Hello all. I am a new member/first post/Trailhawk owner-to-be. My wife and I did Big Bend Ranch (BBR) last year in a loaner Subaru Outback while my POS 2012 Impreza was in the shop getting a full transmission change. That trip is probably the biggest reason I will be picking up a Trailhawk...
The drive started from Houston at 2:00 a.m. and we finally reached the dirt road to get to BBR around 3 in the afternoon.
Note: If you want to see some really cool scenery that seems completely out of place, make sure you drive the River Road on your way there or on the way back. We did it on our way out hoping to catch a trip in to Big Bend National, but it was still closed due to the government shutdown (a whole 'nother nightmare of a story for another time). It is like you are in another country.
Anyway, we took the route in from the west to get to the Sauceda station. That route is a nice and hilly maintained dirt road. No problems. Once there we picked our site according to the ranger's recommendation. We went for a 2WD high clearance (supposedly stock SUV minimum) at the La Mota 2 site. I am glad we at least had all wheel drive. There are a lot of VERY sandy washes and legitimate hills to climb. We were able to negotiate all of them except for one relatively steep wash that caught my front end and got us thoroughly stuck on a stack of partially buried large but thin stacked rocks. Armed with nothing but a cat-hole shovel (the minimalist in me got a stern talking to after that one), we spent an hour digging the rocks out. It was less than fun. We freed the now apparently ridiculously long nosed SUV up and made some adjustments to the trail to get up the hill. We managed and moved on. However, it was now 5:30 p.m. and sunset was ~5:40 so the rest of the trail sucked as we semi-guessed our way up hills with the poor light ahead and the sun gleaming in our eyes. That was particularly crappy with our headlights pointing down heading into short washes with a constantly redirecting trail (so THAT'S what flood lights are for?!?!). We finally got where we needed to be after sundown and set up camp at what turned out to be a pretty excellent site. We set up our fire and stared at a gorgeous and clear Milky Way cloud stretched across the sky. The perfect redemption for a **** of a long day.
The next day we made our way east to the epic trail. We stopped where it said 4x4 high clearance recommended and hiked on from there... I am glad we did. This isn't an extreme off-roading area. There weren't any spots where it looked like you would be at a high threat to roll or anything, but it would be very easy to puncture tires and/or get stuck especially if weather was not as kind as it was to us (sunny all day every day with a good amount of wind). And if you get stuck out there, you better have an able comrade or some hiking/camping material, because it is a long and lonely trip back to the station. We happened to be there the weekend that a man and woman got lost causing a full on search and rescue mission that lasted 4 or 5 days. Which reminds me, make sure you have plenty of fuel. We got through on a tank, but the outback is a far cry from a guzzler and we didn't do a lot of driving. Cell phone reception is pretty much non existent. We had two-ways to get the job done when we were off on our own thing but don't expect much range with the hills and mountains.
All things considered, the park is beautiful and fun, but desolate and must be taken seriously especially if you are not experienced. The approach and departure angle on the trailhawk will serve you well and the 4x4 will alleviate some anxiety in the washes. I would imagine the 4 cylinder will not like a lot of the hills, though. Keep that in mind if you decided to save some money. I will most certainly be going back once I get the Trailhawk. Please share your experience if you do go. I am particularly curious about how the stock tires perform with all the puncture hazards.
Good luck and happy trails.