Amid dark, starry skies, cooler temperatures, scenic landscapes, and golden sunsets, Fort Davis, at 5,050 feet elevation, is the highest town in Texas. Getting here involves a day’s drive, 170 miles southwest of Midland or 220 miles southeast of El Paso. What can you find here? A national historic site to research Fort Davis’ history, McDonald Observatory for stargazing, plenty of hiking trails, camping, scenic drives, a state park, dude ranch, great food, art galleries, a winery, and unique shopping. Or make this your gateway to Big Bend National Park. Here are some of my favorite destinations in Fort Davis.
Do some out-of-this-world stargazing at McDonald Observatory, a renowned astronomy facility west of Fort Davis atop Mount Locke (with additional facilities on Mount Fowlkes), owned and operated by the University of Texas at Austin. An international team of astronomers recently observed what may be the first known intact planet orbiting a white dwarf at McDonald Obervatory.
You can opt for an 11 a.m. session, a tour at 2 p.m., Star Parties every Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday evening, or a Twilight Program. At Mount Locke, view one of the darkest pitch-black night skies at 6,790 feet, or see the Milky Way, meteors, clusters of stars, and satellites in precise detail.
Fort Davis National Historic Site
Fort Davis represents one of the best examples of a restored frontier military post in the Southwest. The fort played a significant role in protecting settlers, wagon trains, mail coaches, and travelers headed to the California goldfields. From 1854 to 1861, troops in the Eighth U.S. Infantry pursued Comanches, Kiowas, and Apaches. Confederate troops then occupied the fort from 1861 to the summer of 1862.
When the Indian Wars ended, buffalo soldiers resided at the fort until 1891. Seventy years later, the defense became a national historic site. Friends of the Fort Davis National Historic Site restored the officers’ quarters, barracks, a hospital, and other outbuildings, all available for viewing today.
Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute
Among the 507 acres affiliated with Sul Ross State University, you’ll explore plenty of hiking trails, a cactus and succulent greenhouse, botanical gardens, a heritage mining exhibit, and a bird blind for birdwatchers. Geological terrain includes a natural spring and wetlands in Modesta Canyon plus a rock dome with amazing views at Clayton’s Overlook. Wear closed-toe shoes, a hat, and sunscreen. Bring water, and a walking stick is helpful.
Davis Mountains State Park
West of Fort Davis, Davis Mountains State Park is the headquarters for camping, hiking, backpacking, mountain biking, geocaching, stargazing, birdwatching, and nature study. Take the Skyline Drive Trail to historical stone structures built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s. The hidden picnic site down a stone stairway to King’s Table offers spectacular views. See exhibits, wildlife viewing, and a pollinator garden at the interpretive center. Emory Oak Wildlife Viewing Area is referred to as the “fanciest little bird blind in Texas.” Limpia Creek Vista is the highest point in the park after a 700-foot climb. Make sure you take your camera.
A West Texas mountain oasis with a refreshing pool, white adobe walls, and rustic charm, the historic Indian Lodge offers 39 rooms with a meeting room inside the Davis Mountains State Park. With guidance from Architect William C. Caldwell, CCC men built the lodge of adobe blocks, using local timber for the finished interiors. CCC workers in Bastrop made the rustic furniture in the inn. Restorations were made to the Southwestern regional romantic architecture in 2004 and 2005. Dine at the Black Bear restaurant for breakfast and lunch Wednesday through Sunday.
Pro Tip: Book reservations early here. Usually this beautiful lodge books out a year in advance.
Scenic Loop Drive
This 75-mile scenic loop (PDF) takes about two hours with no stops, but take time to enjoy the brisk, clean mountain air. You will want to allow extra time to pull over for pictures and explore along the way. Head west on Highway 118 and take note of McDonald Observatory and the 2.4 mile-Madera Canyon Trail. Smell the pinyons, alligator junipers, and ponderosa pines at Lawrence E. Wood Picnic Area, and take in the 33,000 acres of wilderness at the Davis Mountains Preserve. Take the left fork onto Highway 166 and stop to take a selfie at the Rock Pile with rocks the size of houses, then head on to jagged Sawtooth Mountain. Bring your binoculars and watch for grazing herds of antelope and pronghorn sheep. Past the cutoff to Valentine and Marfa, find Bat Cave Canyon Ranch that overlooks majestic Mount Livermore.
