In the Big Bend region of Texas, the road stretches out before you as far as the eye can see and kisses the bright blue sky at the horizon. There are few places like it for fans of epic road trips, with hidden gems and a rich culture made up of Native American, Mexican and American cowboy influences waiting for you all along the route from El Paso to Big Bend National Park.
We begin this journey in El Paso, a bustling city in the far western corner of the state. For this trip, you’ll definitely want a great meal to get you off on the right foot. Salt + Honey and Savage Goods are two excellent cafés serving up delicious breakfast and brunch offerings.
Head east from El Paso to make your first stop on this adventure at Hueco Tanks State Park & Historic Site. For millennia, these rocky hills have been a sacred spot for native people, and today you can walk in their footsteps and gaze at the imagery they left behind.
From Hueco Tanks, you’ll continue northeast on Highway 62 toward Guadalupe Mountains National Park. The stretch of highway leading to the park is known as “the Lonesome Highway,” and with so few vehicles in sight for miles, you’ll quickly understand why. But the views as you approach the mountains are truly breathtaking.
Any of the trails make for unforgettable hikes, but if you have the time and are experienced enough for a steep hike, the Guadalupe Peak Trail up to Guadalupe Peak — the highest natural point in Texas (8,751 feet) — is rated strenuous but is absolutely worth it.
If you’re looking to add a unique detour to your trip, we suggest Monahans Sandhills State Park as a trip extension. It’s roughly two and a half hours east from the Guadalupe Mountains, but the natural sand formations are fun for the entire family and are never the same shape twice. There are camping and RV parking options around the Park as well.
Roughly two and a half hours south of Guadalupe Mountains National Park is the Fort Davis area. Truth be told, you could spend an entire day or more just discovering all there is here, from learning about the Buffalo Soldiers who called Fort Davis home until 1885 at the Fort Davis National Historic Site to exploring the McDonald Observatory to hiking Davis Mountains State Park.
If your trip allows, we also highly recommend that you spend time exploring two nearby towns: Alpine and Marfa. Alpine is a picturesque town with scenic views that is steeped in cowboy culture and history. You can hike Hancock Hill where you’ll enjoy the amazing views seated behind the extremely out-of-place school desk near the top.
Marfa is, in many ways, its own world. It’s the Big Bend Region's epicenter of the arts and culture scene. Famous for its mysterious lights and internationally recognized contemporary museums, Marfa attracts visitors from all across the globe. Be sure to check out Ballroom Marfa for a renowned collection of up-and-coming artists. Their regular live music events offer just the right contemporary groove for visitors and locals alike.
A couple hours south of Marfa, located between Big Bend Ranch State Park and Big Bend National Park, sits the former mining town of Terlingua, TX. The town is home to what is affectionately known as Ghost Town Texas. In both Terlingua and nearby Study Butte, you can find various outfitters to guide you through all sorts of experiences, ranging from exploring the town’s ruins (including crumbling and decaying buildings) to horseback riding, hiking, mountain biking and more. The Terlingua Trading Company is modeled after the old Trading Post back when the town was active. Today, it’s the place to find souvenirs, sit on the porch, and watch the sunset.
Finally, your trip will come to a magnificent conclusion when you arrive at Big Bend National Park. One of the country’s great preserved lands, Big Bend features both desert and mountain landscapes full of diverse wildlife. A trip to Big Bend National Park must include a short hike between the abrupt, towering walls of Santa Elena Canyon with a stop at the Castolon Historic District along the way for enriching context to the surrounding marvels.
For family visitors, the Fossil Discovery Exhibit showcases the evolution of this land over 130 million years with fun and interesting artifacts, including plant and animal fossils discovered here. Driving Big Bend is also suggested, with many scenic routes — both on- and off-road. One such route is River Road, a dirt road running along the southern portion of the park that requires a four-wheel-drive vehicle.
Other must-sees” in Big Bend include Balanced Rock and Santa Elena Canyon. Balanced Rock is a unique rock formation that seems to defy gravity located at the end of a moderate two-mile hike. Santa Elena Canyon is a fantastic rafting or canoeing experience through Big Bend showcasing its spectacular scenery.
To be sure, Big Bend Country is a rugged, wild terrain. Road tripping through this land is an incredible experience no matter your outdoor skill level. It’s also a trip you’re sure to never forget. So hit the road, and remember to drive friendly, the Texas way.