black bears, mountain lions, javelinas, and numerous bird species. Take binoculars and explore the park’s trails and overlooks for a chance to spot these animals in their natural habitat.

  5. Stargazing: Big Bend National Park is renowned for its dark skies, making it an ideal destination for stargazing. Join a ranger-led stargazing program or simply find a quiet spot to marvel at the brilliant display of stars above.

  6. Hot Springs: Visit the historic hot springs located along the Rio Grande. Soak in the warm, therapeutic waters and enjoy the beautiful surroundings.

  7. Fossil Discovery Exhibit: Learn about the park’s rich geological history at the Fossil Discovery Exhibit. See fossilized remains of prehistoric creatures that once roamed the region.

  8. Photography: With its stunning vistas and diverse ecosystems, Big Bend is a photographer’s dream. Capture the beauty of the desert landscapes, towering cliffs, and vibrant sunsets.

  9. Camping: The park offers various camping options, from developed campgrounds with amenities to backcountry camping for a more remote experience. Wake up to the sounds of nature and immerse yourself in the park’s tranquility.

  10. Visit Boquillas, Mexico: Take a short rowboat trip across the Rio Grande to Boquillas, Mexico. Experience the local culture, enjoy Mexican cuisine, and interact with the friendly residents.

Sign for the ghost town of Terlingua
The eerie ghost town of Terlingua is a great stop near Big Bend National Park.

Other Attractions Near Big Bend National Park

There are also plenty of other excellent attractions in and around the Big Bend National Park. Here are some of the best other attractions that you can bolt on to the end of your road trip:

  1. Marfa: Marfa is a quirky, artsy town in West Texas known for its minimalist art installations, desert landscapes, and hipster vibe.
  2. Davis Mountains State Park: Davis Mountains State Park is located in the Chihuahuan Desert and is home to the stunning Davis Mountains, which rise to 8,382 feet. The park offers plenty of hiking and camping opportunities.
  3. Big Bend Ranch State Park: Big Bend Ranch State Park is adjacent to Big Bend National Park and offers visitors a chance to explore the rugged Chihuahuan Desert landscape.
  4. Terlingua: Terlingua is a small ghost town near Big Bend National Park worth visiting. It’s home to the famous Terlingua Chili Cook-Off and offers visitors a glimpse into the area’s mining history.
  5. Alpine: Nestled in the Davis Mountains, Alpine is a charming town with a vibrant arts community. Browse art galleries, enjoy local cuisine, and visit the Museum of the Big Bend to learn about the region’s history and culture.
  6. Balmorhea State Park: If you’re looking for a refreshing stop, consider visiting Balmorhea State Park. It features a massive spring-fed swimming pool where you can take a dip and snorkel while enjoying the natural surroundings.
  7. Fort Davis: Located near the entrance of Big Bend National Park, Fort Davis is home to the historic Fort Davis National Historic Site. Step back in time and learn about the area’s frontier history and military heritage.

Best Time to Take a Road Trip Between Houston and Big Bend National Park

The best time to take a road trip between Houston and Big Bend National Park depends on your preferences and what you want to do during your trip. Here are some of the main factors to consider when planning your trip:

  1. Weather: The climate in Texas varies greatly depending on the time of year. In general, the best time to visit Big Bend National Park is during the cooler months from November to February, when temperatures are milder and more comfortable for outdoor activities. The summer months from June to August can be extremely hot, with temperatures regularly exceeding 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

  2. Crowds: The busiest time to visit Big Bend National Park is during spring break and summer when schools are out, and many people plan vacations. If you prefer to avoid crowds, consider traveling during the off-season months of September to November and February to May.

  3. Wildflowers: If you’re interested in seeing the wildflowers that bloom in the Texas Hill Country, plan your trip for the spring months from March to May.

  4. Fall foliage: If you want to see the fall colors in the trees, plan your trip for October and November.

  5. Events: Big Bend National Park hosts several events throughout the year, including stargazing events, birding festivals, and cultural celebrations. Check the park’s calendar of events to see if there are any activities you want to participate in during your trip.

Overall, the best time to take a road trip between Houston and Big Bend National Park is during the cooler months of the year, when temperatures are more comfortable and crowds are smaller. However, the specific time to visit will largely depend on your personal preferences and interests.

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