27 Best Sights in West Texas and the Panhandle, Texas

Chinati Foundation

Fodor's choice

With one of the largest permanent installations of contemporary art in the world, the Chinati Foundation displays works by American minimalist Donald Judd and others in buildings spread over 340 acres of the former Ft. D. A. Russell. The Judd collection includes 15 concrete works outdoors, plus 100 aluminum pieces housed in two converted artillery sheds. You'll also see 25 sculptures by John Chamberlain and an installation by Dan Flavin that occupies six former army barracks. The museum's comprehensive guided tours require a significant commitment of time—six hours, including a two-hour break for lunch—and energy to walk up to 1½ miles over uneven terrain. While self-guided tours are always an option, space on the guided tours is limited.

1 Cavalry Row, Marfa, Texas, 79843, USA
sights Details
Rate Includes: $15 self-guided tours, Closed Mon. and Tues., Wed.–Sun. 10–5

El Paso Museum of Art

Fodor's choice
This superb, free museum in the heart of downtown El Paso's up-and-coming cultural district features a striking array of contemporary and historic Latin American, Spanish, and native art, as well as works by Southwest artists, such as Tom Lea and Henrietta Wyeth.
1 Arts Festival Plaza, El Paso, Texas, 79901, USA
sights Details
Rate Includes: Free, Closed Mon., Tues., Wed., 9–5, Thurs. 9–9, Fri., Sat. 9–5, Sun. noon–5.

Fort Davis National Historic Site

Fodor's choice
Fort Davis (also the city's namesake) provides a history lesson on this late 1800s region, with exhibits and many original buildings preserved. You can spend hours touring the sprawling grounds, which include barracks, the post hospital, the visitor center, and servants' quarters.

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Franklin Mountains State Park

Fodor's choice
Within this spectacular desert mountain park's 37 square miles are more than 100 miles of hiking, mountain-biking, and horseback trails, the southern section offering amazing views of the city below. This is a good place to get up close and personal with native species like foxes and kestrels and bluebirds, as well as plants found nowhere else in Texas, like the stout barrel cactus.

McDonald Observatory Visitors Center

Fodor's choice

Check out exhibits, examine sunspots and flares safely via film, or peer into the workings of giant research telescopes. Guided tours of the domed observatories are given several days a week following programs at 11 and 2. After nightfall, the observatory offers star parties (usually Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday). Online reservations are required for all public programs. It's a beautiful 15-mile drive from Fort Davis to the visitor center, at 6,235 elevation.

Mission Ysleta

Fodor's choice
Around 1681, Spanish refugees from the Pueblo Revolt in and around Santa Fe established this ysleta (small island) mission. Like other old missions in the area, Ysleta is still an active church. Guided tours of the mission are available from downtown El Paso via Sun Metro Buses and the El Paso-Juárez Trolley Co. Nearby, the Tigua Indian Reservation sells Tigua pottery, jewelry, and art.
Old Pueblo Rd., El Paso, Texas, 79907, USA
sights Details
Rate Includes: Free, Mon.–Sat. 9–5; Sun. openings vary with church schedule.

6th Street Historic District on Route 66

Along the 2,400-mile stretch of America's first highway, the section that passes through Amarillo is still bustling with more than 100 home-owned businesses in the city's first and only historic district. Take home a piece of history from a selection of 25 antiques stores, shop until you drop at 22 specialty boutiques, choose from 15 locally owned restaurants, browse original art in the galleries, or party through the night at nearly a dozen bars and clubs. Wherever you go, your path will be illuminated by vintage lighting and you'll feel nostalgia oozing from tree-lined cobblestone sidewalks.

Amarillo Museum of Art

Tucked away on the campus of Amarillo College, this cozy three-floor museum has a generous range of art in its permanent collection, which has evolved only over the past four decades. You'll see 17th- to 19th-century European paintings, as well as works from 20th-century modernists. Designed by the architect for the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., this museum comprises galleries for photography and a substantial collection of Asian art and Middle Eastern textiles, made possible in part by donations from a local physician. Highlights include four Georgia O'Keeffe paintings.

2200 S. Van Buren St., Amarillo, Texas, 79109, USA
sights Details
Rate Includes: Free, Closed Mon., Tues.–Fri. 10–5, weekends 1–5

American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame & Museum

Whether you like signature architecture, appreciate Western art, or just love horses, you'll enjoy this museum, which showcases stars of the American quarter-horse world. Inside, you'll see enormous bronze sculptures and halls of fame honoring horses and humans who have significantly contributed to the history and legends of the breed. See quarter-horse paintings by midcentury Western artist Orren Mixer, or spend some time learning about the bloodlines and special features of the breed in the interactive educational gallery. Temporary exhibits and special events throughout the year make each visit to the museum unique.

