11 Fun Things To Do In Terlingua

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welcome to terlingua ghost town sign.

11 Fun Things to do in Terlingua

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This article will cover 11 fun things to do in Terlingua as well as the surrounding areas of Big Bend National Park, Big Bend Ranch State Park,  Alpine, Ft. Davis, Lajitas, and Marfa. If you are planning a trip to any of these Texas towns, make sure you read this article!

So let’s get started exploring Terlingua Texas Ghost Town!

 

wooden sign entrance to a ghost town.

1.  Terlingua Trading Company

The Terlingua Trading Company is a one-stop shop.  Whether you are looking for that perfect souvenir or a bottle of Texas wine, you can find it here.  Robb and I are not much on shopping, but we sure did take advantage of the unique offerings in this store.  Room after room of artwork, jewelry, and clothing will keep you browsing.

More importantly, you can pick up your self-guided tour map at the register.  The map will help guide you and give you some background about the Town of Terlingua.

general store with a porch.

2.  Terlingua Cemetery

With graves dating back to 1903, this peaceful resting place is one of the MOST photographed cemeteries in the US.  As you visit Terlingua Cemetery, you will understand why.

Many of the graves are covered with rocks giving the cemetery a creative landscape.  There is no rhyme or reason or even a straight path along the plots.

Some of the graves in Terlingua Cemetery are barely marked with a simple cross, while others are elaborate and festive burial plots.

While there are about 400 graves in the Terlingua Cemetery, the majority date around 1918-19 when the town was hit by the deadly influenza outbreak.

The Terlingua Cemetery is both quirky and fascinating.  Take a walk-through, snap some pictures, and pay reverence to the residents.

old cemetery in the desert with crosses and raised plots covered in stone.

 3.  St. Agnes Church

Established in 1914, St. Agnes Church, formerly known as the Chisos Mission served as a spiritual refuge to the people of Terlingua.  The adobe structure stands today overlooking the town below.

Come inside, take a seat on the wooden pews and allow yourself to reflect in this beautiful quiet place

restored church in a desert ghost town.

4.  Starlight Theater Restaurant and Saloon

You can’t come to Terlingua without stopping at the Starlight Theater Restaurant and Saloon.

Opened in 1913 as a movie theater for the local miners, the Starlight Theater quickly became “the place”  for traveling musicians, entertainers, and performers.

Back in the day, a terrible storm blew the off the roof.  That didn’t stop the entertainment.  The Starlight Dinner Theatre continued to host dances, concerts, and productions under the stars.  The roof has since then been replaced, but the rustic interior transports you back to yesteryear.

This historic venue serves dinner, drinks, and live music seven nights a week.  Although the dinner line starts forming around 430, food and drink service starts promptly at 5 pm.

Hanging out on the porch is part of the fun.  Local musicians and storytellers will keep you entertained as you wait for your table.

 

old building with porch and weathered sign.

5.  Chisos Mine

Founded in 1903 by Howard E. Perry, the Chiso Mine Company was the primary source of work in the area.  As a major producer of quicksilver, the mine flourished.  The industry brought in eager laborers, geologists, and businessmen from far and near.

When WWII was over, the production of mercury slowed down and the mine finally closed in 1946.

Although the mine is closed, you can walk out to this elevator shaft to get a feel for what it might have been like to travel down into the earth.

deserted mine shaft in the desert.

6.  Perry School

As the mining population grew, so did the need for a school.  The original tent school was built in 1909.  Around 1923, the school expanded into a 1 room adobe structure with 53 students.  By 1930, the Perry School expanded into a 4-room stucco schoolhouse, educating 141 students.

 

ruins in the desert ghost town.

7.  Arts and Artists of Terlingua

Over the years, Terlingua has become a landing place for passionate artists.  With amazing sunsets, mountain and desert views, and the raw beauty of Western Texas,  it is easy to find inspiration.

