National Parks

Find the Largest Natural Pool in the World in West Texas

Balmorhea Pool for Kids in West Texas.
Balmorhea Pool offers close to two-acres of swimming in the heart of West Texas, right off Interstate 10. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

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.

NOTE: Balmorhea State Park is closed until late summer 2020 due to a renovation. 

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.

Balmorhea Pool with kids in West Texas.
The deep end of Balmorhea Pool features 25-foot depths along with fish of all sizes. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

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.

Find a diving board at Balmorhea Pool with kids.
Balmorhea Pool features a diving board. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

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 Pool with kids.
Balmorhea State Park also features the San Solomon Springs Court, a historic CCC lodge. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

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

Make Balmorhea State Park your first stop in a West Texas road trip. After a swim, drive south on State Highway 17 to the Davis Mountains and on to Big Bend National Park.

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.

Explore West Texas at Fort Davis National Historic Site.
Fort Davis National Historic Site offers a taste of fort life of restored buildings. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

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 theFort 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.

Indian Lodge

Explore Indian Lodge in West Texas.
Nestled in the Davis Mountains of West Texas, the Indian Lodge offers a historic property in a state park, minutes from Davis. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

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.

Explore Indian Lodge in Davis Mountains State Park with your family.
The interior of my room featured two queens and a period bathroom along with Viga beams on the ceiling. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

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.

Explore Indian Lodge in Davis, Texas, with kids.
The common rooms at the Indian Lodge feature crackling fires and original furnishings. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

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.

Explore Indian Lodge with kids.
The Indian Lodge features a pool for the kids with a view of the Davis Mountains. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

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.

McDonald Observatory

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.

Swim in the world's largest spring fed swimming pool in West Texas. Got all info to plan a weekend getaway.

 

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.

Explore West Texas, like Chinati Foundation in Marfa.
The Chinati Foundation features the art of Donald Judd in Marfa. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The most notable museum, Donald Judd’sChinati 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 theHotel Paisano, a National Registered Historic Place. Built in 1930, Hotel Paisano hosted Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean and Rock Hudson during the filming ofThe Giant. A quick stop and I found a display of The Giant memorabilia.

Explore West Texas in Marfa like the Paisano Hotel.
Explore the Paisano Hotel in Marfa to find The Giant memorabilia. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Hotel Paisano is located on 207 Highland Street in Marfa.

For the mystery lovers, a stop at Marfa Lightsviewing station is a must. A West Texas legend, where mysterious lights bob on the distance horizon.

Check out the Marfa Lights outside Alpine, Texas.
Looking for the mysterious Marfa Lights tops the list of many West Texas road trips. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

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

Explore Big Bend National Park is West Texas with your family.
Add Big Bend National Park to your West Texas road trip. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

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.

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