2601 I–40 E, Amarillo, Texas, 79104, USA
sights Details
Rate Includes: $7, Closed Sun., Mon.–Sat. 9–5

Ballroom Marfa

The town may be three hours from the nearest commercial airport, but Ballroom Marfa is smack-dab in the middle of the world of contemporary art—visual arts, film, music, and performance. As the name implies, the gallery was converted from a 1927 former dance hall, and it has 4,500 square feet of indoor exhibition space and 6,000 square feet of courtyard. The intellectual impact generated from Ballroom events like Marfa Dialogues has garnered interest from institutions in major cities of the world. This is a heady place with a mission to provide a platform for expressions that may not find a home in more traditional gallery or museum settings.

108 E. San Antonio St., Marfa, Texas, 79843, USA
sights Details
Rate Includes: Wed.–Sat. 10–6, Sun. 10–3

Cadillac Ranch

If you've ever had the urge to spray paint graffiti, but don't want to end up in court, this is the place for you. You can simply view this quirky roadside exhibit of 10 Cadillacs buried nose down in the middle of a pasture a half-century ago by an eccentric Amarillo businessman. Or, if you want to add to the graffiti already adorning the exhibit, bring some rubber gloves and a few cans of spray paint. If the wind is blowing—and it usually is in Texas—you might also want to pick up a dust filter for your nose and mouth. Go 4 miles west of Amarillo on Interstate 40 to the Arnot Road exit. Make a U-turn to cross the freeway, then continue on the access road for 1 mile. Because there is no lighting at the display, this is a daytime activity.

Chamizal National Memorial

In 1964 nearly a century of dispute between Texas and Mexico, caused by the shifting banks of the Rio Grande, came to an end. Both the United States and Mexico founded memorials within their borders to commemorate this event. Texas created a 55-acre park, on formerly Mexican land, with a visitor center, three galleries, drama festivals, and long walking paths. Across the border, easily accessed by the Bridge of the Americas, is the Mexican counterpart, the 800-acre Parque Chamizal.
800 S. San Marcial, El Paso, Texas, 79905, USA
sights Details
Rate Includes: Free, Daily 5 AM–10 PM

El Paso Desert Botanical Gardens

Located in Keystone Heritage Park, these gardens juxtapose the exotic—an Asian-style koi pond and little waterfall—with native cacti and other succulents set against the backdrop of the northern Chihuahua Desert. There's even a natural wetlands area.
4200 Doniphan Rd, El Paso, Texas, 79912, USA
sights Details
Rate Includes: $2, Sept.–May, Sat. and Sun. noon–3; June–Aug., Sat. and Sun. 8–11AM.

El Paso Desert Botanical Gardens

Located in Keystone Heritage Park, these gardens juxtapose the exotic—an Asian-style koi pond and little waterfall—with native cacti and other succulents set against the backdrop of the northern Chihuahua Desert. There's even a natural wetlands area.
4200 Doniphan Rd, El Paso, Texas, 79912, USA
sights Details
Rate Includes: $2, Sept.–May, Sat. and Sun. noon–3; June–Aug., Sat. and Sun. 8–11AM.

Hueco Tanks State Park & Historic Site

En route between El Paso and the Guadalupe Mountains, this park, named after natural, water-holding stone basins called huecos, is internationally renowned for rock climbing and its pictographs left by the Apache, Kiowa, and Jornada Mogollon tribes who dwelt here. You can explore the park on self-guided and guided tours (book these at least a week ahead). You can also view exhibits in the visitor center, a historic ranching house, and the nearby stagecoach ruins. Because the park often fills to capacity, it's prudent to call ahead and make a reservation or arrive early.
6900 Hueco Tanks Rd. No.1, El Paso, Texas, 79938, USA
sights Details
Rate Includes: $7, Oct.–Apr., daily 8–6; May–Sept., Mon.–Thurs. 8–6, Fri.–Sun. 7–7. Tours times for the more protected areas vary. Reservations required.

Jack Sisemore Traveland RV Museum

More than 15,000 people signed the guest register in 2013 to see this nostalgic collection of 25 recreational vehicles, lovingly restored over the past quarter century by father-and-son team Jack and Trent Sizemore. Parked inside 10,000 square feet (so far) of climate-controlled display space, these rolling gems include RVs from every decade from the 1920s to 1970s. The RVs themselves are packed with period memories—old-timey cracker boxes to vintage cameras and dominos—to create a snapshot of the travel culture at the time. Look for the bus used in the movie RV starring Robin Williams. Need a place to park your own RV? Ask the Sizemores about their Amarillo Best Wonderland RV Resort.

4341 Canyon Dr., Amarillo, Texas, 79110, USA
sights Details
Rate Includes: Free, Closed Sun., Weekdays 9–5, Sat. 9–4

Magoffin Home State Historical Park

This 19-room Territorial-style adobe home near downtown El Paso was erected in 1875 by early El Paso pioneer Joseph Magoffin, and occupied by the Magoffin family for 110 years. The city of El Paso grew out of Magoffinsville, a town started by this prominent and powerful family that vastly influenced the area by encouraging trade, organizing area merchants, establishing perhaps the first alfalfa crop in the region, and later leasing buildings for the incipient Fort Bliss.
1120 Magoffin St., El Paso, Texas, 79901, USA
sights Details
Rate Includes: $7, Closed Mon., Tues.–Sun. 9–5.

