14 Top Things to Do in West Texas

View of Rio Grande from Castelon
Photography by Deb Snelson / Getty Images

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 things to do in West Texas.

01 of 14

Soak in Chinati Hot Springs

Big Bend National Park

TripSavvy / Alisha McDarris

1 Hot Springs Rd, Presidio, TX 79845, USA
Phone +1 432-229-4165

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 F and are said to cure all kinds of ailments and aches.

02 of 14

Catch a Movie at Starlight Theatre

Starlight Theatre

Buyenlarge / Getty Images

631 Ivey Rd, Terlingua, TX 79852, USA
Phone +1 432-371-3400

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.

03 of 14

Check Out El Paso Museum of Art

El Paso

DenisTangneyJr / Getty Images

1 Arts Festival Plaza, El Paso, TX 79901, USA
Phone +1 915-212-0300

Although small, the El Paso Museum of Art (EPMA) is an utter delight. Located inside a former Greyhound station, the EPMA houses a permanent collection of more than 7,000 works from the Byzantine era to the present. Among the museum's incredible Baroque and Renaissance masterpieces are works by Van Dyck, Botticelli, and Canaletto. Check EPMA's official website to see what temporary exhibits and events are taking place during your visit. Open Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., it’s always free.

04 of 14

Try to Get a Glimpse of the Marfa Lights


Buyenlarge / Contributor / Getty Images

Marfa, TX 79843, USA

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.

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05 of 14

Hit the Trails at Big Bend Ranch State Park

Big Bend Ranch State Park

Gary Kemp Photography / Getty Images

21800 FM170, Terlingua, TX 79852, USA
Phone +1 432-424-3327

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. 

06 of 14

Marvel at Large-Scale Minimalist Art at the Chinati Foundation

Sculptures at the Chinanti Foundation

Andrew Lichtenstein / Getty Images

1 Cavalry Row, Marfa, TX 79843, USA
Phone +1 432-729-4362

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.

07 of 14

Drive One of the Most Beautiful Roads in the US

River Road in Texas

Gary Kemp Photography / Getty Images

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. If you want to make a few stops along the way, consider visiting the Mariscal Mine, which produced almost a quarter of the total amount of the country's mercury from 1900 to 1943, or hiking the 6.5-mile, round-trip Mariscal Rim Trail.

08 of 14

Go Off-Grid at Davis Mountains State Park

Davis Mountains State Park

Maxine Weiss / Getty Images

TX-118, Fort Davis, TX 79734, USA
Phone +1 432-426-3337

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 more than 8,000 feet up in the clouds.

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09 of 14

Attend a Star Party at the McDonald Observatory

McDonald Observatory

Mabry Campbell / Getty Images

McDonald Observatory, 3640 Dark Sky Dr, Fort Davis, TX 79734, USA
Phone +1 432-426-3640

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 largest optical telescopes in the world. During this beloved night under the stars, visitors are guided through the cosmos by one of the observatory’s (very knowledgeable) staffers and are even allowed to look through the telescopes. Star Parties last about two hours long.

10 of 14

Spend the Night at the Gage Hotel

Exterior of the Gage Hotel

Buyenlarge / Contributor / Getty Images

102 NW 1st St, Highway 90W #90w, Marathon, TX 79842, USA
Phone +1 432-386-4205

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. During your visit, you can enjoy a range of amenities, including a heated salt-water pool, bocce bar court, and a 27-acre botanic garden—which comes complete with a fruit orchard and nine-hole putting green. Bonus: the Gage is just a 40-minute drive from Big Bend National Park.

11 of 14

Go Snorkeling at Balmorhea State Park

Balmorhea State Park

Gary Hart / EyeEm / Getty Images

9207 TX-17, Toyahvale, TX 79786, USA
Phone +1 432-375-2370

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. Snorkel or scuba dive with catfish, Mexican tetra fish, and the Comanche Spring pupfish, or explore the park's desert wetlands known as ciénagas.

12 of 14

Take a Day Trip to Alpine


Michael Trueblood / Getty Images

Alpine, TX, USA

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 farmers market, and more; be sure to check the events calendar before you go.

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13 of 14

Hike the Highest Point in Texas at Guadalupe Mountains State Park

Guadalupe Mountains National Park

Daniel A. Leifheit / Getty Images

Salt Flat, TX 79847, USA
Phone +1 915-828-3251

One of the country’s least-visited national parks, the highly remote Guadalupe Mountains National Park combines majestic mountain wilderness with rugged desert terrain. 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 and the world’s most extensive Permian fossil reef. Sun-scorched and absolutely sublime, Guadalupe attracts hardcore hikers for whom rocky, mountainous ascents and unadulterated solitude are all part of the adventure.

14 of 14

Explore Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park

Roger Samdal / Getty Images

Big Bend National Park, TX, USA
Phone +1 432-477-2251

Like Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Big Bend National Park is one of the most remote and least-visited national parks in the country. 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; between soaking in Langford Hot Springs, hiking the Chisos Mountain Basin, and floating the Rio Grande, you’ll need it.

Frequently Asked Questions
  • What are are considered West Texas?

    Spanning 30 counties, West Texas comprises three metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs): The Midland MSA, the Odessa MSA, and the San Angelo MSA. Some of the region's biggest cities include El Paso, Lubbock, Amarillo, Midland, and Odessa.

  • What is the most west city in Texas?

    The westernmost city in Texas is El Paso.

  • How far is Dallas from Big Bend?

    Big Bend National Park is a 533-mile drive from Dallas; it takes just under 8 hours to travel between the two, not accounting for traffic delays and rest stops.

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14 Top Things to Do in West Texas