Easily one of the most special areas in the country, West Texas is brimming with exciting cultural attractions, quirky, timeworn towns, and an incredible abundance of natural beauty. In this fabled region of the Lone Star State, you'll find an eclectic former ghost town, two stunningly beautiful national parks (and several state parks), natural hot springs, world-class art, and an altogether otherworldly landscape that, in many places, feels more akin to the moon than Planet Earth.
Welcome to your definitive list of what to do and see in West Texas.
Quite possibly the most remote resort in the state, Chinati Hot Springs provides the perfect getaway when you need to soak up some desert scenery, sleep under a blanket of stars, and chill out (or heat up, rather) in natural hot springs backdropped by the majestic Chihuahuan Mountains. This rustic, comfy, and altogether obscure resort has seven cabins (some with private tubs or showers), in addition to the communal hot springs that fill a spacious outdoor tub. These bubbling waters come out of the earth at 109 degrees and are said to cure all kinds of ailments and aches.
The famed Starlight Theatre is the centerpiece of Terlingua, the quirky West Texas “ghost town” located 12 miles from the Mexican border. Terlingua is a former abandoned mining town (which is where the “ghost” part comes in). However, a small but vibrant community resides here today—just under 60 permanent residents, to be exact. What used to be the former Chisos Movie Theater, the Starlight is where everyone in town comes to have a beer, chow down on Tex-Mex food, and enjoy the sounds of live bluegrass and country tunes.
El Paso Museum of Art
Although small, 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 always free.
Marfa Mystery Lights Viewing Center
Though it may seem cheesy, trying to catch a glimpse of the Marfa Lights is a crucial part of the West Texas experience. For centuries, travelers have reported seeing these mysterious lights in the same spot just southeast of town—with no real explanation for where they come from. Today, there's a sleek roadside viewing center where you can cozy up with a blanket and a hot toddy while keeping your eyes peeled for the strange, ghostly orbs that dance and shimmer on the horizon line.
Hiking in Big Bend Ranch State Park is an outdoor lover’s dream come true. The park receives very few visitors, especially when compared to its flashier neighbor, Big Bend National Park—in fact, you’ll likely be one of just a handful of hikers during your time here. If you’re up for it, the Rancherias Canyon Trail is a challenging three-day hike that cuts through the Chihuahuan Desert, dipping into several small canyons and cresting the ridge of the Bofecillos Mountains. If you’d prefer to do a shorter hike, Closed Canyon and the Cinco Tinajas Loop can both be done in a day.
You might say that the Chinati Foundation is the coolest art museum in Texas. Located on a 340-acre tract of desert land in Marfa that includes abandoned U.S. Army artillery sheds, Chinati was the creation of Donald Judd, an artist who essentially transformed many of Marfa’s downtown buildings with his permanent installations (along with those of his contemporaries, Dan Flavin and John Chamberlain). It’s a truly surreal sight, where large-scale minimalist art meets vast Texan skies and desert.
Driving the legendary River Road at least once should be at the top of any Texas bucket list, not just a West Texas bucket list. This is one of the most beautiful drives in the entire country—skirting the southern border of West Texas, this stretch of FM-170 takes you through the splendor of Big Bend Ranch State Park, with the high point (literally) being the top of a pass with stomach-churning views of the Rio Grande spooling out below.
Davis Mountains State Park
Just a few miles from Fort Davis, Davis Mountains State Park offers a wonderful introduction to the Chihuahuan Desert. The sheer beauty of this area (nicknamed the “Texas Alps”)—vast grasslands, stark mountains, and lush, tree-studded woodlands—must be seen to be believed. You’ll find some of the most unique wildlife in Texas here, too. And if you really want to get an off-grid experience, the Davis Mountains Preserve is as wild as it gets out. Trek to the top of Mount Livermore, the tallest point in the Davis Mountains, which sits over 8,000 feet up in the clouds.
Star Party at the McDonald Observatory
For a uniquely West Texan treat, plan to attend a Star Party at the McDonald Observatory. One of the world’s most well-known observatories, McDonald has five research telescopes of various sizes, including the 433-inch Hobby-Eberly, one of the world's largest optical telescopes. At the beloved Star Parties, visitors are guided through the cosmos by one of the observatory’s (very knowledgeable) staffers and are even allowed to look through the telescopes.
The Gage Hotel
The impressively grand Gage Hotel in Marathon is the utmost in laid-back desert luxury lodging. Built in 1927 by acclaimed architect Henry Trost, this 45-room hotel is more than just a place to lay your head at night; it’s a historic destination in its own right. (It’s also just a 40-minute drive from Big Bend National Park.)
Balmorhea State Park
A giant spring-fed pool in the middle of the desert? You’d better believe it—Balmorhea State Park is one-of-a-kind (and the biggest spring-fed pool in the world, in fact). This sparkling blue, high-desert oasis in the Davis Mountains is fed by nearby San Solomon Springs, the largest spring in the surrounding area. Nothing beats a soak in Balmorhea, especially on a hot day; these aquamarine waters (which are populated by fish, turtles, and other aquatic creatures) stay between 72 and 76 degrees, year-round.
Out-of-town travelers often bypass Alpine en route to artsy Marfa or Big Bend National Park, but this charming frontier town deserves your full attention. Nestled in the foothills of the Davis Mountains, Alpine has a decidedly low-key vibe, and that’s exactly what we love about it. Here, time stalls as you stroll the dusty streets, peruse art galleries and shops, check out the colorful murals downtown, and, of course, stop in for some cowboy cuisine at the Reata. (This bustling community also has regular live music and theatre productions, a weekly farmer’s market, and more; be sure to check the events calendar before you go.)
Guadalupe Mountains State Park
One of the country’s least-visited national parks, the highly remote Guadalupe Mountains National Park combines majestic mountain wilderness with rugged desert terrain, and not to mention the world’s most extensive Permian fossil reef. The highest point in Texas (at 8,751 feet), Guadalupe Peak, can be found here, along with the next three highest points in the state. Sun-scorched and absolutely sublime, Guadalupe attracts hardcore hikers for whom rocky, mountainous ascents and unadulterated solitude are all part of the adventure.
Big Bend National Park
Like Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Big Bend National Park is one of the most remote and least-visited national parks. And yet, no trip to West Texas is complete without coming here. With its geologically dramatic scenery—steep canyons, imposing rock formations, lushly forested mountains, and vast expanses of an undeveloped desert—there’s simply no overstating Big Bend’s natural beauty and biodiversity. Give yourself at least three full days to explore the park; you’ll need it.