IttyBittyFoodies’ guest TRAVEL contributor Helen Yoon tells us how she hiked Big Bend Texas with her four year old.
My husband and I love the outdoors. Hiking, biking, swimming, camping, you name it. It has been our unspoken goal that we explore this world together and instill in our son, a love for adventure and nature. We began taking short hikes with him when he was 3 months old on a trip to Bryce Canyon. Since then, we’ve ventured on longer and longer hikes, with him in a child carrier. When he turned four years old, we took a chance on his hiking skills and traveled to Big Bend, Texas.
BEFORE YOU GO
Before you head off on your adventure, download one of these Big Bend Kindle guides or pick up a travel book. They are filled with hikes of all levels which is great as kids grow up and they can tackle more difficult hikes. The other thing is that internet might be spotty or you might run low on battery on your phone, so it’s always good to have a map and a book on hand… just in case.
This National Geographic Big Bend National Park Trails Map is waterproof and tear resistant, making it ideal for backpacking trips even if the weather turns wet.
WHERE TO STAY?
The Big Bend area is located in west Texas along the border with Mexico, and includes Big Bend National Park as well as Big Bend Ranch, State Park. We chose to stay in Terlingua, a small town between the two parks, which turned out to be a very good home base for exploring the area. Lodging options are slim but you can find camp sites, cabins, and vacation rentals on VRBO/HomeAway. We stayed in Terlingua House , 3 bedroom/2 bathroom abode. Plan to bring plenty of provisions as the area is quite remote and you won’t find a store on every corner. There are some restaurants in town but we chose to cook our meals at the rental house. Just make sure your lodgings have internet/wifi capability unless you want to go “Off The Grid” as cell coverage can be very spotty.
BIG BEND RANCH STATE PARK – CLOSED CANYON TRAIL : 1 mile round trip
This trail is a fun and easy hike through a slot canyon near Lajitas, Texas in Big Bend Ranch State Park. There is plenty of parking at the trail head and a covered picnic table. The hike is mostly flat, but some big rock negotiation is necessary. If there has been rain, you may need to negotiate some standing water. Luckily, we had dry conditions and did not need to maneuver around any water. Depending on the time of day, you may be blessed with shady conditions inside the slot canyon. Towards the end of the trail there are more difficult rock negotiation so we stopped just short of the end and turned around. It is beautiful in the slot canyon and a short trail worth the time to stop and explore. Don’t forget to carry plenty of water, use sunscreen, and a hat.
BIG BEND NATIONAL PARK – SANTA ELENA CANYON TRAIL : 1.7 miles round trip.
This one is not to be missed! You will find good parking at the trailhead and a sandy approach to Terlingua Creek, then you ascend a set of paved stairs to a beautiful lookout. The trail then descends down to the water’s edge of the Rio Grande. Follow the trail to the climax at the end of the trail, cop a squat on a rock, enjoy a snack, and take in the majestic scenery. It was nice and cool in the shade of the canyon walls at the end of the trail. We wished we could stay longer.
On our return to the trailhead, our son wanted to take off his hiking boots and dip his feet in the water. I think it was a magical moment for him.
BIG BEND NATIONAL PARK – THE WINDOW TRAIL : 5.6 miles round trip.
The Window Trail was the most strenuous of the hikes we did with our son on this trip. Even though he had outgrown the child carrier, we took it along just in case he had trouble getting back (and it was a good thing we did). The trail is downhill the entire way to The Window, but logically, it is completely uphill the way back. I recommend an early start and pack enough water and food for the day.
The hike took us much longer than it may for others because we stopped frequently to explore the flora and fauna and cool insects. The Window view is incredible, but approach with caution, as the Window ends with a pour-off on slickrock with a deadly drop off. I did not allow our son to get close to the Window for this reason. We enjoyed the views, the bug viewing, and ate our lunch of peanut butter and honey sandwiches before heading back. The trail took us 4 to 5 hours, but it can certainly be completed faster with big kids.
TIPS FOR HIKING WITH KIDS
In addition to water, consider packing a sugary drink such as a juice pouch or chocolate milk for the kids to give them an extra boost to make it back. Fruits like bananas and mandarin oranges are also good, but don’t throw away fruit peels on the trail. You may think it is okay since it is biodegradable, but it takes a long time to breakdown and may not necessarily be good for the local wildlife. Hike out everything you hike in.
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