Despite a population of just over 1,000 people, Fort Davis, Texas fulfills a surprising number of travel desires. The west Texas city has a fascinating history for history buffs, rugged Sky Island terrain for mountain hikers, and a robust dining scene for foodies.
For me, Fort Davis was a happy travel surprise. I included it in my West Texas road trip primarily for its proximity to Davis Mountains State Park and its historic Indian Lodge. Until I arrived, I didn’t know much about the community that shares a name with the park and mountain range.
But when I drove into the charming little town, I knew immediately that I had stumbled upon a travel bonus. From the early 20th-century architecture of the Jeff Davis County Courthouse to the quaint shops and restaurants along State Street to the fascinating military history of the Fort Davis National Historic Site, there’s a lot more to the city of Fort Davis than I expected .
Coupled with its proximity to the Davis Mountains, Fort Davis is approximately 95 miles north of Big Bend National Park in Texas, making it a convenient stop on a trip to the spectacular park, which is set amid desert, mountain, and river terrain. It’s also less than a 30-minute drive from the cool and quirky town of Marfa.
While you might first visit Fort Davis for its proximity, I believe the small town is worth a stop.
Here are eight reasons to add Fort Davis to your Big Bend road trip.
1. Military History at Fort Davis National Historic Site
When I passed the Fort Davis National Historic Site information desk, the first thing I learned from the friendly attendant was that I was visiting one of the best-preserved border posts in the American Southwest
This piqued my interest, and I soon discovered that there were many original buildings in the fort, including the Bachelor Officer Quarters, a large house reserved for the postal commander; and Officers Row, a neat row of adobe and stone houses that housed officers and their families. The fort also features a restored officers’ kitchen, NCO’s quarters, ruins of a chapel and a replica commissary where food supplies were stored.
Fort Davis dates back to 1858 and was strategically located at the intersection of the San Antonio-El Paso Road and the Chihuahuan Trail and was one of the most important frontier defenses in the late 19th century. The fort was occupied early on by companies of the 8thth US infantry protecting settlers, freighters and stagecoaches from Apache and Comanche raids in the region. Then, from 1867, the fort housed four companies of the 9thth US Cavalry composed of African American soldiers who became known as the Buffalo Soldiers.
Pro tip: The fort grounds are a bit spacious and have little shade. The National Park Service recommends that anyone planning to hike in the area wear a wide-brimmed hat, comfortable clothing, and sturdy hiking shoes or boots.
2. Historic Downtown Fort Davis
With its wealth of late 18th/early 19th century buildings, the town of Fort Davis has the feel of a frontier town. A walking tour offers more than 20 historic buildings worth stopping at, including the 1913 Fort Davis State Bank, the 1904 Adobe Presbyterian Church, and the 1899 Saint Joseph Catholic Church.
Fort Davis is considered a place to step back in time. A tourist brochure for the city boasts that “there is not a single traffic light”. Another beauty of Fort Davis is that the town is compact and walkable, stretching about a mile. I loved walking the streets and finding little treasures along the way.
Pro tip: The Fort Davis Chamber of Commerce website provides handy listings of shopping, dining, and lodging options.
3. Regional architecture in the Jeff Davis County Courthouse
Built in 1911 in a Classic Revival architectural style, the Jeff Davis County Courthouse is topped with a Beaux-Art style clock tower. It makes an eye-catching statement along Fort Davis’ main street. The upper floor courtroom has a pressed tin ceiling and a fan-shaped stained glass window behind the bench.
The building is worth a stroll for its distinctive appearance as well as its place in Civil War history. A plaque on the courthouse grounds indicates that Jeff Davis County was named for Jefferson Davis, who later became President of the Confederate States during the US Civil War. Years before that war, Davis visited the Fort Davis area as an Army officer in the Mexican War of 1847. Known as the “Friend of Texas,” Davis became the county’s namesake in 1887.
