If you are looking for a true mountain town in Texas, with loads of historical roots and outdoor adventures, look no further than Fort Davis! This quaint west Texas town nestled high in the rugged Davis Mountains, is bound to surprise you with its ability to seamlessly blend together the great outdoors, wild west history, and the cultural flair of Texas! All in one humble little Texas town!
Fort Davis gets its name from the namesake Davis Mountains that surround it. The Davis Mountains are just one of several impressive mountain ranges found in west Texas, mountains that undeniably prove that Texas is not just flat and boring! There is a multitude of exciting outdoor activities in Fort Davis, melded from the mountainous environment surrounding the town! There are several parks in the immediate area, and each one provides unique trails that give hikers a chance to witness the topography surrounding Fort Davis.
Davis Mountains State Park
Davis Mountains State Park is a standout in the area. You can camp, hike, sightsee, stay in the historic Indian Lodge, or enjoy the scenic Skyline Drive through the park.
The trails in Davis Mountains State Park appeal to many ages and abilities. These trails range from 0.6 miles in length to 6 miles in length. There are trails that climb to the top of mountain ridges, trails that traverse canyons, trails that wind through grasslands, and trails that are dotted with historical remnants. You can glimpse a sampling of what Davis Mountains State Park has to offer hikers from a few of its most cherished trails.
On the 0.6-mile-long Headquarters Trail, you can explore Keesey Canyon and witness old lava flows.
On the 3-mile long Indian Lodge Trail, you can climb the mountainous heights and witness panoramic views of the park, including an overlook of the historic Indian Lodge below.
The 3.2-mile long CCC Trail has been in existence since the 1930’s and is now used for both hiking and mountain biking. If hiked in its entirety, you can connect to the neighboring Fort Davis Historic Site just “down the road”.
The Skyline Drive Trail parallels the park road Skyline Drive for 5.2 miles in length, and contains impressive overlooks as well as several historical buildings on its path.
You can primitive camp along the 5.6 mile long Sheep Pen Canyon Loop Trail, a hike that emphasizes the specific characteristics of the high desert, with plateaus, visitas, grasslands, and juniper forests.
If you would prefer to drive and take in the sights of Davis Mountains State Park, the 4.5 mile long scenic park road, Skyline Drive, will take you on a breathtaking route up to the highest points in the park, with plenty of scenic lookouts along the way.
You can also camp in Davis Mountains State Park, a truly unrivaled destination for impressive night skies! Did you know that Fort Davis has some of the darkest night skies in the country? There are three designated campgrounds, in addition to primitive, backcountry camping opportunities. Campsites can be reserved online here.
Day-use entrance fees to the park are $6 a person.
Overnight camping fees start at $10 for primitive backcountry sites and $15 for developed sites.
Davis Mountains Preserve
Another outdoor destination in Fort Davis is the Davis Mountains Preserve. The highlight of this preserve is Madera Canyon. Madera Canyon appeals to hikers because it seamlessly blends together a surprising diversity of ecosystems and environments.
Madera Canyon, sitting at a lofty 6,000 feet in elevation, contains a delicate system of canyon springs and streams, as well as rocky trails and impressive cliffs. There is also abundant wildlife, including bobcats, mountain lions, black bears, elk, and golden eagles. Rare Texas madrone trees are also found in this canyon. There are only a few other places in Texas these stunning and vibrant trees are found, one of them being in neighboring Guadalupe Mountains National Park. From Madera Canyon, you can see Mount Livermore as well, an 8,000 foot peak!
Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute and Botanical Gardens
The Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute and Botanical Gardens is another outdoor attraction that really highlights the desert beauty of Fort Davis. While the main attraction here is the succulent rich botanical garden, there are also some impressive trails and views to enjoy, like the Hummingbird and Butterfly Trail, which contains the Pollinator Garden. Or the Upper Loop Trail, with its impressive views and rocky outcroppings.
The botanical garden contains several hundred examples of succulents and other flora and fauna that call the Chihuahuan Desert home. These can all be found in the greenhouse, which is just a short walk from the Visitor’s Center.
Entrance fees to the Institute are $6.50 a person.
Fort Davis National Historic Site
One of the most impressive displays of Fort Davis’s historical roots are found at the Fort Davis National Historic Site. What is great about this historical site is that it is located right off the main road through down, only minutes from main lodging and dining spots. It is easily accessible, and a wonderful testament to the way the town was developed around this focal point in its history!
