One of the best things about Big Bend National Park is its diverse collections of multi-dimensional hikes. There are desert and canyon hikes, mountain and forest hikes. Hikes to summits and hikes along riverbanks. Big Bend National Park houses an extensive network of intriguing hikes around every corner, which is why it is such an easy feat to spend days, or even weeks, hiking here! But at a certain point with so many choices, you may start to wonder, what is the one unmissable trail of all the Big Bend trails? And that brings me to the best of Big Bend hikes, a hike that combines desert, forest, and canyon topography, with convenient and easy access to visitors and campers. A trail that is long enough to get your heart pumping, but not so long that it eliminates those hikers not up for an all day or overnight grueling hike. A hike that is nestled in the undeniably best area of the park, the Chisos Basin, whose mountains overshadow the trail of the unbeatably fun Window Trail!
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Table of Contents
Guide to Hiking the Window Trail in Big Bend National Park
Here’s the quick need to know on hiking the Window Trail!
- Length: 5.2 miles roundtrip out and back
- Elevation Gain: 948 feet
- Rating: Moderate
- Estimated Time to Complete: 2 hours
- Best Time of Year to Hike: Fall – Spring
- Pets: pets are not allowed on the Window Trail
- Fees: $30 per vehicle to enter Big Bend National Park (credit/debit cards only, no cash).
- Parking: here is parking at the trailhead
- Facilities: there are bathroom facilities
This guide to hiking the Window Trail includes the following:
- Location of the Window Trail
- Overview of the Window Trail
- Accessing the Trailhead
- Trail Report
Location of the Window Trail
The Window Trail is located in Big Bend National Park. The trailhead is located in the Chisos Basin region of the park, near the Chisos Mountain Lodge, Chisos Basin Visitor Center, and Chisos Basin Campground. There is ample vehicle parking available near the lodge.
Map of the Window Trail and surrounding area
***Insider Tip: the Window Trail can also be accessed at campsite #51 in the Chisos Basin Campground. Starting the Window Trail hike from this access point will actually shave off approximately 1.6 miles in length from the beginning of the trail, from 5.2 total miles to 3.6 total miles. Parking is limited at Campsite #51, should you choose that starting point.
Overview of the Window Trail
Length: 5.2 miles out and back from the trailhead at the Chisos Mountain Lodge (or 3.6 miles out and back from the trailhead at Campsite #51 in the adjacent Chisos Basin Campground).
There are some moderate elevation gains and losses, but overall this is a relatively consistent grade hike, with the majority of the incline occuring during the second half of the hike. The moderate rating also comes into play regarding the topography of this hike. There are some sections of minor water crossings, some sections of traversing smooth and slick rock surfaces, some rock stairways, and of course, there is the caution that needs to be taken in the canyon near the pouroff at “the Window”. And again, don’t forget that the majority of the incline happens on the return to the trailhead on the second half, as you can see in the elevation chart below.
Elevation Gain: 948 feet
How Long Does it Take to Hike? On average, it takes 2 – 2.5 hours to hike the Window Trail (less if using the shortcut from Campsite #51)
Dog Friendly: Unfortunately no, as dogs are not allowed on hiking trails at Big Bend National Park. Dogs can only go where cars can go in this National Park.
Other Tips: Start Early! This is a very popular trail, so it may get crowded, especially on weekends or holidays. Also, an early start will more likely guarantee you a better parking spot, a shorter wait to take a picture at “the Window”, as well as beating the sun as it grows stronger later in the day.
Trailhead of the Window Trail
The trailhead for the Window Trail can be found adjacent to the Chisos Basin Visitor Center. If you want to shorten the hike by taking off about 1.5 miles, then you can also pick up the Window Trail from Campsite #51 in the Chisos Basin Campground. There is limited parking at Campsite #51, but it is an ideal spot to pick up the hike if you happen to be camping in the Chisos Basin Campground already, as you can just walk over. Otherwise, there is plenty of parking at the official trailhead by the Chisos Basin Visitor Center.
The Window Trail starts off winding gently downhill out of the Chisos Basin, into the open, shrub clothed desert of Oak Creek Canyon, bordered on both sides by the high ledges of the Chisos Mountains. These are by far some of my favorite mountains in Texas, and quite unexpected. Driving into Big Bend National Park from the north, west, or east, visitors will pass through a landscape largely characteristic of the Chihuahuan desert, that is, until reaching the Chisos Basin. Quite suddenly, these jagged mountains erupt from the desert floor, draped in golden hues, and often covered with subtle green lichen that makes them even more intriguing. That is one of the best things about the initial half of the Window Trail hike, is that you get an up close view of these monoliths gracing the path.
After the initial descent down the trail through Oak Creek Canyon, the topography begins to transition and become more vegetated. The trees here become more populous, taller, and denser, slowly adopting a more high desert forest ecosystem. Here hikers will find stunning views of the sheer mountain faces peeking through the foliage, as the trail begins to trace along the creek bed of Oak Creek on the left side of the path. Depending on the season and recent rainfall, there may be some water flowing, but mostly this creekbed is dry.
