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Southwest Road Trip: Phoenix to Big Bend National Park

Phoenix to Big Bend

Nestled in West Texas, just along the border of Mexico, Big Bend National Park offers adventurers a breathtaking wonderland of sweeping mountains, sprawling desert landscapes, and jaw-dropping river canyons. From Phoenix, Arizona, the journey to Big Bend crosses three state lines and traverses through a treasure trove of spectacular vistas, idyllic towns, and historic monuments. 

To help plan your epic Southwest road trip, we’ve compiled the ultimate, 6-day camper van adventure from Phoenix to Big Bend National Park!

Travel Time from Phoenix to Big Bend National Park

The journey from Escape Camper Vans’ Phoenix location to Big Bend National Park takes approximately 12 hours to drive, and spans across Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. The completed, roundtrip route covers nearly 1,490 miles and would take a little over 22 hours to drive straight through. 

With so many stunning sights along the way, we recommend allotting at least 6 days to make the most of this Southwest road trip to Big Bend!

Best Time of Year to Visit Big Bend National Park

A southwest road trip to Big Bend National Park is enjoyable (almost) year-round, though some months are definitely more appealing than others. To help you decide when to embark on your adventure, we’ve put together some of the biggest advantages and disadvantages to keep in mind for each season.

Spring

Moderate temperatures make Spring an ideal time to venture through Big Bend. However, this is also the park’s busiest, and therefore most crowded, time of year. Because of its popularity, Big Bend National Park campgrounds fill up incredibly quickly over Spring Break. You’re better off waiting until after mid-March if you’re hoping to find available camping spots inside the park.

Fall

Autumn is the other top season to visit Big Bend National Park. As the temperatures begin to cool off from the summer, the weather becomes perfect for long days of hiking. However, we recommend avoiding Big Bend over Thanksgiving weekend. Many families spend the holiday camping in the park and the crowds can be overwhelming.

Winter

If you don’t mind venturing into less predictable weather conditions, the winter can be a great time to visit Big Bend. Temperatures tend to be comfortable, although nights can be extremely cold. During their journey, winter roadtrippers may even catch a rare glimpse of the desert draped in a light blanket of snow.

Summer

Scorching temperatures that often reach past 100 degrees make the summer a much less appealing time to travel to Big Bend. The summer months also coincide with the park’s rainy season, when intense thunderstorms can sometimes cause flash flooding. If you do decide to visit from June through August, focus on the Chisos Mountains, as this area tends to be a bit cooler than the rest of the park. If you’re still keen on making a national park road trip happen during the summer, consider heading to Yellowstone and Grand Teton instead.

Preparing for Your Southwest Camper Van Road Trip

This Southwest road trip leads you through three different states, along with varying landscapes, climates, and secluded areas where you’ll find minimal facilities. Doing a bit of research and proper preparation is necessary to guarantee an epic trip, rather than a stressful week on the road.

Safety Precautions

As most of your time will be spent in the desert during this trip, there are a few safety precautions you’ll need to keep in mind. Firstly, ensure that you’re staying hydrated by stocking up on plenty of water before leaving Phoenix. Sun protection is also key on this route, so pack a high SPF, sun-protecting hat, and light clothing that will be comfortable for traversing through the arid, desert landscapes. 

Suggested Gear

Make the most of your time at each campsite by packing a portable grill, and adding in a kitchen kit and camp chairs. This way, you’ll have everything you need to enjoy the mesmerizing stargazing opportunities that the desert provides, right from your campsite. With such an abundance of desert wildlife in the Southwest, binoculars will also be great to have on hand during the day!

Navigational Tools

Since your Smartphone will likely serve as your main navigation tool, make sure you pack portable chargers and a power bank as an extra backup.

While a GPS will be essential for navigating the many stops along this route, it shouldn’t be your only resource. With many secluded areas on this drive and minimal signal within the park, having a paper map to refer to during your trip is paramount. For Big Bend specifically, a physical map can be obtained at the park entrance, and makes a great souvenir to look back on later!

Which Camper Van Is Best For a Phoenix to Big Bend Road Trip?

There are a number of camper van models to choose from at Escape Camper Vans, and the best vehicle for you will depend on your specific travel needs and preferences. From our Phoenix location, choose from the Mavericks, Mesa or Del Mar. All three sleep up to 5 campers (with a rooftop sleeper) and contain kitchenettes, although the Mavericks is slightly more compact than the other two.

Interior view of campervan

Phoenix to Big Bend National Park Itinerary

Day 1- Tombstone, Arizona

Your southwest journey begins at the Escape Camper Vans location in Phoenix, AZ. After packing up your camper van with all your road trip essentials, hop behind the wheel and make the 2 hour and 45 minute drive down to Tombstone, Arizona

Step back in time as you explore the quirky town of Tombstone, renowned for its strong ties to the Old Wild West. Spend your day wandering through the town’s impeccably-preserved historic district, while learning about its fascinating past.

