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Motorcycle Travel Information For The Big Bend Area of Texas

Big Bend, motorcycle, ride

Yucca at Chisos Basin with Mt. Casa Grande in background

This information about the Big Bend area of Texas was put together for motorcycle riders but much of it is applicable for people driving. I have collected lots of information on the Big Bend area for our travels. This is my attempt to organize it for others who are traveling there. I haven’t commented on everything but have included links to give you more information. So look for the links.

When you mention Big Bend people naturally think of Big Bend National Park but the Big Bend area is much more than just the park.

The Big Bend area is a geographic region in the western part of the state of Texas in the United States bordering Mexico. It is sometimes loosely defined as the part of Texas south of U.S. Highway 90 and west of the Pecos River. The area is arid, rugged, sparsely populated and has the Chisos and the Davis Mountain ranges. The area has more than one million acres of public lands which include Big Bend National Park and Big Bend Ranch State Park. The towns in the area are Alpine, Presidio, Marfa, Sanderson, Fort Davis, Presidio, Study Butte, Lajitas, Van Horn, Kent and Marathon.

For those of you who are not familiar with the Big Bend area of Texas… everything is “few and far between”. You need to know where lodging, food and gas are  found well in advance of your trip. Weather can also be a big issue depending on what time of the year you plan to visit.

Big Bend National Park

What I like about Big Bend National Park is its vast size that covers more than 800,000 acres. Much of the park is accessed by paved roads so it lends itself to us road bikers. For adventure off-road riders or 4×4 there are many roads for you. There are many trails for hiking. The temperatures can vary by as much as 30 degrees due to the elevation differences. The best time to visit is in the spring when the wildflowers are blooming. There is so much more to Big Bend that I could never do justice describing for you. So you may want to check out some of the links below.

http://www.nationalparks.org/explore-parks/big-bend-national-park

http://www.nps.gov/bibe/index.htm

http://www.visitbigbend.com/en/

Boquillas Canyon Big Bend National Park

Big Bend Ranch State Park

Because Big Bend Ranch State Park is only accessible by high clearance 4 wheeled vehicles or off-road bikes we haven’t had the chance to explore the park… yet… So you can check out what the park has to offer with the link below.

http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/publications/pwdpubs/media/pwd_br_p4501_0152h.pdf

Weather

Because of the elevation differences in the area there are temperature differences of 30 degrees or more. In Big Bend National Park it may be 98 degrees at Santa Elena Canyon and in Chisos Basin some 20 miles by road the temperature can be 68 degrees. The reason is… 5665 feet difference in elevation.

Below are the averages for Alpine. These can vary from place to place in the area due to elevations. This table is provided only to give you an idea what the averages are. I would recommend you to check the particular town and areas you plan on visiting to get an accurate number. You can check with www.weather.com or any of the other websites.

Month Average High Average Low Record High Record Low Average Precip.
January

60

30

81

0

0.54

February

64

33

86

-2

0.59

March

70

38

91

10

0.46

April

78

46

97

20

0.6

May

85

55

101

29

1.48

June

90

62

107

38

2.62

July

89

64

106

52

2.74

August

87

63

103

49

2.93

September

83

57

101

36

2.6

October

77

40

97

21

1.4

November

69

38

87

-2

0.47

December

60

31

83

-3

0.59

Lodging

Cabin we stayed at in Chisos Basin Lodge in Big Bend National Park

During the spring when the wildflowers are in bloom lodging can be hard to come by and reservations are STRONGLY suggested. If you want to stay in Big Bend National Park during that time you should make reservations a year in advance! If you don’t you most likely won’t get a reservation. “A word to the wise is sufficient.” Even for towns (Alpine, Marfa, Marathon etc.) outside the park it would be a good idea to make reservations well in advance of your trip.

Big Bend, motorcycle, ride, April

Mission Lodge in Terlingua where we stayed…

Big Bend Area of Texas

Carriage House in Marathon where we stayed

Gas stations

Gas stations are a big issue when traveling by bike in the Big Bend area. It is a long way between gas stations so keep your tank topped off. In places like Marathon they roll up the sidewalks at 5:00 so most businesses are closed. There was only one gas station in Marathon and it closed early! So don’t get there late and expect to get gas.

Big Bend National Park has over 100 miles of paved roads so bikes with limited range need to keep their tanks topped off at one of the two gas stations in the park. The gas station at Panther Junction is the most centrally located gas station and is the only station in the park that has premium gas. The second gas station is at Rio Grande Village and it only has regular gas.

Outside the park, gas can be found at the junction of hwy 118 and 170 in Study Butte. Top off your tank. It is 80 miles to Alpine and 68 miles to Presidio to the next gas station.

