The Lone Star State has several different regions, and West Texas is one of the most beautiful regions. Despite being the most remote region, there are so many wonderful things to do in West Texas.
A road trip to West Texas is arguably one of the best Texas road trips you can experience. The region is rich in history, outdoor adventures, delicious cuisine, unique art, and friendly towns. You can visit two National Parks, stay in a bubble dome under the stars, drive one of the most scenic roads, explore a ghost town, find amazing art, and more.
Needless to say, there is an exciting adventure for every type of traveler. To help get you started, I have a list of the 25 BEST things to do in West Texas.
Things to Do in West Texas: Small Towns
West Texas is full of wonderful small towns that are worth visiting. Each one has a charming Old West appeal with different experiences waiting to be discovered.
Visit Fort Davis
Fort Davis is one of my favorite West Texas small towns. Despite being a small town with a 1,099 population, there are so many fun things to do. I recommend spending two days at Fort Davis.
Party Under the Stars at the McDonald Observatory
Hands down, one of the best things to do in West Texas is to attend the Evening Sky Viewing and Star Party at the McDonald Observatory.
The McDonald Observatory is located on top of Mount Locke and Mount Fowlkes in the Davis Mountains – one of the darkest night skies in the continental United States. In other words, this will be one of the best stargazing experiences of your life.
The Evening Sky Viewing takes place at a beautiful amphitheater with a knowledgeable staff member who educates and helps guide guests to find major constellations, bright stars, planets, and satellites. After the Evening Sky Program concludes, the Star Party begins.
At the Star Party, guests sit outside and watch live views of different astronomy findings from a telescope/camera system projected onto a large screen. We saw two galaxies, an asteroid, a nebula, and a star cluster during our Star Party, and it was amazing!
Take a Step Back in Time at Fort Davis Historical Site
The Fort Davis Historic Site is a remarkable piece of Texas history you should not miss. As part of the U.S. National Park Services, it has stood against the test of time as an important example of a Southwest frontier military post of the American Indian Wars.
Several of the buildings are restored and furnished to represent the 1880s period. As you step onto the parade grounds and hear the bugle call (yes, the park actually sounds bugle calls on a daily schedule), you feel a small sense of what life had been like here.
Explore Davis Mountains State Park
Davis Mountains State Park is one of the best State Parks in Texas for several reasons. It has a beautiful landscape, miles of hiking trails, fantastic birdwatching, a scenic drive through the mountains, an Indian Lodge for accommodations, CCC history, and more.
Even if you do not like to hike, a trip to Davis Mountains State Park is definitely one of the best things to do in West Texas. In fact, this is one Texas State Park that you really do not need to hike to be able to enjoy its greatest attractions. You can easily enjoy the scenic views, bird viewing areas, and historical sights by car.
Eat Chicken Fried Steak at Fort Davis Drug Store
Did you know that Chicken Fried Steak was originated in West Texas? So what better place to eat Chicken Fried Steak than in one of the best towns in West Texas?
The Fort Davis Drug Store was an actual drug store from 1913 – 19802. Today, it is a full-service American restaurant.
Moreover, it is one of the best places to eat in Fort Davis. Everything on the menu is delicious, but you must order the Chicken Fried Steak.
The Chicken Fried Steak at Fort Davis Drug Store is the best I have ever tasted. The meat is tender, the breading is crisp, and the flavor is impeccable.
Spend a Day in Marfa
Marfa is one of the best small towns in Texas because of its world-renown art scene, famous Marfa lights, and overall quirky yet Old Western vibe. Exploring this small town for one day is plenty of time to enjoy its best attractions.
Window Shop at Prada Marfa
One of the most iconic roadside attractions in the United States is Prada Marfa. Prada Marfa is a permanent sculptural art installation just outside of Marfa, Texas.
The artists describe this piece as a “pop architectural land art project.” Since its reveal in 2005, it has been one of the most iconic attractions and one of the best things to do in West Texas.
And yes, there are REAL Prada purses and shoes inside the building!
Marvel at the Chinati Foundation’s Contemporary Art
The Chinati Foundation is a world-renown contemporary art museum founded by minimalist artist Donald Judd. The contemporary art you will view at Chinati Foundation is unlike any art you have ever seen.
Chinati Foundation occupies permanent, large-scale installations that connect art and its surrounding land. In addition to the large-scale installations, the museum also features paintings, sculptures, poems, and drawings by a limited number of artists, including Donald Judd.