Thing to do in Tombstone, AZ

O.K. Corral Reenactment- Immerse yourself in tales of America’s Old West by marveling at a re-enactment of the historic gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Step into the shoes of those who were present on October 26, 1881, as you feel the anguish and turmoil of that infamous shootout. While the event only lasted 30-seconds, it made a lasting mark on Tombstone’s history. Re-enactments take place 3 times per day, and there’s an historic exhibit that’s worth checking out after the show!

The Birdcage Theater Originally opened in 1881, this infamous theater once served as Tombstone’s saloon and brothel, as well as the setting for the longest poker game in history. Today, wander through the relics of the theater’s lawless past, where original bullet holes, brothel rooms, and poker tables are still strewn throughout the property.

Boot Hill Graveyard Pay a somber visit to this small graveyard, created exclusively for outlaws. Several casualties from the O.K. Corral gunfight have been laid to rest here, including Curly Bill and the McLaury Brothers.

Where To Eat in Tombstone, AZ

Big Nose Kate’s Saloon417 E Allen St, Tombstone, AZ 85638: Originally opened at the Grand Hotel in 1880, this historic saloon boasts classic western cuisine and nightly live music performances. Before sitting down for your meal, grab a drink from their authentic bar, which has remained unchanged since 1880!

Crystal Palace436 E Allen St, Tombstone, AZ 85638: This legendary, Arizona establishment dates back to 1879, when it served as a saloon and gambling hall. Today, the popular eatery is known for its hearty comfort food and vibrant atmosphere.

Where to Camp in Tombstone, AZ

Tombstone RV Park and Campground1475 AZ-80, Tombstone, AZ 85638: Centrally located in Tombstone, camping options include tent and RV sites, either of which can be reserved via their website. Restrooms, laundry facilities, a swimming pool, and picnic tables are all available at this year round campground.

Stampede RV Resort18 W Allen St, Tombstone, AZ 85638: This year-round site must be reserved in advance, and facilities include restrooms, laundry facilities, and a convenient camp store. The popular Stampede’s Shot Gun Cafe is also located on site!

Day 2- Las Cruces, New Mexico

After a filling breakfast in town, leave the Wild West behind in favor of New Mexico’s vast desert landscape. About 3 hours and 45 minutes from Tombstone, you’ll arrive in the mystifying city of Las Cruces, NM. Lined by the Chihuahuan Desert and overlooking the imposing Organ Mountains, Las Cruces perfectly blends outdoor wonders with a vibrant and fascinating city center.

Things to do in Las Cruces, NM

Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument Explore New Mexico’s incredibly steep mountain range as you traverse this jaw-dropping, national monument. Hike along desert trails, gaze at ancient petroglyphs, and trek past narrow canyon walls, all while being captivated by the desert’s irresistible pull.

Las Cruces’ Historic Downtown Take a stroll along the historic Mesquite Street, admiring traditional adobe houses, local shops, and art deco theaters along the way. As Las Cruces’ oldest neighborhood, the history and stories in this area are palpable, and well worth a visit.

White Sands National Park Less than one hour away from Las Cruces, spend the day trekking through an infinite field of white sand dunes! Cruise down the towering dunes while sand sledding, or meander through this trail-less wonderland on foot. Wildlife-spotting opportunities are also abundant, as antelope, bobcats, coyotes, and mountain lions all reside in White Sands.

Where To Eat in Las Cruces, NM

La Posta de Mesilla2410 Calle De San Albino, Mesilla, NM 88046: A stagecoach station from the 18th century houses this popular eatery where classic New Mexican dishes are served. The unique space features eclectic decor, a lively courtyard, a piranha tank, and an unexpected aviary filled with tropical birds!

 

Andele Restaurant1950 Calle Del Norte #1-3, Mesilla, NM 88046: For decadent Mexican cuisine served in an inviting atmosphere, this father-daughter owned establishment is a local favorite. They’re also celebrated for being one of the first dog-friendly eateries in the area, so feel free to bring your furry friends along for dinner!

Campgrounds near Las Cruces, NM

Aguirre Spring CampgroundAguirre Springs Rd, Las Cruces, NM 88011: Wake up to the fresh air of the Organ Mountains as you gaze out at White Sand Dunes National Park in the distance. This incredibly scenic campground is mostly first come, first served, although some sites can be booked in advance. The campground operates all year and features a picnic table and grill at each site.

