Hiking the Balanced Rock Trail, Big Bend


It seems like almost every National Park has a trail that promises a “balanced” rock of some sort.  I didn’t know what Big Bend’s version was going to look like, but I was encouraged by the length of the trail required to get to it (just a little over a mile, one-way).  I had only a couple of hours of daylight remaining, and I figured I could squeeze the hike in before sunset.

The Balanced Rock is hidden within Big Bend’s Grapevine Hills, which mostly look like huge piles of boulders.  Most of the trail is relatively flat and easy to hike, as it passes through a sandy, dry wash…

… with hills on both sides.  The hills to the east were, of course, nicely lit by the setting sun.

After at least 3/4 of a mile, the easy part of the hike ends, as you reach the valley’s dead-end.  Several signs urge you to keep going…

… and to stay on the proper path, which can be a little tricky to follow if you’re not paying attention.  This part of the trail is more rocky, and you will gain some elevation…

… but the immediate reward is a nice view of the canyon through which you just passed.

There are lots of jumbled rocks near the top of the hill, and if you’ve brought kids along on the hike, they will love climbing on all of these boulders.  But the main attraction…

… is the Balanced Rock itself.

I had expected to find a rock perched atop a single column, much like I found in Arches National Park or the Pedestal Rocks of Arkansas.  Instead, the Texas version places a huge boulder in between two rocks, creating a window underneath, which perfectly frames a view of the distant mountains.

I probably would not have thought of climbing to the top of Balanced Rock, if I hadn’t seen a couple of other guys doing it.  Once they came down, I asked them how they did it, then handed them my camera and requested they take a photo — either of my triumphant arrival at the top, or my embarrassing fall down the side.

I’m happy to say that I made it to the top, and down again, without injury.  I was a little worried, though, when about halfway up the phallic-looking rock on the left, one of the guys said, “you just have to use a lot of upper-arm strength!”.  On any other day, that wouldn’t be a problem, but I had spent most of this particular day rowing a canoe up and down the Rio Grande, and my arm strength was pretty much tapped out.  But, despite looking a little shaky on the way up, I made it!

There are plenty of great photos to be taken at the end of the Balanced Rock Trail — so many, that I almost lost track of time, and ended up hiking back to the car just before it got dark.  There was a fantastic sunset, just on the other side of those rocky hills.

As I got back to the car, the sun was gone, but the sky was still beautiful, looking towards the Christmas Mountains in the distance.

You will find the Balanced Rock trailhead near the end of Grapevine Hills Road – a dirt road that gets rougher just before you arrive at the trailhead.  Grapevine Hills Road turns off of the main park road, just west of the Chisos Mountain Basin Junction.  The trailhead is about 7 miles from the paved road.  Go a bit further, and you will find a campground.

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