Big Bend 100 Trail Showcases the Best of West Texas
Update 12.2020 The Big Bend region of Texas is experiencing unprecedented visitation during a time when resources are stretched thinner than ever. Until further notice we ask that people refrain from visiting the region or attempting this or any other routes in the area.
"From my perspective, the Big Bend 100 are the best 100 miles of backpacking in Texas," shared Ky Harkey who established this new hiking route through West Texas with Anna Claire Eddington. "The route passes through rugged canyon country, mesas overlooking Mexico, hidden waterfalls, pictographs hinting at the region's long human history, and finishes on the stunning South Rim–Texas's pride and joy, and considered a few of the best miles of trail in the entire National Park Service system."
As a proud Texas-based company, Gossamer Gear was thrilled to support Anna Claire and Ky in promoting this long trail tribute to the natural wonders of the Lone Star State.
"This region is where people go to get away from it all," Anna Claire described. "Piecing together a trail in a landscape that has been populated for thousands of years and that is receiving so much media attention, but actually sees very few visitors for its land mass, makes the Big Bend 100 seem far more remote and difficult than other trails like it."
Everything You Need to Know about the Big Bend 100 Trail
Ky's hope is that the Big Bend 100 will eventually be recognized as a National Scenic Trail, and that it can snag the title of "longest thru-hike in Texas" from the current 96-mile Lone Star Trail located north of Houston.
"That title belongs in the Big Bend region," he explained. "At least, until someone out does this route to create a new longest thru-hike in Texas–which I hope they do!"
Anna Claire reflected on the seasonality of the trail and what it can provide outdoor enthusiasts looking to escape the chill, but stay outside, "I think it adds a perfect winter backpacking option to the outdoor community, while also offering access to that elusive remoteness that we're all seeking in the great outdoors."
With some help from Anna Claire and Ky, this post covers everything you need to know about hiking the Big Bend 100 through West Texas.
Establishing the Big Bend 100 Trail
Ky is a sixth generation Texan, born and raised in Austin. He has spent several summers leading backpacking courses with the National Outdoor Leadership School and is currently the Director of Interpretation for Texas State Parks, having visited 91 out of the 95 state parks.
Anna Claire is a Louisiana native who spent her youth camping and hiking with her family. She has been slowly section hiking the Appalachian Trail, is a former National Park Service ranger, and currently works as a travel guide and sustainable tourism expert. In fact, she's starting a sustainability-focused active travel company with her sister that will help make the outdoors more accessible to women, children, and families.
With their shared passion for wilderness and connecting others to the outdoors, Anna Claire and Ky began discussions on establishing the Big Bend 100 back in the fall of 2017.
"While I grew up in Texas, I didn't make it out to Big Bend until about 10 years ago, but I fell in love instantly," Ky reflected. "Since then, I've been all over the Big Bend region paddling on the Rio Grande, canyoneering on the Mesa de Anguila, and leading backpacking trips in the state and national parks. I patrolled the state park during an annual mountain bike festival that used to be held out there, and that's really the experience that planted the seed that the two parks could be connected by a shared trail system. I pitched it to Anna Claire and her instant enthusiasm got me really excited to bring the project to life."
After gathering crucial insight from Texas State Parks staff for the vision of the 50 miles that would cross through the less-traveled backcountry of the state park, Anna Claire and Ky hit the trail in late December 2017, just a few months after deciding to make it happen. They hiked for about 10 days, collecting key information about how others could follow in their footsteps. Their full story is highlighted in the video below, presented by Gossamer Gear.
How to Hike the Big Bend 100 Trail
You'll find a wealth of knowledge about hiking the Big Bend 100 on its official website, including photos, frequently asked questions, a link to the best topographic maps to carry with you, and a contact form to get in touch with the experts. The website even includes a detailed itinerary for how to complete a 9-day trek on the trail, which covers expected daily mileage, and where to camp and find water.
As you're planning for your trip, here is some key information to keep in mind:
- The Route: Starting in the northwestern panhandle of Big Bend Ranch State Park, the route travels a 50-mile stretch of the 311,000-acre park. Around the route's halfway point, backpackers will cross through the town of Lajitas to enter the Mesa de Anguila, the westernmost expanse of Big Bend National Park. Once in the national park, the trail travels through rugged–and sometimes off-trail–terrain approaching the Chisos from the West. Navigating through Homer Wilson Ranch and Clue Creek Canyon concludes the trip on the South Rim.
- Be Prepared: This is a desert environment, so be prepared for dry camping and always check current conditions before hitting the trail.
