The American Southwest has no shortage of stories to tell and sights to see, and the vast stretch of land between Phoenix, Arizona, and Big Bend National Park is no exception. This route offers arid desert plains, stunning mountain ranges, and historic hamlets that can transport you to the Old West – and there’s no better way to enjoy this incredible road trip than from the comforts of a campervan. So, we’ve put together this five-day itinerary for you to take the ultimate road trip from Phoenix to Big Bend. Let’s hit the road!
Travel Time from Phoenix to Big Bend National Park
Although Big Bend might seem a world away from Phoenix, it’s a journey of approximately 800 miles. On a straight run, this translates to around 12-14 hours of driving. However, who’d want to rush with the plethora of must-see spots en route?
To truly immerse in the tapestry of sights, sounds, and experiences, allocate at least 4-5 days. This gives ample time to wander, explore, and even take those delightful unplanned detours that often end up being the highlight of any road trip.
Best Time of Year for a Phoenix to Big Bend Trip
While every season in the Southwest holds its own charm, fall and spring stand out as the most ideal times to drive from Phoenix to Big Bend. Temperatures are more moderate, making daytime explorations pleasant and nighttime campouts cozy. Winter can also offer its own perks, and lucky road trippers might catch stunning views of snow-capped desert landscapes. Unless you’re ready to encounter soaring and sometimes even dangerous temperatures, we wouldn’t recommend this road trip in peak summer months.
Preparing for Your Phoenix to Big Bend Journey
Before diving into the beauty of the Southwest, adequate preparation is vital. This journey, while mesmerizing, traverses some challenging terrains and remote areas where amenities can be sparse. Ensuring you have everything you need can make all the difference between an adventure of a lifetime and a challenging ordeal.
This route is predominantly desert, making hydration paramount. Stock up on water, more than you think you’ll need. The desert sun is relentless, so high SPF sunblock, wide-brimmed hats, and light, breathable clothing are indispensable. Despite the best precautions, the unpredictable can happen, making a comprehensive first-aid kit a non-negotiable item in your inventory.
Elevate your road trip experience with some add-ons. A portable grill can turn a regular night into a BBQ feast under the stars. Given the scenic camping spots along the route, camping gear is advisable. The Southwest’s diverse wildlife, especially the plethora of bird species, makes binoculars a worthy inclusion in your pack.
While we live in a digital age, relying solely on GPS can be a risk, especially in remote stretches where signal can be a luxury. A physical map of the Southwest can be both a reliable backup and a nostalgic nod to traditional road trips. And, with the dependence on mobile devices, having multiple chargers and perhaps a power bank ensures you stay connected and on course.
Which Camper Van Is Best For This Phoenix to Big Bend Road Trip?
Escape Campervans’ diverse fleet of campervan models is tailored to cater to different group dynamics and travel aspirations. Engineered for the ultimate road trip experience, these vehicles offer the perfect mix of flexibility and comfort with inbuilt kitchenettes and cozy queen-sized beds. Our Phoenix location offers the Mavericks, Mesa, and Del Mar campervan models, which can accommodate up to 5 travelers (including a rooftop sleeper option).
Phoenix to Big Bend Route Highlights
The route from Phoenix to Big Bend is dotted with many attractions, each offering a unique slice of the Southwest. While the open road is a star, some stops are quintessential.
Stop 1: Tucson, AZ
As you leave the Phoenix metropolitan sprawl, the cityscape gives way to expansive vistas, eventually welcoming you to Tucson, a gem in the heart of Arizona.
Explore the Historic Mission San Xavier del Bac
The Mission San Xavier del Bac is a masterpiece of colonial Spanish architecture and a testament to the region’s rich history. Its gleaming white facade against the backdrop of a clear blue sky is a sight to behold. Delve deeper, and you’ll discover a rich tapestry of Native American and Spanish influences, making it a visual treat and a cultural immersion.
Visit the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
More than just a museum, this institution is a blend of a zoo, a botanical garden, and an art gallery. Spread across 98 acres, it offers an in-depth look into the Sonoran Desert’s ecosystem. With over 230 animal species and thousands of plant varieties, it’s an interactive education on the beauty and complexity of desert life.
