Big Bend National and State Parks, Texas

2009 Visitors: 369,912.

The Rio Grande in Big Bend National Park     Photo: Photograph by Rob Howard/Corbis

Main Drag: Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
2009 Visitors: 4,348,068
Cormac McCarthy's novel Blood Meridian rode shotgun as I drove east from Presidio to Terlingua. I wanted to get a feel for the book's landscape by visiting Big Bend National Park and Big Bend Ranch State Park, 1.1 million acres in which visitors can hike mountains and paddle canyons without dodging tour buses. I first hit the state park, a 469-square-mile wilderness containing cycling routes (rentals, $35; desert­sports­tx.com), hiking trails (try the Closed Canyon Trail), and a Hollywood movie set along the Rio Grande (location for the Lonesome Dove series). The 1,250-square-mile national park, just 22 miles east, offered similar stuff, just on steroids: bigger mountains, bigger views, and more access to the Rio Grande (canoe rentals, $59; farflungoutdoorcenter.com). With some 150 miles of hiking trails to explore, your odds of seeing anyone else are slim. BEST CAMPSITE: Chisos Basin campground, in the national park ($14; 432-477-1183). BEST LODGE: Terlingua's La Posada Milagro offers views of the Chisos Mountains and is within walking distance of the Starlight Theatre restaurant's chicken-fried antelope (from $145; laposadamilagro.net).

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