 

Greasewood Campground– Leasburg Dam State Park, Las Cruces, NM 88007: Just 25 minutes from Las Cruces, this tranquil site offers electric and sewer hookups, vault toilets, showers, and picnic tables. The park where this campground is situated is also a premier spot for stargazing, and features an observatory that is open once a month. Reservations for this year round site can be made on their website.

Hacienda RV Resort740 Stern Dr, Las Cruces, NM 88005: This convenient site is centrally located and offers full hookups, a community space, hot tub, and spacious restrooms. Open year round, sites can be booked in advance via their website.

Ukiah Oregon

Day 3- Big Bend National Park, Texas

On your third day, you’ll finally cross into Texas where you’ll arrive at Big Bend National Park. The drive from Las Cruces is a lengthy one, averaging a little over 5 hours. However, all that time spent on the road will be well worth it once you uncover Big Bend’s majestic beauty. An expansive desert terrain is flanked by towering mountains, as the Rio Grande streams through this enchanting landscape. With 800,000 acres of raw, natural beauty to explore, it’s not hard to see why the park is often referred to as “Texas’ gift to the nation.”

Things to do in Big Bend National Park

Santa Elena CanyonTo experience the striking canyon walls that tower along the Rio Grande, embark on a moderate, 1.7 mile hike, or skip the trail and head straight to the panoramic, Santa Elena Canyon Overlook. To fully experience the canyon’s grandeur, join a canoe or rafting trip along the river and admire the towering cliffs from a new perspective.

Go HikingThe jaw-dropping Chisos Mountain Range spans 20 miles, and contains some of the best hiking trails within Big Bend. For an unparalleled view of the park, the Emory Peak Trail is our top choice. 

Rio GrandeUnwind in a nearby hot spring, embark on a scenic river hike, or venture out on a raft or canoe. This magnificent river offers a wealth of outdoor excursions, and is a top highlight within Big Bend.

StargazingBig Bend is a premier site for admiring the night sky, and has even been named a Dark Sky Park. Embrace the desert’s sheer darkness as planets, constellations, and meteors light up the sky. 

Where To Eat near Big Bend National Park

Starlight Theatre631 Ivey Rd, Terlingua, TX 79852: Located in Terlingua Ghost Town, this historic old movie theater is now a lively restaurant featuring classic Texan meals and live entertainment in an eclectic atmosphere.

Chili Pepper Café100 TX-118, Terlingua, TX 79852: This unassuming eatery serves delicious Tex-Mex and Northern Chihuahuan cuisine, and is a favorite among locals in the area! Enjoy their authentic dishes from the charming picnic tables just outside of their entrance. 

Campgrounds in Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park contains 4 developed campgrounds, one of which is specifically for RV’s. While all of the sites offer restrooms and potable drinking water, Rio Grande Village is the only option with showers available.

Cottonwood Campground operates from November through April, and reservations are required. All the other campgrounds are open year round and must be booked ahead of time, with reservations usually opening up 6 months in advance.

In Big Bend National Park, campsites fill up incredibly quickly and can be very hard to reserve. Luckily, there are also a number of campgrounds outside of the park, as well as 64 primitive roadside campsites inside Big Bend.

Day 4: Marfa, Texas

After immersing yourself in Big Bend’s scenic landscapes, it’s time to begin making your way back towards Phoenix. Not to worry, though- you’ve still got a couple of magnificent stops ahead of you.

Just one and a half hours north of Big Bend National Park, you’ll find the alluringly vibrant city of Marfa, Texas. Serving as an urban sanctuary in the middle of a vast desert landscape, Marfa is renowned for its strong ties to the artistic community. From gallery hopping to visiting the world’s most unexpected Prada store, a day in Marfa will be filled with plenty of entertainment- and art!

Things to do in Marfa, TX

The Marfa LightsThe mystifying Marfa Lights have left observers scratching their heads since the 19th century. Just off the U.S. Route 67, the unexplained, glowing orbs have both spooked and enticed visitors for years, as nobody can identify the source of these mysterious lights. 

Explore Downtown Marfa As a haven for artists, Marfa’s historic downtown is laden with art galleries, showcasing the works of both prominent artists and newcomers from across the globe. For out-of-the-box exhibits, pop into the Ballroom Marfa and Chinati Foundation

Places To Eat in Marfa, TX

LaVenture105 S Highland Ave, Marfa, TX 79843: Nestled in the Saint George Hotel, this chic eatery serves elevated, New American cuisine in a sophisticated setting. Their seasonal specials are always a hit, as is their extensive cocktail menu.

Cochineal107 W San Antonio St, Marfa, TX 79843: The husband and wife team behind this popular eatery aim to serve refined cuisine in an accessible and welcoming setting. All their produce is either sourced from their own garden, or from local farmers and ranches in thea. Therefore, their menu changes weekly, based on which ingredients are in season.

