13 Unique Places to Visit on a West Texas Road Trip

West Texas is perhaps one of the most desolate places in the United States. You can drive for hours and still not reach any sizable city. But a West Texas road trip can also be an intriguing and unique experience. 

You’ll see the terrain turn from barren deserts to lovely mountains (yes, West Texas has mountains) and then back again. You’ll drive through the tiniest of towns and wonder what people who live there actually do. And while it may sound like there isn’t much worth driving hours for, there are actually a lot of interesting places to visit in West Texas.

This travel guide includes the best things to do on a West Texas road trip and the 13 best places to visit.

Tips for planning the perfect West Texas road trip

an antelope in a field in West Texas.

Growing up in West Texas I took for granted the uniqueness of this region. It truly is one of the best places in Texas to visit. West Texas is not only desolate though, but also BIG. So, during your West Texas road trip, take time to appreciate the wide openness and enjoy getting away from the busyness of life.

You are truly venturing where the WIFI is weak (or non-existent) and where you will feel very off the grid.

If you’re planning a West Texas road trip, here are some tips that will make your vacation more enjoyable.

Fill up your gas tank every chance you get

a sign that reads Big Bend National Park 107 miles on a long empty road in West Texas
You can drive for an hour in West Texas without coming across a sizeable town.

Because of the desolation of the region make sure you have enough gas or petrol in your car’s fuel tank. In this area of the world, I don’t like to let the meter get below a quarter of a tank. It may be a while before you come across another gas station.

While there are a lot of things to see in West Texas, gas stations aren’t one of them. They are few and far between, so if you are planning a West Texas road trip, top off the gas tank every chance you get.

Expect moments with no phone service

Also, have plenty of music or audio books downloaded because your radio won’t work out here, unless you have satellite radio. In fact, there will be numerous long stretches of road where you will have no phone service, no radio, and no other cars in sight. 

Despite the lack of phone service or even radio, a West Texas road trip is undoubtedly one of the most memorable and fun Texas road trips.

Spend a night in one of the larger West Texas cities, like El Paso or Midland

Depending on where you are coming from and how you are getting to West Texas, the closest airports are in Midland-Odessa or El Paso.

If flying into Midland-Odessa, it may be worth spending a day exploring, as there are several fun things to do in Midland, as well. Likewise, El Paso is a large city, and you’ll find plenty to do there to pass the time for a day.

Plan for the weather

a cactus with flowers blooming in the West Texas desert
West Texas is known for its desert environment.

West Texas is known for its extreme weather conditions, so it’s crucial to pack accordingly. Summers can be scorching hot, with temperatures exceeding 100°F (38°C). Winters, on the other hand, are mild, but the nights in the desert can be surprisingly cold. 

Check the forecast and pack versatile clothing, including layers, sunscreen, a hat, sturdy footwear, and plenty of water to stay hydrated.

Things to do on a West Texas road trip

West Texas, with its vast landscapes and rugged charm, offers a captivating experience for adventurers seeking a taste of the wild frontier. This region is brimming with natural beauty and hidden gems waiting to be discovered, making it worthy of your Texas bucket list.

On any West Texas road trip there are a few things everyone must do and see. Here are our top 13 things to do and places to visit in West Texas.

Go for a Hike in Big Bend National Park

big bend saint elena canyon
Saint Elena Canyon in Big Bend National Park. Photo by Yinan Chen from Pixabay

No visit to West Texas is complete without exploring the remarkable Big Bend National Park. 

Big Bend National Park may be one of the lesser visited national parks in the United States. Simply because of its remote location along the West Texas-Mexico border, you won’t find a ton of tourists in the park. Big Bend is beautiful. Its breathtaking vistas rival many of the popular national parks you’ll see on a northern Arizona and southern Utah road trip.

Although it can often feel as hot as the surface of the sun in Big Bend, it is a wonderful place to hike, tune in with nature, and search for native wildlife.

One of the more popular hikes takes you through Saint Elena Canyon cliffs that tower 1,500 feet above you. 

Another popular hike, the Window Trail lets you witness the stunning Chisos Mountains through the frame of a natural window. The hike is roughly 5 ½ miles long and involves a challenging climb out of Oak Creek Canyon on the return trip. 

