In a land that seems barren and forgotten, I found an oasis with the largest spring-fed pool in the world. A road trip stop extraordinaire or a gateway to the weekend of West Texas adventure, I’m sharing one of my favorite destinations in Texas for over 20 years, Balmorhea Pool with kids.
Balmorhea Pool, an Oasis in West Texas
Balmorhea State Park, in the heart of West Texas, offers close to 2-acres of family fun. In the largest spring-fed swimming pool in the world, my family finds the perfect place to spend an afternoon after driving along Interstate 10.
The San Solomon Springs produces 15 million gallons of water a day. And the pool holds 3.5 million gallons of water. With a constant temperature of 72F to 76F, swimmers congregate year-round.
At the end of the L-shaped pool, the depths reach 25 feet and host scuba divers. Peer closely and spot a school of giant catfish sitting on the bottom. Balmorhea pool also features a 3-meter diving board, though life guards are not on duty.
I found dressing rooms and lots of shade trees to spread out your blankets underneath. The pool offers a large area of 3-foot deep water though no zero entry options for toddlers, like Barton Springs Pool or Deep Eddy Pool, both in Austin, Texas.
Not only does Balmorhea State Park feature a pool, I found a covered pavilion, a playground, a campground and a motor lodge. Built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conversation Corps (CCC), the San Solomon Court features a white stucco exterior and most units overlook the spring-fed canals.
Balmorhea State Park is located at Park Road 30, Balmorhea, Texas, about 58 miles from Ft. Stockton. Admission is $7 for adults and kids under 12 are free.
Make it a West Texas Weekend
Fort Davis National Historic Park for Families
Fort Davis National Historic Park offers one of the best examples of a frontier fort in the Southwest. During the 1800s, the Comanches and the Apaches made traveling on the San Antonio-El Paso Road treacherous.
Learn about frontier life and the Indian Wars during the 1800s while earning a Junior Ranger badge. I found lots of building to peer into showing the rugged side of life in West Texas.
The brassy bugle bellows over the loud speaker, transforming my boys, 9 and 12, into Army recruits. As part of an elite force of soldiers that don’t need actual weapons, my boy destroy anything in their path.
Fort Davis National Historic Park is nestled next to the Davis Mountains, 40 miles south of Interstate 10 in Davis, Texas. Located in the center of town at 101 Lieutenant Henry Flipper Dr. and open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day, except Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years Day and MLK Day. The admission is $7 for everyone over 16 and the kids are free. Or use an America the Beautiful annual pass.
Looking for kid eats, then stop at the Fort Davis Drug Store. Located on 13 State Street in Davis and open from breakfast through dinner. As an old-fashioned soda fountain, it’s a hit with kids.
I always stay at the Indian Lodge in the Davis Mountain State Park during my West Texas explorations. Nestled in the quiet hilltops above Fort Davis, Indian Lodge offers a helping of history along with inky night skies.
The Indian Lodge provides 39 rooms in a full-service hotel with an on-site restaurant, and managed by the Texas Parks and Wildlife. It features whitewashed adobe walls with traditional handcrafted elements, like Viga beams that form the ceilings in most rooms.
Built in the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), the New Deal’s work force, constructed the hotel. Along with a historic property with courtyards with fountains and common rooms bursting with crackling fires, I found a swimming pool and resident wildlife.
The rooms are comfortable and roomy enough for a family (with two queens $159), complete with all the standard features. The Black Bear Restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Wednesday through Sunday.
Enjoy a desert night by learning about the stars. A quick drive up to the mountaintops from Davis, we saw stars, and even some planets, like never before.
The McDonald Observatory offers solar, twilight and night programs throughout the year. For our visit, I reserved the Twilight Program and Star Party, held on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
The Twilight Program features an hour-long educational astronomy program without telescope viewing. A must for the first-time visitor and families, I got a refresher on the night sky.
The Star Party provides two hours of night sky viewing and starts 30 minutes after the Twilight Program. Held outside in the Rebecca Gale Telescope Park behind the visitor’s center, I found three domes, each featuring a different telescope ranging in size from a 16-inch to a 24-inch. Portable telescopes are set out, each fixed on a different star or nebula.
The McDonald Observatory is located at 3640 Dark Sky Drive. Twilight Program admission is $5 for everyone 6 and older and free for children under 6. The Star Parties admission is $12 for everyone 12 and older, $8 for children 6 to 12 and free for children under 6.
Marfa, the Art Town of West Texas
Marfa started as a water stop then evolved into a military training area. Now its art scene draws a steady flow of visitors into a town of 2,000 with galleries, museums and movie sets.
The most notable museum, Donald Judd’s Chinati Foundation features his contemporary work. Behind the buildings we found 15 untitled concrete blocks with a walking path. A great option for parents and the outdoor path is free.
Chinati Foundation is located at 1 Cavalry Row in Marfa and open Wednesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
For the movie buffs, head to the Hotel Paisano, a National Registered Historic Place. Built in 1930, Hotel Paisano hosted Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean and Rock Hudson during the filming of The Giant. A quick stop and I found a display of The Giant memorabilia.
Hotel Paisano is located on 207 Highland Street in Marfa.
For the mystery lovers, a stop at Marfa Lights viewing station is a must. A West Texas legend, where mysterious lights bob on the distance horizon.
Marfa Lights is located 18 miles west of Alpine on US Highway 67. I found parking off the highway with a nice viewing area complete with telescopes and bathrooms.
Big Bend National Park for Families
If time permits, continue to Big Bend National Park, where all the roads end at the Mexican border. One of the four deserts of North America, Big Bend offers mountain terrain with resident bears, lonely canyon rivers and an International Dark Sky Park.
Know before you go
- Balmorhea State Park limits the day-use visitors to 1,300 a day.
- Give yourself at least an hour and a half to explore Fort Davis Historic Park especially if your kids are earning a Junior Ranger badge.
- Camping is not allowed at Fort Davis National Historical Park but I found some at Davis Mountains State Park, 5 miles away.
- Make reservations well in advance for the Indian Lodge, San Solomon Springs Court and McDonald Observatory.
- Watch for snakes, especially around water.
- The McDonald Observatory evening programs start at varying times based on the sunset.
- The temperature at the observatory is 15°F lower than Fort Davis.
- Alternative indoor activities available if the sky is obscured at McDonald Observatory.
- If you forgot anything, stop in Fort Stockton, Texas, along Interstate 10. Or wait until El Paso.