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Big Bend: Pine Canyon Trail


At a glance

Distance: 4.0 miles roundtrip
Elevation change: 1,000 feet
Hiking time: 2 hours
Highlights: A desert path lined with sotol cactus, a shaded valley with abundant wildlife and a steep pour-off at the end

Difficulty: ★★☆☆☆
Except for a stretch near the end, the trail is a slow, up-and-down climb.
Trail conditions: ★★★★☆
The trail is a simple dirt path for most of its length except for a rocky climb near the end.
Scenery: ★★★★☆
Broad desert vistas give way to a leisurely shaded canyon walk.
Solitude: ★★★★☆
The long, winding drive to the trailhead over rough, rutted gravel road thins out the crowds.

Other reviews

• From Trip Advisor
• At Trails.com


Pine Canyon Trail starts out as a stroll through Big Bend‘s dry desert grassland dotted with spears of sotol cactus. Rocky outcrops and bluffs frame the landscape and reach higher as the dirt path climbs leisurely toward the canyon.

On the last broad turn, a small orchard of junipers in the distance signals the entrance to the canyon. There, the scenery changes abruptly as the trail descends and begins following along a creek bed that is dry most of the year. The dense forest of juniper, pinyon pine, oak, maple and colorful Texas madrones offers enough shade to make you forget you’re in Big Bend.

Pine Canyon

Desert walk into the canyon

The cool shade of the canyon attracts not only hikers but birds, other wildlife and woodland plants not found in other parts of the park. Still, there is an unusually large number of agave scattered across the forest floor.

After winding through the forest, the trail becomes a little rocky and climbs more steeply as the canyon narrows. This is probably the only point where hikers may need to take a break, especially in warmer weather. At its end, the trail drops down into a shaded “room” at the

bottom of a 200-foot pour-off that becomes a gushing a waterfall after a heavy rain. In the fall, the surrounding foliage of red oaks and maples turns a bright yellow and scarlet.

The walk back through the high desert brings grand sweeping views of the Big Bend landscape that you probably missed on the way in, unless you stopped and turned around.

All in all, the Pine Canyon Trail is one of the least demanding, most relaxing walks in the park. The only thing that keeps it from being more crowded is the long drive to the trailhead on a narrow, rutted gravel road that calls for a high clearance vehicle.

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About Scott Clark

I’m a digital journalist who’s worked as a photographer, reporter, producer and editor. My interest in the natural history of my surroundings reaches back to my early days beachcombing on the Jersey coast, rowing my boat on a quiet lake in Missouri and, more recently, discovering the mountains and backwoods of Montana, where I was born.

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