From carefully curated galleries to randomly stacked rocks, art is everywhere in Terlingua.

rusted vintage motorcycle in a desert garden.

 

8.  Catch The Sunset

Oh, those Texas skies never disappoint.  Sunset is a highlight of any given day in the Chihuahua Desert.  As the sun sets, the sky often displays hues of pink, blue, purple, and red before turning into an amazing monochrome.

Often times the colors pop after the sun has disappeared beyond the horizon.  Look up and look behind you!

 

pink and blue skies over a cemetery.

9.  Take An Outdoor Adventure

There are plenty of outdoor adventures to choose from in Terlingua and surrounding towns.

Horseback Riding

There are several outfitters just a few miles from Terlingua both Study Butte and Lajitas.  The friendly and experienced trail guides will lead you on some beautiful trails through the desert mountains.

 ATV Tour

What better way to experience the vastness of the Chihuahua Desert than going off-road in an ATV?  Since these trails are not accessible by regular vehicles, you are in for a treat.

Float Down The Rio Grande

Take a guided float down the Rio Grande in a canoe, kayak, or raft.  Experienced guides will give you lessons in history and geology along with some fun folklore.

This is a professional tour and you can book it here.

kayaks floating on a river through a canyon.

 Photo Credit:  dave@thehensleys.org

 

10.  View The Night Sky

Both Big Bend Ranch State Park and Big Bend National Park are designated Dark Sky parks.  However, there aren’t many streetlights or other ambient lights in Terlingua.  Look up and be amazed at the night sky.  The constellations, satellites, and even the Milky Way seem close enough to touch.   

Timing your visit with meteor showers, Full Moons or even the New Moon can bring a different perspective.  Keep an eye out and make a wish on a shooting star!

11. Visit the Terlingua Jail

The original Terlingua Jail still stands on the corner by the Starlight Saloon.  With a dirt floor and no creature comforts, it’s hard to imagine doing time here.  

In case you are looking for restrooms, they are located behind the jail.  Oh, and don’t worry, they are modern.

old brick jail cell.

Keep Going There’s More!

 

Terlingua Texas Lodging

There is quite an assortment of lodging choices in Terlingua.  The allure of Terlingua is the dark sky, sunset views, sunrise over the mountains, and of course the desert mountains.  Whether you are hiking Big Bend or counting stars in the Chihuahua desert, you can take comfort in any of these unique Terlingua Texas lodging options.

Casitas

Traveling with family or friends may be more comfortable in any of the Terlingua Casitas. Equipped with kitchens, bathrooms and private patios with fire pits allow you to experience the desert surroundings in total comfort and privacy.

Terlingua Ranch:

Terlingua Ranch offers a little bit of everything.  Whether you stay in a motel room, a cabin, or your own RV, you will agree, the hospitality at Terlingua Ranch is outstanding.

Book Terlingua Ranch NOW

 

Big Bend Holiday Hotel:

Owned and operated by long-time Terlingua residents Bill Ivey and his family.  It’s easy to recognize the dedication, love, and care they have put into this beautiful restoration.  Big Bend Holiday Hotel gives overnight guests a variety of lodging options.

Ghost town lodging offers 1, 2, and 3-bedroom suites for visitors.  Luxury accommodations in a rustic ghost town will make from some tall tales.

The Casitas provide comfort with a little extra room.  These are perfect for porch sitting and watching the sunset.

Rio Grande Rock House is the Ivey family homestead.  When the family is away, lucky guests can rent this home.   As it offers some of the most scenic views of the Rio Grande, this dwelling may be just the place to get away from it all.  Enjoy the patio, the views, and the quiet.

Perry Mansion sits high above the town of Terlingua.  With 6 luxury suites, a common great room, a guest kitchen, and a rooftop patio, Perry Mansion provides guests with the right amount of space for alone time or friendly conversation with other guests.

Hotels and Motels in Terlingua

El Dorado Hotel: Although it looks rustic and plain on the outside, you will find eclectic decor and comfort inside.

