As a lover of old hotels with a good story to tell, I have been known to let an interesting-looking historic inn or lodge dictate my road-trip route. That was the case when I planned my recent drive through West Texas. The moment I saw photos of the white, pueblo-style walls of the Davis Mountains State Park’s Indian Lodge, and read its history as a member of a Civilian Conservation Corps project, I knew I had to visit.
So, on my spring 2022 road trip from El Paso to Austin, I made the approximately 1-hour-and-30-minute detour southeast of the Interstate-10 town of Van Horn, Texas, to Davis Mountains State Park — the location of the rustic 1930s-era Indian Lodge.
Of course, a big part of the lodge’s appeal is its rugged and remote surroundings. The Davis Mountains are considered a Sky Island — a range of mountains rising dramatically from the surrounding desert floor. Towering about 8,400 feet in some places, the Davis Mountains offer a stark contrast to the surrounding desert land that lies at about 4,000 feet elevation.
Owing to its high elevation, the Davis Mountains have long been a popular West Texas refuge from the summer heat. In the early 1900s, the town of Fort Davis regularly attracted tourists known as “Summer Swallows” — visitors in search of cool mountain air.
Today, a combination of the state park’s unique hotel, the proximity of fascinating spots like Marfa, Fort Davis, and Big Bend National Park, and multiple recreation options makes the Davis Mountains State Park a not-to-be-missed destination in West Texas.
The park is located about 3 hours southeast of the international border city of El Paso and about 6 hours and 30 minutes west of the capital city of Austin.
Here are seven reasons Davis Mountains State Park is perfect for a weekend getaway.
1. Historic Indian Lodge
With its blue-tinted swimming pool overlooking the Davis Mountains and its graceful courtyard with trickling fountains, the Indian Lodge is rightfully billed as a cool oasis in West Texas.
But the Indian Lodge is much more than that. It also tells a compelling story about young men of the Great Depression toiling long hours over the hand-hewn pine beams and adobe blocks that formed the lodge’s walls and ceilings.
During the construction phase in the mid-1930s, two companies from the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) — President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal program that put unemployed young men to work — molded adobe blocks from a mixture of water, straw, and soil.
The lodge’s website says the young men “muscled tens of thousands of 40-pound blocks into place to form the 12-to-18-inch-thick walls, several which rise as high as three stories.” The interior of the lodge was made of pine rafters harvested from nearby Mount Livermore, and river cane was used for the ceilings.
For me, the lodge’s past was its most compelling point. A walk through the plaza-like courtyard, up the winding staircases, and into the exposed-beamed lobby offered a revelation about the ingenuity of that long-ago work corps.
In the 1960s, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department added a 24-room addition to the original lodge, along with the swimming pool. In the early 2000s, the department restored the original section to its 1935 appearance.
Pro Tips: The Wi-Fi service is somewhat weak (or non-existent) in the guestrooms but is stronger in the lobby and common areas. At Indian Lodge, guests should expect somewhat rustic accommodations, but with all of the necessary modern amenities.
2. More CCC History
The Indian Lodge wasn’t the only feature of Davis Mountains State Park that benefited from the CCC program. Signs are located at locations all over the park that tell of the program’s substantial impact.
One such sign, titled “Tied to the Land,” is located high on the mountain along the Skyline Drive. It notes that not only did the CCC build the road and trail that lead visitors to the scenic vantage point, but the crews also built several of the structures that frame the great views of the surrounding areas. The workers used basic hand tools, rock drills, pickaxes, shovels, and wheelbarrows to get the jobs done.
The striking round lookout tower at the overlook was added by Texas Parks and Wildlife in the 1960s based on the design of a similar tower that the CCC built at Mother Neff State Park located southwest of Waco.
More than 50,000 CCC enrollees served in Texas, working 6 days a week, and earning $30 a month. Today, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department manages 29 CCC-built parks.
Pro Tip: Big Bend National Park also benefited greatly from the work of the CCC. For a list of outstanding CCC projects in national parks all over the country, including Big Bend, see 10 Best Civilian Conservation Corps Projects You Can Enjoy Today.
3. Scenic Skyline Drive
For a short drive with a big payoff, Davis Mountains State Park’s Skyline Drive is hard to beat. The 5-mile route is steep and winding, but it is paved and easy to drive on. Along the way, there are several scenic overlooks that offer parking and stellar views of the surrounding mountain range.
It pays to stop at the various parking areas for the unique vantage points they offer. The first main overlook offers a great view of the Indian Lodge from above, as well as access to the Keesey Canyon Overlook, located a half-mile hike or so from the parking area.
At the end of Skyline Drive is a recreation area that includes the Lookout Shelter, which offers a picture window to the views, as well as a trailhead for the Old CCC Trail, one of the hiking trails available in the park.
4. Black Bear Restaurant
For breakfast or lunch with a view, the historic Indian Lodge features an in-house restaurant called the Black Bear Restaurant. It is located near the check-in lobby and is a short walk from all of the guest rooms.
The restaurant is open for breakfast and lunch, Wednesday through Sunday, and guests can enjoy work crew-inspired meals such as the CCC chicken sandwich or a hearty CCC breakfast of pancakes, eggs, sausage or bacon, and potatoes.
Pro Tip: Note that guests who stay at the Indian Lodge on Monday or Tuesday will need to find dining options elsewhere. The town of Fort Davis is a 5-minute drive from the park, and a variety of restaurant choices are available there.
5. Convenient RV And Tent Camping
For state park visitors who prefer to camp or RV, Davis Mountains State Park offers a number of options at reasonable rates, including 26 full-hookup campsites, 34 campsites with electricity, 33 campsites with water, and primitive campsites located 4 miles up a mountain.
The campsites with hookups, electricity, and water are conveniently located near the park’s trails, interpretive center, and the Indian Lodge. Camp hosts are available for questions and assistance.
6. Beautiful Hiking Trails
Trails that take hikers, mountain bikers, and horseback riders deep into the Davis Mountains are spread throughout the state park.
The moderately-challenging 4.5-mile Skyline Drive Trail meanders up and down mountain ridges and valleys, while the 1.75-mile CCC Trail connects with a path to the nearby Fort Davis National Historic Site. (Note that a part of the CCC Trail was closed for repairs when I visited in spring 2022, but a section at the Skyline Drive Overlook was open.) The moderate 2.5-mile Indian Lodge Loop Trail is located behind the Indian Lodge and features beautiful views of the park.
The state park’s website features an interactive map of available trails.
Pro Tip: Equestrians can bring their horses for a day or for an overnight stay at the Limpia Canyon Primitive Area. The 11 miles of trails take riders from 4,900 feet high to over 5,700 feet at a scenic overlook. Camping is available at six equestrian or six primitive campgrounds.
7. Proximity To Fort Davis And Marfa
Although Davis Mountains State Park has a definite remote feel, it is actually within easy driving distance from a number of fun and fascinating West Texas towns and attractions.
Marfa, the little town known for its art galleries and movie scenes, as well as the mysterious Marfa Lights, is located just 25 minutes from the state park. Fort Davis, known for its well-preserved military fort and quaint downtown area, is just a 5-minute drive.
The bustling little college town of Alpine, with its Museum of the Big Bend and Amtrak stop, is located within a 30-minute drive. In addition, the spectacular Big Bend National Park is about an hour and 30 minutes away.
More Davis Mountains State Park Pro Tips
- For wonderful historic hotel choices that are within day-trip range of Davis Mountains State Park, see 6 Incredible Historic Hotels In Texas Big Bend Country.
- Texas State Parks offers an annual pass featuring unlimited access to 89 state parks for a year, as well as discounts on camping and other special offers.