Tuff Canyon: For the Children and the Geologist

Cliffs in Tuff Canyon, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Cliffs in Tuff Canyon

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!).



Looking down at people hiking in Tuff Canyon from its rim, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Looking down at people hiking in Tuff Canyon from its rim

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.


Walking in Tuff Canyon, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Your intrepid author (many years ago) walking in Tuff 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:

Rocks and Cliffs from the rim of Tuff Canyon, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Rocks and Cliffs in Tuff Canyon from the rim

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

Facilities: None

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


Trail ★★★☆☆

Road ★★★★★

Signs ★★★☆☆

Scenery ★★★☆☆

Would I go 100 miles out of my way for this? ★★☆☆☆

Overall Rating: ★★★☆☆


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.


Lumbar Waist Pack – Holds Two Water Bottles

List Price: Price Not Listed
New From: 0 Out of Stock
Used from: Out of Stock





Wed Jan 24


Sunny. High 61F. N winds shifting to E at 10 to 15 mph.

Partly Cloudy


Thu Jan 25


Partly Cloudy
Partly cloudy. High near 65F. Winds S at 5 to 10 mph.



Fri Jan 26


Sunny. High 74F. Winds SSW at 5 to 10 mph.



Sat Jan 27


Mainly sunny. High 74F. Winds N at 10 to 20 mph.



Sun Jan 28


Sunny skies. High 67F. Winds NE at 5 to 10 mph.


2 thoughts on “Tuff Canyon: For the Children and the Geologist

  1. Pingback: The Best Hikes in Big Bend National Park

  2. Minnow1

    Usually I don’t post on blogs, but I desire to say that this write-up very forced me to try and do so! Thanks, incredibly nice article.