Looking for a shorter hike in Big Bend? Check out Closed Canyon. This 1.5-mile trail takes you through a slot canyon, similar to the narrow slot canyons famously found in Utah.

Plan to camp out at least one night if you want to do one of these stunning hikes.

Cross the Mexican Border in a Rowboat to Visit a Rural Village

Boquillas Crossing Big Bend Rio Grande boat
Crossing the Rio Grande River into Mexico.

While you’re in Big Bend National Park you can actually cross the Rio Grande River and venture into Mexico for lunch. 

Doing so will require a short ride on a rowboat and a mile-long journey on a donkey to get to the rural village of Boquillas del Carmen. This is one of the most unique travel experiences we’ve ever had, and the Mexican food was definitely worth the trip! 

Don’t forget to bring your passport!  Although the Boquillas Crossing isn’t your typical border crossing, it is still a legal one, and the same rules apply.

Visit a Ghost Town

terlingua ghost town texas
An old cemetery in Terlingua – a ghost town and popular stop on any West Texas road trip. | Rick Roberson from Pixabay

Just outside of Big Bend National Park, you’ll find an abandoned mining town that went bust.

Terlingua is now a ghost town with decaying buildings, old mining shafts, and a cemetery that has a creepy, haunted feeling. There are still a few dozen residents who live in Terlingua. They basically cater to the tourists who stop through on their way to or from Big Bend. 

You’ll find some restaurants, a trading post, and even a hotel and some unique glamping yurts. Just don’t expect to find any chains like McDonald’s or Holiday Inn in Terlingua. It is a great place to stay if you want to feel completely off the beaten path, star-gaze, and tap into the serenity of solitude.

Visit an Old Military Post in Fort Davis

Fort Davis Texas road trip
The old military post in Fort Davis, Texas. | Photo by 12019 from Pixabay

Fort Davis is an interesting look at military life in the Southwest back in the 1800s. This well-preserved military post serves as a reminder of the significant role the military troops played in the Anglo settlement of the western frontier. 

Originally established in 1854, Fort Davis served as a crucial outpost along the San Antonio-El Paso Road, providing protection for settlers during a time of westward expansion. The military’s primary purpose at Fort Davis was to defend the region from Indians and Mexican soldiers in the area. 

At Fort Davis, you can take a self-guided tour of the five restored buildings and explore the ruins of about 100 more. The fort’s restored buildings include barracks, officers’ quarters, and the hospital.

The fort’s museum showcases exhibits that delve into the area’s Native American history, Buffalo Soldiers, and the challenges faced by those stationed at this remote outpost.

Experience the Quirkiness of the Artistic Enclave of Marfa, Texas

Marfa Texas
The artistic town of Marfa, a great town to spend a night while roadtripping in West Texas.

Marfa, Texas has become somewhat of a hub for quirky artistry. One of the best small towns in America to visit, this tiny town has risen to fame over the past few years. 

Marfa has attracted celebrities like Beyonce and Matthew McConaughey who have come to see what this West Texas gem is all about. 

Known for its outdoor, minimalist art installations, visitors to Marfa should plan to check out the Chinati Foundation, a contemporary art museum featuring large-scale installations by the likes of Donald Judd.

A mural to the movie “Giant” located in Marfa, Texas. | Photo by Robert Harkness from Unsplash

Also not to be missed, outside of Marfa on Highway 90, you’ll find a massive mural of James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor. Created by artist John Cerney, the mural is a tribute to the 1956 movie “Giant” which was filmed in West Texas.

You can also have a meal and enjoy some live music and refreshing drinks in the beer garden at Planet Marfa. In Marfa, you’ll feel inspired by the creatives and artists who live and visit this eclectic town.

Watch Mystery ‘Ghost Lights’ Dance Across the Horizon

marfa lights observatory
Marfa lights observatory

About 10 miles outside the town of Marfa, Texas you’ll find a small observatory overlooking, well, nothing. Only empty deserts surround the building as far as the eye can see. 

But at night, people will gather on the back observation deck of the building in hopes of catching a glimpse of an unexplained phenomenon – the Marfa lights. Ask anyone who grew up in West Texas about Marfa and they will tell you about the ‘Marfa lights’. 

After nightfall, strange glowing orbs appear off in the distance. The lights move around, even dance a little. The enigmatic Marfa Lights have fascinated visitors for decades. Head to the Marfa Lights Viewing Area on U.S. Highway 67 to witness these elusive phenomena.

