My original plan for hiking Big Bend National Park’s Marufo Vega Trail was to hit the trail in the cooling late afternoon, take my time down the trail and camp that night somewhere before the river. I’d spend the next day checking out the Rio Grande and Mexico on the other side, and then head back and camp near the trailhead the next evening and get an early start back home.
There is very little info on this trail, so although my itinerary proved impossible to implement, this turned out to be an awesome trip. Marufo Vega, which means “skin cancer” in Spanish, is not an easy hike, but I’ll share with you now things I wish I’d known before starting out.
First and most importantly, this is a winter and fall hike. I did it in early April, and although the temperature did not rise above the mid-80’s, the sun was brutal. The first 2.5 miles of trail are over entirely shadeless rock and desert,
and although the scenery grew in beauty, I was really happy to find the first shade in a rough little wash canyon. Do not attempt Marufo Vega in the late Spring and Summer.
Second, there is no place to camp prior to or after the river. Your only option, other than doing it as a day hike, is to camp on the section that follows the river, and this is definitely something worth doing. I camped on the flood plain beneath where the South Fork of the trail meets the river on a little trail appendage, but I saw a good looking spot at the other end, right where the North Fork meets the river. I saw no one during my stay, and it was awesome. I’ve always backpacked Big Bend up in the Chisos, and I was unaware Big Bend had such magnificent canyons.
I would save the $10 a NPS-recommended topographical map will cost you; it isn’t especially useful in keeping on the trail, and in the few places I lost track of the cairns temporarily, if you were eventually lost enough for the topo to be useful, you will definitely die soon and won’t need a map. On the other hand, the ranger at the permit desk gave me a free and very useful map, which I referred to often. Feel free to download this copy in case they are out of them. And don’t lose track of the cairns.
Finally, water: curiously, the NPS link states that “there is no water along this trail, and the river water is not potable.” Well, d’uh. Take along your filtration system, and save yourself some weight in water packed in. Be sensible, particularly if you are solo, and carry enough water nonetheless in case things go wrong, because this is not a trail to be on unprepared if things go wrong.
A couple of notes about the trail itself: I recommend taking the North Fork in and the South Fork out. It’s pretty easy to follow in that direction, and less so counter-clockwise. The descent toward the river that begins about half-way along the North Fork is very steep, particularly with a pack for overnighting. You do not want to negotiate this part of the trail in the dark (or any other part, for that matter). And finally, one of the best views from the trail is about 200 yards off the juncture of the South Fork and the side trail down to the river. The Ranger at the permit desk told me most people didn’t go down to the river (WTF!?), so if you are considering skipping that extra half-mile down and then back up on a day trip, do not miss this view.
That’s a good looking river.
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