There is so much to see and do in Big Bend National Park. While this out-of-the-way gem is tucked in the southwest corner of Texas and is quite challenging to get to (it is a 4.5-hour drive from El Paso!), it is worth the travel time to see all the things there are to do in this wonderful place.
The two corners of the park, the Castolon and the Rio Grande Village Areas have quite a few places to explore along the border. However, the rugged Chisos Basin Area, located in the central part of the park, has outstanding hiking. One hike in particular that you won’t want to miss is the Lost Mine Trail.
This moderately difficult, out-and-back hike is great for families with young (but fairly capable) hikers and will keep you captivated the entire way before giving way to breathtaking views!
The Lost Mine Trail is one of many hikes and sights in Big Bend National Park, which are covered in detail in our 16+ page itinerary for Big Bend National Park. We also cover tips on where to stay, what to pack and what to do while visiting the area.
PARKING AND TRAILHEAD FOR THE LOST MINE TRAIL
To access the trail, park at the Lost Mine Trailhead on Basin Junction Road. The trailhead is about 1.2 miles northeast of the Chisos Basin Visitor Center and about 5.1 miles south of the intersection with Gano Springs Road (which is a continuation of Route 12 west of Panther Junction). You should allow about 15 minutes from Panther Junction and about 5 minutes from Chisos Basin to arrive at the trailhead.
- Directions from the Chisos Basin Visitor Center to the Lost Mine Trail (this will only take about 5 minutes, even on a busy day).
- Directions from the Panther Junction Visitor Center to the Lost Mine Trail (this will take about 15 minutes, but allow for 20 minutes if this is your first time to the area for stops along the way).
Tralhead information for the Lost Mine Trail from the National Park Service
Parking at the trailhead is limited, with only about 22 spots available. There is a small parking area (about 5 cars) about 0.25 miles downhill (to the east) as well. There isn’t much room for parking on the side of Basin Junction Road, if any. As this is one of the most popular hikes in the park, this means that it is hard to get a spot if you arrive after 8:00 in the morning on a busy day. When we hiked, we arrived at 3:30 in the afternoon and were lucky enough to get a spot, but it was the only one in the main parking area. Spots quickly opened up, though, as we were the last ones to hit the trail that day since the sun was setting around 6:00 pm.
Either way, we recommend arriving at the trailhead early in the morning if you want to be able to be guaranteed a spot.
There are no restroom facilities at the trailhead, so plan ahead!
WHY IS IT CALLED THE “LOST MINE?”
One of the legends from days gone by is that the Spanish found gold deposits near the peak of this trail. In an effort to keep it secret, prisoners (who provided mine labor) were forced to wear blindfolds as they were guided to and from the mine.
Nobody is sure if this is true or not, but now you know where the name came from!
You can read more about this on the National Park website.
THE HIKE UP THE LOST MINE TRAIL
Map of the Lost Mine Trail, courtesy of the National Park Service
At the trailhead there is some good information about the history of the mine and the origin of the mine’s name. It’s worth a quick read.
Also, take heed of the wildlife warning signs. Other than birds, we didn’t see any wildlife during our visit, but black bear and mountain lions are known to inhabit the surrounding areas. Make sure you know what to do if you see one!
The trail is very well groomed, with most of the hike consisting of dirt or rocky steps at the bottom before hiking atop the mountain near the end of the trail. Still, take care while you hike, as it is easy to trip or twist an ankle, particularly on the way down (like one of our kids did!).
The trail starts to climb immediately, and this climb continues at the same rate for about 1.8 miles before leveling off as you reach the end of the trail. The total climb is 1099 feet. While not easy, it is relatively easy considering the payoff at the end of the ascent!
Along the way up, views to the north (through the gap leading to the Chisos Basin area) are nearly constant. Occasionally, views to the east open up and provide a glimpse of what’s to come at the top of the mountain.
There is also a place for taking a break about halfway up at the overlook.
After about 1.1 miles into the hike, the trail turns into a set of switchbacks. These switchbacks last for about 0.6 miles, and help you climb about 400 feet.
Along the way, most of the trail is exposed, so make sure you wear plenty of sunscreen and bring a hat and water, especially if you are hiking in the hotter summer months. Thankfully, when we went, the temperature was around 65F, which made it perfect!
As you get close to the top, views start to open up to the south as well, and you can start to see the road to Chisos Basin area.
After climbing for 1.8 miles, the trail continues on the top of the ridge. At this point, there is little sign of vegetation. This isn’t the end, however, and you should continue along the ridge about 0.2 miles further to get to the end. At the end, there are spectacular views of Juniper Canyon to the east. If you happen to take this hike in the afternoon, the sun will be at your back and the photos end up being very clear, especially in the winter months.
One of the nicest things about the top of the trail is how large it is. There is a ton of room for people to find their own spot, sit and refuel while enjoying the views. Make sure you are careful while hiking on the top, though, as you can fall if you are looking at the valley instead of paying attention to your footing!
