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 West Texas travel guide includes the best things to do on a West Texas road trip and the 12 best places to visit in West Texas.
Tips for planning the perfect West Texas road trip
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, it is 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
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 awhile 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
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, is 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.
On any West Texas road trip there are a few things everyone must do and see. Here are our top 12 things to do and places to visit in West Texas.
Go for a Hike in Big Bend National Park
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.
But 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 either of these stunning hikes.
Cross the Mexican Border in a Rowboat to Visit a Rural Village
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
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 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 served 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 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.
You can also have a meal at Food Shark, a converted school bus-turned-food truck, and then 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
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
West Texas not only has mountains, it is 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
If the idea of sleeping in a teepee, yurt, or a vintage trailer sounds 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
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
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
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
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. 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
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 June 2023 for accuracy and current information on these West Texas things to do and see.