I have been hiking and drawing in Big Bend for four years, and I've only explored a fraction of what's available. All said, I've cultivated a list of spots that any novice or pro artist who loves nature should check out. My go-to traits for picking drawing locations in the Big Bend:
2. Yet ease of access (to hike in art supplies)
3. Comfort (for long art sessions)
I've rated spots below based on these items on a scale of 1-10. Full disclosure, these spots are all in the desert. I found that mountain hikes in Big Bend are more crowded, and I prefer the flora and fauna of the desert for drawing. I'll follow up with a list one of these days about drawing in the Chisos Mountains.
Lastly, some of these spots are near Big Bend, but are not physically in the park. Of course, "near" means "West Texas near." The next town over is usually a minimum of 30 miles away, so prepare to drive if you decide to try all of these.
Pro Tip: Desert Drawing in West Texas is best between the months of November and April.
Ease of access: 10
This is a great entry level drawing spot for first-timers wanting good drawing without the commitment of hiking. Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive is 30 miles of the most beautiful driving vistas in the park. You'll have access to ample pull-offs and gorgeous views. Back in your car to an overlook, pop open the trunk of your car, sit in total comfort with drawing supplies, food and water for as long as you like.
The ease and comfort of this option also makes it the least secluded. The Scenic Drive is the most popular driving stretch in the park. Expect to hear cars more than the sweet silence Big Bend is known for. That said, city folks visiting for the first time, will still find this option very peaceful.
Ease of access: 5
Ward Springs is a gorgeous and under-appreciated in my opinion. Often passed up for the steep mountain and adventurous river hikes in the park, you're likely to have this trail to yourself. On my hike in late February, which is the beginning of peak season, I only saw three people.
The trailhead is off Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. It follows south across a lush desert "meadow" towards the Chisos Mountains. My favorite spots are about a half to three quarters of a mile in. There are sweet little overlooks and clearings just off the trail. Put down a blanket and draw awhile. To the north are mountain vistas. To the south, the expansive Burro Mesa. In between ranges of sotol, prickly pear, and agave abound. This desert hike has some of the most diverse cacti I've seen in Big Bend.
No matter where you set up, plan on sitting on desert ground. Come here on a cool day because there isn't a lick of shade. You might choose to hike the entire trail (it's 2.8 miles round trip). The trail leads up to Ward Springs, where water brings beautiful cottonwood, willow trees and wildlife. The relatively easy hike turns more intermediate at this point. You'll go up and down steep dry creek bed leading to large volcanic dikes. A rewarding end spot to draw as well.
Ease of access: 2-3
This spot is a choose your own adventure of possibility. To access the trailhead you'll drive 6 miles of rocky, up-and-down, winding road. It's best traversed with a high clearance vehicle, although you won't need four wheel drive. I've seen standard cars safely do this drive, but plan on crawling at 5 mph to avoid serious damage to the underbelly of your ride.
The remoteness of these spots make this the most secluded drawing spot on my list. If you choose to drive all the way in, hike up into the canyon. It culminates at one of the few waterfalls in the park. Although usually dry, set up on one of the cool stones and enjoy the piney smelling air with your drawing supplies. The total jaunt is 4.3 miles round trip. Pro-tip: This is one of the park's most trafficked spots for black bears. No need to fear, but leave them the heck alone.
One of my favorite things to do when I want to draw and avoid the hike in and out of the canyon, is drive 4-5 miles towards the trailhead and pull into one of the empty backcountry camping spots. Enjoy the comfort of drawing near your vehicle, yet the absolute solitude of one the more remote places in the park. On my last visit it was ridiculously windy, so drawing from the trunk of the HRV was lovely. This has become a favorite spot. The silence is deafening, and I always end up with magical sketches.
Ease of access: 10
This drawing spot is not in the national park, but is well worth the visit if you have time to make the drive. It's 90 miles northwest of Big Bend, and accessing it is along 118 north just outside of Fort Davis. I am rating the botanical garden and nature center, but there are really beautifully maintained trails around the preserve that would bump up the solitude (and down the ease of access) if you want to get out dodge.
The garden is still a gorgeous spot for drawing, and relatively quiet. Sit on one of the benches and draw a lush yucca grove. Even better, take up residence in the cactus greenhouse with your sketchbook. We went on a cold, sunny day in February and only saw one other couple. I recommend getting tickets online in advance. They're only $6, and good for a whole day drawing. When you're done, drive the few extra miles north into Fort Davis, and stop at the Fort Davis Drugstore. Their veggie burger and potato wedges is one of my favorite West Texas meals.
Ease of access: 4
Comfort: 3 (unless you draw that desk!)
Alpine Hill is behind Sul Ross University in Alpine Texas. Alpine is the county seat of Brewster County, and the "largest" town near Big Bend with a whopping 5800 people. This makes Alpine Hill feel less secluded, but trust me it is. You'll hike a good hour to get to this magical spot overlooking the valley below. The story goes that a few Alpine student lugged this desk up the hill years back, and when you do the hike yourself you'll wonder how in the world they made it happen.
Pro-tip: Use Google Maps to fine the desk. I wandered for 45 minutes before realizing I had a GPS signal. It's really hard to find it in the maze of trails otherwise. Many people traverse the hill and never find the desk. That means it stays relatively secluded as tourists spots go... but not entirely. You could definitely bust out your drawing materials and work at the desk, although you'll likely find yourself moving for some people wanting photos. Definitely worth the trip in my opinion. I did a sketch of this spot for the Small Town Texas Coloring Book.
As you get more familiar with Big Bend (or any National park) you will find spots that very few (if any) people know about. I have been lucky enough to discover one of those spots so far. I'd like to suggest that when you do as well... you not share it. There are spaces in this world that are so truly untouched an ancient magic still exists in them. Protect that. Keep it to yourself. Our earth's fewer and fewer wild spaces depend on us. There are trails in Big Bend that can no longer be found on park maps for this reason. Some of them were too sensitive to handle heavy-footed humans.
Say a family drops a few Cheetos as they hike with their kids. It might not sound like a big deal, but this kind of infringement is in fact, a huge deal to a fragile eco-system. Many of the desert lichen and mosses that blanket the ground in the park are thousands of years old. They provide the surrounding system with a priceless and rich layer of bacteria that supports and feeds life. A few steps off-trail from an interested hiker, can destroy eras of healthy bacteria in moments.Protect the Secret Spots. If you find one, it's because the spot chose you. Not the other way around.