The total hike up the trail (which is about 2.4 miles) took our family about 1.5 hours.
THE HIKE BACK DOWN THE LOST MINE TRAIL
The hike back offers great views as you head down the slope. As stated before, make sure you are careful and don’t lose your footing!
For us, we were able to see the sun start to head down in the sky, and the mix of shade and sun was wonderful.
When we got back to the parking lot, we were the last ones on the trail for the day! This made for a very quiet and peaceful trip down and allowed us to hear the conversations between our kids about how much they were enjoying the trip.
CAMPING AND LODGING NEAR THE LOST MINE TRAIL
If you are planning ahead and want to be able to have an advantage when trying to get a parking spot at the Lost Mine Trail, we recommend the following options:
- The Chisos Basin Campground is located between the Chisos Basin Visitor Center and the Lost Mine Trail (near the Window Trail). While they don’t have electrical hookups, there are other services (like a dump station, flush toilets and showers). Reservations are accepted in the cooler months. For more information, check out the Chisos Basin Campground website.
- The Chisos Mountain Lodge is located near the Chisos Basin Visitor Center. This is where we stayed during our visit, and we loved it. For more information, see the Chisos Mountain Lodge website.
WHAT TO DO NEARBY THE LOST MINE TRAIL
If you are in the Chisos Basin area, then plan on spending the better part of a day (if you have the time). While here, we recommend:
- The Chisos Basin Visitor Center has some great exhibits as well as a small store where you can pick up supplies. Rangers are also present to give you some guidance on what to see and do in the area.
- In addition to the Lost Mine Trail, there are several hikes worth going on. Common favorites include:
- The Emory Peak Trail is the “big” hike in Big Bend. It is a difficult 9.3-mile (round-trip) hike to the summit of Emery Peak, with an elevation gain of 2500 feet. The last 100 feet of the hike is the toughest, but leads to broad, sweeping views of the landscape. You can even see into Mexico.
- The Window Trail leads you downhill for about 1000 feet on the way to a wash with a small window view. The trail is not nearly as intense as the Emory Peak Trail, with the total distance being 5.5-miles round-trip, unless you leave from the Chisos Basin Campground which shaves the hike down to 3.6 miles (round-trip).
OTHER TIPS WHEN HIKING THE LOST MINE TRAIL
- The air in Texas can be dry in the winter, and it is very hot in the summer. Take plenty of breaks and drink a lot of water along the way. Make sure you have water before you get to the trail, though, as there are not filling stations at the trailhead. We recommend using a water pack in your backpack, and our favorite is the Platypus Hydration bladder.
- This trail is beautiful during all times of the day, but it can get hazy if you hike during the heat of the day, especially in the summer. For the best photos, we recommend hiking in the afternoon with the sun at your back as you look out to Juniper Canyon.
- Sturdy hiking boots are good, but even just hiking shoes are fine for the trail.
FURTHER BIG BEND NATIONAL PARK INFORMATION FROM JUST GO TRAVEL STUDIOS
- The Lost Mine Trail is one of many hikes outlined in our 16+ page itinerary for Big Bend National Park.
- There is a ton to see and do inside of Big Bend National Park. We covered this hike and more in our blog post on 5 Reasons Why You’ll Fall in Love with Big Bend National Park.
- The Lost Mine Trail was highlighted in our blog post on the best Family Friendly Hikes in U.S. National Parks. Read the blog to find out about another favorite family hike in the park.
- Another great hike in Big Bend National Park is the Window Trail. It is a bit easier than the Lost Mine Trail (if you take the shorter route from the campground) with a nice view at the “pour-off” at the end. We prefer the Lost Mine Trail, but if you have time you should definitely take this trail. We covered this trail in detail in our blog on hiking The Window Trail.
- If you have time to head down to the Castolon Area, then check out our blog on hiking the Santa Elena Canyon Trail.
- Only about 4 hours away are Guadalupe Mountains National Park and Carlsbad Caverns National Park. We offer detailed itineraries for both parks and they are both working checking out!
- We’ll work with you to create custom, vintage-style posters, postcards and note cards from your own photos of Big Bend National Park. Check out our process!
OTHER USEFUL INFORMATION ON BIG BEND NATIONAL PARK
- The National Park Service has a ton of information on Big Bend National Park, including maps and lodging information.
- A brief overview of hiking information is available in this link: day hikes in Big Bend National Park
- There are several Scenic drives in the park, and this link provides an overview of what you'll find on these drives.
- If you plan on any backcountry adventures, check out: Backcountry use
- Chisos Mountain Lodge has a great, central location in the park and is a great place to make your "home base."
- Right Kind of Lost shared her experiences in the park in the wintertime as well and was able to see parts of the park that we didn't get to. Check out her blog here.
- For some incredible photos in Big Bend National Park, check out "Images from Texas" here.