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Rancherias Loop Trail [backpacking]

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We're doing a yearly 3-day (2 night) backpacking trip to Big Bend Ranch State Park ( (this is NOT Big Bend National Park! You missed the trip we did in December). This is a cross-post w/ the El Paso Hiking Group (

The route (see GPS track below) starts at the East Rancherias Trailhead and ends a few miles west at the West Rancherias Trailhead (i.e. we'll need shuttles for drivers).

For this trip, we're passing into Central Standard Time. All times posted are Mountain Standard Time and will use this timezone for all communication. Some of those going will have radios (FRS).

This is a backpacking trip, you are expected to have all necessary equipment, food, water, etc. We will probably share stoves and water filters to reduce weight but if you do not have a full kit please let the group know what you need to borrow.

We will be camping near springs and will filter/sanitize all water before drinking. There will be enough water for everyone.

Saturday, Jan 17

• Leave Las Cruces, NM by 4 am
• Leave El Paso, TX by 5 am
• Arrive in Van Horn, TX by 6:30 am MST (7:30 am local time). We're meeting at the McDonalds off exit 138. Google Maps (,-104.85549&z=18), OpenStreetMap (, USGS topo map (,-104.85549&marker0=31.03471,-104.85549&z=18))
• Here, we'll figure out further carpooling arrangements if necessary, leaving vehicles at Carol's family's house.
• (Ideally) leave Van Horn by 7 am, heading over to US 90 south to Marfa, where we'll take US 67 south to Presidio, TX. In Presidio, we'll take TX FM-170 east to Fort Leaton.
• Arrive at Fort Leaton State Historic Site by 10 am MST (11 am local time), which has the visitor's center for the West approach to the park. GPS: Google Maps (,-104.32656&z=18), OpenStreetMap (, USGS topo map (,-104.32656&marker0=29.54248,-104.32656&z=18)). We'll be paying our fees and getting our permits here. Do not be late for meeting the group here!
• We'll leave Fort Leaton and head east on TX FM 170 24 miles to the West Rancherias Trailhead, where we'll leave a vehicle for shuttle on our return. We'll head over to the East Rancherias Trailhead where we will park our vehicles and begin hiking.
• Arrive at East Rancherias Trailhead and ideally start hiking by 12 pm MST (1 pm local time). GPS: Google Maps (,-104.0072&z=18), OpenStreetMap (, USGS topo map (,-104.0072&marker0=29.3217,-104.0072&z=18)).
• From the East Rancherias Trailhead, we'll hike to our first backcountry campsite (Panther Creek Canyon).
• Distance: ~8 mi
• Elevation gain: ~1500 ft

1st night's campsite GPS: Google Maps (,-103.9636&z=15), OpenStreetMap (, USGS topo map (,-103.9636&marker0=29.3698,-103.9636&z=15))

Check the weather report for the 1st night's campsite (

Sunday, Jan 18

• Break camp, head to next camping location (Rancherias Spring).
• Distance: ~10.2 mi
• Elevation gain: 700 ft
• ETA 3 pm.

2nd night's campsite GPS: Google Maps (,-104.0215&z=15), OpenStreetMap (, USGS topo map (,-104.0215&marker0=29.3948,-104.0215&z=15))

Check the weather report for the 2nd night's campsite (

Monday, Jan 19

• Break camp, head to East Rancherias Trailhead. GPS: Google Maps (,-104.0484&z=15), OpenStreetMap (, USGS topo map (,-104.0484&marker0=29.3326,-104.0484&z=15))
• Distance: ~7.9 mi
• Elevation LOSS: 1600 ft
• ETA at trailhead: 1 pm
• Shuttle drivers back to their vehicles, load vehicles, head back to Presidio, TX
• Lunch in Presidio
• Should return to ELP by 7 pm MST

If any questions, please leave a comment.

If you are a guest of the United States (i.e. non-citizen), there is a US Customs & Border Patrol checkpoint demarcating passage to/from what the ACLU calls a "Constitution-Free Zone" ( If this bothers you, please donate to the ACLU ( and harass your congress critters (; otherwise please bring appropriate documentation of your entry into the US (passports, visas, etc—you know better what you need than we do). Group hikes are not the place to make a stand for your civil liberties.

DISTANCE is ~25 mi, round-trip.

ELEVATION GAIN is ~6000 ft of cumulative elevation gain.

FEES: $5/day entrance fee plus $5/night backcountry camping fee = $30/person. Several people have passes so this will be reduced—help out by BRINGING CASH and CHANGE unless you want to pay this full amount. Recommended: please bring 3 $5 bills, 1 $10 bill, and 10 $1 bills. If you have a Texas State Parks pass, please bring it. Unfortunately, federal lands passes are not accepted here. Of course, if you carpool, please compensate your driver for gas!

DURATION: Early morning of Sat, Jan 17 through late evening of Mon, Jan 19.

PET FRIENDLY? No, unfortunately dogs are not allowed at Big Bend Ranch State Park.

SKILL LEVEL is reasonably beginner friendly for backpackers. If you do not have experience with backpacking or have otherwise not been recommended to vetted to come, this is NOT the trip for you!

TERRAIN is Chihuahua desert, hiking on gravel paths and in arroyos.

WEATHER predicts highs near 70s, with lows in the upper 30s. Please be prepared for freezing temperatures at night, just in case. See the links for weather forecasts above for up-to-date info. No rain in the forecast.

ROAD CONDITIONS: is paved the entire route.

AFTERWARDS we may stop for late lunch in Presidio, TX. El Patio Cafe is the favorite spot.

MEET for carpool at:

• Las Cruces: 4:00 am, east of NMSU's Pan Am Center. GPS: 32.285463°N, 106.740997°W (see on Google Maps (,-106.740997&z=18), OpenStreetMap (, USGS topo map (,-106.740997&marker0=32.285463,-106.740997&z=18))

MORE information:

• GPS track for full route (
NMSU Pan Am Center Parking lot
1810 East University · Las Cruces, NM
How to find us

Near the NM Park & Ride stop. See description for more details.

Google map of the user's next upcoming event's location