West Texas is wide open, rugged, unique, and spectacularly beautiful. If you travel to West Texas, you’re actually experiencing a part of the state that not many Texans have seen themselves!
As West Texas can feel so hard to reach, such a place beckons a sense of accomplishment for all who visit. And once you make it, you soon realize it’s well worth the effort.
So how can you make the most of your West Texas adventure? Check out our list of the most interesting and beautiful places in West Texas to find out.
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1. Big Bend National Park
The crown jewel of West Texas—Big Bend National Park—should be at the top of your itinerary. This massive national park has incredible canyons, rock formations, desert landscapes, the mighty Rio Grande River, and an entire mountain range within its boundaries.
When you make the scenic drive to this remote park, you’ll see how easy it is to escape the crowds. One of the best places to do this is Santa Elena Canyon, with its 1,000-ft cliffs separated by the Rio Grande River (swimming or rafting here comes highly recommended!).
There are some magnificent hikes in Big Bend, including my favorites, the South Rim Trail and Emory Peak—both will give you sweeping views of the park. Afterwards, head towards Boquillas Canyon to visit the historic Langford Hot Springs for a warm dip on a cool desert evening.
2. McDonald Observatory – Fort Davis, TX
West Texas is renowned for its stargazing, making up one of just 18 International Dark Sky Reserves in the world. Arguably the best place to be amazed by these stars in West Texas is McDonald Observatory, located on the top of a mountain near Fort Davis.
This acclaimed observatory is a leading champion of astronomy education and research around the world. With five research telescopes, including its powerful Hobby-Eberly Telescope, the observatory studies far away galaxies and searches for undiscovered planets.
You can tour the observatory during the day for some impressive West Texas views. However, you’ll definitely want to make time to go to the observatory’s star parties to see constellations and other celestial wonders up close.
3. Marfa Lights – Marfa, TX
A local phenomenon known as the Marfa Lights has been a mainstay in West Texas lore for several decades. Here mysterious ghost-like orbs of light are often spotted at night floating across the desert landscape—and no one really knows why (though wild theories abound!).
About nine miles outside Marfa you can try to see these mystery lights yourself at the Marfa Lights Viewing Center. This impressive roadside viewing area provides a great place for an evening stakeout and picnic to watch the desert sun go down and perhaps catch a glimpse of the legendary lights.
4. The River Road
There is a lonely, winding highway that connects the small Texas towns of Lajitas and Presidio on the US-Mexico border called FM 170—or better known as The River Road. For the lucky few who venture out onto it, they’ll experience one of the most scenic drives in the United States.
If you dare to make the journey, you’ll dance along the Rio Grande River and see numerous Instagram-worthy views of mountains, deserts, historical sites, canyons, and even an old Western movie set. Expect to make multiple stops along the way—even just to sit and ponder the quiet landscape.
One of the hallmarks of FM 170 is its remoteness, so you should be prepared. With little to no civilization along the route, make sure you have enough gas before you go!
5. Balmorhea State Park
When you visit West Texas, one of the first things you’ll notice is the heat, especially in the summer. Any chance to escape the high desert temperatures is a welcome opportunity.
One of the best places to beat the West Texas heat is Balmorhea State Park. Containing the world’s largest spring-fed swimming pool, the park draws travelers from all over ready to take a dip in its refreshingly clear waters.
This historic pool covers over an acre with 3.5 million gallons of water that remains 72 to 76 degrees Fahrenheit all year. After your swim, make time to visit the nearby historic Calera Chapel for some quintessential West Texas photo-ops.
6. El Cosmico – Marfa, TX
The dusty West Texas town of Marfa feels like an odd choice for a burgeoning hub of artists, hipsters, cowboys, and occasional celebrities. But the eclectic community has become a must-see for being just that, in its own quirky, almost improbable way.
Definitely the most memorable place to stay in town and experience Marfa’s unique vibes is El Cosmico. An Instagrammer’s dream, El Cosmico is a glamping destination, bohemian campground, and community hangout all in one.
I recommend a stay at one of El Cosmico’s refurbished vintage trailers, tepees, or yurts. If you’re looking for something more upscale, book a night at the nearby historic Hotel Paisano, famous for being the headquarters for the actors and crew during the filming of the all-time classic movie Giant.
7. Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Are you a fan of dramatic mountain landscapes? If so, you’ll want to see the tallest mountains in all of Texas at Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
In fact, the best way to experience this national park is summiting Guadalupe Peak, Texas’ highest point at 8,751 ft in elevation. It’s a tough but rewarding hike that can be done in one day, and the views at the peak will make you feel like you’re on top of the world.
Other highlights of the park include McKittrick Canyon, El Capitan, Frijole Ranch, and the Salt Basin Dunes. After your visit, make the 30 minute drive to nearby Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico for an added bonus.
8. Terlingua Ghost Town – Terlingua, TX
Calling itself a “ghost town,” the former mining community of Terlingua near Big Bend National Park stands out for its offbeat vibes and unconventional mix of art, music, and history. Such a combination makes a visit to Terlingua Ghost Town worthwhile during your West Texas escape!
The local pastime in Terlingua is hanging out at the Starlight Theatre, either by sitting on the porch to soak in the mountain views or enjoying live music over a meal. If you’re an early riser, head next door to the hip Espresso Y Poco Mas for coffee on its picturesque patio.
With its laid back culture, you’ll want to wander around town and explore the abandoned buildings and art installations, as well as the old-school Terlingua Cemetery. Then, visit nearby Lajitas to meet the town’s mayor, a beer-drinking goat named Clay Henry.
9. Fort Davis National Historic Site
If you enjoy Old West history, include in your West Texas itinerary a visit to Fort Davis National Historic Site, nested in the Davis Mountains.
One of the best surviving examples of a frontier military outpost from the Indian Wars, Fort Davis National Historic Site will transport you back to the time of Trans-Pecos wagon trains and mail coaches from 1854 to 1891.
Here you can explore 24 historic buildings, including army barracks and refurbished officer’s homes that reflect 1880s life, as well as over 100 ruins. The park also provides a fascinating history of the famous Buffalo Soldiers who were stationed there after the Civil War.
10. Gage Hotel – Marathon, TX
Texas is big, y’all. After you’ve likely been driving for hours on wide-open, desolate roads to reach West Texas, the tiny town of Marathon is a welcome sight.
In Marathon, you’ll want to rest awhile and experience a legendary West Texas oasis of upscale luxury—the Gage Hotel. Originally built in 1927, this iconic hotel was designed by famed architect Henry Trost and reflects the classic Texas styles and charms of yesteryear.
While an incredible place to stay on your West Texas adventure, even if you can’t, the Gage Hotel is still a must-see. Enjoy a romantic dinner at the hotel’s classy 12-Gage Restaurant or a margarita at the White Buffalo Bar—famously featured on celebrity traveler Anthony Bourdain’s show Parts Unknown.
11. Prada Marfa – Valentine, TX
Whether you’re a fan of high fashion or not, you’ll want to see the only Prada store in West Texas—Prada Marfa. Actually a famous art installation, Prada Marfa draws visitors from around the world paying homage to this iconic spectacle in the middle of nowhere.
The architectural work of art was designed to meet Prada’s aesthetic codes, and the fashion giant even donated some items from its own collection to be featured in the installation.
After you’ve taken the ultimate West Texas selfie at Prada Marfa, make the drive to Marfa nearby to see the renowned Chinati Foundation. This contemporary art museum features the minimalist work of artist Donald Judd, who started the movement that made Marfa the global art community it is today.
Did we miss any of your favorite places in West Texas?
Let us know in the comments if there are any more places in West Texas that you would add to our list!