Emory Peak is the highest point inside Big Bend National Park in Texas. The summit rests at an elevation of 7,832ft among the Chisos Mountains. Amazing and spectacular views await those who are willing to make the long ascent. How hard is the Emory Peak Trail? The final 25-foot climb is challenging while hiking to Emory Peak, but the gradual incline along the trail makes the hike easier.
This is one of the best things to do in Big Bend National Park, for hikers desiring beautiful, far-reaching, mountainous views. Our article contains some of the best Big Bend pics to accompany the statistics of this hike. You will never forget hiking Emory Peak, or what you see along the way.
Hiking to Emory Peak – Elevation Gain 2,432ft (Video)
Although the height of Emory Peak is 7,832ft above sea level, you will not be starting at zero. In fact, the trailhead is 5,400ft above sea level near the Chisos Mountain Lodge. The elevation gain while hiking to Emory Peak is equivalent to climbing 224 stories, but the gain is more gradual. This may provide you with a feeling of relief, until you locate the peak from the trailhead! The video below reveals this position and most of the spectacular views you will see on this hike.
How to Find Emory Peak
You probably already know where to find Emory Peak, but it’s difficult to locate from ground level unless you have already been on top. There are several peaks within the Chisos Mountains, but Emory Peak can be found between Casa Grande and Ward Mountain. These two peaks are easy to notice from Chisos Mountain Lodge.
From the Chisos Mountain Trails Display you can see Casa Grande above the lodge to the left, and Ward Mountain (far) to the right. Look directly between these two peaks and try to spot the highest point – this is Emory Peak. Use binoculars and you will see a small radio station and solar panels on top.
Emory Peak is so far away from the Chisos Basin, it does not appear to be the tallest. However, you will see the other peaks while hiking to the highest point. It may seem as if you are heading toward one of them. Eventually, you will notice they are beneath your elevation after hours of hiking.
From the top of Emory Peak it is very easy to locate Chisos Mountain Lodge to the north (12 o’clock). Casa Grande is northeast at 2 o’clock, and Ward Mountain is northwest at 10 o’clock. Noticing the positions of these landmarks from the top of Emory Peak makes it much easier to spot them from Chisos Basin.
Mandatory Trails and Distance
There are several trails to hike within the Chisos Mountains, but only two will lead you to Emory Peak from the Basin Trailhead: Pinnacles Trail and Emory Peak Trail. To reach the highest peak you will hike more than five miles, and climb some rocks with your hands and feet at the end. The roundtrip distance of this hike is 10.5 miles and it is tiring. That being said, it’s not as difficult as I expected.
Pinnacles Trail – 105 Minutes
Pinnacles Trail is about 3.5 miles long, and very well prepared for hikers. Trail markers make the path clear, and many steps have been created along the way. The majority of the ascent will take place on Pinnacles Trail as you wind through the Chisos Mountains. This is a well-shaded woodland trail, which makes it quite unique in Big Bend Country.
You will pass 12 camping sites and various wildlife, whether you see them or not. I spotted two black bears on the move about 100 yards from Pinnacles Trail. They quickly ran in the opposite direction. However, a doe came close enough to touch on the trail, but did not run in fear.
There are multiple views of “The Window” and peaks within the Chisos Mountains along this trail. These views continue to get better as you make your way to Emory Peak Trail. At the intersection, Pinnacles Trail becomes Boot Canyon Trail and leads to the South Rim Trail. We passed many other hikers and reached Emory Peak Trail in roughly 90 minutes.
Emory Peak Trail – 75 Minutes
Emory Peak Trail is about 1.6 miles long. Yes, it is shorter than Pinnacles Trail, but much more rocky. This trail will give you multiple views of “Boot Canyon” and the east side of the Chisos Mountains. The other side of Emory Peak is clearly visible as the ascent continues. However, shade is more scarce while rocks along the trail become large and loose.
This is the home stretch – the trail leading to the highest point in Big Bend National Park. At this point in the hike it may feel as if you are hiking to the other side of the Chisos Mountains, but the views are waiting to reward you. Watch out for loose rocks and stay on the safest path. There are a couple of spots where you could easily slide off the trail near the peak.
Eventually, after hiking more than five miles you will come to a rock wall. To reach the top of Emory Peak, you must climb up with your hands and feet. I expected much more of this type of climbing, but only the end is like this. Climbing equipment is not necessary to reach the top.
If you follow the rock wall you may find a “chute” between the rocks. This area is easier to use to climb up and down from the peak. Climbing up or down with your hands is somewhat challenging. Some hikers prefer to come back down in a seated position with their feet in front of them. This is a much more risky position.
