Hot Springs Canyon Rim Trail provides panoramic views of the Rio Grande with stunning backdrops like the Chisos and Serra del Carmen Mountains, ancient fossils, desert flora and fauna, historic well-preserved ruins of the J. O. Langford Hot Springs Resort, and, of course, an opportunity to soak in a hot spring at the end of the hike. Hot Springs Canyon is not as deep or as long as the other canyons in the park, but was formed by the same geologic forces of uplifting and erosion that created the other canyons. It provides easy access to great views. Near sunrise or sunset, well-prepared hikers with headlamps and night hiking skills will be able to bag fantastic landscape shots.
This is a moderate 6-mile out-and-back or an easy 3-mile one-way hike if a shuttle can be arranged. It has a few moderately steep climbs and descents with a net elevation gain of about 250 feet each way. The trail is easy to follow and has good tread. In hot weather, this will be a hot hike with no opportunities for shade. This is a relatively new trail and few maps accurately plot it, including the National Park Service’s Big Bend brochure and Trails Illustrated's “Big Bend National Park, #225." They show it as a single linear trail between Hot Springs and Daniels Ranch. There are now two routes, an upper route and a lower route, which is shorter. Falcon Guides’ Hiking Big Bend National Park offers the best depiction of the actual set of trails in the Hot Springs area.
The preferred trailhead is the Hot Springs Trailhead near the Hot Springs Historic District. Note that large or wide vehicles and RVs are not permitted to go to the lower trailhead parking. The road is very narrow and larger vehicles should park at the upper lot. This will add about a third-mile each way to the hike. Regular passenger cars and single rear-wheel pickup trucks can make it to the lower lot. The trailhead at the Daniels Ranch Picnic Area (GPS coordinates: 29.18583, -102.97156) near the Rio Grande Visitor Center would be the place to be picked up if you are doing this as a one-way shuttle hike.
From the Hot Springs Trailhead, follow the Hot Springs Upper Loop Trail left to pass behind the old post office (the well-preserved stone build with the large palm tree next to it) to get to the Hot Springs Canyon Rim Trail via the upper loop of the Hot Springs Loop Trail. Going right takes you directly to the Hot Springs via the lower loop of Hot Springs Loop Trail. Climb the easy low ridge; pass behind and above the hot springs until you come to the trail junction. Go left to follow the longer Hot Springs Canyon Rim Trail toward Daniels Ranch. Going right takes you around the short Hot Springs Loop Trail and back to the hot springs and trailhead you started from. The crowds will thin out after the junction.
The Hot Springs Canyon Rim Trail skirts around several small gullies and has nearly continuous views of the river. Be sure to look down for the fossils exposed on the trail tread. Shortly the deep narrow part of the Hot Springs Canyon will come into view.
Further along, the trail runs north to skirt a large side canyon. This is where there are many classic views. A short cross-country walk toward the south, being careful to avoid stepping on the fragile plants, leads you to an overlook with great views (GPS coordinates: 29.18537, -102.98398).
Once back on the trail, continue north, away from the river, to circle around the large side canyon. Soon the trail turns east and crosses the side canyon and the large plateau before descending towards Daniels Ranch. There are fewer views of the river along this section of the trail. At the far trailhead, turn around and retrace your steps or pick up your shuttle. If returning to hot springs, be sure to go left at the trail junction to descend on the Hot Springs Loop Trail to soak in the hot springs. Also, be sure to visit the remains of the old J. O. Langford Hot Springs Resort along the trail and near the trailhead.