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View of the Window across the Chisos Basin at sunset

Big Bend: Window Trail

At a glance

Distance: 4.4 – 5.6 miles roundtrip
Elevation change: 950 feet
Hiking time: 2-3 hours
Highlights: Descend into the Chisos Basin with steep peaks looming above and a cliff side view of the desert waiting at the end.

Difficulty: ★★★☆☆
A relaxing walk down and a strenuous walk back up, especially if you’re parked at the Chisos Basin parking lot.
Trail conditions: ★★★☆☆
A lot of footsteps have produced a smooth dirt trail, but the going gets rocky toward the end.
Scenery: ★★★★☆
A diverse landscape through the basin with a spectacular view of the desert from a steep pouroff at the end. Look for dramatic sunsets.
Solitude: ★☆☆☆☆
With its close proximity to the Chisos Basin campground, it’s one of the most popular hikes in the park.

Other reviews

Trail diary at TexasHiking
• Window Trail gallery
Reviews on TripAdvisor

The Window is a narrow gap in the Chisos Mountains that frames the surrounding desert and showcases spectacular sunsets. If you don’t want to make the hike, catch the sunset from two outlooks near the start of the trail.

The trail is either 5.6 miles or 4.4 miles roundtrip, depending on where you start. The longer trek begins at the main Chisos complex. Starting down near the Chisos Basin campground cuts a mile and one steep climb off the return trip. It was a sad moment when I reached the spur on the way back and realized I’d be done if I’d just parked the car down the hill.

View of the distant desert through the gap in the Chisos Mountains along the Window Trail

View of the distant desert through the gap in the Chisos Mountains along the Window Trail

Hike in the morning or just before dusk to catch the best light and avoid the worst of the heat. Because of its proximity to the Chisos complex and popularity at sunset, the Window is one of the most heavily traveled trails in the park.

From the trailhead, the path drops quickly through scrubby pine, oak and juniper in a series of long switchbacks before intersecting with the spur trail near the campground. From there, it wanders across the wide basin in the shadow of the rocky peaks of the Chisos Mountains. By early evening, the trail is cloaked in shade, while the mountains above are bathed in golden light.

About halfway in, the trail begins paralleling Oak Creek. It’s dry most of the year, but when it’s flowing, you’ll have to get your feet wet as it crosses the trail several times.

The trail and the creek then cut through Oak Creek Canyon. In the last 1,500 feet or so the terrain turns to slickrock that requires some scrambling before you reach “The Window” – a vista on the Chihuahuan desert stretching out to the horizon, framed by the canyon walls. It is the primary downspout for the Chisos Basin and can turn into a torrent after a spring rain. Just short of the trail’s end the Oak Spring Trail climbs to the right above it, offering a higher panorama on the desert landscape.

Both in the morning and around dusk it’s not uncommon to see white-tailed deer and black bear along the trail.

The sun sets behind the peaks at the end of The Window, turning at first a golden yellow and then, if there are stray clouds, a burst of orange and red against the powder blue sky. The desert and hills in the distance are awash in a lavender gray.

The character of the trail changes from morning to evening. In the morning, it is more of a true “window”, framing the landscape. In the evening, it becomes a beautiful silhouette against and a paint palette sky.

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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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