Backcountry Car Camping in Big Bend pt 3

Moonrise over a prickly pear cactus

In my last two posts (Part 1 and Part 2), I talked about the “primitive roadside campsites” in Big Bend National Park that are (mostly) along the paved park roads and that are along dirt roads in the southern section of the park.  Today, I’d like to continue this discussion of “primitive roadside campsites” by talking about the campsites along dirt roads in the northern and western parts of the park.  The Old Ore Road requires high clearance and 4×4, but the Old Maverick Road, located in the far western part of the park, is usually accessible by all vehicles.



To camp in any of these backcountry campsites, you will need to get a permit at the visitor center’s backcountry office.  Permits are $10 (5/10), and can include up to 14 nights per permit.  Campsites cannot be reserved; however, you can get your permit 24 hours in advance if you wish.  All permits must be gotten in person, and cannot be gotten over the telephone.  The process can be sped up if you fill out the Backcountry Planning Worksheet ( before you go to get your permit.  While getting the permit, you will decide what campsites you want which nights, and the ranger will enter this into their records so that they won’t have two people in the same campsite on the same night.  Also, if you don’t turn in your permit at the end of your stay, they can go looking for you in the area that you were camping in.  They may or may not do this, so don’t believe that if you don’t show up on time they’ll miraculously come rescue you: this is not a safeguard against common sense!  Each night that is on your permit, you can sleep in the site written on the permit.  We’ve never been “checked on”, but it would be a good thing to have your permit handy if a park ranger should come along.



Primitive Dirt Roads (North/West)



Old Ore Road

This is a rugged 27-mile backcountry road that is recommended for high clearance vehicles only; 4×4 is strongly encouraged.  The road follows the western flank of the Dead Horse Mountains with great views and incredible solitude.  A total of 11 campsites are located along the road, which begins near Rio Grande Village, and winds its way northward to connect with the Dagger Flat Auto Trail.


Camp de Leon (Old Ore Road)

Located 3.6 miles north of the Old Ore Road’s connection with the main park road, there is one site in this camping area (CL-1).  This campsite is the farthest south on the road.


La Noria (Old Ore Road)

Two campsites are located at this site (LN-1 and LN-2).  LN-1 is 4.9 miles from the southern end of the Old Ore Road, while LN-2 is 0.15 miles beyond.  Sand in this area requires that vehicles have high clearance.


Ernst Basin (Old Ore Road)

There is only one campsite in this area (EB-1), located exactly 10 miles from the south end of the Old Ore Road, and 16.4 miles from the northern end.  Unlike other sites, there is no rock sign on the Old Ore Road indicating the camping site.  Keep your eyes open for the turnoff south of the Willow Tank Turnoff.


Willow Tank (Old Ore Road)

Again, there is only one campsite in this area (WT-1), although it is not far from the Ernst Basin camping area.  This campsite is 10.1 miles from the southern end of the Old Ore Road, and 16.3 miles from the northern end.  There is a 0.1 mile access road to the site on the west side of the Old Ore Road.  There is an earthen water tank in this area, and the natural spring nearby is a good place to spot wildlife



Telephone Canyon (Old Ore Road)


Two campsites are located on this site, TC-1 and TC-2.  A ¼ mile access road to the campsites is located 14 miles up the Old Ore Road from the south end (12.4 miles from the northern end).  TC-1 is 0.1 miles before TC-2.


Roy’s Peak Vista (Old Ore Road)

One campsite is at this camping area (RP-1).  The access road (0.1 miles in length) is located 17 miles from the southern end of the Old Ore Road, and 9.3 miles from the northern end.  The remains of an old ranch are nearby.


McKinney Spring (Old Ore Road)

A 50-yard access road leads to the one campsite at McKinney Spring (MS-1).  The access road is 19 miles from the south end of the Old Ore Road, and 7.3 miles from the northern end.  The site is protected from the wind between two ridges.



Old Maverick Road

Unlike the other roads in this post, this one is typically open to all vehicles and, although bumpy, is well-maintained.  The road is located in the far western part of the park, and connects the main park road near the western entrance with the Santa Elena Canyon Trailhead.  There are a total of 5 campsites along the 13-mile road.


Rattlesnake Mountain (Old Maverick Road)

One campsite (RM-1) is located here, along the Old Maverick Road.  Unfortunately, I was not able to find exact milages to the campsite; however, it is the most northern of the campsites on the Old Maverick Road.


Terlingua Abajo (Old Maverick Road)

Three campsites are located in this area, TA-1, TA-2, and TA-3.  All are at the end of a 1.7 mile access road, which is 10 miles from the northern end of the Old Maverick Road, and 2.8 miles from the southern end.  Some ruins are located nearby.



The Chimneys near the Old Maverick Road

Ocotillo Grove (Old Maverick Road)

One campsite, OG-1, is located at this site.  The access road to this campsite begins 0.6 miles down the access road for Terlingua Abajo.  The site is fairly small, and is not recommended for vehicles with trailers or RVs.  If rain is threatening, the site should not be used, as the access road becomes impassible during rain.


I hope the descriptions of these campsites have been helpful to you, and that you have found one that fits your style of camping.  I have not stayed in every one of the campsites, but the ones that I have used have more than fit our needs, and have given us a great way to enjoy the wilderness.


Fees: $20 per vehicle to enter Big Bend National Park, valid 7 days.  Big Bend Annual, Interagency, Golden Age (Senior), and Golden Access (Access) Passes are also accepted.  There is also a $10 fee per primitive camping permit.


Road ★★★☆☆

Signs ★★★☆☆

Scenery ★★★★★

Overall Rating: ★★★½☆


Go to Big Bend Backcountry Car Camping Part 1

Go to Big Bend Backcountry Car Camping Part 2


This Week’s Featured Hike!

With over 50 trails in Big Bend, this is a great resource for planning a trip to the area. It’s also good to have in your pack as you’re out hiking the mountains and deserts of Big Bend National Park.


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