The peak is perfectly suitable for climbing with your face toward the rocks. In fact, it seems like a wonderful spot to practice mountain climbing. Grab on with your hands, dig in with your boots, push up with your legs while pulling with your back, and do not let go. It is the most difficult part of the hike, but we go all the way for the adventurous views of Big Bend Country!
The Top of Emory Peak
What can you see from Emory Peak in Big Bend National Park? Everything. There appears to be about 250sf of space on top of Emory Peak. The rocks on top are quite jagged, and you may need to maneuver around the small radio station. Several peaks and points of interest can be seen from Emory Peak.
Find Chisos Mountain Lodge a few miles to the north, Santa Elena Canyon 20 miles away (southwest), Christmas Mountain 10 miles away (northwest), and the Sierra Del Carmen Mountains 25 miles to the west. These spectacular views are found nowhere else. Spend as much time on top of Big Bend National Park as you like. Conquering this peak is quite a workout full of rewarding views.
Emory Peak is a 3-Hour Hike (One Way)
The hike to Emory Peak is long and tiring. The height may seem intimidating, but the climb is very gradual. Anyone in decent physical shape can make it to the peak. If a 10-mile hike full of stairs does not scare you – go for it! However, you will want to choose another trail if stairs bother you, or you don’t have enough endurance to hike 10 miles.
My activity tracker recorded 10.5 miles while hiking to Emory Peak and back. It only recorded 163 floors worth of elevation gain, but it should be about 224. It’s entirely possible to complete a roundtrip hike in five hours if you move quickly and do not rest. However, many people stop to rest along the way, take pics of Big Bend, or spend time at the peak enjoying the spectacular views.
Best Time to Hike Emory Peak
Dawn will be the best time to attempt this hike during the “cooler” seasons. Wake up early, eat a nutritious breakfast and get to the Basin Trailhead ASAP. It will take all morning and 13,436 steps to reach the highest viewpoint in Big Bend.
Beginning this hike in the afternoon may not be the best idea. It will be hot on Emory Peak Trail, and you could get caught in the dark. However, there is one backcountry camp near the Emory Peak Trail. I imagine some adventurers hike to Emory Peak for the dark skies, but this is much more risky.
The average hiker will need (at least) six hours to hike Emory Peak. After this hike there may not be much sunlight left in the day. Keep this in mind if you only have 48 hours in Big Bend National Park. Furthermore, you may not want to do more hiking after conquering Emory Peak.
We spent the better part of six hours on this amazing hike in November. Although we quickly passed many hikers on Pinnacles Trail, we also stopped many times to capture the best photos and videos, or look for wildlife. Emory Peak was the “must-hike” on our list. Afterwards, we had just enough time to drive the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive and visit Santa Elena Canyon before sundown.
Pro Tip – Plan ahead if you have limited time and want to see as much as possible. There are many points of interest along the roads, and several shorter trails. If you skip this hike, you could do several shorter hikes throughout Big Bend.
Considerations Before Your Hike
Most people recommend bringing large amounts of water on this hike. Anyone who is attempting to hike Emory Peak already knows water is essential. However, it will be difficult to carry gallons of water. We carry a drawstring bag and adventure vest with minimal water.
Between the two of us, five 12oz bottles of water were enough. That’s 30oz apiece for each of us. We did not need a gallon of water, or become dehydrated. However, we are from San Antonio, where it is already dry. You may feel more thirsty coming from a less dry climate. If you drink a lot of water you may need to relieve yourself in the woods at some point.
Good hiking shoes or boots will be helpful, but tennis shoes may be manageable if they are more comfortable. I would not attempt to hike Emory Peak in tennis shoes, but I’m sure some people do it. I wore Keen hiking boots and they got the job done. By the end of the hike they were so dusty they no longer appeared black.
A trail map is not necessary for this hike because the trails are very well marked. There are other trails around the Chisos Mountains which can lead you to Emory Peak, but they will drastically increase your hike time. You can purchase a detailed map of the Chisos Mountain Trails from Panther Junction. Mine is printed on a bandana which doubles as a mask.
The Best Hike in Big Bend
There are a lot of great hikes in Big Bend National Park, but Emory Peak is the best one. You will not see more, or as far, from any other place in the park. The Chisos Mountains are unique and its trails provide breathtaking views in all directions. This hike was the “must-do” on our list and it does not disappoint. Emory Peak is unforgettable and I would love to see it again one day from the top of Big Bend.
Are you planning a visit to Big Bend with limited time? Checkout our 48-Hour Guide to Big Bend National Park to find the best points of interest and plan your trip. Please share, and let us know if our information or Big Bend pics have been helpful. What do you love most about hiking in Big Bend National Park?
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