West Texas Road Trip: Marfa and Big Bend

Jan 6, 2019

Ready to explore West Texas? This West Texas road trip itinerary includes where to stay, what to do, and where you must eat when in and around Marfa and Big Bend National Park!

Although we lived in Texas for 16 years (Kathryn) and 28 years (Adam), neither of us ever made it to Marfa and Big Bend National Park and after going there during our Christmas Road Trip in 2018 (you can see all of the vlogs from our trip here) we totally regret it!

We spent 3 days exploring West Texas and it completely exceeded our expectations! We enjoyed a slower pace of travel, went on hikes, saw tons of stars at night, were in awe of the mountains, and enjoyed some cool local restaurants.

We’re excited to share this West Texas road trip itinerary, which is perfect if you have 3 days in Marfa and Big Bend and want to see the highlights. You could definitely spend more time in West Texas, but if you only have a long weekend or a few days to spare, we’ve gotcha covered!

Want to explore more of Texas? Check out our Texas travel guides:

About Marfa

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Marfa is a very small town in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by a dry landscape and with a big arts scene and hip local shops. It has become more popular the last 5-10 years (or maybe it just became more known to us) with the rise of Instagram and as more celebrities, like Beyonce and Matthew McConaughey, visit the area.

A couple things to note about Marfa is that things tend to move slower there, including the service, so be prepared to wait a bit. Also, not everything is open everyday of the week. We found that most things are open Wednesday/Thursday-weekend, but Mondays and Tuesdays can be rough, making it more of a weekend destination.

About Big Bend National Park

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Big Bend National Park is 801,163 acres and the 15th largest US National Park. There are so many things that make this park awesome including the fact that it is on the US and Mexico Border (you can get within a stone’s throw of Mexico!) and it is home to 75 species of mammals, including bears (who knew Texas had bears?! Not us!).

The landscape is unlike anywhere else in Texas and we were blown away by how beautiful it was. We only spent half a day in the park and were able to see two of the top sights, but we had to rush a bit and didn’t get to see everything, so we thought two days would be more appropriate for this guide to include the spots we went to and the spots we want to visit next time.

Together, Marfa and Big Bend National Park make for one epic West Texas road trip!

When to visit West Texas

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We visited Marfa and Big Bend at the end of December and it was perfect! The nights are a bit chilly, but the daytime temperatures were in the 60s and we had tons of sunshine, which made it feel warmer. We’d highly recommend visiting in fall and winter months!

While spring is also another great time to visit weather-wise, it is the busiest time of the year to visit Big Bend, especially Spring Break, so the crowds may be a bit larger. But thankfully due to the park’s distance from major cities, it’s not as busy as some national parks. If you want to camp at the park during the spring, make sure to book in advance!

Similar to most of Texas, West Texas can get very hot in the summer! With highs in the 90’s (and likely in the 100s on the desert floor), it would be a bit brutal to visit Marfa and Big Bend during this time, as there is less tree coverage and you’ll be fully exposed to the sun.

The summertime is also when more storms and flash flooding happens, so keep that in mind if you decide to visit in the summer. It can cool things off a bit, but it could also make it more challenging to hike.

As we mentioned above, Marfa tends to be closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, so we’d suggest visiting later in the week to make sure that you can get the full experience!

Getting to West Texas

Marfa and Big Bend

Marfa and Big Bend National Park are both located very close to the US and Mexico border and far from most major cities.

The closest large city to either destination is El Paso, which is 194 miles (3 hours) from Marfa and 290 miles (4.5 hours) from Big Bend National Park. But don’t let the trek scare you, it’s worth the drive!

If you’re not from Texas and you want to visit, we suggest flying into El Paso, which has a handful of major airlines and nonstop flights. After landing, you will definitely need to rent a car to get around West Texas.

Where to Stay in West Texas

Photo by Martin Robles on Unsplash

We stayed in Marfa, TX the entire time and drove the 2.5 hours to Big Bend and 2.5 hours back in one day, but if you plan to do two days in Big Bend like this guide suggests, we recommend staying even closer to Big Bend for part of the trip.

We’re including suggestions of where to stay under each day if you want to minimize the amount of driving each day!

West Texas Road Trip Itinerary

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This 3 day itinerary for Marfa and Big Bend features all of our favorite spots from our trip to West Texas, including the top sights to see, where to eat, the best hikes, and more!

If you’re looking for more ideas, make sure to check out our “if you have extra time” section at the end of this guide!

Day 1: Marfa

  1. Grab breakfast at Marfa Burrito. This is a Marfa staple and Matthew McConaughey’s favorite spot. However, it’s cash only and you need to order in Spanish, so come prepared! It’s also closed on Sundays.
     
  2. After stuffing your face with a burrito, go to Do Your Thing Coffee or The Sentinel for some caffeine!
     
  3. Drive out to the Prada Marfa store (30 minutes from town), which isn’t a real Prada store, but a cool fake store in the middle of nowhere with actual Prada merchandise inside (although the bags have no bottoms and the shoes are all right footed to deter thieves). This is a must-visit Instagram spot in Marfa.
     
  4. Head back to town and visit one of the art galleries in town. A few popular options are Chinati Foundation, Ballroom Marfa, and Judd Foundation. You can find the full list of options here.

    If you’re not super artsy and don’t want to pay to see art, we recommend checking out the free 15 Untitled Works in Concrete at the Chinati Foundation. We just visited this and it was pretty cool!
     