When leaving the park via Hwy 385 top off your tank at Panther Junction in the park. It is 68 miles to Marathon from Panther Junction.

Distances Between Points

Alpine – Study Butte: 80 miles

Study Butte – Panther Junction: 24 miles

Panther Junction – Marathon: 68 miles

Marathon – Alpine: 31 miles

Alpine – Marfa: 27 miles

Marfa – Ft. Davis:  21 miles

Ft. Davis – Alpine: 24 miles

Ft. Davis – Balmorhea: 37 miles

Marfa – Van Horn: 74 miles

Ft. Davis – Kent: 53 miles

Food

Places to eat can also be an issue for the same reasons as gas stations.

Big Bend National Park:

Chisos Basin Lodge Restaurant  – Good food at a reasonable price.

Big Bend National Park Texas. Nice view

Restaurant at Chisos Basin Lodge

Marathon:

Places to eat in Marathon are very limited and only a couple of places are open after 5:00 PM. Some of the eating places have come and gone. One of our favorite places is “Shirley’s Burnt Biscuit” but it is not always open. You can get great fried pies and coffee at Shirley’s.

For other options check this link: http://www.urbanspoon.com/n/301/45467/Texas/Marathon-TX-restaurants

Big Bend area of Texas

Shirley’s Burnt Biscuit in Marathon

Alpine:

Alpine is a small college town and has many places to eat from fast food to fine dining. Our favorite fine dining restaurant is Reata Restaurant . It is a bit pricey but the food is great.

For other dining options can be found here. http://www.urbanspoon.com/n/301/45342/Texas/Alpine-TX-restaurants

Marfa:

The only place we have eaten is the Dairy Queen but there are several good restaurants there. For a list check this link. http://www.urbanspoon.com/n/301/45468/Texas/Marfa-TX-restaurants

Fort Davis:

There aren’t a lot of places to eat in Fort Davis. The one place that is always open and a place we like to eat is the Fort Davis Drugstore. Good food at reasonable prices. For other places check this link: http://www.fortdavis.com/restaurants.html

McDonald Observatory:

The Star Date Café at the Observatory is open for lunch on some but not all days. Check this link for hours and dates.  http://mcdonaldobservatory.org/visitors/StarDate_cafe.html

Study Butte:

We have eaten at the Big Bend Resort and Adventure Restaurant because it was close to the hotel. The food was good and reasonable. For other dining options check here. http://www.visitbigbend.com/en/plan-your-trip/wheretoeat/269-wheretoeatstudy.html

Presidio:

Every time we visit Presidio we always eat at El Patio Restaurant. Eat there and you will know why. For other options check here. http://www.urbanspoon.com/n/301/45497/Texas/Presidio-TX-restaurants

Van Horn :

Van Horn is an interesting little town, with many motels, gas stations, restaurants and history. When in the area you should plan stopping here. One of our favorite restaurants in Van Horn is Chuy’s 1959. Chuy’s has great Mexican food and reasonable prices. John Madden makes a point to stop here whenever he is passing through. For more place to eat check here. http://www.urbanspoon.com/n/301/45547/Texas/Van-Horn-TX-restaurants

Towns in Big Bend Area

Alpine  – Alpine is a small college town, with motels, shopping, gas,  and good restaurants. Sul Ross University has a Museum about the Big Bend Area that is a must see. We have stayed in Alpine several times and enjoyed our stay and would recommend it a central place to stay to visit the surrounding areas. One of the more fun places to stay is the Old Holland Hotel. It’s probably not for everyone but is worth looking into.

Fort Davis  – Fort Davis is a small West Texas town with a lot to offer. There is a walking tour that takes in much of the town. It is rich in history and friendly town folks. Just outside the town is Fort Davis National Historic Site. Of all the forts we have seen, and we have seen a lot, Ft. Davis is our favorite. It’s like stepping back in time.. because. We haven’t stayed in Fort Davis but plan to someday. It does have several places to stay in town and has a great place to camp at near by Davis Mountain State Park.

Lajitas Resort – The resort is always a fun place to stop and take a break. We haven’t stayed here but it would be a nice place to stay if you want some pampering. Check out the link for more information.

Big Bend area of Texas

Lajitas Resort

Marfa   – Is an artsy town… Yes, you read that correctly. If you are into art this is the place to be in West Texas. There are lots of things to see here and it offers some neat places to stay such as the El Cosmico.

Marfa Texas in Big Bend area

The Hotel Paisano in Marfa

Marathon – Home to the famous Gage Hotel. The Gage is a must see, stay or eat. Besides the Gage there are several other places to stay in Marathon. Reservation are recommended because of its proximity to Big Bend National Park. You don’t want to get here and not have place to stay. Restaurants seem to come and go but the restaurant in the Gage is always there for your fine dining pleasure. Shirley’s Burnt Biscuit is a place to get good pastries and coffee… if it is open. Gas is limited and not always open after 5 or 6 in the evening.