- Best Season for Hiking: November through February is the best time to hike the trail. The Chihuahuan Desert can get very hot; in fact, it was 82-degrees Fahrenheit in Big Bend Ranch State Park on New Year's Eve 2017 when Anna Claire and Ky were hiking.
- State Park Permits: The portion through the state park requires a backcountry permit, which runs $10/night; call (512) 389-8919 for more information and to make reservations.
- National Park Permits: The portion through the national park requires backpacking permits that must be obtained in-person no more than 24 hours before your trip begins. You'll need to plan to drive/hitch out of your way to get this permit, and then make your way back to the trail.
- Shuttles: Make sure to plan your shuttle in advance to begin and end the trail. You'll also want to think through your options for getting back to a National Park Service office to get your permit mid-trail.
Anna Claire's best advice for hiking the trail?
"Slow down!" she exclaimed. "No matter how fast your feet move, you're naturally going to get worked by the desert–backsliding in arroyos, hunting for elusive cairns, and getting stuck in patches of trail overgrown with thorns. But, there is some serious magic out there! So, as long as you have enough water, take time to get lost in the side canyons and take a nap against a stone wall. Leaving time to experience whatever Big Bend has to show you is what makes this trail so special. And, how often in life do we really get to slow it all down? This is the perfect place for it."
Your Lightweight Gear List for the Big Bend 100 Trail
"While Anna Claire and I had both guided backpacking trips, and were in good all-around shape, when we left for the trail, I wouldn't say we were 'trail fit," Ky confessed. "We hadn't done much to specifically train for the long days slogging through sandy arroyos and some off-trail terrain. But, with Gossamer Gear's help, we were able to stay nimble on a trail that absolutely tested us. Anna Claire had to convince me to keep going at one point after a brutal day. If our packs had been 10 to 20 pounds heavier, I think I would have thrown in the towel. Additionally, there were a few days we had to carry extra water when we were dry camping, and we could spare the weight because we started light and fast."
Anna Claire shared this sentiment, stressing the importance of keeping light on this challenging, but rewarding trail.
"Staying lightweight is critical to the enjoyment of this trail," she shared. "The less weight you have, the more you're willing to step off the trail and explore the nooks and crannies of the Big Bend. Plus, hiking in arroyos is just a bitch, and the less weight you have, the better your chances of not absolutely hating yourself and your feet at the end of the day!"
So, thinking about hiking the Big Bend 100? We don't blame you. It's awesome. But, let Gossamer Gear help make your trip a little more enjoyable with this lightweight packing list:
- Backpack: Ky hiked with the Gorilla 40, clocking in at just 30.5 ounces for the medium size. If you're looking for something with a little more volume, try our beloved Mariposa 60. If you want to fully embrace the West Texas ethos, then grab yourself a Ranger 35 from the Gossamer Gear Texas Collection!
- Shelter: Ky and Anna Claire enjoyed the lightweight protection of Gossamer Gear's The Two tent. If you're looking for more of a "cowboy camping" feel, but still want to have the option of taking cover if you need to, you might want to check out the Twinn Tarp, which, like The Two, can be set up using your trekking poles.
- Sun Protection: Backpacking in the desert means a lot of exposure. Keep yourself protected by using a hiking umbrella (yep, an umbrella for sunnydays!). You should also bring some SPF, and may also want to consider a sun hat and lightweight, breathable, long-sleeve shirts and pants to cover up from the elements.
- Hydration: Remember that you'll likely need to carry more water than you're used to for this trail. Bring multiple storage options and make sure to check for leaks before hitting the trail. We recommend a 2- or 3-liter Platypus bag and some repurposed plastic water bottles (check out our Smart Water bottle upgrade kit!).
- Cooking: Remember to pack a lightweight stove system (or, hey, maybe just cook dinner in your pants?!), and you should probably bring along the world's most beloved and badass bamboo backpacking spoon.
- Food: Anna Claire recommends bringing plenty of salty snacks along with you on the trail, as well as some electrolyte tablets to help with hydration.
- Navigation and Safety: Of course, don't forget the other accessories you'll need for navigation and safety, such as a compass, your maps, a headlamp, a first aid kit, a knLeave No Trace badassery.
"Overall, it was just great to see a group of hikers like the Gossamer Gear team believe in this trail from the first mention," Ky reflected. "In addition to gear, they've offered a ton of support to keep the whole project moving forward."
Gossamer Gear is proud to have been able to partner with Anna Claire and Ky in establishing this awesome new West Texas route. We hope our lightweight gear gives you a launching point from which to explore the unique beauty, challenge, and excitement of the Big Bend 100. If you hike this trail, make sure to share your stories with us by tagging @gossamergear and using the hashtag #takeles domore.