  5. Enjoy lunch at Food Shark, which is a mediterranean food truck that also has an old school bus you can eat in! It’s only open Wednesday-Saturday and it’s cash only.
     
  6. Spend the rest of the day walking around the shops in downtown Marfa. Some shops that we loved were: Se Vende (a 24/7 vending machine with cool stuff), The Get Go (awesome little grocery store), the Hotel Paisano stores, Cobra Rock Boot Company, Freda, Marfa Brand Soap Factory, Marfa Book Company, Raba Marfa, and Ranch Candy.
     
  7. Visit the Marfa Courthouse and get 360 degree views from the top!
     
  8. For dinner, head to Stellina, Al Campo, or Cochineal for something a little nicer. If you want something more casual, head to Pizza Foundation.
     
  9. If you want drinks after dinner, we have heard awesome things about Planet Marfa, a cool outdoor beer garden (not open in the winter). Another option is Capri.
     
  10. For a true Marfa experience, head to Marfa Lights Viewing Area at dark to try to see the Marfa Mystery Lights! Some people swear they have seen them, others say that they don’t exist, and there is a bit of a debate of what they actually are, but regardless it’s pretty fun to try to see them. And worst case scenario, you get to see some AMAZING stars!

Where to stay: There are so many cool places to stay in Marfa! Like El Cosmico, which has tipis, trailers, and glamping tents. But if you need more space, want a kitchen, or want a hotel experience, here are a few other options for you:

PS: If it is your first time staying at an Airbnb, click this link to get $40 your first stay!

Day 2: Big Bend National Park

  1. Head to Big Bend National Park bright and early! It’s a 2.5 hour drive to your first stop and you’ll want to beat the crowds!
     
  2. Hike the Lost Mine Trail, which is a 4.8 mile RT, 1,100 ft elevation gain hike with AMAZING views! We couldn’t believe we were in Texas!
     
  3. After the Lost Mine Trail, head over to The Window Trail, which is a 5.6 mile RT, ~1,000 ft elevation gain hike. Make sure to pack a lunch to enjoy on the hike!
     
    We didn’t get the chance to do this hike, but it’s top of the list for next time! If you’re not up for a long second hike, you can do The Window View Trail, which is only 0.3 miles RT.
     
  4. For dinner, head to Terlingua and eat at Starlight Theatre, which is a restaurant in an old theater and has live music!

Where to stay: There are a few options for lodging in this area. If you’d like to camp, you can camp at the Chisos Basin Campground.

If you prefer a hotel, you can stay at the Chisos Mountain Lodge or La Posada Milagro (in Terlingua), but our top pick would be renting an Airbnb in Terlingua, a small town about 1 hour from the park. Some good Airbnb options are:

Day 3: Big Bend National Park

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  1. Start the day with coffee and breakfast burritos at Espresso….Y Poco Mas.
     
  2. Drive down the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive and stop at different viewpoints along the way!
     
  3. The Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive leads you to your next stop: Santa Elena Canyon! This is a 1.7 mile hike that takes you to an awesome canyon with the Rio Grande River running through it.

    But the coolest part is that on one side of the river is Mexico and on the other is the US! You have to cross a river to get to the trail and it can be deep depending on recent rain.
     
  4. Grab a late lunch at DB’s Rustic Iron BBQ in Terlingua! This is a great BBQ stand (closed Mondays and Sundays) and the owner is awesome!
     
  5. Drive back home or to wherever your adventures take you next!

If you have extra time…

FOOD

COFFEE

ACTIVITIES

  • McDonald Observatory–If you’re in town on a Tuesday, Friday, or Saturday and want to see the stars, head to the McDonald Observatory for their Star Parties. We unfortunately couldn’t go due to the timing of our trip, but it looks amazing!  Make sure to get tickets in advance, as they sell out often. They are also open during the daytime everyday for other activities.
  • Hot Springs (Big Bend)–We wish we had time to do this, but it was a bit far from everything else.
  • South Rim Trail (Big Bend)–It says that this is between 12-14.5 miles and over a 2,300 ft elevation gain, so plan to spend most of the day here!
  • Emory Peak Trail (Big Bend)–This 10.5 mile RT hike takes you to the highest point in Big Bend NP!
  • Go canoeing or ATVing with Far Flung Outdoor Center
  • Visit the Target Marathon store. Similar to Prada Marfa, it’s not a real store, but just an art installation. It’s a fun quick stop on the side of the road!

Ready to explore West Texas?

Pin this West Texas road trip guide to help plan your trip to Marfa and Big Bend!

about us

Hi y’all! We’re Adam, Kathryn, and Kona, an adventurous married couple (+ pup!) living on the road in our self-converted sprinter van! You can often find us driving all around the US and Canada, scoping out the best coffee shops, eating tacos and ice cream (we’re a 5+ taco and 2+ scoop household), and enjoying nature.

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3 Comments

  1. Suzanne

    Great guide! I am so happy I got to experience West Texas with y’all! The VBRO we stayed in in Marfa was awesome…spacious and clean! Big Bend was unbelievable and Marfa was adorable!

    Reply
    • Kathryn Frazer

      The VRBO was awesome! The perfect place for Kona to run around too! 🙂 So glad we got to experience it all with you!

      Reply
  2. Suzanne

    Oops…”VRBO” ?

    Reply

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