“Hitting the open road” in Texas means taking on a lot of road. Most of the state’s population is concentrated in the east and long stretches of road to the west and southwest are sparsely populated. It’s just right for a road trip adventure.
Road trips in the Lone Star State include drives through ghost towns and mountains, explorations on ranches and in deserts and journeys into places where tall tales seem a little more believable.
So here are some of the most interesting stops for an epic Texas road trip.
Marfa is a town known for being off-the-grid but with a chic touch. Geometric installations made of concrete rise up out of the desert like glyphs and exhibitions like the Marfa Myths cultural festival celebrate the outsized art scene in this tiny town.
Most sojourners make the trip to the desert to see The Chinati Foundation, a contemporary art museum that is integrated with its natural surroundings. And it’s quite the pilgrimage. With a population around 1,800 and no other towns around for miles, Marfa begs for a slower pace with nowhere to be and nothing to do.
This desert trek is around a six-hour drive from Austin or a two-and-a-half hour drive from El Paso. And while it’s become popular with New Yorkers and Angelenos looking to snap a pic with the haunting Prada storefront, Texans shouldn’t pass up the chance to visit either. It’s a bucket-list destination many dream of, but few can visit thanks to its remote location, hours away from airports. And beyond the trendy art, there are other mysterious sites to see. Peer into the open expanse at night and you might catch a glimpse of the Marfa lights. Or simply enjoy the stunning sunsets and rugged, open land.
Big Bend National Park
This is not the Texas you’re familiar with. Big Bend National Park is mountainous and wild with a flair for the dramatic. The national park encompasses the entire Chisos Mountain range and portions the Chihuahuan Desert with limestone cliffs, hot springs and canyons in between. It’s a far cry from the flat terrain Texas is known for, you might just feel like you’re at the end of the world.
A road trip to this park takes some planning, but the hidden treasures of the park are well worth packing the right bags. To cover the most ground, take one of the scenic drives. The Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive is a good choice for its sweeping views and many scenic overlooks. The drive also runs by the remains of the Sam Nail Ranch, an abandoned homestead that is a popular spot for wildlife.
Other scenic drives wind through desert landscapes, over canyon ridges, past hoodoos, fossil bones and petroglyphs. Don’t miss the opportunity to see the landscape at a slower pace with a hike or a float trip down the Rio Grande. And definitely stay up late – the stargazing opportunities are out of this world.
If you’ve made it to Big Bend National Park, consider taking a detour to this one-time mining town. Looking like something straight from the pages of a western, the town is somewhat of a functioning ghost town with a few hardy inhabitants and the odd passerby.
Visitors who wash up in Terlingua can expect to see stone structures set into the hills of the rough landscape, one or two strange tourist attractions, remnants of the mining town and, if you visit the first Saturday in November, an international chili cookoff.
And just when you thought things couldn’t get more outlandish – visitors can stay in a bubble. Basecamp Terlingua offers the unique experience of staying in an inflatable bubble in the desert. The see-through bubbles make it possible to stay under the stars with most of the amenities of home.
Texans know Hill Country is the place to venture to a weekend getaway. Everything is done in true Texan style, mixing wineries with BBQ and filling abandoned western towns with music and dancing late into the night.
We’ve covered this area before, but it makes the list for its rich assortment of culture and outdoors in an accessible, easy-to-road-trip area. Head out for a quick weekend getaway of hiking the Lost Maples State Natural Area or fishing Canyon Lake.
Those taking a longer trip can make a loop of the historic Texas towns, sampling wine, BBQ and live country music along the way. The major stops are New Braunfels and Fredericksburg, but don’t be afraid to linger in the smaller towns where visitors discover (or rediscover) a sense of community, connection to the land and open road.
We know Austin for its art scene, San Antonio for the river walk, Dallas for presidential history and Houston for diverse culture. So what (and where) is Lubbock?
Located far northwest, this city is known for producing music legends including Buddy Holly, Mac Davis and the Josh Abbott Band. The city is perfect for anyone looking to discover more of Texas without roughing it or visiting the same large cities. And it’s a great spot for families planing to get away with a budget-friendly road trip. The music is the major draw with live venues and local talent at every turn. But visitors can also take to attractions like Prairie Dog Town for a chance to see some cute critters. The National Ranching Heritage Center is the perfect place to stretch your legs and experience Texas’ ranching tradition firsthand. And local wineries beckon with handcrafted products in an unpretentious atmosphere.