As the trail continues through the shady tunnels of this section of the Window Trail, the topography once again begins to morph, as the canyon walls carved out of the Chisos Mountains begin to close in. At some points, the trail and the creekbed begin to merge as they both fight for attention to squeeze into the narrowing canyon walls.
Then, around another canyon bend, the slot walls open up and reveal your arrival at one of the most breathtaking formations in Big Bend, a hidden cove of trickling streams gently cascading over smooth ledges, rocky steps, and graceful pools, as they reach their final destination, “the Window”!
It is immediately apparent upon reaching this point of the trail why it is called the Window Trail! The path ends rather abruptly at a final ledge, framed by a rather rectangular “window” opening where the canyon walls finally meet, straddling the stream that spills over the edge. From the Window, hikers can see out over Big Bend National Park and the encompassing Chihuahuan Desert for miles!
This is arguably one of the premier spots in the whole park to take a picture, but keep in mind there is nothing on the other side of that Window except open air, so keep a respectable and safe distance! Also, the ledge at the precipice is smooth, so take that into account and mind your footing here!
Insider Tip: Sunrises and sunsets are unmissable from this location, as the brilliant hues are filtered through the Window Trail slot. They are both equally beautiful times of day to time a hike on the Window Trail!
Recommendations for Hiking the Window Trail
Recommended Gear Quick Links:
- Platypus Water Hydration bladder
- Lifestraw Water Bottle
- Waterproof Vasque Breeze GTX III Hiking Boots
- OR Hoka One One Speedgoat Trail Runners
- Hilly Twin Skin Socks
- Camelbak Helena 20 Daypack
- water is key for hiking anywhere in Big Bend National Park! A good chunk of this hike is done in open high desert, with plenty of exposure and limited shade! I would recommend bringing 3 liters of water for any hiking done in Big Bend National Park. I personally carry my own 3 liters in my Platypus water hydration bladder. It is also not a bad idea to carry a backup water source, like this Lifestraw water bottle. Or this collapsible soft sided Katadyn BeFree water bottle with internal filter.
- trusty footwear! Anytime there is water, rocky steps, and smooth ledges existing in close quarters, you want footwear you can trust to keep you from losing your footing. There are some minor sections of water crossings on the trail, once you are in the canyon, so a waterproof hiking boot is my best bet, like the Vasque Breeze hiking boots that I wore here!
- a good performance sock! Your shoes will only do you good if you pair them with trusty socks. I used to be extremely blister prone on hikes, until I discovered Hilly Twin Skin socks! I live in these performance socks, from long distance running to long distance hiking, and haven’t had a blister since switching, not even on the 24 mile long Rim to Rim hike in the Grand Canyon!
- a daypack! Make sure that you have a daypack capable of carrying your water, snacks, and the rest of your day hiking essentials. I personally use this Camelbak Helena 20 daypack for all my day hikes.
- sun protection! Summer in Big Bend National Park can be brutal. Absolutely bring sun protection in the form of sunscreen and a head covering. Don’t forget water, and start your hike early! Even in the winter, the strength of the sun can be strong, so still invest in sun protection during those winter months.
- acute common sense! Yes, there is a beautiful ledge framed by a beautiful natural window. Do not flirt with the obvious warning signs at the end of the trail. Do not get too close to the edge in search of that perfect picture, it’s just not worth it! Also, there is a high danger of flash flooding in this canyon-esque terrain, so be extremely mindful of environmental awareness, and do not plan to hike the Window Trail immediately following a rainfall, or ahead of anticipated rainfall. You can check the park website for current weather conditions and park alerts here. Always feel free to inquire of a park ranger as well as to the current conditions of the Window Trail before hiking.
Why You Need to Visit the Best of Big Bend Hikes
The Window Trail is an unbeatable combination of stunning views, blended topography, and hidden surprises that lands it unrivaled at the top of the list of Big Bend trails! There is something magical and childlike to discover a trail that leads you through the desert, into dappled foliage, and finally to a hidden canyon cove full of mini waterfalls, reflecting pools, carved steps, and a more beautifully framed window than could be found on any man-made architectural wonder!
***Insider Tip: One final reminder of caution for hiking the Window Trail – those of us with experience hiking combinations of canyons and water sources might have already picked up on the fact that these two elements exist together on the Widow Trail. It is imperative to be on alert for high water levels or the chance for flash flooding, as you do not want to be caught in the canyon, near the Window’s ledge, with a force of water striking you. Avoid hiking the Window Trail in any kind of downpour or immediately following a rainfall. Check current weather conditions and park alerts on the park website before hiking.
Read More: Did you know that Texas is home to a 2nd, equally as stunning, National Park, full of its own magical trails just like the best of Big Bend trails? Learn more by checking out the best things to do in Guadalupe Mountains National Park, such as taking on the high elevation, long distance, Texas state high point hike at Guadalupe Peak.
A Visit to the Window Trail Means You Get to Check Off ANOTHER National Park from Your
- Exploring Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend National Park
- The Lost Mine Trail in Big Bend National Park
- Texas National Parks Road Trip Itinerary
- The Absolute Best Hikes in Texas You Can’t Afford to Miss!
- Best Things to Do in Guadalupe Mountains National Park
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