If you’re visiting Big Bend National Park for the first time, you should dedicate half a day and go see Cattail Falls. The falls itself drain the western side of the Chisos Mountains through the rugged and steep Cattail Canyon. At certain times of the year a beautiful waterfall flows eighty feet down to a large pool at its base. The area below Cattail Falls is lush with large oak trees, flowing pools, and perennial flowers like the Texas Gold Columbine. If you’re lucky, you’ll have the place all to yourself. It is a great place to escape the desert heat and refresh before continuing your journey.
To access Cattail Falls, take the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive on the western side of the park towards Santa Elena Canyon. Drive south for approximately 3.3 miles until you see a left-hand turn down a dirt road. There will be no marker or sign so it can be easy to miss the first time. The turn off is just before the Sam Nail Ranch pullout on the right, so if you’ve passed that then you have gone too far. The Oak Springs Road as it’s called will take you to the Cattail Falls parking area. The road itself can be navigated by low-clearance vehicles if driven carefully. 4WD is not necessary, but high-clearance is recommended. After turning onto Oak Springs Road, drive another 1.25 miles to the Cattail Falls parking area. Beyond the parking area, a gate blocks access so you must hike half a mile down the rest of the road to the Cattail Falls trailhead. Be careful not to continue down the road or you’ll end up on the Oak Spring Trail that takes you up a steep section into the Chisos Basin. The trailhead is easy to find because of the large oak trees nearby. Most notably, the very large oak tree that is almost parallel to the ground. There is a large sign with a picture and description of Cattail Falls and this marks the start of the trail. Hike another mile down a well worn and marked trail to reach your destination.
One last note. Cattail Falls is a fragile ecosystem and is an important source of water for wildlife in the park. Remember to take pictures, leave only footprints, and enjoy one of the best areas of the park!
- Cattail Falls – PDF Map
- Cattail Falls – Web Map (CalTopo.com)
- Cattail Falls – Google Earth File
- Cattail Falls – GPX File