7 Fantastic Things to Do in Davis Mountains State Park
As a lover of old hotels with a good story to tell, I’ve been known to let an interesting historic inn or lodge dictate my travel itinerary. This 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 Indian Lodge at Davis Mountains State Park and read about its history as a member of a Civilian Conservation Corps project, I knew I had to. to visit.
So, on my spring 2022 road trip from El Paso to Austin, I took the detour about 1 hour and 30 minutes southeast of the Interstate-10 town of Van Horn, Texas, to Davis Mountains State Park — the location of the rustic 1930s 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. Rising to about 8,400 feet in some places, the Davis Mountains provide a stark contrast to the surrounding desert lands which sit about 4,000 feet above sea level.
Due to their 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 the “Summer Swallows” – visitors seeking fresh mountain air.
Today, a combination of the state park’s unique hotel, proximity to fascinating sites like Marfa, Fort Davis, and Big Bend National Park, and multiple recreation options make 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 Austin.
Here are seven reasons why Davis Mountains State Park is perfect for a weekend getaway.
1. Historic Indian Lodge
With its blue-hued pool overlooking the Davis Mountains and its gracious courtyard with trickling fountains, the Indian lodge is rightly touted as a cool oasis in West Texas.
But the Indian Lodge is much more than that. It also tells a fascinating story about the young men of the Great Depression working long hours on the hand-hewn pine beams and adobe blocks that formed the walls and ceilings of the lodge.
During the construction phase in the mid-1930s, two companies of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC)—President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal program that put unemployed young people to work—cast adobe blocks from of a mixture of water, straw and earth. .
The lodge’s website says the young men “laid tens of thousands of 40-pound blocks in place to form walls 12 to 18 inches thick, many of which rise up to 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 stroll through the square-shaped courtyard, up the spiral staircases and through the beamed lobby offered a revelation of the ingenuity of this long-ago body of work.
In the 1960s, the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife added a 24-room addition to the original lodge, along with the pool. In the early 2000s, the department restored the original section to its 1935 appearance.
Pro tips: Wi-Fi service is somewhat weak (to non-existent) in rooms but is stronger in the lobby and common areas. At Indian Lodge, guests should expect somewhat rustic accommodation, but with all the necessary modern conveniences.
2. More CCC History
The Indian Lodge wasn’t the only feature at Davis Mountains State Park to benefit from the CCC program. Throughout the park, signs indicate the substantial impact of the program.
One such sign, titled “Tied to the Land”, is located at the top of the mountain along Skyline Drive. He notes that not only did the CCC build the road and trail that lead visitors to the scenic viewpoint, but crews also built several of the structures that frame the stunning views of the surrounding areas. Workers used basic hand tools, rock drills, pickaxes, shovels and wheelbarrows to get the job done.
The striking round lookout tower at the lookout was added by Texas Parks and Wildlife in the 1960s based on the design of a similar tower 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 have also greatly benefited from the work of the CCC. For a list of outstanding CCC projects in national parks across the country, including Big Bend, see 10 Top Civilian Conservation Corps Projects You Can Enjoy Today.
3. Scenic road on the horizon
For a short drive with a big payoff, Davis Mountains State Park’s Skyline Drive is hard to beat. The 8 km road is steep and winding, but it is paved and easy to drive. Along the way, there are several scenic viewpoints that provide parking and stunning views of the surrounding mountain range.
It is worth stopping at the various parking areas for the unique vantage points they offer. The first main lookout offers a great view of the Indian Lodge from above, as well as access to the Keesey Canyon Overlook, located about half a mile from the parking area.
At the end of Skyline Drive is a recreation area that includes the Lookout Shelter, which offers a bay window to the view, 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 has an on-site restaurant called the Black Bear Restaurant. It is located near the check-in lobby and within walking distance of all guest rooms.
The restaurant is open for breakfast and lunch, Wednesday through Sunday, and guests can enjoy work team-inspired meals such as the CCC Chicken Sandwich or CCC’s hearty breakfast of pancakes, eggs, sausages or bacon and potatoes.
Pro tip: Note that guests staying 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 choice of restaurants are available there.
5. Convenient camping for RVs and tents
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 hook-up campsites, 34 electric campsites, 33 water campsites and primitive campsites located 4 miles up a mountain.
Campsites with hook-ups, power, and water are conveniently located near park trails, the 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 winds along mountain ridges and valleys, while the 1.75-mile CCC trail connects to a path to nearby Fort Davis National Historic Site. (Note that part of the CCC trail was closed for repairs when I visited in the spring of 2022, but a section of the Skyline Drive Overlook was open.) The moderate 2.5-mile Indian Lodge Loop trail is located behind the Indian Lodge and presents beautiful views of the park.
The state park website features a interactive map of available trails.
Pro tip: Riders can take their horses for a day or for a night in the primitive area of the Limpia canyon. The 11 miles of trails take riders from 4,900 feet high to over 5,700 feet at a scenic viewpoint. Camping is available at six equestrian campgrounds or six primitive campgrounds.
7. Proximity to Fort Davis and Marfa
Although Davis Mountains State Park has a certain remote feel, it’s actually just a short drive from a number of fun and fascinating West Texas towns and attractions.
Marfa, the small town known for its art galleries and movie stages, as well as the mysterious lights of Marfa, is located just 25 minutes from the national park. Fort Davisknown for its well-preserved military fort and picturesque town center, is just a 5 minute drive away.
The bustling college town of Alpine, with its Big Bend Museum and Amtrak stop, is located less than 30 minutes by car. Plus, the spectacular Big Bend National Park is about an hour and 30 minutes away.