Where To Eat in Tucson
After a day of exploration, Tucson’s culinary scene is ready to tantalize your taste buds. For those craving authentic Mexican, El Charro Café, established in 1922, boasts a rich heritage and an even richer menu. Suppose you’re in the mood for a modern spin on classic dishes. In that case, Penca Restaurante offers a delightful array of central Mexican-inspired cuisine in a chic urban setting, ensuring a memorable dining experience every time.
STOP 2: Tombstone, AZ
No Southwest road trip is complete without a stop in the legendary town of Tombstone. Often referred to as “The Town Too Tough to Die,” Tombstone is a time capsule that throws visitors back into the lawless days of the Wild West.
Relive the Wild West at O.K. Corral
The infamous gunfight at the O.K. Corral is a staple of Wild West lore. At this historic site, the echoes of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and the Clanton brothers still resonate. Live re-enactments bring the fateful day of October 26, 1881, to life, giving visitors a firsthand experience of the tension and drama of the 30-second shootout that would etch itself in history.
The Birdcage Theater and Boot Hill Graveyard
The Birdcage Theater is more than just a theater; it’s a chronicle of Tombstone’s raucous past. Bullet holes and poker tables tell tales of frontier gamblers, gunfighters, and miners. A few blocks away, the Boot Hill Graveyard stands as a solemn reminder of the town’s tumultuous history. The graves of those who died with their boots on, including some from the O.K. Corral shootout, rest on this hill.
Where To Eat in Tombstone
For a dining experience that’s as legendary as the town itself, Big Nose Kate’s Saloon offers hearty meals, lively music, and an authentic saloon atmosphere. The Crystal Palace, with its historic bar and vibrant ambiance, transports you back to the 1800s, making every meal a delightful journey through time.
STOP 3: Las Cruces, NM
Trading the gritty Wild West landscapes for the enchanting terrains of New Mexico, the next stop is Las Cruces. Nestled in the fertile Mesilla Valley between the majestic Organ Mountains and the meandering Rio Grande, Las Cruces offers a blend of history, culture, and natural beauty.
Explore the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument
The rugged spires of the Organ Mountains are not just a visual spectacle but also a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. With a tapestry of canyons, trails, and archaeological sites, the national monument offers myriad opportunities for hiking, camping, and exploring. The flora and fauna, from agaves to golden eagles, enhance the desert’s allure.
Wander Las Cruces’ Historical Downtown and Adobe Landmarks
Las Cruces’ downtown is an architectural delight with its historic adobe landmarks and art deco theaters. Meander through the streets, and you’re treated to vibrant murals, boutique shops, and a palpable sense of the city’s rich history and cultural diversity.
Take In The Wonder of White Sands
A short drive from Las Cruces takes you to White Sands National Park, a place like no other. Here, the endless white sand dunes can make you feel like you’re on another planet entirely. You can walk the dunes, try sand sledding, or join a park ranger to learn about the area. Visiting during sunrise or sunset is a treat, with the sands glowing in soft colors. Plus, keep an eye out for unique desert animals and plants that call White Sands home. It’s a must-visit spot on your journey.
Where To Eat in Las Cruces
As the sun sets, the culinary landscape of Las Cruces comes alive. La Posta de Mesilla offers traditional New Mexican cuisine in a historic compound that once hosted characters like Kit Carson. With its antique-filled rooms and vibrant courtyards, dining here is a multi-sensory experience. For those craving the flavors of Mexico, Andele Restaurant delivers authentic dishes, using locally sourced ingredients, capturing the region’s essence.
STOP 4: Marfa, TX
Amidst the vast Texan desert, Marfa has emerged as an oasis of art, mystery, and contemporary culture. This small desert city, once a quiet railroad water stop, has transformed into a haven for artists, celebrities, and those seeking the enigmatic.
