Go Across West Texas + Big Bend in One Weekend
Are you trying to squeeze in a quick vacation before school starts like we did? I really wanted to take our kids somewhere before school started this year. After all, this is Ayden’s first year at school full time! I’m starting to have those anxious thoughts that moms have about school starting and school is still a week away!
I hate the idea of not having the freedom to just go when ever I want, or wherever I want. Until now, I could just take the kiddos on any lil day trip or weekend getaway starting on a Wed or Thursday and go. Now, this option for us is out of the question starting next week. It’s lame, makes me angry and all kinds of different emotions and thoughts that I can’t explain.
This alone made it very important for me to get us away on a lil mini vacation that wouldn’t cost an arm and a leg, and I wanted adventure so the kids could remember.
Josh and I discussed that this would be the first vacation that our 6 year old would probably remember for the rest of his life. We can recall as far back as 5, some little moments, but definitely anything big that happened from 6 and up we remember. With that thought in my head I really wanted to go to Disney, but due to the short time with Ayden this summer we just couldn’t swing that trip. Somewhere tropical? Well, we weren’t mentally, financially, or emotionally prepared for a trip like that with the kids. Besides, you can’t go somewhere like that with three kids for a weekend and expect to enjoy it when most of the trip you’re flying there and back.
I wanted our trip to count, be meaningful, connect us, and to add adventure and dreams to our lives before we all go through this new chapter of our lives. My hubster asked me one night, how bout we just take an RV somewhere? I was ecstatic! I was all in and put together this fun and adventurous road trip for us. We left on Wed night and came back on Saturday night. If you’re trying to get a way for a weekend that’s quick, easy and cheep– this is the trip for you!!!
If you’re interested in what we used to help make the trip easier see this guide of Five things to take for kids on road trips.
We rented a RV from our favorite place, American Dream Vacations. We’ve rented a RV 5 times now from them and each time the RV’s get better and better. We’ve considered investing in one and keeping it there with them because their service and upkeep has been great for us. If there was ever a problem they were fast to make it right or credit us if they couldn’t solve the problem. They have 24/7 helpline and are always willing to help us out when we need them.
Alpine, Texas FREE
We chose Alpine for our first stop on our way to Big Bend. This stop was 7 hours from Austin, Tx and was a great stopping point for sleep. It was a great way to kick off our adventurous outdoorsy trip. We took I-10 the whole way.
We stayed at Lost Alaskan RV Park and I’m not even going to lie, to wake up with the mountains around us, was so refreshing! This was seriously one of the best RV parks I have ever seen. They had tent set ups, tiny homes to rent, and spots for your own + all the accommodations for RV travelers. The kids swam first thing in the AM and played on the playscape and I could’t get over the views. Let alone everyone there we met had traveled our trip countless times, shared great trips, and had awesome stickers, and memorabilia that kept our interest peaked.
Hike Hancock Hill
Our first adventure in Alpine was to hike Hancock Hill at Sul Ross University. We pulled into gate 4 and parked right in front of the museum but to get right next to the trail, you can park at the uppermost parking lot by Mountainside Dormitory. Three students carried “The Desk” in 1981, with a notebook left inside so all who comes can sign it, and leave a little part of themselves behind. The desk is the endpoint after a 20 minute hike. Once you pull in head towards the …building and the path is right there. It looks like ummm, should we do it, there’s no signs, or navigation guides so you have to take a chance but it is the only path there. Once on the path it does split so it’s easy to get confused but all the info I read said go directly up the hill to the big pile of rocks. Along the way we did see a message letting us know we were going the right way.
Well, sadly we never found the desk. I started to see little hints along the way, like some rocks being painted with white spots along the path, but they got farther and few in between. Once we were at top the path had many splits. So we never made it to the desk although online it says, once you get up the hill the desk is easily to find. We got to the top after a 20 minute hike with the kids, looked around, walked for five minutes down one path, and saw multiple paths and had no idea which way to go from there. So, unfortunately that was a bummer, but we didn’t let it affect any of us. The two big kids made it all the way to the top on their own, even after our 3 year old kept telling herself that her legs were too tired. Then would take a drink of water and say to herself, “You got this! You can do it!.” We were so proud of them. They were so excited to be on top that they were screaming.
There was an awesome pile of rocks on the top that they got to climb on and see the whole town from up there. All of alpine and it’s small quirky character was visible. I will admit if you are taking kids with you it’s doable, but the weather at this time of the year might be a little much for the kids. We got super lucky, or as I called it the whole time, a blessing from God, because there was a rain storm happening literally right next to us, but never got to us. Josh was a little concerned because it was lightening but literally the storm stayed in the town like it was stuck in between all the mountains. The breeze made the climb so bearable, and easy to deal with. It even sprinkled a few times and it was so nice!! The views here were quite beautiful, the scenery was amazing and I’ve never been high enough on foot to see a whole small town right in front of my eyes.
Parenting Tip: Frozen water
If you’re going on any hikes with littles, freeze bottles of water and grab a few to take with you. The kids are in love with the frozen waters, and it takes about 20 – 30 minutes to start thawing out. Right when you’re ready for replenishment the cold water is ready.
