Out in the West Texas town of Fort Davis, find a National Park site, a Texas State Park, an observatory along with miles of desert. Here are our favorites things to do in Fort Davis, Texas.
In a state that takes a day to cross by car, travelers ramble across the highways seeing swamps and thickets on the eastern edge of Texas, ending the day in deserts on the western side. But don't race through Texas. Instead, stop and enjoy the varied landscapes of Texas. One of those places to explore is the mountainous enclave around Fort Davis, just south of Interstate 10, about three hours southeast of El Paso. Outdoor experiences abound, with plenty to experience on a long weekend. Here are some of our favorite things to do in Fort Davis, Texas.
Things to Do in Fort Davis Texas
West Texas offers a quiet mountain escape in the Davis Mountains along with a variety of outdoor activities. Topping the list for Fort Davis is a National Park Service site with an adjoining Texas State Park that visitors can hike. Sunsets cover the landscape in a golden light that beckons young and old. Add exploring the glittering sky above at a star party at a nearby observatory and you've experienced some of the best wow moments in Fort Davis.
Fort Davis National Historic Site
Visit one of the best-preserved and largest western forts in the US at Fort Davis National Historic Site. As the people migrated west, forts were constructed along popular routes. From 1854 to 1891, Fort Davis served as a military outpost to protect people, mail, and freight along the Trans-Pecos section of the San Antonio-El Paso Road.
In 1854, the fort was constructed on the site and used as a base for patrols. After the Civil War, Fort Davis was reinstated and expanded starting in 1867. In 1891, the fort was ordered abandoned and 70 years later, it was authorized as a National Park site.
What to Do at Fort Davis National Historic Site
There is much to explore while visiting the Fort Davis National Historic Site. Here are a few of the things to add to your list:
Stop By the Visitor Center
The interpretive displays explain frontier life in West Texas and there’s a 15-minute film.
Take a Self-Guided Walking Tour
Fort Davis offers a large collection of preserved buildings. Visitors can walk around the parade ground in the center and see the majority of the original buildings. The bugle bellows over a loudspeaker like it did in the late 1880s.
Go Hiking in Fort Davis NHS
There are great hiking trails within the historic site. It is also possible to hike to neighboring Davis Mountains State Park. Some great trails:
- 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
Go 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. The area is home to more than 250 different species during the year.
Earn a Junior Ranger Badge
If traveling with kids, 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.
Discovering Historic People of Fort Davis
People have been using the Davis Mountains for about 10,000 years. Limpia Creek was a water source for both people and animals. The Spanish came through in the 1580s as they explored the area. After the War with Mexico ended in 1848, many immigrants used the southern route to California. These are some of the groups of people who frequented Fort Davis:
- Officers and Enlisted Soldiers. Some of the soldiers brought their families with them to Fort Davis. Officer's Row is a line of restored housing for the officers and their families. Fort Davis life wasn’t as dangerous as some posts. Much of their time was spent constructing infrastructure, like road-building and later installing telegraph wires.
- Buffalo Soldiers. Stationed throughout the southwest, units of black men served in the infantry and cavalry at Fort Davis.
- Apache, Kiowa, and Comanche people. The land around Fort Davis was home to a number of Native American people. The Apache people were most prevalent in the area, possibly settling in the area the earliest. Comanches defeated the Apaches in the area in the early 1720s and, by the time of Fort Davis, were based a bit to the east as were the Kowa people.
Getting to Fort Davis National Historic Site
Located at 101 Lt. Henry Flipper Drive, Fort Davis National Historic Site is open daily from 8 am. to 5 pm. Adult admission is $10 for those 16 and older, free for kids 15 and under.
Note: Fort Davis National Historic Site is a day-use park and camping is not available. Find lodging in town or at Davis Mountains State Parks as well as camping—developed, primitive and equestrian.
Davis Mountains State Park
Explore the Davis Mountains that rise up in the area at Davis Mountains State Park, located next to Fort Davis National Historic Site. In addition to mountains, find the Limpia Creek and the Limpia Canyon, home to a variety of wildlife, including birds, wildflowers, and native vegetation.
What to do at the Davis Mountains State Park
As with Fort Davis National Historic Site, there is much you can do while you explore Davis Mountain State Park. Here are a few of my family's favorites.
See the Sunset
Drive the Skyline Drive or hike up Skyline Drive Trail to catch the sunset and see the horizon glow. It’s the wow moment in Fort Davis. Arrive a bit early, as parking is limited and some park visitors arrive just for the sunset. Find two areas with scenic overlooks from high points in the park.
Learn About the CCC
In 1923, the Texas State Parks Board began looking for a mountain park site in the Davis Mountains. It wasn’t until the Great Depression that local landowners donated land for the park's development. President Franklin Roosevelt put unemployed young men to work in several programs during the Depression. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was one of the programs. Young men between the ages of 17 and 25 got a job, uniforms, all meals, and housing plus $30 a month, which most sent home to their families.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife features a lot of work from the CCC, including Davis Mountains State Park. Between 1933 and 1935, the CCC corps build the original section of the Indian Lodge with much of its furniture (at the time only 16 rooms) and the Skyline Drive. Along Skyline Drive, find the CCC rock overlook.
