Emory Peak is the highest point in the Chisos Mountains and in Big Bend National Park. Looking up from Chisos Basin Visitor Center, you might not even recognize Emory Peak as a summit at first. The impressive craggy crown of Casa Grande Peak looks taller, but standing on top of Emory you will realize you are indeed above all else. The top is more than 2,000 feet above the visitor center and 5,000 feet over surrounding desert. If you're willing to put in the work, Emory Peak is one of the most rewarding hikes in Big Bend.
There are multiple routes to the summit, but the most direct begins from Chisos Basin and follows Pinnacles Trail. This trail is a stunning tour of the mountains because it weaves among pointed rock towers on the high slopes of the basin. It crests a saddle on the east ridge of Emory Peak before descending into Juniper Canyon. The view from here is pretty great, but a little extra work is required to reach the high point.
Up until this ridgeline, the trail is fairly well shaded in the forest. The slope is sustained but not especially steep, and the trail is wide and easy to follow. You will likely be tired hiking these 3.5 miles uphill, but you must try to dig deep for the final mile. The Emory Peak Trail is a well-signed spur to the east from the trail junction on the ridge. You will pass through a backcountry campsite and a brief shady section before emerging onto more exposed terrain. The rest of the trail is rockier, sunnier, and likely windier than the Pinnacles Trail, and nearly as steep.
The last quarter mile or so steepens and dips back into some trees, but the final challenge is a rock scramble to gain the remaining 25 feet to the summit. Take careful steps and go slowly here. The climb is manageable for most, but a fall could be dangerous. Surmounting this rocky top reveals the real reward, 360-degrees vistas over the entire national park and beyond. You can see all the tall peaks of the Chisos, through The Window toward Terlingua, Santa Elena and Big Boquillas Canyons of the Rio Grande, the Sierra Madre Mountains on the international border, and several tall peaks of Mexico in the distance.
Views are partially obscured by signal towers that share the summit, but they are easy enough to maneuver around. These form a relay station for the park's radio network. Enjoy your time on top, rest, and recuperate for the return trip. You will have to downclimb the summit rocks and take the rest of the trail back the way you came. When preparing for this hike, keep in mind there is no water anywhere along the trail. Most of the way is shaded, but the sun is always intense here, and the last mile is very exposed to the elements. Even on hot days, the high elevations can be windy and cold. Bring water, snacks, sunscreen, and maybe an extra layer for wind protection.
The hike to Emory Peak and back down is usually done as a day trip, but there are backcountry campsites along the way, available by permit. These are typically used by backpackers on the South Rim Loop, but there is the option of doing Emory Peak as a more leisurely overnighter if you get a permit and reserve sites.