Whether they are atmospheric reflections, car headlights, or something truly unexplained, observing the dancing lights in the desert is an otherworldly experience that will leave you in awe.

To my knowledge and in all my research, I’ve yet to find a true scientific explanation for the lights. While there are plenty of speculations, everything from UFOs to natural gas clouds, no one really knows why these ghost lights appear.

 Swim in the World’s Largest Spring-fed Swimming Pool

The small town of Balmorhea, Texas is home to the world’s largest spring-fed swimming pool. 

The Balmorhea State Park is the perfect place to cool off on a hot West Texas day. The pool is home to various types of fish and has a constant flow of natural spring water feeding into it. In fact, more than 15 million gallons of water flow through the pool each day. 

The water is crystal clear and cold. Reaching depths of 25 feet, it’s also a popular place for scuba diving in West Texas. Be sure to pack your snorkel gear, and swim among the fish in this incredible and amazing place to go in West Texas!

Climb the Tallest Peak in Texas

Guadalupe-Peak-Texas
Guadalupe Peak is the highest mountain in Texas. | Photo by Awsloley from Pixabay

West Texas not only has mountains, but it is also home to the highest mountain in the state. The summit of Guadalupe Peak is 8,751 feet above sea level. It’s a challenging hike mainly because of the hot, arid desert climate, but a rewarding one. 

Located in Guadalupe National Park, if you plan to hike Guadalupe Peak, make sure you bring plenty of water. You will go through water much faster than you expect because of the extreme heat and dry climate.

If visiting both Big Bend and Guadalupe National Parks, you may want to buy a national park pass, as well, which will cover admission into both national parks.

Sleep in a teepee

marfa teepees
El Cosmico in Marfa is a fun place to stay on a West Texas road trip. | Photo by Maher El Aridi from Unsplash

If a teepee, yurt, or a vintage trailer sound like your kind of lodging, then you’ll love El Cosmico in Marfa.

This one-of-a-kind desert retreat is like a whimsical glamping destination blended with a hippie commune. It offers a truly unique experience for travelers seeking a blend of nature, art, and unconventional accommodations.

While you’ll have to share a communal bathroom with other teepee dwellers, the accommodations are far from basic. With Bohemian décor, electricity, and brick floors, you won’t feel like you’re roughing it in the desert here. 

The other communal spaces foster a sense of community, with outdoor hammocks and communal kitchens that encourage conversation with other travelers and fellow adventurers staying at the property.

Terlingua also has unique teepee accommodations as well as yurts and bubble accommodations located at Basecamp Terlingua.

Take a picture in the middle of nowhere

west texas road trip
Somewhere in the middle of nowhere on a West Texas road.

Texas is known for its massive size, and naturally, there are parts of the state that are barren and empty. Far West Texas is the perfect place to unleash your inner “Instagram model” and take the cliché middle of the road photo. 

After driving for miles, and miles, and miles without seeing a single other car on the road, we decided to pull over for an impromptu photo shoot. 

Nothing defines West Texas more in my opinion than a sleepy road without any traffic for as far as the eye can see framed with the expansive blue skies above. I have been gone from West Texas for half my life, but this view always makes me feel ‘home’ again.

Do a little window shopping at the Prada store outside of Marfa

Prada store Marfa Texas
The replica of a Prada storefront put West Texas on the map as a quirky artistic haven.

While you’re still in “Instagram model” mode, head 30 minutes west of Marfa to the town of Valentine. You won’t find much there except a tiny replica of a Prada storefront.

Yes, in the middle of the far West Texas desert, you’ll find car after car pulling over on the side of the road so visitors can strike their best pose. 

The storefront is just another quirky art installation in this part of Texas, made famous by celebrities and fashion influencers set on capturing the perfect photo. 

Created by artists Elmgreen and Dragset in 2005, this permanently sealed storefront resembles a genuine Prada boutique, complete with pristine window displays showcasing luxury goods. However, upon closer inspection, visitors realize that the store is non-functional.

So, you won’t find anything to actually buy. You’ll have to get your Texas souvenirs elsewhere, but go ahead, dress up, take a picture, and #doitforthegram at this iconic West Texas landmark.