Campgrounds near Marfa, TX

Tumble In RV Park93320 US-90, Marfa, TX 79843: This family-owned campground contains 22 campsites, along with restrooms, showers, and laundry facilities. Reservations must be made before your arrival date, and the site operates year round.

Marfa Yacht Club990 Antelope Hills Rd, Marfa, TX 79843: While this fun property focuses on Airstream glamping, they also have plenty of camping spaces available. This year round site must be booked in advance, and amenities include full hookups, a heated pool, and a bocce court!

Mountain landscape with campervan - 9O8A1799

Day 5- Tucson, Arizona

Your final road trip stop will bring you to Tucson, Arizona, a captivating city nestled in the Sonoran Desert. Located less than two hours from Escape Camper Vans’ Phoenix location, a night in Tucson will ensure a seamless journey back to drop off your camper van in the morning. 

Things to do in Tucson, AZ

Mission San Xavier del BacDating back to the 1700’s, this historic church is Arizona’s oldest European structure that is still fully intact. Admire the monument’s pristine, Spanish Colonial architecture before gazing at the intricate murals that line its interior.

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum This multifaceted experience includes a botanical garden, art gallery, history museum, aquarium, and zoo! Needless to say, one could easily spend the day exploring this 98 acre space, learning about the flora and fauna that make up the Sonoran Desert’s ecosystem.

Where To Eat in Tucson, AZ

El Charro Café311 N Court Ave, Tucson, AZ 85701: Since 1922, this beloved eatery has been serving up mouthwatering, traditional Mexican cuisine. Monica Flin, the restaurant’s founder, is also celebrated as (accidentally) inventing the original chimichanga!

Penca Restaurante50 E Broadway Blvd, Tucson, AZ 85701: For classic Mexican dishes enjoyed in a contemporary restaurant, look no further! Between the thoughtfully plated meals, inviting ambiance, and varied drinks menu, it’s no wonder this is one of Tucson’s most popular eateries. 

Campgrounds near Tucson, AZ

Picacho Peak State Park15520 Picacho Peak Rd, Picacho, AZ 85141: The stunning site is open year round and reservations can be made online or by phone. To avoid light pollution, the state park where this campground is situated has strict rules about using outdoor lights after 10 pm. While this site is located 40 minutes north of Tucson, it does place you closer to Phoenix.

Cactus Country RV Resort10195 S Houghton Rd, Tucson, AZ 85747: Centrally located in Tucson, this site is open year round and requires guests to make reservations by phone. Their long list of amenities include showers, a pool, laundry facilities, and a dump station.

Day 6- Drive from Tucson to Phoenix, AZ

After an early wake up and breakfast at your campsite, pack up your camper van one last time as you head to Phoenix. The drive to Escape Camper Vans should take less than two hours, and you’ll be met with plenty of magnificent desert views along the way. Just remember to keep your scheduled drop off time in mind.

Why Choose a Camper Van for Your Big Bend Road Trip?

A road trip from Phoenix to Big Bend National Park is as much about the journey as the destination itself. From vast desert terrain to vibrant cities and historic sites, the ground you’ll cover on this route will be incredibly diverse. Having a camper van will give you the mobility to get off the beaten track, as well as the freedom and spontaneity to choose your adventure as you go!

Freedom and Spontaneity

Each stop along this road trip, as well as Big Bend National Park itself, offer a plethora of adventures and excursions to choose from. Rather than being tied down by a strict itinerary, an agile and easy to maneuver camper van allows you the freedom to be spontaneous. Detour down an unexpected, desert pathway, make a spur-of-the-moment pit stop, or venture on a less-frequented trail in Big Bend. 

Ease and Convenience

Compared to the limited mobility of a large RV, a camper van can easily fit in tight spaces, drive down winding, mountain roads, and access more remote trailheads. The fact that our camper vans are self-contained also guarantees that you’ll have everything you need readily available. This way, you can focus on immersing yourself in nature, rather than needing to deal with the extra logistics that come with a traditional RV.

Ready for Adventure

Our adventure ready camper vans are guaranteed to enrich your experience. Visit harder to reach landmarks that wouldn’t be accessible without your camper van, and open yourself up to even more camping opportunities. Rather than being limited to an RV resort, camp under the stars in more remote areas, or try dispersed camping out in the desert!

Reserve with Escape Camper Vans for your Southwest Road Trip

From immersing yourself in the Old Wild West to canoeing down the Rio Grande River, this memorable journey will allow you to experience some of the Southwest’s most iconic towns and awe-inspiring landscapes. Spend your days hiking through unmatched, desert terrain and your nights relaxing under the stars. Reserve your Escape Campervan today, and get ready to embark on the ultimate Southwest road trip to Big Bend National Park!

Book My Big Bend Trip!

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