Need a hike to do with children in Big Bend National Park? Love geology? Just want a fun little hike? Tuff Canyon on the road to Castolon fits the bill. Although it’s not as well-known as other trails in the park (for good reasons), it’s still a nice place to hang out or let the children run. I have spent quite a bit of time there both as a child and with younger children running, climbing, and generally exploring in an environment that, although not perfectly child-proof, isn’t too dangerous either. At only 0.75 miles RT, it’s not very long and good for families who aren’t used to hiking long distances or who need someplace to stop for an hour. There are apparently two trails, one that goes to viewpoints along the rim and the other that transverses the canyon itself; I’ll talk about walking through the canyon (since this seems the most exciting!).
Locate the trailhead on the left end of the parking area and follow the trail southwest. It is somewhat sandy, somewhat rocky, and not necessarily flat. After a short while, the trail will reach the canyon bottom. Here the trail does a 180 and begins to transverse the canyon (follow the cairns if you can locate them). Soon tuff walls will rise around you (thus the canyon’s name) and the canyon narrows. This is where the real fun begins, as there are plenty of places for children to scramble, climb, etc. However, it should be noted that the tuff that makes up the canyon crumbles easily, and should be climbed only with great caution. The tuff is also fun for those who enjoy geology; there are many layers and many, many rocks that may be of interest in the bottom of the canyon.
One of the most memorable times of exploring the canyon was just before dusk – the canyon itself was in shadow, but some of the rim was still in the sunshine. It was cool, dusky, but still warm enough and had enough light to make it just a little silent, secluded, and perhaps slightly eerie. Fun!
After about 0.35 miles, you’ll come to some darker volcanic rock. This is supposedly the end of the trail, though you can always explore further. Return by the way you came. It may not be the most exciting trail, but it’s quite fun and can be interesting if you’ve got an hour to spare along the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive.
Key GPS Coordinates for Tuff Canyon:
Tuff Canyon parking area: 29.149625N / -103.486815W (29N 8’ 58.65” / -103W 29’ 12.534”)
Trail enters Tuff Canyon: 29.149306N / -103.490173W (29N 8’ 57.501” / -103W 29’ 24.6222”)
Approximate end of the trail: 29.152785N / -103.485133 (29N 9’ 10.026” / -103W 29’ 6.4788”)
Getting to Tuff Canyon
From the Panther Junction Visitor Center, drive 13 miles west on the main park road. Turn right on the road to Castolon (Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive); this junction is very well marked and is 13 miles east of Maverick Junction. Drive 20.2 miles to the Tuff Canyon parking area (near mile post 20). This is well-marked. The parking area is 2 miles north of Castolon. A map of the park can be found at http://www.nps.gov/bibe/planyourvisit/upload/BIBE_map1_2007.pdf
Round Trip Trail Length: 0.7 miles
Fees: $20 fee to enter Big Bend National Park, valid 7 consecutive days. America the Beautiful (Interagency), Senior (Golden Age), Access (Golden Access), Volunteer, Military, and Big Bend Annual Passes also accepted
Would I go 100 miles out of my way for this?
This Week’s Featured Product!
My group bought packs very similar to this after way too many hikes of carrying water jugs of extra water on hikes. All I can say is that it was worth every penny we spent on them. Not only can everyone carry their own water (and not have to take off their pack to access it), but we can carry much more water than before. We’ve also been able to carry fewer backpacks overall because the roomy packs between the bottle holders can carry everything from peanut butter and jelly to pretzel bags to sunscreen. (We even carried apples in one pack…causing some of the group members to chant, “The apples are mush” every time the carrier bumped the pack against a rock!) If you travel in a group, I highly recommend these packs.
Fri May 26
Partly cloudy. Lows overnight in the low 70s.
Sat May 27
A mainly sunny sky. High 101F. Winds light and variable.
Sun May 28
Partly cloudy skies. A stray shower or thunderstorm is possible. High 97F. Winds NNE at 10 to 20 mph.
Mon May 29
Chance of a Thunderstorm
Variable clouds with scattered thunderstorms. High around 85F. Winds NE at 10 to 20 mph. Chance of rain 50%.
Tue May 30
Chance of a Thunderstorm
Partial cloudiness early, with scattered showers and thunderstorms in the afternoon. High near 85F. Winds E at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 40%.