West Texas, also known as “Trans-Pecos,” is a world all of its own. Hundreds of miles east, of Texas’ largest cities, the best things to do in West Texas are characterized by wide-open spaces and unexpected destinations.
Lying within the Chihuahuan desert that also encompasses northern Mexico, West Texas is the driest area in all the state and also has the highest elevations.
Driving through the region on Interstate 10, one can travel for hundreds of miles without as much as seeing a single town along the way.
This is deceptive, however, as many small towns and fun activities are tucked away in the region, off of the interstate. Those who know where to look can find the gems that make up the best places to visit in West Texas.
Considering a long road trip to the desert? Here’s what to do in West Texas!
When traveling to West Texas, the town of Sonora is a flash along the highway. If one takes the time to drive a few miles off of the interstate, though, it will reward them with the Caverns of Sonora. For many, a West Texas trip is best kicked off with a tour through these magnificent underground limestone cavities.
The caverns are privately owned and the premises include an area to camp overnight and a store filled with souvenirs, food, and candy for purchase.
The tour of the caverns takes about an hour and includes a few stairs steps both up and down, but not rated more than a moderate walk.
The beauty of the walk through the caverns will show just how well nature carves out its own artwork within the rocks of West Texas.
Go for a swim in a natural spring.
Imagine packing up your snorkeling gear for a chance to take a dip in the waters of the Chihuahuan desert. Balmorhea State Park, located only a few miles off of Interstate 10 and only a few minutes from the Davis Mountains, allows just that.
This natural underground spring bubbles its cool waters into what looks at first like a modern giant swimming pool with high dives included. A closer look reveals the pool shaped area is as natural as the fish and other water creatures that swim within its waters.
The swimming area at Balmorhea is perfect for snorkeling to witness nature under the water, or to cool off in the summer heat. Bring a picnic, as the natural pool is surrounded by plenty of tables to set up for the day.
Admire the stunning night sky.
At night in West Texas, it is hard to tell where the ground ends and the sky begins. Far from the big city lights to the east and west, this area is the best in the state for stargazing–so it’s no wonder that the University of Texas established the McDonald Observatory at the top of the Davis Mountains.
The observatory is open for its constellation tour and star party on several nights throughout the week. Make sure you purchase tickets in advance as there is limited space on each occasion. Daytime tours of the observatory are also available for those who wish to see the telescopes in action.
The observatory also has a small food stand, gift store, and visitor center to explore.
Seek out quirky spots in Marfa.
Marfa is one of the best (and most popular) places to visit in West Texas. It could be just any small West Texas town if it were not for its particular artsy history.
Classic movie buffs will appreciate that the small city has been the scene of movies such as Giant, No Country For Old Men, and There Will Be Blood. The wonderful Hotel Paisano even has a room designated for playing the movie Giant over and over on a loop. Photos of Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean, and others from the set are plastered on the wall, reminding everyone that the movie stars stayed at the hotel during filming.
Artists from the northeast began moving to Marfa in the 1970s, and quite a few galleries are now located in town.
As creative and inventive as the town has become over the years, it still holds its West Texas cowboy image from the past. This is a place where you can buy art from a street sale, sit outside a modern coffee bar, and watch someone ride past on a horse at the same time.
If you can, try to catch Marfa during a local festival. The entire town becomes part of the action as live music and food can be found on every corner.
Do you want to enjoy the outdoors, but still keep a little bit of comfort while you sleep? If so, there are a few places for glamping in West Texas to suit your needs.
One such place is El Cosmico which offers large teepees, yurts, and classic trailers to sleep in overnight. This place is more than a camping spot, however. With its community kitchen, outdoor showers, and common lounge, El Cosmico welcomes those who want to get away from technology, but at the same time, spend quality time with other humans in the high desert.
Each year, El Cosmico also sponsors the Trans Pecos Festival of Music and Love on its property. If you are looking to attend this event, start looking for a place to stay months ahead of time, as it is that popular of an event.
Take a hike at the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center.
The Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center & Botanical Gardens may be one of the best-kept secrets to visit in West Texas. In 1973, a handful of people with a common and awesome goal started a non-profit here to save a piece of the Chihuahuan Desert.
The center may not be well known outside of the area, but it certainly is one of the best places to visit while in the Fort Davis area of West Texas.
Over the years, the staff has turned these 500 plus acres into a desert garden that you must walk through at least once in your lifetime. From thousands of desert plants, with their histories explained to grand vista views, the center does not disappoint those who love nature.
Explore a fort from the wild west.
You don’t have to be a fan of westerns or history to enjoy the fort that gave the town of Fort Davis its name.
Established in the 19th century to protect the area against raiding parties, the fort is now a national park. A walk through the park’s museum and remaining buildings takes you to a time when people scratched out a living in the mountainous desert.
The location was a perfect place for the fort as the area is somewhat of an oasis in the middle of the high desert, with plenty of water and game.
A mountain divides the fort from the Fort Davis State Park residing next door. Several trails crisscross the 35 million-year-old basalt outcrop for a moderate hike across. The light and shadows that bounce off of the brown and grey rock make for a landscape that beckons hikers to make the trek.
Explore Big Bend National Park.
Driving south of the Davis Mountains, we eventually run into West Texas’s most raw display of nature. Big Bend National Park runs along the border with Mexico, where its own version of the park continues on the south side of the Rio Grande River.
Water has carved the ancient limestone into picturesque valleys where hikers can take on some of the best walks of their lives.
Big Bend National Park is really for those adventures who don’t mind being miles away from civilization and enjoy the wonder of the mountainous outdoors. The park encompasses a resounding 1,250 square miles of natural beauty.
Whether you are looking for a camping trip, mountain climbing, a hike, hot or cold springs to wade in, or a quick trip across the river to a small Mexican town, Big Bend National Park is the place to enjoy them all and without a doubt one of the best places to visit in West Texas.
Investigate the magical Marfa Lights.
Located along the highway, between Alpine and Marfa, Texas, you will find an observation area made to witness the mysterious Marfa Lights.
Well over a hundred years ago, a cowboy saw a flickering light while tending cattle and the rest is history.
Although there are scientific explanations for the appearance of the lights, we will leave it up to your own imagination when you visit to make your own conclusion about the origins of one of the most fun things to do in West Texas.
Bring your binoculars, something to drink, and maybe a snack to tide you over while you try to determine the source of the mysterious nighttime illuminations. Restrooms are on-site in case the lights are stubborn during your visit.