Further down the road, Crow’s Nest Ranch, a Davis Mountains Retreat on a Heritage Ranch, offers cabins, RV sites, camping, and the Old Spanish Trail Gallery and Museum. Stop for a picture at Skillman Grove, a beautiful grove of trees named after frontiersman Henry Skillman. Finally, Point of Rocks (a 0.4 mile loop) off Highway 166 is a vertical rocky climb with scenic views.
Fort Davis Drug Store
In 1913, the old Fort Davis Drug Store opened in the Hotel Limpia to allow patrons see the doctor, get their prescriptions, and pick up a newspaper and a fountain drink. It changed hands and moved to its current location in 1950. New owners added hotel space in the 1980s, and the place became a full-service restaurant, hotel, and old-fashioned soda fountain. Get a Blue Plate Special like fried catfish, hushpuppies, and fried okra, or Mom’s Meatloaf with mashed potatoes and vegetables.
Rattlers And Reptiles
Get up close to 100 live reptiles, amphibians, tarantulas, insects, and local desert mammals at the Rattlers and Reptiles museum.
Davis Mountains Preserve
Davis Mountains Preserve, 33,075 acres and one of only three unique Texas “sky islands,” is a unique ecosystem supporting rare plants and species that occur no other place in Texas. It’s protected by The Nature Conservancy.
Best Hotels In Fort Davis
Prude Guest Ranch
Prude Guest Ranch, located on Highway 118 before you get to McDonald Observatory, offers family cabins, lodge rooms, bunkhouses, and RV camping. Ride horses, hike, attend summer camps or reunions, weddings, and other getaways.
The Hotel Limpia
Slow down and enjoy the mile-high mountain air, the tranquility of porches with rocking chairs, the courtyard, and the glassed-in veranda with flowering plants. The Hotel Limpia is a restored historic hotel constructed in 1912 in Fort Davis, and it has luxury amenities, private baths, period antiques, and free Wi-Fi. The Blue Mountain Bar And Grill is open Wednesday through Sunday from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Mountain Trails Lodge
Individual cabins have all the kitchen amenities, front porches for stargazing, guides to convenient area travel, and detailed daily itineraries.
Veranda Historic Inn
The oldest hotel in West Texas, the Veranda Historic Inn features ten rooms and suites and a carriage house furnished in antiques and collectibles, with two-foot thick adobe walls and 12-foot high ceilings. All rooms have private baths. Enjoy a homemade breakfast and a cup of coffee or glass of wine on the sheltered veranda.
Harvard Hotel & Lodge And H.E. Sproul Ranch
The Harvard Hotel & Lodge suites in Fort Davis resemble the lodge, named for friends and family members. All suites have a refrigerator, microwave, coffeepot, quality linens, pillowtop mattresses, internet access, DVD player, and TV.
Or stay at the lodge at the H. E. Sproul Ranch. Since 1886, it’s been famous for elk hunts, mule deer, aoudad, antelope, plus turkey, blue quail, and javelina. Contact Roy Hurley for more hunting information.
Choose from four cozy queen cottages, a two-bedroom suite, or a three-bedroom suite. The property features a quiet shady courtyard, beautiful flowers, and starry night skies.
Best Restaurants In Fort Davis
Blue Mountain Bar & Grill In Hotel Limpia
The only restaurant in Fort Davis with a liquor license, enjoy top-shelf liquor, fine wines, tapas plates, Texas Charcuterie board with Texas made sausages, a great ribeye, grilled salmon filet, or beef bourguignon at the Blue Mountain Bar & Grill.
Enjoy Mexican plates, burritos, gorditas, flautas, botanas, enchiladas, burger baskets with fries, or a hot dog supreme at Lupita’s Place. Save room for sopapillas.
Stone Village Market
Stone Village Market offers a natural food market with a full-service deli and salad bar featuring cranberry almond chicken salad. Home to “Nitro” coffee, nitrogen-infused secret blend plus Big Bend Roaster’s organic and free-trade blends of whole bean or ground coffee. For breakfast, choose egg tacos, croissant and biscuit sandwiches, turn-overs, and cinnamon rolls. Find an excellent selection of wine and beers.
Back To The Drug Store
Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, get full home-cooked breakfasts, three-egg omelet, pancakes, French toast, or grab a breakfast sandwich to go at the aforementioned Fort Davis Drug Strore. For lunch, order an appetizer sampler platter with handmade onion rings, fried okra and potato wedges with ranch, green chile cheeseburger, or mile-high club sandwich. For dinner, start with a trip to the salad bar, then enjoy chicken fried steak, hamburger steak, or seared salmon.