Marfa Book Company

While you won't get served coffee or wine here, you will find a tribe of Mabookco (Marfa Book Company) groupies who like to hang inside this publishing house–art gallery and film, music, and performance space that effectively masquerades as a bookshop. As you might expect, this literary collection focuses on art, architecture, design, and poetry, but you can also find a little something for the grandchildren and a few magazines to read on the flight back home.

Marfa Lights

Every town has its legends, and Marfa is no exception: if you come here, you must go see the Marfa Lights—visible most often 9 miles east of town from a roadside park built especially for this purpose by the Texas Department of Transportation. Called by a variety of names—including "night mirages" and "chemical plasma lights"—the phenomenon, although rare, has been seen often enough that the Marfa chamber of commerce gives directions to the site near Mitchell Flat. Even if you don't see the Marfa Lights, you'll be in a prime spot for spectacular stargazing.

Museum of the Big Bend

This West Texas haven for art lovers and cowboy poets is under renovation and expansion, but it remains open, with 5,000 feet of space holding exhibits on cowboys and conquistadors. There's also an annual show of ranching handiwork (like saddles, reins, and spurs) held in conjunction with the Cowboy Poetry Gathering each February.
400 N. Harrison St., Alpine, Texas, 79832, USA
sights Details
Rate Includes: Free, Closed Mon., Tues.–Sat. 9–5, Sun. 1–5.

Palo Duro Canyon State Park

As the second-largest canyon in the United States, this 80-year-old, 14,103-acre park is popular for hiking, horseback riding (including a variety of guided rides with cowboy-style breakfast), swimming, fishing, and camping. Rent a vintage CCC cabin or pitch a tent and picnic under giant cottonwood trees. The park's amphitheater hosts summer performances of Texas, an outdoor drama about the history of the region.

Buy Tickets Now
11450 Park Rd. 5, Canyon, Texas, 79015, USA
sights Details
Rate Includes: $5, Mar.–May, Sept., and Oct., Sun.–Thurs. 8–8; Fri. and Sat. 8 am–10 pm; June–Aug., daily 8 am–10 pm; Nov.–Feb., Sun.–Thurs. 8–6, Fri. and Sat. 8–8

Prada Marfa

This installation of roadside art designed to resemble an actual Prada store is one of the most Instagrammed sights in all of Texas for creativity. Built in 2005, the $80,000 sculpture "store" lies just outside of the small town of Valentine, about 37 miles northwest of Marfa, and it has and will never open for business (though it has been vandalized).

Presidio Chapel San Elizario

This 1789 Spanish fortress provided settlers protection from raiding Comanches and Apaches. It was near this site that the expedition of Spanish explorer Don Juan de Oñate stopped to conduct a thanksgiving celebration in 1598. It's located in the San Elizario Historical District, 17 mi southeast of downtown El Paso. Tours are conducted on-site by friendly volunteers but feature only the museum, and not the church. The El Paso Mission Trail Association (P915/534–0677) offers more extensive tours. Call ahead if you're planning to visit the church. The father might be able to leave it open a bit later than 11.
1556 San Elizario Rd, Texas, 79849, USA

Presidio County Courthouse

This 1886 Second Empire–style confection with projecting surfaces and Mansard-style roofs casts a striking image over downtown. A quick elevator ride and a short flight of stairs will put you out on the cupola for a not-to-be-missed panorama of the Marfa Plateau and nearby Davis Mountains. Be sure to glimpse the Goddess of Justice, perched on top of the dome.

San Elizario County Jail

Thought to have been built as a private residence in the early 1800s, this adobe building at some point became El Paso County's first courthouse and jail, and, according to Pat Garrett's book Authentic Life of Billy the Kid, was the only jail the Kid broke into, which he did in order to free his friend Melquiades Segura.
1551 Main St, Texas, 79849, USA
sights Details
Rate Includes: Free, Closed Mon., AFree guided tours of jail and plaza beginning at the Los Portales building CTues.–Sun. 10–2, and after hrs by special arrangement.

Socorro Mission

Located 20 minutes southeast of downtown El Paso (though still located within the greater El Paso area), the 17th-century Socorro Mission is famed for its fine vigas—the carved ceiling beams that support the roof—and is used for weddings and funerals. A Mission Trail Association (915/851–9997) guide conducts tours here most days of the week, unless services are being held. The church itself is working to organize donation-based tours, and will likely have tour offerings by the end of 2008.
328 S. Nevares Rd, El Paso, Texas, 79927, USA
sights Details
Rate Includes: Free, Mon.–Fri. 8–4; outside tour times vary.

Wyler Aerial Tramway

Touted as the only public-accessible tram in Texas, this tramway totes visitors up 5,632-foot Ranger Peak, which provides a striking view of three states, two nations, and 7,000 square mi.
1700 McKinley Ave, El Paso, Texas, 79930, USA
sights Details
Rate Includes: Free, Closed Mon.–Thurs., Sun.–Mon. and Thurs. noon–6, Fri.–Sat. noon–8.