Travel & Outdoors

Spring Break Itinerary: The Best of West Texas

What to do, where to eat, and more if you’re heading to Fort Davis, Marfa, Marathon, and/or Big Bend this season.

davis mountains
Davis Mountains State Park. Victoria Millner

Last month, we kicked our Texas Spring Break inspiration itineraries off with an action-packed, kid-friendly adventure through San Antonio. Next up, we have a guide to an ultimate West Texas spring break that could be enjoyed with or without kids in tow. This is a popular spring break destination, so your hotel should be booked by now. Here are some things to do, places to eat and shop, and stops to see along the way.

Indian Lodge's white, pueblo style houses.
The Indian Lodge at Davis Mountains State Park. Victoria Millner
Natural pool at Balmorhea
The pool at Balmorhea State Park. Anna Donlan

Fort Davis

Start the trip off with a hike at Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center in Fort Davis (43869 Texas 118). Routes vary in length (from half a mile to over 2.5 miles) and levels of difficulty, with beautiful views at every turn. While you’re there, don’t miss the Botanical Gardens, where you’ll find an extensive cacti collection (think over 160 species). Cool off with a plunge into the clear, sparkling waters of one of the world’s largest spring-fed pools at Balmorhea State Park (9207 TX-17). Bring your own picnic supplies and set up camp at one of the picnic tables just outside the pool gates. The park’s cabins are closed for renovations until 2019, so hopefully you’ve been able to snag one of the 39 historic rooms at the Indian Lodge (16453 Park Rd 3), which can be booked a year in advance. It’s closed until June, but get ahead and book it for Spring Break 2019. The adobe style inn, set in the Davis Mountains State Park, is the perfect home base for easy access to neighboring trails and is only a 12-mile drive to the McDonald Observatory (3640 Dark Sky Drive). Spring break brings large crowds, but it also means extra programming, like nightly star parties (they are typically only held on Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday evenings).

Freda in Marfa
A myriad of goods at Freda. Courtesy of Freda
Boots, robes, and shirts at Cobra Rock.
Boots on display at Cobra Rock. Courtesy of Cobra Rock
Left: A myriad of goods at Freda. Courtesy of Freda
Top: Boots on display at Cobra Rock. Courtesy of Cobra Rock


The adventures in the wild of Big Bend will come later—in Marfa, it’s best to unplug, unwind, and explore (or just linger). Spend the afternoon shop-hopping at small stores that bring big style. Start at the Moonlight Gemstones (1001 West San Antonio St), where kids can admire the rows of crystals. Next up? Cobra Rock (107 S Dean St) — watch maker couple Colt Miller  and Logan Caldbeck make boots and clogs from their minimalist line of western-inspired footwear on their vintage Singer machines. Freda (207 S Highland Ave), which bills itself as the “lil shop in the high desert,” carries everything from candles made of African basil to Panama hats and high-style slides. Get a souvenir bar of soap for your friends from Ginger Griffice’s Marfa Brand Soap at Marfa Brands (213 S Dean St). Garza Marfa (103 N Nevill St) has earned fans around the world with its line of steel, leather, and wood modern furniture. Ogle their beautiful pieces and colorful textiles in their home base. Email or call ahead to make an appointment.

Empty pool and lounge at Bar Nadar.
The pool at Bar Nadar. Jennifer Boomer
Stocked bar
The bar at the Capri. Courtesy of The Capri

The Marfa Book Company (105 S Highland Ave), an important fixture in the town since it started 20 years ago, is located in the base of the latest boutique hotel to the scene, Hotel Saint George,(105 S Highland Ave),  which boasts access to the nearby pool at Bar Nadar. Stroll over to the Hotel Paisano (207 Highland St) for a round of margaritas and snacks, or stop by La Playa (202 S Russell St) for its chill backyard vibe with refreshing juices. End the day with New American fare at Cochineal (107 W San Antonio St), or the Capri (603 W San Antonio St), a lush oasis in the desert where mezcal is usually flowing. Al Campo (200 S Russell St), a new eatery owned by the Miami expats who also own La Playa, serves up delicious brisket tacos and boasts an inviting wine garden with a solid wine list. Be sure to check the programming schedule for Ballroom Marfa (108 E San Antonio St), where you might be able to see a film, live music, or visual art.

Get fueled for an art-filled morning at Buns N Roses (1613 W San Antonio St). They serve a full breakfast in a casual cafe setting, but the melt-in-your-mouth donuts are the real star. Check the hours because they are often closed, but Do Your Thing Coffee ( 201 E Dallas St) is a good place to get a caffeine fix before going to the Judd Foundation (104 Highland St) for a tour of the artist Donald Judd’s personal home and workspace. It’s worth the $25 to get the official tour of the Chinati Foundation (1 Cavalry Row) by local docents. But a free tour does get you in to see Judd’s untitled works in concrete and the John Chamberlain gallery. Book in advance.

Reata restaurant
Old, red car in front of Reata. Courtesy of Reata


On your way to Marathon, stop in Alpine (full itinerary here for more than a breeze through town) for lunch at the local outpost of Reata (203 N 5th St), named for the ranch in “Giant,” with a menu full of hearty options like “tumbleweed onion rings with spicy Serrano ketchup” or carne asada with Reata’s famous cheese enchiladas. Housed in a cozy cottage, with dark wood paneling and Western paintings adorning the walls, the spot feels quintessential West Texas in every way. When you arrive in Marathon, the Gage Hotel (102 NW 1st St Highway 90W) is always a favorite option for its inviting pool and delicious dining. The historic abode continues to expand its lodging options; in addition to Los Portales (20 adobe style rooms with covered porches), it offers the nearby Captain Shepard House and one- and two-bedroom casitas. Later this spring, the hotel will unveil Brick Vault Barbeque and Brewing, the newest eatery in its lineup, which includes the highly regarded 12 Gage Restaurant and White Buffalo Bar. Marathon is about 30 miles north of the most northern entrance into Big Bend National Park.

Riding a horse in Boquillas
Horseback riding in Boquillas. Victoria Millner
Zip lining in Big Bend
Zip line tour through Quiet Canyon. Courtesy of Lajitas Golf Resort

Big Bend

Book a guided river expedition with Big Bend River Tours (FM 170 W). From a half-day trip to a 21-day journey through all of the 231 miles of river in the area, the BBRT truly offers something for everyone, including horseback and back road tours by car through fossil graveyards and to swimming holes. Far Flung (FM 170) is another river guide company where you can book a family adventure trip (two days, one night) that involves easy to moderate paddling by canoe. Insider’s tip: their property has $179-a-night casitas for rent that are just steps away from all the other activities they offer, including ATV tours, jeep tours, and trails for hiking. Another fun excursion idea is a day trip to Boquillas, Mexico, the village on the eastern side of Big Bend. Jump aboard a row boat to cross the river for $5 roundtrip, and then you can walk the rest of the way or pay $8 to hop on a horse and ride in to town. Explore the work of local craftspeople, who make intricate embroidered textiles and quilts, and dine in one of the two local restaurants before getting back across the border before gates close at 5 pm. Don’t forget to bring your passport. Over at the Lajitas Golf Resort (100 Main St), take a zip line tour through Quiet Canyon. The most extreme tour, Commanche Revenge, takes you across 1,478 feet of zip line at speeds up to 50 mph—what’s a better way to end a fun-filled romp through West Texas?

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