Sure Texas cities are full of fun family attractions like theme parks, state fairs, and acclaimed zoos and museums, but out in the West Texas desert, you’ll find some of the state’s best-kept secrets. West Texas might not be a destination on your family’s radar, but you may be pleasantly surprised to hear about all of the exciting locations and activities that this region has to offer.
When going on vacation you usually need to leave the family car in long-term airport parking. So, once you arrive at your target destination airport, rent a car at the airport directly, pack up the car with your luggage, and get ready to embark on eight unforgettable West Texas experiences.
Davis Mountains State Park
Whether your family camps often or is dipping their toes in the water for the first time, Davis Mountains State Park is the perfect place to pitch a tent. During the day, hike the mountain trails within the park, let the kids bike around the campsites, or take the scenic Skyline Drive for some incredible views.
And if your family isn’t sure about the camping life just yet, stay in the Indian Lodge, located within the park. This iconic white adobe lodge has a rustic charm but includes all of the typical modern amenities of a hotel, including a swimming pool and the famous Black Bear Cafe.
Even though Davis Mountains State Park is tucked away in the mountains, it isn’t far from the town of Fort Davis. After a tiring day of park activities, nothing hits the spot like an old fashioned root beer float and a tasty diner meal at the Fort Davis Drug Store. Continue your blast to the past with a tour of the Fort Davis National Historic Site, a restored cavalry post with all kinds of exhibits recounting the old west. Kids will have fun with activities geared towards them like scavenger hunts and the junior ranger program.
Kids and adults alike will be amazed and wowed at the McDonald Observatory. Operated by the University of Texas at Austin, this astrological research facility is home to one of the world’s largest optical telescopes, along with numerous other hi-tech machines that let scientists gaze into the universe. Though it is a research facility, the McDonald Observatory has also made it their mission to inform, educate, and inspire the public.
During the day, explore Hobby-Eberly Telescope or check out the Solar Viewing Program. In the evening, catch a Twilight Program, which is theater-based that exhibits live scale models of the solar system, interactive demonstrations, and high-resolution images of space. Perhaps the favorite show of all is the Star Party. Star Parties begin with a guided orientation of the night sky in an outdoor amphitheater. Everyone will love learning about the constellations before going off to look at telescopes that the observatory staff has set up around the grounds. Make sure to book your Star Party reservation in advance because they fill up quick!
Big Bend National Park
Your family could easily spend a week (or more) at Big Bend National Park because they aren’t lying when they say it’s big. In fact, the park covers 801,000 acres and runs along 118 miles of the Rio Grande River. Experience all sorts of outdoor recreational activities from horseback riding to rafting to nature watching. Hike along the park’s trails, which range from multi-day treks to easy, little-kid-friendly paved walks. At night, roast s’mores by a fire, tell stories, and enjoy one another’s company under the starry night sky.
Ventrue down to the Rio Grande, where you’ll find neat attractions like the Hot Springs Historic District. Sitting on the edge of the river is the foundational remains of the Langford bathhouse, which contain the geothermally heated water that bubbles from the ground. Older kids and adults will enjoy relaxing in these calm waters.
And like Davis Mountains State Park, Big Bend has comfortable lodges if your family isn’t up for roughing it. The park is also known for its many, many miles of scenic drives if your bunch prefers to stay in the vehicle where it’s cool.
Balmorhea State Park
As a literal oasis in the desert, the pool at Balmorhea State Park has been providing a relaxing place to cool off for residents and visitors since it was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. It still holds the title as the world’s largest spring-fed pool thanks to the 15 million gallons of water per day that bubble up from the San Solomon Springs.
At its deepest point, the pool is 30 feet deep with a natural rock bottom. If your children (or yourself) are feeling daring, there’s a high dive to test your fears. The other, shallower end of the pool features even flooring and is perfect for smaller children who are not yet strong swimmers. For those who are extra adventurous, the park permits snorkeling and scuba diving in the pool as well.
The small town of Marfa is becoming well known for its art scene, but long before that it was defined by the mysterious phenomenon known simply as the Marfa Lights. Ghostly flickering specs of light have been spotted just outside of town since 1883, and to this day no one can explain them. Visit the viewing area just outside of town, where you’re most likely to spot these bizarre lights dancing across the night sky. See them for yourself and let everyone hypothesize their reason behind the illumination. Is it aliens? Ghosts? Campfires in the distance? Atmospheric reflection? No matter your family’s opinions, you will all get a chance to bond over this unique experience.
Chinati Foundation Museum
Take a break from the sun and head indoors to the Chinati Foundation Museum in Marfa. This museum that was once an army artillery shed now serves as one of the world’s largest collections of minimalist art and is largely the reason that Marfa has become the art hub that it has. For those truly dedicated to art, the Full Collection Tour can take up the whole day. If you just plan on stopping in, consider the shorter 2.5-hour Selections Tour. Regardless, everyone is sure to enjoy the unique works found in this museum.
Caverns of Sonora
Halfway between Big Bend and San Antonio, where the Hill Country and Chihuahuan Desert meet, lies the Caverns of Sonora. Take a guided tour and explore the earth,155 feet under. Even young kids will be fascinated with the cave exploring and geology lessons. Witness incredible rock formations with stalactites clinging to the cave ceilings and bold stalagmites building up from the ground.