Look for Wildlife in the Davis Mountains
Find about 260 different varieties of birds in the Davis Mountains at different times of the year. Head to the bird blind to observe the feeding and water station in the center of the park. You can also find mountain lions, javelina, and rattlesnakes in the park. Please take care when hiking.
Explore Hiking Trails in the Davis Mountains
There are some great hiking trails, for a variety of skill levels. Here are four that I recommend, but do pick up a guide at the Visitor's Center.
- 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
Take Part in the Texas State Park Junior Ranger Program
Check with the Park Rangers for a booklet to complete while exploring Texas State Parks. The program is free and takes a couple of hours to complete.
Explore the Indian Lodge
The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built the Indian Lodge in the 1930s as a 16-room lodge (now a 39-room lodge). Wander through the common rooms even if you aren't spending the night and see the hand-hewn viga beams and handmade furniture with Southwestern motifs. The white-washed adobe walls were constructed from bricks made on-site and the lodge offers a quiet courtyard with a fountain.
Find two sections at the Indian Lodge—the historic rooms and the 1967 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 original rooms. All rooms include standard amenities, such as air-conditioning and heating, in-room coffee, a hairdryer, and cable TV. Rooms include rustic pine furnishings and some rooms offer sitting areas and fireplaces.
Find a single two-room suite along with lodge rooms with two queen beds. Additionally, some rooms feature a small sitting room with a kiva fireplace and two full beds or king beds. Rooms start at $105 a night.
The Indian Lodge offers a seasonal pool for hotel guests. The Black Bear Restaurant serves breakfast and lunch on-site open Wednesday to Sunday
If you have the opportunity to visit a CCC property, do so. It is a bit like walking through history. Do note that you should make reservations months in advance. The Indian Lodge is at 16453 Park Road 3 in the Davis Mountains State Park.
Camping at Davis Mountains State Park
Find developed sites with restrooms with showers.
- 26 RV Sites with Full Hook-ups at $25 a night
- 35 Sites with Electricity and Water at $20 a night
- 33 Sites with Water Only at $15 a night
- Hike-In sites require a 4-mile hike.
Horseback Riding in the Davis Mountains
Find 11-miles of equestrian trails and six equestrian campsites at Davis Mountains State Park.
Davis Mountains State Park is located on Texas Highway 118 North and Park Road 3, just 5 miles from Fort Davis. Open daily and park office hours are 8 am to 5 pm. Adult admission (12+) is $6 and kids under 12 are free.
Explore McDonald Observatory
The stars are big and bright out in West Texas and the best way to see them is at the McDonald Observatory. As a part of the University of Texas, the McDonald Observatory opened in 1933 on Mt. Locke as a research facility. The McDonald Observatory hosts popular public events several times a week, like its Star Parties.
After a brief guided introduction to the stars, stargazers walk around the outdoor telescope park to see individual planets, star systems, and nebula from different telescopes. Most telescopes will have a guide assigned to answer questions. The McDonald Observatory is also home to the Wren Marcario Accessible Telescope.
Star Parties are held on Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday evenings in the outdoor Rebecca Gale Telescope Park. Star Parties are popular and reservations are necessary. Dress in layers since the event is held outdoors and temperatures are 15°F cooler than in Fort Davis. The telescope park is dark in the evening so use care when walking.
When I arrived at the McDonald Observatory for one of my 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.
Find McDonald Observatory at 3640 Dark Sky Drive, about 12 miles north of Fort Davis on Texas Highway 118. Adult admission is $25 and admission for kids (5+), students, and seniors is $20.
Chihuahua Research Institute and Botanical Gardens
To learn more about the Texas desert, explore the 507-acre Chihuahua Nature Center and Botanical Garden, part of the Chihuahua Research Institute and Botanical Gardens. West Texas is part of the Chihuahua desert, one of four deserts in the US.
Explore the botanical garden to discover plants native to the Chihuahua desert, including a cactus garden and succulent greenhouse. As you meander through the semi-arid grassland, see the rock outcroppings of the Davis Mountains.
For a longer hiking trail, consider the Modesta Canyon Trail, a 2-mile (3.2 km) loop, or Clayton’s Overlook, a 1.5-mile (2.4 km) loop. Also popular, is a walk through the pollinator garden for those who want a shorter hiking trail at a quarter-mile.
The Chihuahua Research Institute and Botanical Gardens are at 43899 Highway 118, about four miles southeast of Fort Davis. Open from 9 am to 5 pm Monday to Saturday. Adult admission (12+) is $6.50 and kids 12 and under are free. The gardens are dog friendly.
Davis Mountains Preserve
The Davis Mountains Preserve protects a 33,000-acre sky island refuge, isolated mountain ranges that remain remote. Owned and managed by the Nature Conservancy, this area protects unique animals and plants native to this area of West Texas.