Witness the Mysterious Marfa Lights
The Marfa Lights have been a mysterious phenomenon for more than 135 years. People travel from all over to witness the Marfa Lights and make sense of it with their own eyes. Needless to say, witnessing the Marfa Lights is one of the best things to do in West Texas.
So what are the Marfa Lights? Honestly, no one knows – which makes them that more captivating and fun to watch. Scientists and researchers have studied the Marfa Lights, and the answer has been inclusive.
Some believe there is a scientific reason, whereas others say it’s headlights coming from Presidio. A few also believe the lights are supernatural.
People have claimed to see lights dart wildly across the desert. Others say the twinkling lights are colored either red, blue, yellow, or white. I saw two different types of mysterious lights, which was enough to make me believe in the mysterious phenomenon.
A stranger and I witnessed a light blue light dart across the horizon, almost like it was a paint stroke. Additionally, a group of us saw twinkling yellow lights bounce in the sky. Headlights? I do not think so.
The city installed a viewing area for guests to sit and watch. The best time to see the mysterious Marfa Lights is at dusk. I recommend finding a spot before dusk to ensure you do not miss out. As soon as it was dark, we witnessed the lights and continued to see them as the night got darker.
Visit the Ghost Town of Terlingua
Visiting the ghost town of Terlingua itself is one of the best things to do in West Texas. During our 2-week road trip in West Texas, this was the first time we truly felt like we were in the Old West. Just like many others, we love it here!
Dine at Starlight Theatre
I have to admit; I was skeptical that a ghost town in West Texas could have one of the best fine-dining experiences with gourmet dishes. However, I am pleased to say that the Starlight Theatre blew all my expectations. Our dinner at Starlight Theatre was our favorite dining experience of our entire two-week road trip in West Texas.
If you think this fine-dining restaurant is posh with white tablecloths… think again. The once upon a time movie palace atmosphere is lively and homey with friendly staff members, murals, and live music.
The menu is unique. It offers your typical Tex-Mex cuisine of salsa, queso, tamales, and burgers, but the star of the show (no pun intended) is the menu’s feature presentations. Two of the most popular gourmet dishes are the chicken-fried antelope and tequila marinated Texas quail – they are both absolutely divine!
Must order: a bowl of the Award-Winning TerlinguaTexas Chili, Famous Diego Burger, Chicken-Fried Antelope, and Tequila Marinated Texas Quail
Attend the Chili Cook-Off
Whether you are competing or watching from the sidelines, the Terlingua International Chili Competition is one of the best events to attend in Texas. The internationally acclaimed chili competition is hosted by the Chili Appreciation Society International (CASI).
Most of the people who attend are chiliheads (competitors), but others are there for pure joy. The weekend has several fun things to enjoy, such as live Country music, an Old Western carnival of performance artists, fortune tellers, and games for prizes.
The annual event is held on the first Saturday of each November. So come with your cowboy hat, boots, best Texas chili recipe, and a fun attitude!
Stay in a Bubble
Terlingua has several awesome glamping accommodations. You can stay in a tipi, lotus tent, retro trailer, casita, or a spinning Volkswagen beetle – but our favorite place to stay in Terlingua is the bubble at Basecamp Terlingua.
Basecamp Terlingua has these magnificent and luxurious bubble domes in the middle of the desert. During the day, you can explore the ghost town or nearby parks. At night, you literally get to sleep under the stars in the comfort of your air-conditioned/heated bubble.
There are four different types of bubbles – one-bedroom, two-bedroom, deluxe two-bedroom, and two-room plus. All bubbles (except for one bedroom) include a hot tub with desert views. Additionally, the two-room plus has a private pool.
These luxurious bubbles book up fast! I am talking 12 months in advance. So make sure you make your reservations as early as possible. Trust me, sleeping in a bubble is one of the best things to do in West Texas.
Spend a Day at Gage Hotel
Spend a full day, or better yet, spend the night at the famous Gage Hotel in Marathon, Texas. The Gage Hotel is known as being of the most historic and luxurious hotels in Texas.
Grab a Drink at the White Buffalo Bar
Calling all tequila and margarita enthusiasts. You MUST grab a drink at the famous White Buffalo Bar at Gage Hotel. It has been named “Best Hotel Bars” by Texas Monthly Magazine due to its extensive tequila selection and delicious handcrafted award-winning margaritas.
Stroll Through the Gage Gardens
Also at the Gage Hotel is the Gage Gardens a true oasis in the West Texas desert. The Gage Gardens encompass 27-acres of pure beauty.
