The West Texas desert is a place like no other. The rolling red hills, sparse greenery, fascinating history, and bright nighttime stars attract all kinds of visitors from around the country. You'll be able to experience West Texas and all of its glory when going on a road trip from Austin to El Paso. While you could complete the journey in a day, you may want to take your time and explore the many attractions along the way. Follow this road trip itinerary from Austin to El Paso to dip into the wilderness and travel back in time.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Guadalupe Mountains National Park is one of the newer national parks in the country. Located off Route 62 near Pine Springs, it showcases the remote mountainous beauty of West Texas. There are no restaurants or gas stations in the park, so be sure to fill up on food and gas before you arrive. Due to the lack of amenities, crowds at this park are small, so you can fully immerse yourself in the West Texas wilderness. Enjoy stargazing, backpacking, or one of the park’s scheduled activities.
Big Bend National Park
If you’re looking to escape the flatness of West Texas and you’re open to taking a slightly longer detour on your Austin to El Paso road trip, check out Big Bend National Park. It’s near the Rio Grande River, which serves as the border between Texas and Mexico. Visitors climb mountains, hike through canyons, and relax in hot springs throughout the park. If you’re there on Nov. 2, celebrate Dia de Los Muertos at the cemetery on the park grounds. Don’t forget to go stargazing — legend has it that the stars are bigger and brighter deep in the heart of Texas. This national park full of diverse landscapes and cultures is truly one of the greatest treasures in Texas.
McKinney Falls State Park
Before heading to El Paso, splash into McKinney Falls State Park. Located just outside of Austin, this park offers pristine views and cool blue waterfalls. You can swim in the creek, explore the network of trails, or visit historical sites such as Smith Rock Shelter, an impressive slab of limestone that Native Americans once used as shelter.
South Llano River State Park
South Llano River State Park is located almost directly on the route near Junction, TX. So, with minimal detour time, you can float down the river (a favorite activity of the locals). If going with the flow isn’t your thing, this park also offers excellent locations for kayaking and canoeing. Fishing is also an option, or you can explore the scenic trails.
Franklin Mountains State Park
Situated just outside of El Paso, Franklin Mountains State Park is home to interesting wildlife such as collard lizards and mule deer. Explore the desert fauna on the many hiking and biking trails, which span over 100 miles. If you're feeling more adventurous, bring your own equipment and go rock climbing. Both McKelligon Canyon and Sneed's Quarry are approved rock climbing sites.
Congress Bridge Bats
If you’re passing through Austin in the months between July and September, you’ll want to kick off your trip by seeing the bats. Austin’s South Congress bridge is home to approximately 1.5 million bats that set out for their nightly hunt together over Lady Bird Lake at dusk. The best way to see the bats is to take a guided boat tour through the lake and under the bridge, but if you want to see the bats for free, set up a picnic blanket on the shore of the lake or watch from the bridge itself. The bats are widely celebrated in Austin and draw large crowds during peak months, so get there early for a good spot.
Deer Horn Tree
Stop along the way in Junction to visit the Deer Horn Tree, a 12-foot tall Christmas-tree-shaped tree made entirely of deer antlers. Situated in a region of Texas where hunting is very popular, this is a roadside stop unique to Texas. The tree is decorated with an electric star and ornaments during Christmas time.
El Paso is directly on the border of Texas and Mexico. You can approach the border just to say you’ve seen it, or you can cross and spend some time in Mexico. If you do plan a jaunt into Mexico, be sure to have your passports or border crossing cards in order before you head out, and expect long lines and security checks along the way.
The Devil’s Sinkhole
The Devil’s Sinkhole is a state natural area located northwest of San Antonio. The sinkhole is 50 feet wide and 150 feet deep, and home to over 3 million bats. Nature hikes and tours are offered, but reservations are required. Check it out in the summer for the best bat viewing.
Fort Davis National Historic Site
During the frontier days, Fort Davis was part of a network of forts stretching from Mexico to Canada. Visit this national historic site in Jeff Davis County to explore the histories of Native peoples and western expansion, a culture clash integral to the history of the United States. The fort was also home to the famous Buffalo Soldiers, one of several African American infantry groups formed after the civil war. Their government sent them out against another minority group, the Native Americans. Learn more about this painful but important history at Fort Davis National Historic Site.
Larger cities are few and far between in the desert that separates Austin and El Paso. However, there are a few smaller gems that are worth stopping for. West Texas is also home to many excellent campgrounds and dump stations for RVers.
Just 63 miles outside of San Antonio, Fredericksburg is known for its German heritage and wineries. Check out the settlers museum and learn about WWII, or head to the Pioneer Museum and learn about the history of the region. If museums aren’t your thing, wander through the colorful boutiques and artisan shops that line the Fredericksburg streets and shop the day away. If you’re planning an Austin to El Paso RV road trip, enjoy camping at the Fredericksburg RV Park. This campground is among the highest rated in the state, with excellent amenities such as free hot showers, beautiful landscaping, and a clubhouse.
A small town packed with natural wonders, Sonora is home to some of the world’s most beautiful caverns. A guided tour of the caverns is a must. A variety of tours are offered, ranging from shorter hikes to longer expeditions, including a photography tour. Sonora is also home to rich ranch history, including exciting tales of outlaws in the wild west. Explore this history in Sonora’s many museums. Stay in Sonora at the local Stadium RV Park, or if you’re just passing through utilize the dump station at the Sonora Rest Area.
With a population of under 10,000 people, Ft. Stockton isn’t exactly a big city. It's more of a small Texas town steeped in frontier history. Ft. Stockton is like a time capsule, and visitors who dive into the history of the town find themselves closer than they’ve ever been to the wild west. Taste wine at Grey Mule Saloon, which has been serving the folks of Ft. Stockton since 1880, or soak in some culture at the local art museums. Also, keep your eyes peeled for the many sculptures that adorn street corners and town squares in this historical city. There is also an RV park in Ft. Stockton with excellent amenities such as laundry service and a dump station on site.
If you’re looking to connect with the wilderness, the history of the wild west, or just escape daily hustle and bustle, a road trip from Austin to El Paso is for you. Be sure to create a detailed itinerary before you go since the route lacks major urban centers. For the best desert road trip experience, consider renting an RV from RVshare. With an RV, you have the freedom to stop wherever and whenever you like as well as the power to fully immerse yourself in the subtle beauty of the West Texas desert.