Although the road can be driven in 3-4 hours, it’s best enjoyed as an all-day outing with plenty of stops, side trips, and hikes. You’ll need a high-clearance vehicle, and, when the road is in poor condition, four-wheel drive. The western end of the road is especially rough. Rains can quickly make portions of the road temporarily impassable with any type of vehicle. Check with a ranger about current road conditions.
Make sure you have a map, good tires, a spare, and tire-changing tools. Take at least 1 gallon of water per person, and more if you plan extensive hiking. Also, take food and extra clothing in case of a breakdown. If you have mechanical problems, do not try to hike out, especially cross-country or in hot weather. If you are on one of the spur roads, walk only as far as the main River Road, and wait. Sooner or later, someone will come along who can help.
For true solitude, camp at one of the primitive sites by obtaining a permit ahead of time at one of the park’s visitor centers. To protect the area, do not disturb any of the historic sites, and drive only on established roads. Vehicle break-ins sometimes occur at unattended cars parked at the river campsites, so don’t leave anything valuable in the car when you are away from it. Border crossings into Mexico are no longer allowed since the 9/11 tragedy, so do not cross the river.
For fees, maps, and detailed information about BBNP and the River Road, write to Park Supt., Box 129, Big Bend National Park, 79834-0129; 432/477-2251; www.nps.gov/bibe/home.htm.