Fort Davis National Historic Site is one of the best-surviving examples of the Southwest’s many frontier military posts. Fort Davis was a key military post in the defense system of west Texas and was manned with troops from 1854 to 1891. Fort Davis also protected travelers on the San Antonio – El Paso Road, including emigrants, wagon trains, and mail coaches. During the Civil War, Fort Davis was actually occupied by Confederate troops for a year, until it was regained by Union control. To visit Fort Davis today is to be reminded of the important role that defense systems like this one played in the development and further settlement of the West.
Entrance fees to the park are $10 a person or $20 a vehicle.
There are also a handful of trails to hike at Fort Davis National Historic Site. They are individually shorter trails, but some of them connect to create the potential for longer hikes. The following three hikes can connect to form one longer trail, and one that contains both an ascent, ridgetop panorama, and descent.
The Hospital Canyon Trail is 0.7 miles long and would be rated as the most strenuous of Fort Davis’s trails. It climbs the ridge overlooking the fort.
The North Ridge Trail is 0.3 miles long, and proceeds along the top of the ridge, and is largely flat with gorgeous views, though it does require care due to the rocky terrain.
The Tall Grass Loop Trail proceeds for 0.8 miles down from the ridge back towards the base of the mountains.. It provides up close views of many of the remaining historical structures once you have descended the ridge.
There are other short trails that meander around the fort, providing additional views of the buildings and structures, such as the Cemetery Trail, which is 0.2 miles long, and the short Photographers Trail, immediately adjacent to the Visitor’s Center.
Indian Lodge at Davis Mountains State Park
Another historical item in Fort Davis is the Indian Lodge in Fort Davis State Park, which was built to resemble a Pueblo village. This whitewashed adobe lodge, built in the 1930s, offers breathtaking and secluded mountain views, and even comes with a rooftop pool! Whether you are staying overnight or not, a visit is a must! The Black Bear Restaurant is inside the premises, and it is a great spot with scenic views to enjoy a meal, especially post hike!
Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute Mining Exhibit and Outdoor Museum
Another small yet impressive historical attraction in Fort Davis is at the entrance to the Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute and Botanical Gardens. You won’t want to miss the outdoor mining exhibit and museum, which contains a large collection of old mining tools, local minerals, and informative information. You can also learn more about the mining background here, and the role it played in the Fort Davis area.
The McDonald Observatory
The McDonald Observatory is visible from many of the higher points in the Davis Mountains. You can even see it from some of the trails in Fort Davis State Park. And why is there an observatory all the way out here in west Texas? Because Fort Davis resides under one of the darkest night skies in the country, perfect for the McDonald Observatory’s multiple telescopes. Visitors are welcome to tour the observatory both during the day and night (I highly recommend a night viewing), as well as participate in special events and viewings, like Summer Star Parties, solar viewing programs, and special viewing nights. Capacity for many events is limited, and it is recommended to buy tickets online in advance for any visits.
Rattlers and Reptiles
You might not even realize it’s there because it is so small, but no visit to Fort Davis would be complete without a visit to Rattlers and Reptiles! This small, unassuming, one room snake museum contains an incredibly diverse collection of local rattlesnakes, arachnids, and other reptiles. It is an unforgettable and memorable way to learn more about the wildlife and ecosystems of Fort Davis!
Admission is $5 per person.
Historic Fort Davis Downtown
For a free way to enjoy some historical and cultural sights in Fort Davis, all you have to do is simply walk around the downtown area. You can see the historic Hotel Limpia and its beautiful outdoor courtyard, built in 1912, and the Fort Davis Drug Store, built a year later in 1913. Both structures are still intact and serving the community today! There is also the Jeff Davis County Courthouse in the heart of the downtown plaza, built in 1911. The Harvard Hotel also adds a touch of frontier Texas flair to the rustic downtown facade!
Where to Eat in Fort Davis
So after a full day of exploring, where should you eat in Fort Davis? This town has a wonderfully quirky way of blending together its historical roots with unique places to eat!
The Black Bear Restaurant is found inside of the historic Indian Lodge in Fort Davis State Park. It serves simple fare including burgers and sandwiches, but it hits the spot after a day of hiking! And the views of the mountains don’t hurt either!
Blue Mountain Bar and Grill is found within the historic Hotel Limpia, built in 1912, and is located right in the heart of the downtown plaza. Enjoy both the enchanting outdoor area and intimate indoor eating area.
The Fort Davis Drug Store and Hotel has been a staple of the community since 1913! Originally a pharmacy, you can now book a room here, or just stop by the counter to order some classic food samplings, like burgers, chicken fried steak, or hand spun milkshakes!
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