Go Sandboarding on natural West Texas sand dunes

The Monahans Sandhills are a fun place to spend a morning. | Photo by Morgan from Pixabay

Monahans Sandhills State Park offers a mesmerizing landscape that beacons photographers and adventure seekers alike. 

Spanning over 200 square miles, this natural desert oasis consists of rolling sand dunes that shift and reshape with the strong West Texas winds. The golden-hued dunes stretch as far as the eye can see, inviting adventure seekers to explore their sandy slopes on sleds and sand boards.

It is one of the most unique places to visit in West Texas and provides an otherworldly experience that captures the spirit of Texas wilderness at its finest.

Watch a glorious West Texas sunset

west-texas-sunset
Watching the sunset is one of the best things to do in West Texas. | Photo by Semperfistar from Pixabay

Perhaps one of my favorite things to do on a West Texas road trip is actually one of the simplest. 

At sunset, stop and appreciate the beauty of Mother Nature. Sunsets in West Texas are truly special. It’s like God turns the West Texas sky into a brilliant canvas of orange, pink, purple, and blue.

Photos never do it justice, but when the sun starts to set in West Texas, stop what you are doing and appreciate the moment.

Why you should take a West Texas road trip

my husband sitting on railroad tracks in west texas
West Texas is worthy of a trip to explore an area where vast nothingness is the main attraction.

Texas has so many micro-cultures. From the metropolitan vibes of Dallas and the cowboy culture of Fort Worth to the hipster atmosphere of Austin and the Latin influence in San Antonio, the state is as diverse as it is large. 

But to truly understand the entire state, you can’t skip the vast and often excluded area of West Texas. It has a unique culture in itself, one that truly has to be experienced to appreciate it.

Have a question about any of these places to visit in West Texas? We’d love to hear from you and answer any questions you might have while planning your West Texas road trip. Leave your comments below.

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This West Texas road trip post was originally published in June 2018. It was most recently updated in May 2024 for accuracy and current information on these West Texas things to do and see. 

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14 comments on “13 Unique Places to Visit on a West Texas Road Trip”

Great article and pictures on West Texas! I have traveled to Midland to visit family and sure wish I’d read your experiences before now. NEXT TIME I’ll be heading farther West in Texas. It seems like its own country, so diverse and something wonderful no matter what your idea of Paradise happens to be.

Great Suggestions & Im looking forward to going. I’ve lived in Texas my whole Life & never Been to any of those places

Found this very interesting. I’d love to visit Big Bend NP, and crossing the Rio Grande into Mexico is another interesting option. Great post.

I love this post! I grew up in Dallas and West TX is one of my parents’ favorite places so many childhood trips there, and then as an adult I took my husband. Hopefully sometime soon we’ll take our kids. Love al your recommendations- Big Bend, Balmorrhea especially! I’d add Fort Davis too- there’s Davis Mountains State Park with a really neat 1930’s era lodge plus the actual fort and the town.

I drove past that Prada place this summer on our way to Fort Davis. We didn’t stop because I didn’t see it until we were whizzing past. I did a double-take in the rear view mirror though. Did that say Prada?!?! Haha! I’m definitely planning to stop if we ever go that way again.
The drive from Fort Davis back towards I-10 heading east was very scenic as well.

I grew up in a small West Texas town, Kermit. I now live in Southeast Texas and I miss my old stomping grounds. My husband and I raised 2 boys in Midland and we make it back there to see family. Home will always be West Texas. The beautiful sunsets, see for miles and the wonderful places mentioned. Once a West Texas Girl always a West Texas Girl.

I come from West Texas, the Ft. Stockton area. My Great-grandmother, Annie Riggs owned the Riggs Hotel which is now the Annie Riggs Musuem. I lived in that area until I was 6 years old and revisited my Grandfather Barney Riggs Jr. and Grandmother Rosemary Riggs in the 50’s when they lived in the Hotel to keep it safe. When one visits the area, they step back in time and realize how rough the area was then and how tough West Texans had to be. It has a beauty all it’s own and anyone that visits should read your information so they can truly appreciate the beauty of the land.

In March of 1989 we took at trip to Fort Stockton, then Alpine, Fort Davis, and then camped in Big Bend National Park. It was AWESOME! All the places you mentioned are cool. Alpine needs to be added to the list. Hope to go back again.

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