The lush garden has a relaxing quarter-mile walking trail and a one-mile trail with interval exercise stations. Additionally, there are enchanting ponds, exquisite fountains, a rose garden, peaceful sitting areas, a fruit orchard, and even a nine-hole putting green!
It is the perfect place to enjoy a leisurely morning or afternoon in Marathon, Texas.
Things to Do in West Texas: Big Bend
Two of the most beautiful parks in Texas are Big Bend Ranch State Park and Big Bend National Park. Though one park is a State Park and the other a National Park, both parks are respectable in their own merit.
Explore Big Bend Ranch State Park
Big Bend Ranch State Park is the largest and one of the best State Parks in Texas. Therefore, it deserves at least one day of exploring.
Drive the Scenic River Road
One of the best things to do in West Texas is to drive the River Road, also known as El Camino del Rio. The River Road is one of the most scenic drives in Texas.
The 50-mile scenic drive travels between Lajitas and Presidio – mostly within Big Bend Ranch State Park. The road twists and turns alongside the Rio Grande River, going up and over countless mountains.
One mountain being the “Big Hill,” one of the steepest roads in Texas. At the top, you are rewarded with breathtaking views of the Chisos Mountains, the Colorado Canyon, the Rio Grande River, and mountain ranges spanning into Mexico.
Along the scenic River Road are several overlooks to pull over and soak in the views.
Hike a Narrow Slot Canyon
Big Bend Ranch State Park is home to 238 miles of trails – a perfect place to go hiking. One of the best and most popular hikes in the park is Closed Canyon.
Closed Canyon is a short, 1.4-mile, out and back trail. The trail is considered moderate because as you descend deeper into the canyon, there is a 12 ft. drop (easy to get down, difficult to get up).
The hike through the tall and narrow slot canyon is simply wonderful. Unlike most hikes, there is nothing monumental at the end of the trail. In fact, there is a sign to turn back before you get a chance to reach the river (hence the name, closed canyon). The beauty of this hike is the journey through the majestic slot canyon.
Spend 3 Days in Big Bend National Park
A trip to West Texas is not complete without enjoying a few days in Big Bend National Park. There are three different areas of the park to explore, which is why I recommend spending three days in the park.
Hike the Best Trails in Big Bend National Park
Of course, one of the best things to do in Big Bend National Park is hiking. A few of the best hikes at Big Bend National Park include the Lost Mine Trail, Santa Elena Canyon Trail, Window Trail, and Balanced Rock Trail.
Each trail is a great day hike and offers something unique. The level of difficulty ranges from easy to moderate.
The Lost Mine and Window Trail are moderate hikes in the heart of Big Bend in the Chisos Mountains. In comparison, Balanced Rock and Santa Elena Canyon Trail are easy hikes in different parts of the park. Balanced Rock has fun rock scrambling with stunning views, and Santa Elena Canyon takes you deep into the marvelous canyon.
Visit Boquillas, Mexico
Did you know that you can cross the border and visit a small village in Mexico from Big Bend National Park? This is one of the most unique experiences in the park. It provides an opportunity to meet with the locals, taste authentic Mexican cuisine, and purchase handmade wire sculptures and embroidered textiles.
To cross the border, visitors must have proper documentation (a valid passport). For more information on how to get to Boquillas, please refer to NPS.
Soak in a Hot Spring
How many places can you swim in a natural hot spring inside a U.S. National Park and only a few feet away from crossing an international border? I will tell you – just one! This is why taking a dip in Big Bend National Park’s Hot Springs is one of the best things you can experience in West Texas.
There is nothing better than enjoying the healing waters of a hot spring after a long day of hiking. For the best experience, I recommend coming just after sunrise or before sunset for cooler temperatures and golden hour breathtaking views.
See the Milky Way
One of the best things to do in West Texas is to see the Milky Way. To see the Milky Way with your naked eye is a magical event that not many get to experience. Luckily, it is fairly easy to see the Milky Way in Big Bend National Park.
Big Bend National Park is a stargazing wonderland. The park has the least light pollution and darkest skies of any National Park in the Lower 48.
For the best chance of catching a glimpse of the Milky Way in Big Bend National Park, you need to visit in the summer months (June through August) during the middle of the night, i.e., after midnight. Furthermore, you will need clear skies, and binoculars are also recommended. Good luck!
Things to Do in West Texas: Explore More Parks
In addition to the Western landscape and charming small towns, one of the beautiful things of West Texas is the ample amount of parks. In fact, West Texas has two National Parks and nine State Parks. Needless to say, West Texas is an outdoor lovers paradise.