Madera Canyon Roadside Park
Within the boundaries of the Davis Mountains Preserve, find the Madera Canyon Roadside Park. It only offers a few picnic tables, although it is the trailhead for the Madera Canyon Trail, a moderate 2.4-mile roundtrip trail with an elevation change of 75 feet.
Madera Canyon Roadside Park is about 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. Free to enter.
Scenic Loop Drive
Take the 75-mile Davis Mountains Scenic Loop Drive while visiting West Texas to pass through the Davis Mountains. From Fort Davis, drive west and then north along Highway 166. This will connect back with Texas Highway 188 north of Fort Davis. It is the highest highway in Texas at 6,700 feet and passes many mountain peaks.
Explore Museums is One of the Things to Do in Fort Davis, Texas
There are several museums in Fort Davis that help you better understand the history and culture of this part of West Texas. Here are a few of my favorites.
Old Overland Trails Museum
Learn about traveling overland via the San Antonio-El Paso as well as life as a pioneer. The Old Overland Trails Museum features an old telegraph switchboard, early medical equipment along with restored pioneer kitchen. The museum is at 511 N. Fort. St. Please note that you need to make advance reservations.
Rattlers and Reptiles Museum
For those travelers who want to see 100 reptiles (in a safe environment), the Rattlers and Reptiles Museum is your destination. This reptilian treasure is at 1400 N. State St., across from the Fort Davis National Historic Site. Open daily from 10 am to 6 pm. Admission is $5.
Wild Rose Gallery
Although it feels like a museum, the Wild Rose Gallery gives you a chance to take home a piece of West Texas. Wild Rose Gallery is dedicated to the work of local photographer, Robert Haspel. Be sure to see the outdoor mural depicting the local landscape. Wild Rose Gallery is open 10 am to 5 pm daily at 301 E. Cavalry Road.
Jeff Davis County Courthouse
Although another location that isn't actually a museum, you really must drive by the Beaux Arts Classical Revival courthouse in Fort Davis. Built between 1910 and 1911, the courthouse, at 100 Court Avenue, is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Where to Eat and Drink in Fort Davis
With so many great activities and all of that hiking, you're going to need to find food and libations. Fortunately, there are great places to eat and drink during your visit to Fort Davis, Texas.
Fort Davis Drug Store
Opening in 1913 Fort Davis Drug Store offers a 22-foot-long old-fashioned soda fountain still serving ice cream. Find a breakfast menu along with lunch and dinner options and a kids menu. With a selection of American favorites, find locals and visitors alike sampling its sandwiches, burgers, and of course, ice cream for dessert.
Fort Davis Drug Store, at 111 State Street, is open daily. Its hours are 11 am to 7 pm Monday to Friday, Saturday from 8 am to 8 pm, and Sunday from 8 am to 3 pm.
Stone Village Market
For those looking for picnic provisions and take-away food, the Stone Village Market offers a full-service deli. It features a selection of beer and wine along with coffee drinks from Big Bend Roasters. Also, find a selection of natural groceries. There is also a motor court and camp rooms on-site. You can find Stone Village Market, open daily from 7 am to 7 pm, at 509 State St.
Chateau Wright Winery
The Chateau Wright Winery is the highest and coolest wine-producing area in Texas. Check out some great Texas wines with a visit to the tasting room. You can also enjoy wine on the patio. Chateau Wright Winery, at 125 Blue Mountain Road, is open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from noon to 7 p.m.
Where to Stay in Fort Davis
Along with my recommendation to book a room at the Indian Lodge at Davis Mountains State Park, there are other accommodation options to serve as your base while you check out the things to do in Fort Davis, Texas. Here are a couple of my favorites.
Hotel Limpia is a Victorian property originally built in 1912 by the Union Trading Company. It features covered porches and period furniture in the historic main building. In addition to the Victorian rooms, the orchard house suites were built in 1920. Hotel Limpia, located at 101 Memorial Square in Fort Davis, features an outdoor pool and a coffee bar.
For guests looking for Old West flavored accommodations, Prude Ranch offers a historic ranch property that remains a working horse ranch. With a range of options, guests can bring their RV, bunk with a group in the bunkhouse, or enjoy an extended family get-together in one of the cabins or lodge rooms.
Prude Ranch has been in operation for more than 120 years and remains in the same family. During the summer it is a popular summer camp for kids. Prude Ranch is at 201 Prude Guest Ranch Road, about six miles west of Fort Davis on Highway 118.
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Discovering Things to Do in Fort Davis, Texas
Fort Davis in West Texas offers cooler temperatures in summer and sunny skies in winter with a chance of snow dusting. The spring paints the Texas desert with colorful wildflowers and the fall brings bursts of yellow to the cottonwood trees along the creeks. As a quiet corner of Texas, Fort Davis encourages outdoor exploration, both during the day and overhead at night.