As I've done each year since I've moved to Austin , I headed out to West Texas during the holidays once again. Two years ago I visited Big Bend National Park and last year it was Guadalupe Mountains National Park. This year I was a little more ambitious: I visited three state parks, a state historic site, a national park, a city park, a national recreation area, and about a half-dozen small towns. Over the six days I was gone, I walked more than 70 miles and drove nearly 1200 in addition to that.
The trip was awesome and it made me want to back into voluntary unemployment so that I could have a lot more time to travel! Throughout the trip, I kept a rough schedule but also took liberties with my time, taking detours to explore places that looked interesting, reading historical markers along the road, and stopping constantly to take photos of the stunning landscape.
Choosing My Destinations
To plan what places I would visit, I largely used the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife and The Most Scenic Drives in America, compiled by Reader's Digest. Using those two tools I ended up with the following list of must-sees and then built my trip around them.
Once I was out on the road, I ended making a few significant stops in parks I hadn't anticipated working into my trip including Fort Leaton State Historic Site, Big Bend National Park, Amistad National Recreation Area, and Kerrville-Schreiner Park.
Planning My Schedule
Given the amount of places I was hoping to see, I spent a solid two days coming up with the itinerary that would work best for me, keeping a few rules in mind:
- Hikes would begin and end in the same place so that all camping would take place in campgrounds instead of in the backcountry. (Since I would be making this trip by myself I wanted to err on the side of caution, and I thought that camping around other people was probably safer than the alternative.)
- All hiking would be complete by roughly 5pm so that I'd have time to set up camp before dark.
- I wouldn't force myself to wake up earlier than usual, my usual being roughly 8am.
- No more than four hours would be spent in the car on any given day, with the exception of getting out to West Texas and back to Austin.
- I would avoid highway driving as much as possible.
- I'd try to make sure there was a place for me to shower every couple of days.
I outlined the itinerary on my calendar using Sunrise then used Evernote to organize all maps, directions, lodging confirmation numbers, etc. that were relevant to my trip. I calculated total mileage and driving/hiking time using Google Sheets. My final itinerary is outlined below and I'm hopeful that I'll be able to find time to share more details about each day in a subsequent post.
Day One (Wednesday, December 24)
Total Driving: 430 miles (6.5 hours), Total Walking: 9 miles (3 hours)
- DRIVE: Austin to Davis Mountains State Park
- HIKE: Indian Lodge Trail, Davis Mountains State Park
- STAY: Tent camping, Davis Mountains State Park
Day Two (Thursday, December 25)
Total Driving: 185 miles (4 hours), Total Walking: 10.7 miles (3.5 hours)
- HIKE: Skyline Drive Trail to Old CCC Trail, Davis Mountains State Park
- DRIVE: Davis Mountains State Park to Davis Mountains Scenic Loop
- HIKE: Madera Canyon Trail, Davis Mountains Nature Preserve
- DRIVE & EXPLORE: Fort Davis to Alpine to Marfa to Shafter to Presidio
- STAY: Riata Inn, Presidio
Day Three (Friday, December 26)
Total Driving: 45 miles (1 hour), Total Walking: 17.6 miles (6.5 hours)
- DRIVE: Presidio to Fort Leaton State Historic Site
- EXPLORE: Fort Leaton State Historic Site
- DRIVE: Fort Leaton to Big Bend Ranch State Park (via El Camino del Rio)
- EXPLORE: Hoodoos and Colorado Canyon, Big Bend Ranch State Park
- HIKE: Rancherias Canyon Trail, Big Bend Ranch State Park
- STAY: Tent camping, Lower Madera Canyon Campground, Big Bend Ranch State Park
Day Four (Saturday, December 27)
Total Driving: 160 miles (3.5 hours) , Total Walking: 14.6 miles (5 hours)
- HIKE: West Contrabando Main Trail to Contrabando Dome Trail, Big Bend Ranch State Park
- DRIVE & EXPLORE: Big Bend Ranch State Park to Lajitas to Terlingua to Big Bend National Park to Sanderson
- STAY: Ruby Rosenow House (AirBnB), Sanderson
Day Five (Sunday, December 28)
Total Driving: 80 miles (1.5 hours), Total Walking: 11.5 miles (4 hours)
- DRIVE & EXPLORE: Sanderson to Amistad National Recreation Area to Seminole Canyon State Park
- HIKE: Windmill Nature Trail to Canyon Rim Trail to Rio Grande Trail, Seminole Canyon State Park
- STAY: Tent camping, Roadrunner Flat Campground, Seminole Canyon State Park
Day Six (Monday, December 29)
Total Driving: 300 miles (5.5 hours), Total Walking: 7.3 miles (2.5 hours)
- DRIVE: Seminole Canyon State Park to Kerrville-Schreiner Park
- HIKE: Red Trail to Green Trail to Yellow Trail, Kerrville-Schreiner Park
- DRIVE: Kerrville-Schreiner Park to Austin
Three years running and there's still so much more I want to see! I'd really like to get to Devil's River State Natural Area, Mt. Livermore (the highest peak in the Davis Mountains), Franklin Mountains State Park, and the Chinati Hot Springs. I would also like to hike new areas of Guadalupe Mountains National Park and Big Bend National Park. If you have any additional recommendations on what to include on my next trip to West Texas, leave them in the comments below.