Chisos Mining Co. Motel:  Take a step back in time and relax.  Try walking or meditating in the huge labyrinth out back.  The sunset and sunrise will amaze you!

 

 

Camping in Terlingua

 

Camping in Terlingua is super popular.  The night sky is perfect for stargazers.  Mountain and desert views provide a colorful backdrop for all travelers.  Whether you prefer full hookups or tent camping, you can find something in Terlingua and surrounding towns.

Vintage Air Streams

Airstream RVs have a certain allure to them.  Complete with vintage decor and desert scenery, you can reserve a stay in any of these beauties:  Alice, Josephine, Betty, Rosie, or Savannah.  A Retro Rents vintage camper makes for the beginning of a fun ghost town adventure.  

 blue vintage airstream rv with a porch on a gravel lot.

RV Parks in Terlingua

  • JoMommas RV Park: Very small privately owned RV Park with amazing views.  Book through HIPCamp.
  • Lost Gringo RV Park: What a perfect place to experience solitude and peacefulness.  Full hookup and off-grid camping are available
  • BJ’s RV Park:  Full Hookup and spacious lots available.  Just wait until you see that sunset.
  • RoadRunner Travelers RV Park: Big Rig Friendly, full hookups, and easy to park.  Great views and close to all attractions.

Glamping Terlingua

Glamping is tent camping with all the comfort of a luxury hotel room.  Experience the quiet desert surroundings and mysterious shadows as the sun fades away.  Glamping in Terlingua is relaxing with all of the benefits and none of the “hard” work.  Just sit back and relax.

Basecamp Terlingua has you covered with your glamping adventure.  From fully furnished casitas to tipis, you can enjoy all that Terlingua offers.

 

Terlingua Bubble Tents

Driving through Terlingua, you might notice some crazy bubble tents.  You can vacation in these!  Imagine laying in bed, cozy and warm, counting stars.  Bubble tents protected you from the harsh elements of the desert, yet allow a full view of the night sky.

Restaurants in Terlingua TX

  • Starlight Dinner Theatre:  Serving dinner nightly with live entertainment.  Queso, brisket, burgers, and steaks will make your mouth water.
  • High Sierra Bar and Grill:  Grab a beer, some Tex-Mex, and a seat on the porch.  Relax to the sounds of local musicians while watching the day fade away.
  • Espresso Y Poco Mas: Wonder in for a latte and a breakfast sandwich.  Or grab a cold brew and some lunch.  Either way, your belly will thank you.

Frequently Asked Questions About Terlingua

Is Terlingua Texas Worth Visiting?

The million-dollar question “Is Terlingua Texas worth visiting?”  is only something you can answer.  Any location comes down to your personal preference.

Since you made it this far in the article, I assume you are interested in visiting this quirky weird Texas ghost town.  With its rich history and its funky celebrations, Terlingua could be a new favorite destination.

Terlingua is the Gateway to Big Bend National Park, and Big Bend Ranch State Park.  The proximity to the parks makes Terlingua worth visiting.  Ample lodging, restaurants, and facilities make this ghost town a fun place to vacation.

Weather in Terlingua Texas

As far as the weather, summer is super hot as you might expect in the southwest corner of Texas.  Temperatures can rise to triple digits during the day, while the evenings can be quite cool.  The dramatic temperature changes are something to note when packing for your trip.

Summer is also the rainy season.  Flash floods are common and can be quite dangerous when exploring the canyons.

Fall and winter can bring a cold snap to those desert nights. Nighttime temperatures in the low 30s might not be for you, but the days are so comfortable.  The clear skies, brisk nights and moderate weather also brings in the crowds.

When is the best time to Visit Terlingua?

The best time to visit Terlingua is when you have time to explore Big Bend, Big Bend Ranch State Park, and surrounding areas. Scenic drives, slot canyon hikes, colorful sunsets, and dark skies are all waiting for you to explore.

  • Fall is the most comfortable time.  The last week of October into the first week of November is especially fun in Terlingua.  The Annual Chilli Cookoff and Dia de Los Muertos-Day of the Dead celebration are popular parties.
  • Winter brings tourists because of the mild climate.
  • Spring brings wildflowers and colorful blooms.
  • Summer is super hot and may not give you the best that Terlingua has to offer.

The Chihuahua Desert is like no other place.  The raw beauty, fascinating mountains, and desert views are beautiful any time of the year.  Don’t let the crowds or harsh climate prevent you from visiting Terlingua.

Decide what is best for you, and prepare accordingly!

Terlingua Chili Cook Off

What started as a publicity stunt between 2 Chili Cooks in 1967, is now an international sensation.  The Annual International Terlingua Chili Cook-Off brings thousands of visitors to Terlingua every year to compete, taste, and party in the desert.

Experience the Best of the Best Chilli, live concerts, and everything else that Terlingua has to offer during the Terlingua Chili Cook-Off.  Viva Terlingua!

The event is always the first weekend of November.  Save The Date!

 

colorful poster of a man and women dancing.

 

Dia de Los Muertos – Day of the Dead Celebration

November 2, Dia de Los Muertos, Day of the Dead Celebration.  Join the locals as they pay tribute and reverence to those that have passed on through life. This is not a haunted experience, but rather a fun celebration of life.

Dress in your favorite colors, wear a crown of marigolds, and paint your face.  The celebration begins in the Terlingua Cemetery at dusk with the lighting of candles and a bonfire.

Visitors bring offerings of flowers, photos, trinkets, coins, and prayers to the deceased.  Whatever you do, DO NOT REMOVE ANYTHING FROM THE CEMETERY!

 

cemetery entrance at sunset

 

What does Terlingua mean?

Folklore and legends continue to debate the origin of Terlingua.  As it translates to “3 tongues” it is unclear as to the reference.  Historians and storytellers offer these explanations:

  • 3 languages spoken in the area: English, Spanish (Mexican), and Native American
  • 3 languages of the Native Americans that lived in the area: Apache, Comanche, and Shawnee.
  • 3 Forks of the Terlingua Creek which flows 83 miles through the mountains and valleys before emptying into the Rio Grande.

Where is Terlingua, Texas>

Terlingua Texas is far from anywhere.  Located in the very western part of Texas, Terlingua sits in the Chihuahua Desert bordering Mexico.

Does Terlingua have an airport?

Yes, the Terlingua International Airport is a private airport, servicing residents and visitors to the area.  Currently, there are no commercial flights directly into Terlingua.  The closest airports would be El Paso (299 miles) or Midland (238 miles).  Visiting Terlingua, Big Bend, or any of the surrounding areas is a travel commitment.  Allow yourself ample time to enjoy all that the Chihuahua Desert has to offer.

 

Things to do Near Terlingua

Terlingua is a perfect place to stay for a spell while exploring the rest of the area.  You may be surprised at how much there really is to do in the Chihuahua Desert. Let’s Explore:

Lajitas

Just a few minutes down the road is the town of Lajitas.  If golfing is your thing, stop into the Lajitas Golf Resort to reserve a Tee Time.  While you are checking out the local digs, be sure to visit the cemetery and of course Mayor Clay Henry III (he likes beer).

goat drinking something fizzing from a bottle

Photo Credit: 12-ft Hedgehog Productions

 

 

Big Bend National Park

Terlingua is a short 8 miles from Big Bend National Park.  Big Bend is a must-do for anyone that enjoys wide open spaces, desert views, and mysterious mountain terrain.  Whether you are an adventure seeker, avid hiker, or country road driver, Big Bend has something beautiful to offer.

Chisos Basin:  This spectacular drive will take you near the top of the Chisos mountains.  It is fascinating to see the landscape, change from stark desert to forestry.  There are several trails to explore, as well as a visitor center.  The sunset on the window trail is beautiful.

sunset in the distance between an opening in a mountain range.

