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  • San Antonio Riverwalk
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    San Antonio: Where Past Meets Present

  • Cowboys in Bandera
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    Bandera: Hill Country and Cowboy Culture

  • Prada Marfa
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    Marfa: The Art Hub of Western Texas

  • hiker at Big Bend National Park
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    Big Bend National Park: Trails, Rapids, Ghost Towns and Stars

Big Bend National Park
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Stars Over Texas

  • Route distance:
    0
  • Suggested Time:
    1-2 weeks

For a true taste of the Lone Star State, head into cowboy country

It’s a little bit of everything: A road trip across western Texas offers a glimpse of American history, cowboy culture, world-class art and extraordinary wilderness. Start by exploring San Antonio’s Spanish colonial missions and get a taste of the city’s incredible food scene. Then, learn how to two-step in Hill Country and get a dose of big city-worthy culture in the tiny town of Marfa. End your trip surrounded by the majestic Chisos Mountains and the storied waters of the Rio Grande in Big Bend National Park. Just know that packing may be tricky — you’ll want your hiking boots and your cowboy boots for this tour of Texas.

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San Antonio Riverwalk
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San Antonio: Where Past Meets Present

Fly into San Antonio International Airport (SAT) and make the 15-minute drive downtown. Nestled along the historic River Walk, the Omni La Mansión del Rio is a convenient base for exploring the 24-kilometer riverfront promenade, which is lined with restaurants, bars and shops, and links to the city’s five Spanish colonial missions (collectively deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site). To beat the crowds, arrive early at the mission known as the Alamo, which was the site of an 1836 battle that ultimately paved the way for Texas’ independence from Mexico. Farther south are four additional 18th-century Catholic outposts spread out along the 13-kilometer Mission Trail, which can be easily visited on foot or bike. (The city’s shared bicycle service, BCycle, has a station at every mission.) If you have time to visit only one, Mission San José is the largest, with a dedicated museum and daily showings of a film about the native Coahuiltecan tribes. Before leaving town, spend some time viewing the three floors of cowboy paintings, Native American costumes and other artifacts at Briscoe Western Art Museum. End your exploration in the hip Pearl District, where San Antonio’s burgeoning food scene is on display at restaurants like Cured, La Gloria and Boiler House.

84 km
1 hour by car
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Cowboys in Bandera
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Bandera: Hill Country and Cowboy Culture

Drive 1 hour northwest on scenic Highway 16 to Bandera. The small Western town nestled in Hill Country is the self-proclaimed “Cowboy Capital of the World.” Rodeos are held at least twice a week during summer and gunfight re-enactments take place weekly in the town’s quaint downtown. Base yourself at one of the many hospitable dude ranches, like the Mayan Dude Ranch, where your day starts with a campfire-cooked breakfast of eggs, bacon and buttery biscuits. Then, learn about pioneer history at the Frontier Times Museum, whose 40,000-piece collection includes quirky artifacts like a Texas map made from rattlesnake rattles and rawhide lariats from the town’s wilder past. The Hill Country State Natural Area, a 2,172-hectare park, is just a 20-minute drive away, and is lined with 64 kilometers of trails for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding. Back in town, stop by Old Spanish Trail restaurant for dinner, then dance off your meal with some two-stepping at one of Bandera’s many cowboy bars.

592 km
5 hours by car
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Prada Marfa
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Marfa: The Art Hub of Western Texas

From Bandera, it’s just over a 5-hour drive along Interstate 10 to the unlikely artist mecca of Marfa. Nestled in a vast expanse of desert with fewer than 2,000 residents, mobile telephone service is spotty and ATMs are scarce, but that hasn’t stopped art lovers worldwide from making the trek here. Donald Judd, an American minimalist who was one of the most significant artists of the 20th century, is largely responsible for putting this small town on the map. A trip to his Chinati Foundation — a 138-hectare, 15-building art museum that preserves Judd’s large-scale installations as well as the work of his contemporaries — is a must. Open Wednesday through Sunday, guided tours should be reserved well in advance. Drop by the Ayn Foundation to view Andy Warhol’s “Last Supper” installation, then head to Ballroom Marfa, the town’s largest gallery, which is housed in a 1920s dancehall. Back in town, stop by Food Shark, a lunch-only Mediterranean food truck with seating in an old blue bus. Before leaving, give your wardrobe a Texas makeover at Marfa Museum Thrift Store, where you’ll find a treasure trove of vintage clothing at bargain prices. Or stop by Cobra Rock Boot Company, where you can watch the owner handcraft leather boots and other western accessories.

218 km
3 hours by car
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hiker at Big Bend National Park
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Big Bend National Park: Trails, Rapids, Ghost Towns and Stars

Head south for nearly 3 hours to access the desert beauty of Big Bend National Park. Named for a giant curve of the Rio Grande River, this wilderness is a hiker’s paradise with more than 241 kilometers of trails. Spring and fall are the best seasons to visit. The park, which the river carved over centuries, offers four diverse campsites, while Chisos Mountains Lodge, in the heart of the park, provides a great option for noncampers. Day and multi-day hikes, like the popular 19-kilometer South Rim trail, are plentiful, but if you only have an afternoon, the 8-kilometer Lost Mine trail offers equally stunning scenery. July through September the Rio often runs high, making this prime-time for white-water rafting — Santa Elena Canyon, with its 450-meter limestone walls, provides a jaw-dropping backdrop to a Rio Grande adventure. When you’re ready for a rest day, make a side trip to one of the many ghost towns dotted around the park. At night, be sure to look up. Big Bend is an International Dark Sky Park and one of the best spots in America for stargazing.

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