4. Historical accommodation in Hotel Limpia
The Union Trading Company built the historic Hotel Limpia in 1912 from pink limestone quarried near Fort Davis. The hotel was named after a nearby creek and soon became a popular meeting place for the community.
Today, guests can enjoy the hotel’s glass-enclosed porch, tranquil verandas, and beautiful gardens. Located in the heart of downtown Fort Davis, it offers easy access to the restaurants and shops that line the streets.
Pro tip: Hotel Limpia is one of a series of 6 incredible historic hotels in Texas Big Bend Country.
5. Hiking in Davis Mountains State Park
Rising to more than 8,300 feet, the Davis Mountains provide a haven amidst the surrounding rolling ranch country and flatlands of the Chihuahuan Desert. Sitting atop a beautiful portion of the massive mountain range, Davis Mountains State Park is a magnet for lovers of solitude, rugged hiking, and clear night skies.
Located 4 miles north of Fort Davis, the park offers miles of hiking trails, scenic overlooks and full-service campgrounds. It’s also home to the rustic, pueblo-style Indian Lodge, a hotel built in the 1930s by crews from the Civilian Conservation Corps, a workforce of young men unemployed during the Great Depression.
6. Desert Plants at Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center
Located on more than 500 acres southeast of Fort Davis, the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center features a botanical garden with a variety of native desert plants and a cacti and succulent greenhouse filled with more than 150 additional plant species.
The center also features walking trails, a geological timeline featuring rock samples from the area, a historic mining exhibit, and the Powell Visitor Center with exhibits and a gift shop.
7. Scenic loop in the Davis Mountains
Departing from Fort Davis on Texas Highway 118, adventurous drivers with at least an hour and 30 minutes can take the loop, known as one of the most scenic and uncrowded drives in Texas.
At 75 miles, the Davis Mountain Scenic Loop is a relatively long drive, but thankfully it offers virtually uninterrupted scenery in nearby Limpia Canyon, Mount Locke and Mount Fowlkes, and Madera Canyon. After a left turn on Texas 166, the route passes Mt. Livermore and Sawtooth Mountain, and then offers views of the Sierra Viejo Mountains along the Rio Grande to the south.
Peaking at 6,700 feet, the Davis Mountains Scenic Loop features the highest public highway ride in Texas.
Pro tip: Also along the scenic route are Davis Mountains State Park and the stunning McDonald Observatory.
8. Authentic Mexican cuisine
Mexican restaurants are plentiful and authentic throughout West Texas, and I found it hard to go wrong when stopping by one of the local favorites. When I asked for a restaurant recommendation, it seemed that every time I was directed to a popular Mexican spot.
Such was the case in Fort Davis, where I followed suggestions from locals to try Poco Mexico Café and Cueva De Leon—both excellent choices. At Poco Mexico, the atmosphere is casual and customers order from a window that looks into the kitchen. I loved the deep fried chilli relleno cheese enchilada served with tortilla chips and spicy salsa. I arrived at Cueva De Leon a few minutes after closing time but was invited in anyway by the friendly staff. I was glad I ordered delicious chicken tacos to go after most other restaurants in town had closed.
Pro tip: If you’re craving a decadent treat, head to the delightful Hebert’s Caboose Ice Cream Shop, where Blue Bell Ice Cream is served from a refurbished railroad car.
When should you visit Big Bend and Fort Davis?
The best months to visit Fort Davis are March and April, when spring temperatures average between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, or September and October, when high temperatures range from the mid-80s in September to the high 70s in October . Summers in Fort Davis are typically fairly warm, with highs in the 90’s in June and in the 80’s in July and August. The winter months are cool, with highs in the 60’s from November to February.
If you’re visiting in July, here’s a fun fact: Fort Davis is known as the home of the Coolest 4thth July,” thanks to its mountain temperatures and small-town celebrations.
Cindy was all over Southwest Texas. For more: