THE BIG BEND area and its beautiful mountains with hundreds of hiking trails, the rushing Rio Grande river, and diverse landscapes, is in West Texas. Here’s the ultimate itinerary to Texas’ Big Bend for the best places to stay and eat, as well as some of the most unique outdoor adventures in the US.
Where to hike
Big Bend National Park is a mix of desert and ancient limestone canyons that were formed by volcanoes long ago. This national park has many hiking options, such as the 4.8-mile hike on the Lost Mine Trail to the 13-mile hike of the South Rim. There’s also a 10.5-mile hike to the tallest peak in the park, Emory Peak, which provides views of Mexico. Hiking isn’t the only thing to do in the park. Fishing, biking, camping, and horseback riding are available. River trips on the Rio Grande are especially popular, as is a hike to the Hot Springs, a 105-degree natural hot springs next to the Rio Grande where visitors can hop in for a soak.
Davis Mountains State Park
Davis Mountains State Park was built in the 1930s, near historic Fort Davis. Hikes here aren’t too difficult, with most being less than 2.5 miles in length. The Sheep Pen Canyon Loop, however, is a six-mile hike with views of the Davis Mountains. Campsites are available in the Davis Mountains State Park, as are accommodations in the Indian Lodge, a historic 39-room motel with a pool and restaurant.
Big Bend Ranch State Park
With the national park just next door, people often overlook Big Bend Ranch State Park, even though it’s the largest state park in Texas. Big Bend Ranch State Park has 238 miles of less-crowded hiking trails such as the Closed Canyon Trail, a 1.4-mile hike in a narrow, shaded canyon slot. The Hoodoos Trail is another favorite for its unique geological structures called “hoodoos” or “fairy towers.” Floating trips are available here, too, as is 70 miles of off-roading for four-wheel-drive vehicles. Check out Big Bend River Tours to book a floating trip. Off-roading tours can be booked with the Rangers of Big Bend Ranch State Park.
Monahans Sandhills State Park
Monahans Sandhills State Park is a unique hiking destination as there are no marked trails in the park. The park is comprised of sand dunes with a little brush here and there, so a hike here will be particularly difficult, though it does make for exceptional photographs. there is also an 800-acre equestrian area for horseback riding for those who have their own horses, and the option to sand surf with toboggans that are available for rent in the visitor’s center.
Where to stay
Terlingua Rentals offers rentals located a 15-minute drive from Big Bend National Park. Travelers can choose to stay in a tipi, airstream, adobe casitas, renovated ruins, and even a full two-bedroom home. All units offer free Wi-Fi and electricity, though the tipi lacks air-conditioning. Casa Azul has a kitchen, while most of the other rentals offer kettles or coffee makers. Travelers may want to consider a rental that’s located in the Terlingua Ghost Town if they want to walk to restaurants and the ruins. They all have one thing in common — beautiful views of the Big Bend mountains, especially at sunset.
2 Easy Street
Hotel Pasaino is a historic boutique property in Marfa, Texas, with an interesting past. The property opened its doors in 1930 and became the headquarters for the filming of the Hollywood film Giant in 1955 which starred Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean. Today, Hotel Paisano has a Giant memorabilia room, outdoor pool, gym, and a restaurant and bar with beautiful courtyard seating.
207 Highland Street
Marfa, Texas 79843
In Marathon, Texas, about a 45-minute drive from the Big Bend National Park, sits a historic brick and adobe mission-style hotel built in 1927. It’s known as the Gage Hotel. Not only does it have rooms with a western theme, but the Gage Hotel has a spa, outdoor pool, 27-acre garden, gym, and restaurant. There’s also private casitas and the private renovated home of Captain Albion E. Shepard who founded Marathon, available for rent.
102 NW 1st St. Highway 90W
Marathon, Texas 79842
Where to eat
Long Draw Pizza
Long Draw Pizza is a wood and metal building in front of a cliff wall. A sign on the outside of the door reads, “No cell phones.” Inside, there are a wooden bar and a few communal tables for seating. Long Draw is owned by a woman named Nancy who whips up any kind of pizza that customers request — and they are some of the best pizzas in Texas. A large pizza can feed about three to four people, though personal pan pizzas are available. If you can’t finish it all, Nancy will wrap it up to go.
22720 FM 170
Terlingua, Texas 79852
Hours of opeartion vary
La Kiva Restaurant & Bar
La Kiva is a semi-subterranean restaurant built into one of the banks of Terlingua Creek. The walls are made of rock and the ceiling of natural wood. Earthen clay pots hang from the ceiling, animal skulls hang on the walls, and potted plants are placed around the windows that lead out to the patio. There’s a large bar and a diverse menu, with notable selections like steak and fried chicken.
23220 Farm to Market 170
Terlingua, Texas 79852
Hours of operations: Mon-Thur, Sat and Sun 5 PM-12 AM; Fri 5 PM-1 AM
Mandos Restaurant & Bar
Mandos Restaurant & Bar in Marfa, Texas, has a menu of Mexican food that mostly includes enchiladas, chili rellenos, tacos, and encharitos. The chili rellenos have white gooey cheese, the rice is full of flavor, and the enchiladas are particularly cheesy with homemade red or green sauce. The salsa has a spicy kick that is often lost in the Tex-Mex chains around the state. Mandos even offers American favorites like hamburgers and meatloaf. For those in a rush to get out of town for a hike, the restaurant has reinstituted curbside service you can signal with a car honk.
1506 W San Antonio Street
Marfa, Texas 79843
Hours of operations: Mon-Thur 6 AM- 2 PM and 5 PM-9:15 PM; Fri 6 AM-2 PM and 5 PM-10 PM; Sat 6 AM-10 PM; Closed Sundays
Other outdoor adventures
Balmorhea State Park
Balmorhea State Park isn’t your typical state park since there’s not a lot of hiking to be found here. Rather, it’s the home to the world’s largest spring-fed swimming pool. The water is about 72 to 76 degrees year-round and is 25 feet deep. There’s aquatic life here and clear water which allows for scuba diving too.
Drive Highway 170 between Presidio and Lajitas
Highway 170 between Presidio and Lajitas, Texas, is a beautiful scenic drive with lots to see and do. It takes you through the Big Bend Ranch State Park, meanders throughout mountains and follows the Rio Grande. Many hiking trails are accessed along this drive. The Texas highway department had the foresight to create spaces along the highway for travelers to park and explore.
Marfa Mystery Lights
About a 15-minute drive west of Marfa is an outdoor pavilion with restrooms, permanently installed binoculars, and a patio that faces the flat desert of the Big Bend. Here people gather each night with chairs, snacks, and drinks in anticipation of seeing what is known as the Marfa Mystery Lights. The Marfa Mystery Lights are strange lights that appear to hover in the air, disappear, and sometimes reappear. Some have witnessed the lights change color or dart in odd directions. There’s a lot of theories as to what the lights could be — headlights, campfires, and even aliens.
Walk through the Terlingua Ghost Town
Terlingua appeared on the Big Bend map in the late 1880s when cinnabar, from which mercury is extracted, was discovered in the area. The camp quickly grew into a mining town and stayed that way until about 1930, when it was abandoned by miners because mercury was no longer a wanted metal. For many decades, Terlingua was a ghost town. Today the town has grown to 200 to 500 people depending on the time of year, but the ghost town remnants are still there.
Take a walk through the ghost town and explore empty stone or adobe mining buildings. Find the underground mining tunnel near the Starlight Theater and walk from one side to the other. Check out the Perry Mansion on the hill above the town, built by mining mogul Howard E. Perry, left for ruin for years, and now supposedly haunted. Today, part of it is being renovated and refurbished as a small hotel for visitors.
Outdoor art exploration
Big Bend has a few notable outdoor art installations. Check out the Prada Marfa, an art exhibit in Valentine, Texas, (about 30 minutes from Marfa). The Prada Marfa looks like a Prada store located off the highway in the middle of nowhere, complete with glass windows that show displays of shoes and purses. The Prada Marfa was created by artists Elmgreen and Dragset and installed in 2005.
After visiting the Prada Marfa, head into Marfa Tx to explore Donald Judd’s “15 Untitled Works of Concrete” on the grounds of the Chinati Foundation. The outdoor display is a little over half a mile long and features 15 large concrete block sets in different configurations in a grassy field with dirt paths. It’s one of the few free art displays at the Chinati Foundation.