Boquillas Canyon:  This is a 1.5-mile moderate hike to some of the most incredible scenery.  The path takes you up and over a hill, down to the valley and river below.  Finally, you will be met with massive canyon walls towering up to 1200 ft.

 

panoramic view of a river through a canyon,

Boquillas Mexico:  Cross the Rio Grande in a rowboat and arrive in Mexico.  The town is about a mile up the sandy road.  Of course, you can walk, or indulge in other means of transportation, say a donkey or a horse.  The town is super small so you won’t need a lot of time.  Have some lunch, do some shopping and drink Sotol!

man rowing a row boat on a river

 

Hot Springs: This desert oasis was the place to go back in the day.  Be prepared to soak in the natural hot springs at Big Bend.  The pool is a short hike from the parking area out to the Rio Grande.  Let the 105-degree water rich in minerals relax and rejuvenate you.  While you are there, check out the ruins and the petroglyphs.

Unfortunately for us, the Big Bend Hot Springs area was closed when we visited in October 2022.  The heavy summer rains and monsoons filled the hot springs with sediment from the Rio Grande River.  The good news is the park rangers have worked hard to clear the area making it safe for visitors once again.  Always check with the  National Park Service before hitting the trails.

view of a r.iver with a walkway around the point

This picture shows a cement pathway that leads  was covered before the storm.

 

Santa Elena Canyon:  If the creek is low enough, you can cross it and hike up into the canyon.  The canyon walls will envelop you and the views are outstanding.  The short walk out to the creek is easy enough for just about everyone.  Even for nonhikers, the drive to the canyon is spectacular!

tall canyon walls with a path leading to them.

Big Bend Ranch State Park:

Big Bend Ranch State Park is right outside of Terlingua and is a gem worth visiting.  Take the 68-mile drive along River Road through canyons, mountains, and the flat lands of the desert to the town of Presidio.  The scenery will mesmerize you.

scenic two lane road through the mountains

 

If you are up for a hike, we recommend two:

Closed Canyon:  This slot canyon hike is 1.5 miles out and back.  Once down to the canyon floor the hike is moderate.  However, the deeper into the canyon you go, you may find some boulders to climb over.  Just go as far as you are comfortable as there is no prize at the end.  The canyon walls are massive and mysterious.

man hiking into a canyon

Hoodoos:  This hike is 1-mile roundtrip and moderate.  Walk the gravel path down into the weird hoodoos formations.  The views of the Rio Grande are outstanding!

rock formations

 

Alpine, TX:

Terlingua to Alpine is about 84 miles of desert scenery.  Besides wall murals, eateries, and historic culture, there is a quirky hike we encourage you to take.

A quick climb up Hancock Hill will lead to an old desk.  Take a rest and read the notes left by hikers through the decades.  Leave some advice or goodwill to those that will come later.

Marfa, TX:

Terlingua to Marfa is about 72 miles.  Marfa is best known for those creepy lights that show up in the desert after dark.  The viewing area is open to the public all night.

Be sure you also stop by the Prada Store.  It isn’t open for business, but it does make a great photo opportunity.

woman posing in front of a designer store.

 

Ft. Davis, TX

Terlingua to Ft. Davis is about 109 miles of scenic driving.  The McDonald Observatory is a highlight for anyone interested in star gazing.  The observatory often hosts special programs and star-gazing parties.  The Dark Skies are extraordinary, especially when seen through these high-powered telescopes.

 

Conclusion

Whether you take a few hours or a few days to explore, you can agree that Terlingua, Texas, and its surrounding areas are mysterious.  The scenic drives, desert views, and distant mountains will keep you mesmerized.

Robb and I hope we have helped you decide that Terlingua is worth visiting. Thank you for reading!

Travel Safe and Adventure Often,

Maureen

 

Going Through Amarillo, Texas?  Read this article!

 

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ROBB AND MAUREEN

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