How long is the Outer Mountain Loop?

28.5 Miles

What is the Outer Mountain Loop?

The Outer Mountain Loop in Big Bend National Park is actually made up of a number of different trails, mainly the Dodson Trail (Outer Mountain Loop) and the Juniper Canyon Trail. The trail in the Hiiker app starts near the Twister Shoe campsite (the East of the trail), but it can be started from a number of different locations. The terrain is the mainly arid desert. To prevent unnecessary erosion, please don’t cut switchbacks and stick to the hiking trail.

A view from the side of the Lost Mine Peak towards Casa Grande Peak to the left and Vernon Bailey Peak to the right

What to pack on the Outer Mountain Loop?

Most important of all is water. While heavy rain and flooding can happen in the park, you should absolutely not depend on it. You should have 1 gallon of water per person per day and the general rule of thumb is to start turning back towards your start point or be at least halfway to your end point by the time you have half of your water left. 
The conditions can vary quite a lot with very high temperatures and lots of sun exposure and little shelter during the summer to cold nighttime temperatures requiring warm sleeping bags and comfort levels rated for freezing conditions.
Water is going to your biggest concern, with that in mind you are likely to want at least a 40l bag. Here is a rough packing list but it will vary largely depending on the time of year:

Packing List

Breathable lightweight clothing1
Warmer clothing for night time1
Sunscreen (enough for at least 2 days of hiking)1
40L Backpack1
Gallon (4.5L) of Water per person per day1
Maps and Compass1
Hiiker App with Offline Maps downloaded1
Anti-Blister Socks1
Extra Power 20-30,000mha1
Food for the duration of your hike1
Hiking Poles (optional but recommended)1
Tweezers (very important for needles and thorns found on many of the plants in the park)1

Breathable Lightweight Clothing

Example of clothing that is perfect for desert hiking.
Some desert clothing recommendations, but perhaps a pair of long pants might be a better option.

Wearing lightweight clothing will allow you to get the most out of any breeze as you are hiking. Light colors are best and long sleeves and pants are preferable to avoid as much of the sun as possible, not a good time for tanning! The longer layers will also server to protect you from the many thorny plants, and desert insects. At night-time be ready for cold weather. Pack the poncho, when it rains in areas like Big bend, it can pour.

What hiking boots are best for Outer Mountain Loop?

Trail runners/hiking boots are best for Big Bend. In general, above the ankle books are going to give you the best support for your ankles for any missed step, so, while they are a bit heavier, that’s my recommendation, but, to be fair, I did wear trail runners and I had no problems.

Ideal hiking boot for Big Bend National Park Outer Mountain Loop
Ideal hiking boot for Big Bend National Park Outer Mountain Loop

What permit is required for Outer Mountain Loop?

For backcountry camping, there is approved campsite or you can find your own camping locations but either way, you will have to get a backcountry use permit. You will also need to pay the $30 per vehicle entrance fee to the park which is valid for 7 days. Learn more here.
If you are just hiking and not camping then a permit is not required, but no matter what, you will have to pay the entrance fee of $30 per vehicle

What app to use for Outer Mountain Loop?

We have the Big Bend National Park loop on the Hiiker app, with many of the campsites and other locations marked along the trail. There is a stage by stage breakdown of the trail across 3 stages. While the distance can vary depending on the routes you take, our route is 29 miles long. There is virtually no cell phone reception in Big Bend National Park, so make sure you download offline maps before you arrive in the park. The app will work fully offline when you download the offline maps, with two different detailed map styles available. There are also historical climate records for each season so you can pick the best time of year to hike the trail.

Wild animals in Big Bend National Park

In Big Bend National Park there are many different wild animals including more than 30 different species of birds (including the famous Roadrunner), the aptly makes Kangaroo Rat, Jackrabbit, and, coyotes. There is also plenty of warnings about Mountain Lions and Bears. Considering this, it’s very important to pack in, pack out! You should also avoid strong sleeping foods that may attract attention and you should keep food a distance away from your campsite and in a bear-proof container.

What amenities are available in Big Bend National Park?

There is a number of curling stations in the park, and a number of grocery stores and lodges with restaurants, some of them on the outskirts of the park. With your per vehicle entrance fee you will be covered for 7 days of access to the park so you won’t need to pay to enter again during that time.

Does the Big Bend National Park Loop include The Balanced Rock?

The Balanced Rock is in a different part of the park, the Grapevine Hills. To access it you will likely need to drive or walk down the Grapevine Hills Road (a high clearance 4×4 road as it is a rough unpaved road) to access the trail, then the hiking trail to the standing stone is about 3 miles out and back with a small amount of scrambling to reach the balanced rock itself.

This blog might help you finding it!

Standing at balanced rock in Big Bend National Park
Standing at balanced rock in Big Bend National Park