South of Interstate 10, West Texas offers a quiet mountain escape in the Davis Mountains along with a variety of outdoor activities. Centered in Fort Davis, find a state park, a National Park Service site along with an observatory. Add scenic drives and hiking to your trip and explore the best of the Chihuahua Desert. Here’s your guide to what to do in Fort Davis, Texas.
Just north of Fort Davis, Balmohrea Pool is the largest spring-fed pool in the world. Southwest of Fort Davis find Marfa, equal parts mysterious lights and vibrant art scene. Head further south and reach Big Bend National Park for an end of the road adventure.
Fort Davis National Historic Site
From 1854 to 1891 Fort Davis served at a military outpost to protect emigrants, mail and freight along the Trans-Pecos section of the San Antonio-El Paso Road. A fort was constructed on the site in 1854 and patrolled the area as more people traveled the route to California.
After the Civil War, Fort Davis was reinstated and expanded starting in 1867. In 1891, the fort was ordered abandoned. In 1961 it was authorized as a National Park site.
What to do at Fort Davis National Historic Site
Explore the Visitor Center.
Walk through the interpretive displays to learn more about the frontier life. Also see the 15-minute film.
Take a self-guided walking tour of the fort.
Fort Davis is one of the largest and well-preserved western forts. Walk around the parade ground to see the majority of the preserved buildings. The bugle bellows over a loud speaker and visitors can imagine the fort with 400 men in the late 1880s.
Earn a Junior Ranger Badge
The Junior Ranger Program is the go-to program for families to learn more about Fort Davis National Historic Site. It’s free and takes about two hours to complete. My kids love the badges that the Rangers present them after completing their booklet.
Hike in Fort Davis NHS
Tall Grass Loop–a .8-mile (1..3km) loop
Hospital Canyon Trail–a .7-mile (1.2 km) one-way trail
Trail to Davis Mountains State Park–a 2.5-mile (4.0 km) one-way trail
Birding in Fort Davis
Find a large variety of birds in the Fort Davis area, check in with the Park Rangers for the best places to spot birds.
Check the Fort Davis National Historic Site for events, like small weapon demonstrations and holiday decorations.
People of Fort Davis
Officers and Enlisted Soldiers
Some of the soldiers brought their families with them to Fort Davis. And officiers’ row is a line of restored housing for the officiers and their families.
Fort life wasn’t as dangerous as some posts and most of the soldiers patroled the area instead of engaged in conflict. Much time was spend constructing infrastructure out in the west Texas town, like road building and later installing telegraph wires.
Stationed throughout the southwest, units of black men served in the infantry and cavalry as was the case for Fort Davis.
Appache, Kiowa and Comanche People
As settlement encroached on traditional lands, the Apache, Kiowa and Comanche tribes raided settlements and travelers along the San Antonio-El Paso Road.
Located at 101 Lt. Henry Flipper Drive. Open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Adult admission is $10 for those 16 and older, free for kids 15 and under.
The McDonald Observatory opened in 1933 on Mt. Locke. As a part of University of Texas, it’s primarily a research facility. Though the McDonald Observatory hosts popular events, like its Star Parties.
Star Parites are held on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays evenings in the outdoor Rebecca Gale Telescope Park. Take a guided tour of the night sky with an astronomer then look through a selection of telescopes positioned for individual viewing.
During the star party, walk around the telescope park to see individual planets, star systems and nebula. Most telescopes will have a guide assigned to answer questions. The McDonald Observatory also provides the Wren Marcario Accessible Telescope.
When we arrived at the McDonald Observatory for one of our visits, the program was moved inside due to the weather. The astronomers offer a series of talks and demonstrations on our solar system and nearby stars.
Star Parties are popular and reservations are necessary for 2020. The Star Parties during breaks, like winter, spring or summer will draw large crowds so plan according. Dress in layers since the event is held outdoors and tempertures are 15F cooler than in Fort Davis. The telescope park is dark in the evening so use care when walking.
Both the Twilight and Solar Viewing Programs are suspended for 2020. Reservations required for Star Parites.
Located at 3640 Dark Sky Drive, it’s 12 miles north on Texas Highway 118. Adult admission is $25 and admission for kids (5+), students and seniors is $20.
Davis Mountains State Park
Explore the Davis Mountains, the Limpia Creek and the Limpia Canyon and see a variety of wildlife, including birds, and wildflowers and native vegatation.
What to do at the Davis Mountains State Park
Wildlife in Davis Mountains
Find about 260 different variety of birds in the Davis Mountains at different times of the year. View feeding and water station from a bird blind.
