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Over-estimating your experience or under-estimating the terrain in a place like Big Bend can result in serious injury or death. Use the information and advice found here wisely. Climb/Hike/Camp/Drive at your own risk.

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Finding a campsite during Spring Break week 2017

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Offline ddimasi

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Finding a campsite during Spring Break week 2017
« on: March 26, 2017, 11:21:44 PM »
[This is a follow up to the post "to BB or not to BB  (in March, that is)" found here: - hoping this will help others in future years...]

First of all, a big thanks to all those on this forum who encouraged us and wished us well on our first visit to Big Bend, which coincidentally fell during spring break week.  What an amazing time we had - It was worth every single mile we drove from Pittsburgh and back!

Here's how we managed the camping situation, with no site reserved in advance:  we'd made it to Midland by Saturday evening (3/11 - the start of spring break week), so cancelled our hotel room in Marathon on Sunday and instead went straight to Stillwell's.  That place is a great backup option - the staff are friendly and the facilities well-kept.  (The geology students were there in number, and we were warned to stay away from the bathrooms from 4-6pm, when they all get back from their days digging in the desert sun and literally run from their vans to line up for the showers!)  We found a picturesque spot to camp and especially enjoyed the hours we spent there in early evening watching the sun go down and the moon rise and stars come out.  Unfortunately we had noisy neighbors (even from 50 yards away) but that can happen in any campground (and there's no one enforcing "quiet hours").

Early Monday and Tuesday mornings, we drove into the park (what a stunning drive at sunrise!) to line up at Panther Junction backcountry office when it opened to try for a primitive roadside campsite.  Both days we learned that the current day was totally booked and that the following days only had openings at the most remote sites (along the river roads), none that were accessible by non-4WD/high-clearance vehicle.  That meant that through Wednesday pretty much all the primitive sites were booked, and if you were in a 2WD sedan like us, you were really out of luck. 

On Monday, after PJ backcountry office we headed to the Chisos Basin campground to see if any sites were available but a bunch of college kids had arrived at 7am and snagged the last of them.  On Tuesday, however, we decided to chance a drive down to Cottonwood and got lucky - we learned from the host that there were a couple of sites opening up that morning, and on his advice we hovered next to one of them until it was free, and claimed it for the rest of the week.  And we thoroughly enjoyed camping there - it was shady, green, and totally peaceful.  We'd love to camp at a primitive site in the desert some day, but Cottonwood was a great experience. 

So in the end, we camped for two nights at Stillwell's and 6 at Cottonwood and felt very lucky.  As the week wound down, the crowds melted away.  We avoided the most popular hikes - didn't make it up to Emory Peak or Lost Mine Trail - and waited for the last couple of days to visit Santa Elena Canyon (went early, easy to do from Cottonwood) and the Hot Springs.  Had wonderful day hikes to the South Rim (jaw-dropping, indeed), and on the Windows/Oak Spring, Chimneys, Mule Ears Spring, Blue Creek and Burro Mesa Spring trails.  We're already looking forward to going back - just not in mid-March!!

A million thanks again for all the fine advice - you regulars on this forum are excellent ambassadors for that amazing corner of the planet.  Keep up the good work!


Offline mule ears

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Re: Finding a campsite during Spring Break week 2017
« Reply #1 on: March 27, 2017, 06:40:26 AM »
Thanks for that excellent report and it should help future spring break time folks.  I like Cottonwood too for the shade and quiet compared to the other campgrounds.  Glad you had a good time and the place is addicting for sure.   :great:
temperatures exceed 100 degrees F
minimum 1 gallon water per person/day
no shade, no water


Offline RichardM

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Re: Finding a campsite during Spring Break week 2017
« Reply #2 on: March 27, 2017, 05:15:26 PM »
Glad you had a good trip. Got any pics? ;}



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