If you’ve heard of one ghost town in Texas, it’s probably Terlingua. Despite Terlingua’s ghost town status, there are fun things to do in Terlingua today, and the town is a fun side stop when visiting the area.
Situated between Big Bend National Park and Big Bend Ranch State Park in a dusty corner of West Texas, this blink-and-you’ll-miss-it spot has seen something of a resurgence starting in the 1960s, attracting glampers, chili aficionados, and artists from all around.
Wondering what to do in Terlingua Ghost Town, or whether you should visit at all?
Here’s everything you need to know before you go!
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A Brief History of Terlingua Ghost Town
In the mid-1880s, a discovery was made in the Chisos Mountains that would change the fate of the area: mercury, also known as quicksilver, was prominent, and mines were quickly built.
Terlingua, as we know it today, exploded thanks to this discovery, and within a couple of decades was a thriving boomtown of over 1,000.
Quicksilver production peaked during WWI (1914-1918), but soon after, Terlingua’s fate changed.
The market for mercury mining steadily declined throughout the 1930s. The Chisos Mining Company, which employed virtually all of Terlingua directly or indirectly, filed for bankruptcy in 1942.
After WWII, Terlingua’s population declined so sharply that it became a ghost town.
Tourism started to revive Terlingua Ghost Town starting in the 1960s and 1970s, and today, the town is a small, dusty, and beloved stop on many Big Bend road trips.
You can read more about the history of Terlingua here.
The Best Things to Do in Terlingua, TX
Have dinner at the Starlight Theatre and Saloon.
Part event venue and part restaurant, the historic and unmistakable Starlight Theatre and Saloon is one of the central features of modern Terlingua Ghost Town.
Be sure to plan on dinner here during your time visiting Terlingua!
Check out the Terlingua Jail.
This tiny, one-room stone jail doesn’t take long to see, but it’s worth a quick peek when visiting Terlingua!
Visit the Terlingua Cemetery.
If you’ve seen photos of Terlingua Ghost Town, there’s a good chance you’ve seen photos of Terlingua Cemetery.
Set just downhill from town, Terlingua Cemetery dates to 1903 and is filled with modest wood crosses and other monuments honoring the lives of local residents from the early 20th century–most notably, those who passed away in mining accidents or the influenza epidemic from 1918-1919.
Grab tacos at Taqueria El Milagro.
Featuring delicious tacos and–amazingly useful for Terlingua–wifi, Taqueria El Milagro is a fantastic lunch spot in town.
It’s also owned by the same people who run La Posada Milagro Guesthouse, one of the most popular (and centrally located) boutique hotels in the area.
Check out the art scene.
Public art is everywhere in Terlingua, from unique galleries and shops to sculptures decorating the side of the road.
Be sure to take some time while visiting Terlingua to appreciate its art scene, which is partially responsible for the town’s resurrection from a true ghost town to a modern road trip attraction!
Go see St. Agnes Church.
Visiting St. Agnes Church means a short, steep drive up from the more central things to see in Terlingua like the cemetery and the Starlight Theatre–but the very short detour is worth the effort to admire this historic church.
Founded in 1914 as Terlingua was rapidly growing thanks to the mining industry, St. Agnes Church is undoubtedly one of the best places to visit in Terlingua.
Eat your heart out at the Terlingua Chili Cookoff.
During the first weekend of November (in other words, when you can start to realistically hope for slightly cooler weather in Big Bend Country), the town of Terlingua swells in size thanks to the annual chili-cookoff-turned-local-festival.
Dating to 1967, the Terlingua Chili Cookoff is actually a combination of two distinct events–but regardless of technicalities, chili lovers looking for lots of fun and plenty to eat are bound to have a great time.
Tips for Visiting Terlingua Ghost Town
Don’t count on having cell service.
As with much of Big Bend Country, cell service is extremely spotty in Terlingua–don’t count on staying connected while in town.
If you want to stay in Terlingua, plan ahead.
There are very few places to stay in Terlingua proper. If you have your heart set on staying in town, the earlier you book, the better.
FAQ About Terlingua
Do people still live in Terlingua?
Yes, they do!
Though Terlingua is widely considered a ghost town, roughly 200 people call Terlingua home today.
Considering that the population of Terlingua reached over 1,000 at its peak and that there are many abandoned structures strewn about town, though, it’s safe to say that Terlingua feels very much like a ghost town.
Can you stay in Terlingua?
You can, but you’ll need to book in advance!
There are a handful of small properties offering boutique stays or glamping experiences in Terlingua Ghost Town itself.
For the most part, though, visiting Terlingua will mean driving into town from the surrounding area (as is typical of visiting anywhere in Big Bend Country).
The Lajitas Golf Resort is about 10 miles away and is a beautiful, remote property.
We loved the historic interior of the main building, but don’t count on having wifi during your stay!
How far is Terlingua from Big Bend National Park?
Farther than it looks!
If you search directions from Terlingua Ghost Town to Big Bend National Park, it may look like they’re just a few minutes apart–but they’re not.
Limited roads and the enormous size of Big Bend NP mean that you’ll need to plan quite a long time to get between different spots.
For example, driving from Terlingua to Santa Elena Canyon takes a little over an hour each way, and driving from Terlingua Ghost Town to the popular Lost Mine Trail takes about 45 minutes.