Witness the Mysterious Marfa Lights
On clear nights, an unexplained phenomenon captivates those who venture near U.S. Route 67 on the outskirts of Marfa. The Marfa Lights—glowing orbs that dance, split, and merge—have baffled onlookers for generations. These ethereal lights have birthed theories ranging from atmospheric reflections to alien encounters.
Art Galleries and the Historic Marfa Courthouse
Marfa’s transformation into an art mecca began with minimalist artist Donald Judd’s arrival in the 1970s. Today, spaces like the Chinati Foundation and Ballroom Marfa showcase avant-garde exhibits. The Presidio County Courthouse, with its pink stucco exterior and commanding view of the town, stands as a testament to Marfa’s historic roots amidst its modern evolution.
Where To Eat in Marfa
If you’re in the mood for a contemporary twist on classic favorites, LaVenture at the Saint George Hotel dishes out elegantly crafted meals that showcase the rich palette of Marfa’s food culture. Cochineal also offers an upscale atmosphere, with its menu highlighting local ingredients in innovative Texan dishes.
STOP 5: Big Bend National Park, TX
Big Bend National Park is a treasure trove of natural wonders, where the Rio Grande carves a path through desert, mountains, and canyons. Spanning over 800,000 acres, there’s no shortage of unforgettable things to do in Big Bend.
Explore Big Bend’s Landscapes, from Chisos Mountains to Santa Elena Canyon
The heart of Big Bend is the rugged Chisos Mountain range, offering panoramic views, especially from the summit of Emory Peak. Santa Elena Canyon, with its sheer cliff walls rising dramatically from the river’s edge, is a testament to the erosive power of the Rio Grande. As the sun sets, the play of light on these formations creates a spectacle that’s both humbling and awe-inspiring.
Hiking, Stargazing, and the Rio Grande
With over 150 miles of trails, hikers can explore diverse terrains, from the woodland trails of the Chisos Basin to the hot springs by the river. When night falls, Big Bend, designated as a Dark Sky Park, becomes a celestial canvas, with constellations, planets, and meteors illuminating the vast expanse. For those seeking adventure on water, the Rio Grande offers opportunities for rafting and canoeing.
Where To Eat in Big Bend
After a day of exploration, refuel at the Starlight Theatre, an iconic venue in Terlingua Ghost Town, offering Texan staples with live music in a rustic setting. For those craving spicy delights, Chili Pepper Café is a must-visit, serving up Mexican favorites with a side of local charm.
Why Choose a Campervan for Your Phoenix to Big Bend Expedition?
Embarking on a road trip like Phoenix to Big Bend isn’t just about reaching from point A to point B— it’s about the journey itself. With every twist and turn, a new adventure awaits, and what better way to seize these spontaneous moments than with a campervan?
Freedom to Be Spontaneous
While a planned itinerary offers structure, sometimes the most memorable experiences are those unplanned pit-stops or detours. With a campervan, you’re not tied down. See an enticing trailhead or a picturesque sunset spot? Park, explore, and even decide to camp there for the night.
Less Cumbersome Than RVs
While RVs offer home-like amenities, they often come at the cost of mobility and efficiency. Campervans, on the other hand, offer a balance. They are agile, allowing travelers to navigate narrow roads or tighter campspots inaccessible to larger RVs. Their efficient design ensures you have what you need without excess, providing a closer-to-nature experience.
Unique Experiences Abound
Imagine parking amidst the wilderness, setting up a starlit campfire, and recounting the day’s adventures. Or discovering an off-the-beaten-path attraction, accessible only because your campervan could get you there. These singular moments are the essence of a campervan journey.
Set Out with Escape Campervans for Your Southwest Sojourn
As you dream of desert landscapes, historic towns, and expansive national parks, let Escape Campervans be your trusted travel companion. Our campervans are tailored for adventurers like you—those seeking comfort and the thrill of discovery.
Road-tripping from Phoenix to Big Bend has never been easier (or more fun.) You can kickstart your trip by picking up your chosen campervan from our Phoenix location. After immersing yourself in the wonders of the Southwest, you can conveniently drop off your vehicle in Big Bend. Reserve your campervan today!
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