Musuem of Big Bend
The museum was easy to go to next, as it is at the University. So, this spot is definitely a twofer. I think this slot was great for the kids becuase not only did they see the history of the area we were going to visit but they saw a preview of where we were headed. So it made them Uber excited to get to big bend.
The museum had some really cool interactive models for the kids with lots of buttons to push. It was a highlight. Plus the interactive videos along the way made the tour a little more interesting.
Marfa, Texas- FREE
Marfa was a 35 minute drive from alpine so it’s a great next stop during the day while traveling with kiddos. We went specifically to see the Marfa Lights. It’s something to see because it’s a very mysterious and unexplained activity. Unfortunately, like the desk, we didn’t see the lights. It was cloudy and rainy so we were told that most likely we wouldn’t see them. However we tried anyways and it was a fun adventure for the kids and us because we pulled out our night goggles and explored. And what kids don’t like being night explorers? They all said they saw lights, and other people around us said they saw them but I have no idea what they saw because Josh and I never saw anything.
Prada Store. Another great photo op in Maria is the cute little Prada store.
If you do go to quirky Marfa, then you need to stop at The Capri! It has an eclectic relaxing and quaint vibe going on. With the hammocks, and fire pits buried in a garden it was a lucky find for sure. Marfa’s restaurants close at 5:00 pm so you have to be careful not to miss out on the good food. We got lucky because this place didn’t open up until 5:30. However if you have picky eaters this is not the stop for you. The only option they had for the kids was Duck Liver. Luckily, it was sweet and the kids mopped it up, along with their Mexican Street Corn. Of course we had to end the meal with some yummy ice cream.
Marathon, Texas- FREE
On the way to big bend leaving Marfa we drove through a town called Marathon and got to stop at the little Target store. This was my favorite because I am obsessed with target lol. So to find a store that I could take with me in my pocket, I was in love!!! Plus the views!!
It had a cool post to leave your logos, your message, or your stamp behind!!
We didn’t make it to this destination, although we really wanted to but after the hike and the museum we would have only had about 30 – 45 minutes to be there. So we opted for a nice restaurant instead.
If you schedule enough time then this is a must stop!! Joshua was a little bummed because we weren’t going but even he knew it requires the appropriate amount of time. But just look—> HOW COOL IT IS
Big Bend National Park $33
After a full morning of driving we made it! The kids were excited. We watched the mountains go by and get bigger and bigger. Our favorite game we played was I spy and the littles loved when we got the chance to spy a Sand Tornado. We drove by several and the kids had the same reaction every time.
The entrance fee is $33, but it was for a whole week pass so that’s not that bad at all. I recommend to grab all the literature from the park guide when you pay, because it was completely different literature than what we found at travel guide places, RV Park, or the Museum. I had originally planned for us to hike two trails, The Lost Mine Trail, and the Chisos Basin Trail. The Lost Mine Trail is a 4.6 mile hike, and the Chisos Basin Trail is a 2.5 mile hike. Just remember while you are out there you are the only one who knows you’re limits and you have to always remain flexible. When we arrived the map that we received had two colored paths on it and one was red saying no big trucks or RVs could pass on those roads, well both our trails where Red Trails. Which both hikes we planned where on those. So we did the safe kid friendly touristy route without hikes and there was still plently to keep our day full + without wearing out the kiddos, It was actually a relief becuase our youngest started getting a heat rash, so being able to go right back to the RV every 20 minute after a small adventures was perfect for her. I mean honestly, if you have kids, the RV at Big Bend was a nice retreat to have.
Discovery Fossil Exhibit
First Stop–Dinosaur Bones!! When we had to quickly change our POA I was super nervous, but the fear quickly went away once I saw this attraction on the map. It’s easy to miss when driving by so keep your eyes open for the one sign that points to it. It also says no RV turnaround but we went down there and parked with plenty of room. However yes, if the Park is full of tourist then no, we couldn’t have fit, but considering it is the the 8th least visited national park, I doubt you will have anything to worry about. We spent about 3 hours there and we only saw maybe 4 other cars pull up.
To think we almost parked our RV on the side of the main road and walked down a mile. WHEW, so glad my husband is a risk taker.
Overlook Hill (View)
At the exhibit up just right of the Discovery Exhibit there is an awesome Overlook Hill with a stunning view of big bend! We got so lucky to come across this view. The climb up is made for visitors with stairs and a smooth sidewalk leading up to it making it very kid friendly, but keep your kids near because there are no rails. The winds up here were strong and felt amazing. It was very refreshing!! We all felt close to God, imagined that’s what it would be like to be birds and just took in the scenery.
This was another unexpected treat considering we only planned our trip 15 mins before. Again the views!!! I mean views for mom, fossils for Dads and Kids, it’s perfect!! The fossils were really cool too, it was filled with things I’ve never seen before. It had three huge rooms of fossils that were found there at big bend with signs of information and facts of everything. We saw the huge (bird fossil) that was highly spoken about at the museum, and the kids got to play with the Dino heads and were amazed at their teeth. I personally loved the last room as I saw countless fossils of water creatures were the coolest. Give me a sec while my inner geek …
Moms, another cool spot for kiddos!!! Joshua and I both made constant comments on how we were shocked how great the breeze felt. The breeze and our frozen water was perfect combo. This exhibit had several photo ops but by this point kiddos weren’t having nothing with me, it was all about the Dino’s.
