Chisos Mountain Loop
ElevationAscent: 3,323' 1,013 m
Descent: -3,324' -1,013 m
High: 7,768' 2,368 m
Low: 5,362' 1,634 m
GradeAvg Grade: 8% (4°)
Max Grade: 35% (19°)
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“One of Big Bend's most iconic routes, featuring canyon views and an Emory Peak summit detour.”— Mikhaila Redovian
This route leaves from the Chisos Visitor Center, where you'll need to take the Pinnacles Trail for a short stretch before heading west on the Laguna Meadow Trail. Along the way, visitors will navigate varied terrain while moving through mixed forests. While more gentle than the Pinnacles Trail, this route still has some steeper portions with multiple switchbacks, which shouldn't be underestimated. If you're seeing a campsite early on, you'll be able to branch off toward the Laguna West Campsites Access Trail, where there are multiple sites available.
Continue on the Laguna Meadow Trail, and take a southern turn at a junction with the Southwest Rim Trail. The grades will ease on this trail, and you'll end up working your way south through a thinning forest. Closer to the steep cliffs of the South Rim, the vegetation diminishes, and you'll be moving through more arid, open terrain. Once you pass the backcountry campsite, make sure that your camera is handy. You'll approach the South Rim, and the ground will fall away. As you work your way east along the rim, continue to soak in the incredible views, but don't get too absorbed to miss the junction with the Southeast Rim Trail. You'll essentially continue straight, but you'll want to make a note of the change nonetheless.
Visitors looking to spend the night closer to the half way point might choose to camp at one of many sites located near the NE-4 Backcountry Campsite Access Trail.
Just after the campsites, visitors will transition to the Northeast Rim Trail, which will begin to move back to the north. While the descent hasn't started in earnest, this portion of trail provides a respite from the steady climb to the South Rim.
Enjoy the relaxing trail portion, and continue moving north when you come to an intersection with the Boot Canyon Trail. The trail will continue to descend, though the Boot Canyon Trail will be a bit steeper. In any case, relish the scenery and easy navigation, because all too soon, the Emory Peak Trail will branch off to the left, headed west.
This short but challenging bit of trail will be strenuous, but rewarding. The trail switchbacks through mixed forest, so there will be some shade during this stretch. For those navigating the loop with heavy backpacks, conveniently located Bear Boxes make a perfect spot to leave your gear for the summit push. Make sure your camera comes to the summit with you, the views are well worth the extra effort! Once you've enjoyed the summit, head back down to the bear boxes, and continue north on the Pinnacles Trail.
From the top of Emory Peak, your journey back to the trailhead and your vehicle will be all downhill. The Pinnacles Trail is a bit steeper than the Laguna Meadow Trail, so watch your step, especially if you've had a long day already. The trail will wind through a forested portion of the park, so you'll be able to enjoy a shaded trail.
With a consistent downhill, the last few miles of the loop will be quick ones, and you'll soon find yourself back at the trailhead, visitors center, and your vehicle.
Keep your eyes peeled for the rare gem that is the Colima warbler. It is a small, brown or gray bird with a patch of orange near the base of its tail feathers. In the summer months, this bird can only be found in the upper elevations of the canyons in the Chisos Mountains and not anywhere else in the entire world. It lays its nests on the ground and is often spotted foraging in thick undergrowth or around the lower levels of oak trees.
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Land Manager: NPS - Big Bend National Park