Big Bend area of Texas

Gage Hotel in Marathon

Presidio  – Presidio is as close as you can get to Mexico without being in Mexico. We always enjoy stopping here and we always eat at El Patio for some good authentic Mexican food. Don’t forget to stop at Fort Leaton just outside of town on Highway 170.

Presidio Texas

El Patio Restaurant in Presidio

Presidio Texas

Ft. Leaton outside Presidio

Study Butte / Terlingua  There are several good places to stay here with several places to eat and get gas. Again it is recommended to make reservations if you are planning to stay. It is easy access to Big Bend National Park.

Van Horn

Roads

Hwy 118 –

Texas

Map of Highway 118

From Kent to Study Butte, Hwy 118 has it all. There are over 150 miles of riding fun with great motorcycle curves and amazing desert scenery. To the north Hwy 118 runs through scenic, alpine of the Davis Mountains with tight twisting and smooth curves. The McDonald Observatory, sits at 6800 ft and is a must see in the area. Ft. Davis was originally a military outpost to protect settlers from area Indians. The fort is being restored and is a state historic site. Of all the forts we have visited in Texas and elsewhere it is hands down our favorite and another must see. Just outside Alpine are the semi-desert Del Norte Mountains. Further south you drop into the desert plains of the Chihuahua Desert, where you can see the distant mountain scenery of the Christmas and Chisos Mountains. Chisos mountains are much more rustic and colorful as you approach Study Butte and Big Bend National Park. The desert mountain area is filled with unusual lava landscapes, rustic mountain scenery, smooth, fast sweeping curves. There are many wonderful vistas and spectacular panorama views around each curve.

Big Bend area of Texas

Hwy 118 with Alpine in background.

Hwy 170 –

Map Highway 170 Texas

Highway 170 is known to bikers as the “River Road.” Highway 170 extends from Study Butte to Presidio. From Study Butte heading west you will travel through the mining town of Terlingua, now a ghost town with a population 25. Terlingua is the home of the “International Championship Chili Cook-off”.

Big Bend area of Texas

Rest stop on River Road Hwy 170

From Lajitas is your ride down “one of the prettiest roads in America.” About 9.5 miles from Lajitas, on your left, is the old movie set Contrabando. Several movies were made there and is worth a look.

Big Bend area of Texas

Contrabando movie set on Hwy 170

The River Road is a spectacular ride through lush, twisting river valleys through red and purple rock rising to 1000 feet above the Rio Grande River. The road is an excellent motorcycle road; twisting and dropping to the canyon floors along the Rio Grande river. You ride through the Bofecillos Mountains formed by two ancient lava flows to the “Big Hill.” At a 15% grade it is the steepest of any regularly traveled Texas highway. Just outside Presidio, take time to visit Fort Leaton State Historic Site. It is one of Texas’ most unusual historic sites. Fort Leaton is a massive adobe fortress built-in 1848 immediately after the Mexican War.

Hwy 385 –

map highway 358 Texas

Highway 385 is the gateway of Big Bend National Park. For the most part Hwy 385 is a typical West Texas highway with scenic views of the mountains in the distance. Once in the park it becomes more scenic and ends at the park welcome center at Panther Junction.

Big bend area of Texas

Hwy 385 looking north to Marathon.

Hwy 166 Loop –

map highway 166 Big Bend area of Texas

The mountains and plains around Fort Davis are a rider’s paradise. . The Scenic Loop mileage is about 75 miles. The elevation changes from about 5,000 feet in town to a maximum of 6,270 feet with lots of ups and downs of several hundred feet in-between.

Hwy 17 –

 

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Hwy 17 Ft Davis to Balmorhea

Highway 17 from Fort Davis to Balmorhea is one of my personal favorite roads in the area. The scenery is a must see if you are in the area. At times you think you are not in West Texas.

Leaving Fort Davis you travel through scenic Limpia Canyon in the Davis Mountains. There is a maximum speed limit of 55 mph. In Limpia Canyon, the road is narrow and has many nice motorcycle curves, with speeds as low as 40 mph. There are also several picnic tables in the canyon where you can stop and take in the wonderful scenery. There is one large picnic area just before reaching Wild Rose Pass. About 1.8 miles past the pass, the road widens and the speed limit increases to 70 mph from there into Balmorhea.

 Our Motorcycle Rides to Big Bend

If Big Bend looks like something you would like to do, you might like reading about some of our rides there. The above information was invaluable when planning these trips. These can also be good road trips if you are driving.

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