DID YOU KNOW:
That horses came from this little guy. 😮😮
Ayden wanted to go exxxplooooore, “the unknown lands” as he calls it. We let him choose a place that he wanted to see, and found a cool little grotto/cave to play around in that was right next to the exhibit. I wasn’t too nervous about snakes or anything like that, but mind you, the ants here where the biggest ants I’ve ever seen. Then there was the pesky horse flies but other than that we didn’t have too many critters that were bothersome.
The big kids enjoyed the 5 minute hike to the cave and loved climbing through it and on top of it, with yet another beautiful view of Big Bend.
After the kids were done playing around in the cave we walked back and the kids stopped to play in the dirt. They made piles and kept putting little flags in it, so it inspired me to leave our mark behind with rocks. Aliyna and Addie both jumped up screaming “like Moana!” Since they were excited about it we went ahead and did it and the look of sincerity in Aliynas eyes is too much sometimes. Guys you don’t always have to do big things to impact our kids, something so small as stacking rocks and leaving our mark somewhere can define them, and allow their hearts to become full of wander, and adventure. She now knows she’s a voyager that traveled across Texas.
Panther Junction Visitor Center
This is a must if you have kids. I had done research before and this visitor center is one of the 2 in the whole park that has amazing interactive exhibits that provide an overview of geology and natural and cultural histories of the park. It was a great center for the kids to retreat to for another adventure with AC, and it has water fountains, and restrooms, making it a great stopping point + have fun with all the interactive guides. The visitor center also has a theater, with a park orientation movie shown every 30 minutes, 9:30AM to 4:00 PM.
The visitor center complex includes a Big Bend Natural History Association bookstore, U.S. Post Office, and restrooms. The Panther Path, a self-guided nature trail, begins adjacent to the porch of the visitor center.
The second Visitor Center is Chisos Basin but we didn’t go to that one since that was the one close to the red trail. But it is said that this is the second best visitor center to go to if you have children.
Honestly, if you are doing what we did and don’t want to do big hikes that they have mapped out, just drive around Big Bend and you will see plenty of little mountains that you can climb and get shots with stunning views. Not to mention along the way there’s little drive off spots on the side of the road for pics. My favorite is the one by The Panther Junction Service Station, 200 yards west of the visitor center, its open every day. It had rocks that we could stand on and take cool family pictures.
This store closes at 6 but the pumps do stay on. If you are traveling with a card then you have nothing to worry about. We were terrified we weren’t going to get gas and were concerned if we could even make it out of the park. So don’t pass up the gas station while you’re there at the park after all it is 800000 acres. If hiking isn’t your thing, then tour the visitor centers there each one showcases different things, but keep in mind each one is atleast 30-45 mins apart.
If you haven’t traveled to Big Bend, try it, it’s beautiful and very doable with kids. I can’t believe it’s one of the least visited spots, it’s beauty alone took my breathe away. I can only imagine if we did complete some of the hikes and got to actually be in the heart of the park. The hikes I read about were beautiful, easy, an hour long, and you would see plyographs along the way. So maybe another time when we have a car we will actually complete these hikes.
We ended our night with eating supper under the stars and sat there viewing the meteor shower with nothing to get in our way. Except the moon, it was a full moon so it cast a ton of luminous light but it didn’t stop us from seeing ten or so long tailed shooting stars. I can only imagine the stars on a night the moon isn’t lighting up the sky. Plus, we saw a weird desert kvmtm/j jY ju o98ob9phenomenon that looked like a spaceship casting down a light from above down on to the ground. It gave us the biggest goosies, and I’m not even going to lie, I was afraid to look up and see something that I didn’t want to!! It was nothing though, we looked it up, and turns out the moon reflects light through the desert that creates these eerie lights. We may not have seen the Marfa Lights but we did see the Big Bend Mystery Lights.
Josh really wanted to go to Waco first because he couldn’t wait to have some water fun. The slides are worth the drive, giving Waco another attraction than just magnolia silos. With Waco just an hour and half away go for it!! I’m dying to go back so I can do a wall art hunt there!!
BSR Cable Park
BSR Cable Park was an adventure for sure!!! This was our first “water park” adventure with the kids. It has four 50 foot water slides at various levels and a about a 25 foot slide for the kids. A cable Park with ramps and rails for the advanced wake borders, a wave pool for surfers, and a lazy river. The two oldest kiddos loved the water slides. They were a little nervous but overcame their fears and did the slide twice!! They were so brave!!! The lazy river was small and simple for us so it was good for the first time for our family but get there early because people show up fast around noon on the weekends.
This trip can easily be done in three days if you’re just doing BigBend trip. Any of these can be split up into separate weekends. However I think if you do it like we did and just hit up the main attractions along the way, it keeps the trip moving along and helps keep up the morale. I hope you have enjoyed going along with us on our trip, and if you have any questions please feel free to email me.