This Underrated Texas State Park Has The Stunning Scenery Of Big Bend With Fewer Crowds

Once a relatively unknown park in a far-off corner of Texas, Big Bend National Park has exploded in popularity in recent years. According to National Park Service (NPS) statistics, over half a million people visited every year since 2021, with visitation increasing by 50% since 2016. Rangers at Big Bend have had to limit vehicle access to popular hiking trails, and developed campgrounds were mostly booked to capacity throughout 2021.

It's not hard to see why the Big Bend area is so popular. The Chisos Mountains march across the desert, deep canyons cut through the landscape, and the tranquil Rio Grande marks the park's and country's southern border. In short, Big Bend is magical. However, congestion and a one-in-one-out system to reach the most popular hikes could make Big Bend National Park a little less magical.

If you're looking for a Lone Star State adventure without the Texas-sized crowds, there is an alternative just down the road. Big Bend Ranch State Park is Big Bend, but not as you know it. Nicknamed "The Other Side of Nowhere," the state park is vast, remote, and stunningly beautiful. It also offers almost unparalleled solitude. Visitors write about the park's remoteness, isolation, and sparse visitor numbers. One reviewer on Google wrote that it rivals the national park in beauty but is less touristy. It sounds perfect to us.

Exploring the state park on foot

Big Bend Ranch State Park covers 275,000 acres of glorious high desert terrain. Like the national park that shares its name, the state park offers visitors craggy mountains, canyons slashing through the landscape, and a night sky filled with stars. Big Bend Ranch is begging to be explored on foot.

There are 238 miles of multi-use trails for hikers, cyclists, and horseback riders. If you want to dip your toe into the state park, check out two short hikes that begin near the Sauceda Ranger Station. The one-mile Ojito Adentro Trail offers views of the mountains as it crosses desert land and ends at a spring in a surprisingly lush area. The shorter ¾-mile Cinco Tinajas Trail passes shallow rock pools and leads to a boulder with petroglyphs carved into it. Despite their proximity to the ranger station, AllTrails writes that you are unlikely to encounter others on these trails as they are little trafficked.

Many other trails in the park allow you to experience the incredible landscapes of Big Bend Ranch. Two of the most popular ones are Closed Canyon Trail and Big Bend Hoodoos Trail. Closed Canyon leads to a narrow canyon, with AllTrails users calling the views spectacular and raving that the entire trail is beautiful. The Hoodoos Trail takes you to two hoodoo formations and offers picturesque views of the Rio Grande.

Discovering more of Big Bend Ranch

One of the top things to do in Big Bend Ranch State Park is drive on El Camino del Rio. Also called the River Road, this section of FM170 runs along the park's southern border and is one of America's most scenic road trips. On the 50-mile stretch between Lajitas and Presidio, every twist and turn reveals sweeping views of the Rio Grande, jagged mountains towering in the distance, and classic high desert terrain. The Closed Canyon and Hoodoos hikes start along the road, too. According to drivers on TripAdvisor, the route is not crowded and simply spectacular.

If you can, stay overnight in the park. Big Bend Ranch is a designated International Dark Sky Park, meaning there is little light pollution. Its skies are some of the darkest in the lower U.S. 48, so it's the perfect spot for stargazing. Several reasonably priced campgrounds in the park offer incredible places to camp under the stars, though there is also a unique luxury resort nearby that offers more comfortable stargazing. However, some of the best views of the sky are along the River Road, at the West Contrabando Trailhead, Big Hill, and the Hoodoos. Stargazing is a wonderful way to end your time in Big Bend Ranch State Park.