Hike the Tallest Peak in Texas
If you love to hike, this definitely needs to go on your Texas bucket list. You can hike to the tallest peak in Texas at Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
Guadalupe Peak is an 8.5-mile hike with a 3,000 elevation gain that is undoubtedly strenuous. It takes an average of 6-8 hours. Therefore, it is highly recommended to start as early as possible.
Once you reach the peak, you are rewarding with breathtaking views of the Guadalupe Mountains National Park and its surrounding West Texas landscape.
Encounter Bison and Longhorns
The San Angelo State Park is definitely one of the best Texas State Parks because visitors can encounter the Official Texas State Bison Herd and Longhorn Herd.
This is significant because the only other State Park with the Official Texas State Bison Herd is Caprock Canyons State Park. Furthermore, parts of the Official State of Texas Longhorn Herd are divided into three other State Parks – Cooper Breaks, Palo Duro, and Lyndon B. Johnson. San Angelo State Park is the ONLY Texas State Park that has BOTH herds.
Moreover, visitors can take a FREE tour to encounter them up-close during their feeding time. Almost every Wednesday and Saturday at 11 am, visitors can partake in the bison and longhorn guided tour.
During this tour, a park ranger will round up the Official Texas State Bison Herd and Longhorn Herd to feed the animals and educate the visitors of each herd. This tour is, hands down, one of my favorite things to do in San Angelo and West Texas.
Swim at the Worlds Largest Natural Fed Pool
Everything is bigger in Texas, which is why the world’s largest natural spring-fed pool is at Balmorhea State Park. The 1.3-acre natural spring-fed pool is 25 feet deep and holds 3.5 million gallons of water. One of the coolest features (no pun intended) is that water temperature stays at 72 to 76 degrees year-round.
People travel from all over to beat the Texas heat and cool off in this amazing natural spring-fed pool. Visitors can swim AND scuba dive in the crystal-clear water among fish.
Explore High-Desert Mountains
Franklin Mountains State Park is the largest state park within a city. It sits just 15 minutes outside El Paso, towering above the city with beautiful overlooks of the Rio Grande.
This Texas State Park is an outdoor lover’s dream for hikers, mountain bikers, and rock climbers. There are over 100 miles of multi-use trails that are considered a mountain bikers paradise. It is also an incredible Native American historical place because you can find colorful pictographs and etched petroglyphs on boulders and rock walls.
Discover Pictographs and Natural Rock Basins
Another West Texas outdoor wonderland is at Hueco Tanks State Park and Historic Site. It is an amazing state park for hiking and rock climbing, but it’s also rich in history, with over 2,000 pictographs etched in rock.
Visitors can explore Hueco Tanks State Park and Historic Site on either a self-guided or guided tour. Keep in mind that only 70 people a day are allowed to take a self-guided tour to preserve the park.
With that said, to have the best experience at this state park, I recommend booking a guided tour because the rangers are very informative about the park’s natural and cultural history.
Go Sand Sledding!
It’s hard to believe there are landlocked sand dunes in Texas, but it’s true! Monahans Sandhills State Park is home to peaks and valleys of sand dunes. It’s honestly so beautiful; you would think you are in the Sahara Desert.
Of course, the best thing to do at Monahans Sandhills State Park is to go sand sledding. At the park’s headquarters, you can purchase a sled for $21 or rent one for only $6. They also have wax for sale – do not forget to wax your sled; it gives you speed!
The best place to go sand sledding is near Sandhills Picnic Pavillion and Willow Draw Camping Area. Hike your way up a sand dune and enjoy the ride down!
So to beat the Texas heat, people travel from all over the Lone Star State to cool off in this historical natural spring-fed pool. Moreover, you can swim AND scuba dive in the crystal-clear water amongst a variety of fish. Needless to say, this oasis is one of the best things to do in West Texas.
Go on a Cave Adventure
The Caverns of Sonora are internationally recognized as one of the most beautiful show caves in the world. Though the active caverns are considered in West Texas, they are uniquely located where the Texas Hill Country meets the Chihuahuan Dessert.
To explore the Caverns of Sonora, visitors must book a guided tour. The Crystal Palace Tour takes guests 155 feet deep into the caverns through narrow passageways with highly decorated stalagmites and stalactites.
The more adventurous and perhaps fun tour is the Discovery Challenge Tour. This tour takes visitors on a thrilling caving adventure to navigate through a maze of off-trail passageways and rappel fifty feet into the Devil’s Pit.
I hope this list of the best things to do in West Texas has been informative and helpful to plan your epic West Texas road trip. It is truly one of the best and magical regions of Texas.