Mountain lions, javalina along with rattlesnakes are found in the park. Please take care when hiking.
Hiking in the Davis Mountains
- Indian Lodge Trail–1.5-mile (2.4km) one-way trail
- Limpia Creek Trail–2.5-mile (4 km) one-way trail
- Skyline Drive Trail–2.6-mile (4.1) one-way trail
- Sheep Pin Canyon Loop–5.6-mile ( 9km) loop trail
Texas State Park Junior Ranger Program
Check with the Park Rangers for a booklet to complete while explore Texas State Parks. The program is free and takes a couple of hours to complete.
Find developed sites with restrooms with showers.
- RV Sites with Full Hook-ups–26 sites at $25 a night
- Sites with Electricity and Water–35 sites at $20 a night
- Sites with Water Only–33 sites at $15 a night
- Hike-In sites–Require a 4-mile hike.
Find 11-miles of equestrain trails and campsites outfitted to accommodate horses. Also find six equestrian campsites at Davis Mountains State Park.
Located Texas Higway 118 North, Park Road 3, just 5 miles from Fort Davis. Open daily and park office are are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Adult admission (12+) is $6 and kids under 12 are free.
Chihuahua Nature Center and Botanical Gardens
A 507-acre site dedicated to the discovery of the Chihuahua desert, one of four deserts in the U.S. Meander through the semi-arid grassland and see rock outcropping of the Davis Mountains.
Find hiking like the Modesta Canyon Trail, a 2-mile (3.2 km) loop or Clayton’s Overlook, a 1.5-mile (2.4 km) loop. Explore the botanical garden to discover plants native to the Chihuahua desert, including a cactus garden and succulent greenhouse.
Located at 43899 Highway 118, 4 miles southeast of Fort Davis. Open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Adult admission (12+) is $6.50 and kids 12 and under are free. Dog friendly.
Scenic Loop Drive
A 75-mile scenic driving route through the Davis Mountains. From Fort Davis drive west then north along Highwway 166, this will connect back with Texas Highway 188 north of Fort Davis.
Davis Mountains Preserve
Owned and managed by the Nature Conservancy, this 33,000-acre tract preserves a sky island refuge, isolated mountain ranges that remain remote. This area protects unique animals and plants native to this area of Texas.
Located 25 miles northwest of Fort Davis on Highway 118. Park at the Madera Canyon Trail Parking, northwest of the McDonald Observatory. Sign-in and out at kiosk when hiking.
Where to Eat in Fort Davis
Opening in 1913 Fort Davis Drug Store offers a 22-foot long old fashioned soda fountain. Still in operation, the Fort Davis Drug Store serves Texas own Blue Bell Ice Cream.
Find a breakfast menu along with lunch and dinner options along with a kids menu. With a selection of American favorites, it’s a family friendly place with sandwiches and burgers and of course, ice cream for dessert.
Located at 111 State Street. Open daily from Monday to Thursday from 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday from 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Where to Stay in Fort Davis
The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built the Indian Lodge in the 1930s. A Depression-era Works Progress program, young male developed parks across the U.S., including the National Parks and Texas State Parks.
The Indian Lodge is a 39-room hotel built of hand-hewn viga beams and white-washed abobe walls from bricks made on-site. The furniture features Southwestern motifs and made of cedar in Bastrop State Park.
Find two sections at the Indian Lodge, the historic rooms and the mid-1960s addition. The original historic building and the 1967 addition blend seamlessly thanks to a 2006 historic renovation.
After staying at the Indian Lodge on two occasions, I prefer the orginal rooms. All rooms include standard amenities air-conditioning and heating, in-room coffee, hair dryer and cable TV. Rooms include rustic pine furnitures and some rooms offers sitting areas and fireplaces.
Find one two-room suite ($170 a night) along with lodge rooms with two queen beds room ($105 a night). Additionally some rooms feature a small sitting room with kiva fireplace and two full beds or king beds (from $115 a night).
Additionally find a seasonal pool for hotel guests (closed for 2020). The Black Bear Restaurant serves breakfast and lunch from Wednesday to Sunday.
If you have the opportunity to visit a CCC property, DO.
Located at 16453 Park Road 3 in the Davis Mountains State Park.
Know Before You Go
- Reservations are a must for the Indian Lodge and the Star Parties at the McDonald Observatory.
- West Texas is remote, for the largest town, Fort Stockton east on Interstate 10 offers shopping, lodging and dining.