Cottonwood Campground is a quiet desert oasis in the southwestern corner of Big Bend National Park. Conveniently located between the Castolon Historic District, the scenic Santa Elena Canyon and the tail end of the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, this small, 25-site campground is one of the least-known and typically least-occupied campgrounds in the park. There is one group campsite and 24 individual sites. This is a remote campground in a remote park. It is dry camping, no hook-ups, and no generators are permitted.
Cottonwood gets its name from the cottonwood trees that surround and provide shade for the facility nearby the Rio Grande. A general store and visitor center — a converted former military outpost — are also nearby.
The campground is at an elevation of 1,900 ft. It is relatively cool in the peak seasons of fall and winter due to cold air sinking into the lower elevations. In the spring and summer, this campground is very hot, with temperatures normally exceeding 100 degrees F from mid-March through August.
Particularly popular with bird watchers, Cottonwood Campground is a haven for those wishing to study the abundant bird life in Big Bend while also escaping the more crowded areas in the park. Because of its diverse ecosystems and plant life, the park provides habitats for many rare and unique birds, including the Mexican mallard, Lucifer hummingbird, Mexican jay, black-capped and gray vireos, and Varied Bunting.
Hiking trails are located around the campground.
The campground has pit (vault) toilets, potable water, picnic tables, bear boxes, and grills. There are no hook-ups or dump stations, and the use of generators is not allowed.
The group campsite is a walk-in, tent-only site; no RVs or trailers are allowed. Vehicle parking is restricted to an adjacent parking area, a short walk from the campsite itself.
The individual sites are all similar. Each site has a bear box, picnic table, and raised grill. All have dirt/gravel parking spaces and most are well-shaded with some afternoon/evening sun.
The national park is named for a curve in the Rio Grande called the “big bend.” For 1,250 miles, the river is an International Boundary between the United States and Mexico.
Due to its proximity to water, many species of birds can be found in the Cottonwood area, including nesting migratory birds. Santa Elena Canyon is a beautiful river canyon that can be seen from the campground area.
Santa Elena Canyon, Castolon Historic District, Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive.
From Interstate 10, take State Highway 385 south to Fort Stockton and into Marathon. From Marathon, drive 40 miles south on State Highway 385 to the north entrance of Big Bend National Park. Drive straight for 26 miles to Park Headquarters at Panther Junction. Turn right at the intersection and go 13 miles west. Take a left at the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive and drive 23 miles to Cottonwood Campground.
Note: Old Maverick Road is a an unpaved road that is very rough. GPS units may send you down that road. Do not take it unless you have four wheel drive and high clearance.