Situated at the foothills of the Franklin Mountains, on the border of West Texas and Mexico, sits the city of El Paso. It’s a place that’s home to a wide variety of cultures, delicious food, a certain stark natural beauty, and several one-of-a-kind attractions that you won’t find anywhere else in the state. History buffs can discover the three historic missions on the El Paso Mission Trail, check out the historical Plaza Theatre, and learn about the city’s vibrant multicultural past at the El Paso Museum of History. Outdoor lovers can go rock climbing at Hueco Tanks State Park and Historic Site, hike and bike in the Franklin Mountains, and take a road trip to the majestic Guadalupe Mountains National Park. There’s outstanding food to be had and a growing art scene to engage with. And, wherever you go in El Paso, you’ll encounter the unique blend of Texan, Mexican, and distinctly El Pasoan cultures that makes this one of Texas’s most interesting cities.
Admire Masterpieces at the El Paso Museum of Art
It may be small, but the El Paso Museum of Art is an utter delight. Located inside a former Greyhound station, the EPMA houses a permanent collection of over 7,000 works from the Byzantine era to the present, including Baroque and Renaissance masterpieces from Van Dyck, Botticelli, and Canaletto. Best of all, it’s free.
Explore Franklin Mountains State Park
Hikers, bikers, and outdoor lovers will have a field day at Franklin Mountains State Park, which preserves the unspoiled Chihuahuan Desert landscape. A relatively small (yet beautiful) mountain range, the Franklin Mountains dominate the skyline of El Paso, and visitors to the park can partake in hiking, mountain biking, camping, and rock climbing amongst the picturesque desert vegetation (most of the trails are in the Tom Mays Unit, east of I-10 off Transmountain Road). It’s the largest urban park in the U.S., and it offers a great respite from city life.
Learn About the Complicated Story of the U.S.-Mexico Border
Founded in 1959, with over 16,000 square feet of exhibition space, the El Paso Museum of History stands as an educational testament to over 400 years of U.S.-Mexico border history. The museum’s 3-D Digital Wall is part of a project to collect stories, memories, and photos of El Paso locals and share them with visitors. Admission is free.
Birdwatch at Rio Bosque Wetlands Park
Rio Bosque Wetlands Park is an ecologically stunning, 372-acre city park that the University of Texas at El Paso manages through its Center for Environmental Resource Management. It’s a mix of riverside forests and wetlands and is home to more than 200 species of birds. There are a few walking trails, both paved and natural-surface, and UTEP offers free guided tours twice per month.
Visit the Chamizal National Memorial
Chamizal National Memorial commemorates the 1963 Chamizal treaty that ended a 100-year boundary dispute between the U.S. and Mexico. The park is a celebration of the borderlands' cultures, complete with a full performance theater (an uncommon feature among the 400-plus national parks) and an outdoor amphitheater, both of which act as stages for sharing the park’s history during major events throughout the year. Admission is free.
See a Show at the Plaza Theatre
This historic Plaza Theatre opened in 1930 for movies and stage shows. It’s one of just a handful of theaters that became part of the Save America’s Treasures program, which provided the necessary funds needed to complete the theater’s renovation in 2006. The Plaza is also an architectural marvel, with beautiful Spanish Colonial décor and features. As one of the last remaining atmospheric theaters in the U.S., it's designed to convey the illusion that you’re seated outdoors in a Spanish-style courtyard.
Go Rock Climbing at Hueco Tanks State Park & Historic Site
Located about 40 miles east of El Paso, Hueco Tanks State Park & Historic Site is home to fabled rock hills that contain pictographs, petroglyphs, and other historic paintings left behind by the Tanks’ ancient inhabitants. It’s a fascinating sight. The park is also a rock climbing heaven since the hard granite was practically made for bouldering. Visitors can also hike, bird watch, picnic, stargaze, and stay the night at one of the 20 campsites here.
Hit the Mission Trail
The El Paso Mission Trail is a 9-mile stretch in El Paso County’s Mission Valley, named for the three 17th- and 18th-century missions here: Socorro Mission, Ysleta Mission, and San Elizario Chapel (the oldest churches in Texas). The trail also represents part of the oldest (and, at one time, the longest) road in North America, the historic El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro. Today, visitors can explore the missions and museums, galleries, state and national landmarks, and other treasures located here.
Have a Moment of Remembrance at the El Paso Holocaust Museum and Study Center
Founded in 1984 by Henry Kellen—a Holocaust survivor determined to share his experiences amidst the rise of Neo-Nazism and a Holocaust denial movement in the U.S.—the El Paso Holocaust Museum and Study Center is located in the Jewish Community Center on El Paso’s west side. The permanent exhibits trace life before, during, and after the Holocaust. The museum regularly hosts events throughout the year to engage with the community and honor those who perished and survived. Admission is free.
Take in Amazing Views Along Scenic Drive
The infinitely windy, steep Scenic Drive offers panoramic views of El Paso, Juarez, and the Franklin Mountains looming beyond the cities. A small overlook at the top of Scenic Drive, perched on an outcropping at the mountains' southern tip, Murchison Rogers Park is a popular spot for watching the sun come up and go down. Just don’t forget to bring quarters for the coin-operated binoculars.
Visit One of the Most Underrated National Parks
Just under two hours east of El Paso, hike to the top of Texas at one of the country’s least-visited national parks, the highly remote, 86,0000-acre Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Here, you’ll find the highest point in the state (Guadalupe Peak, at 8,751 feet) and more than 80 miles of trails. The park is a hardcore hiker’s paradise, with its deep, rocky canyons, lush riparian zones with pine and fir forests, and harsh, dusty desert. It’s also the world’s most extensive Permian fossil reef and the only designated wilderness in West Texas.