The Prada Marfa store sits alone at dawn in the middle of the desert.
Jo Hunter/

Road Trip from El Paso to Marfa and Alpine

Published by Dianne Titos on July 27 2023

This short but exciting journey from El Paso to Marfa and Alpine will take you through an adventurous mix of nature, history, and local culture. With quirky sights and mysterious goings-on, you can be sure it's a journey you are unlikely to forget!

The 350-mile road trip from El Paso, to Marfa and Alpine takes about 5 hours 30 minutes, passing Van Horn, Davis Mountains State Park, McDonald Observatory, Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center, Carlsbad Caverns and Guadalupe Mountains National Park.

Both routes offer stunning vistas and awe-inspiring views of the Texan landscape, historical sites and unique experiences. Read on to discover what adventures await you on each route, the amazing things to see. best places to stay and what time of year to visit.

How far is Marfa and Alpine from El Paso, and how long with the road trip take?

Comparison of road trip routes between El Paso, Alpine and Marfa
RouteDistanceDriving Time
The Direct Route270 miles4 hours 30 minutes
The Carlsbad Caverns Route385 miles6 hours 30 minutes

The Direct Route from El Paso to Alpine covers a total distance of 270 miles and will take approximately 4 hours and 30 minutes to drive without stops.

On the other hand, The Carlsbad Caverns Route from El Paso to Marfa, which offers a more scenic journey, covers a distance of 385 miles and will take around 6 hours and 30 minutes of driving time.

There's so much to see and explore on the way that we suggest spreading it over 2-3 days. Moreover, there are opportunities to extend this wonderful road trip further, venturing to even more stunning National Parks and offbeat attractions along the way.

Sunset panorama across Alpine and Sul Ross State University
Marvel at the beautiful sunsets across Alpine once you arrive in this scenic and exciting city.
Silvio Ligutti/

Best road trip route from El Paso to Marfa and Alpine

Both routes from El Paso to Marfa and Alpine take you through varied landscapes with unique attractions, so choosing between them depends on the kind of experiences you're seeking.

The Direct Route is shorter and more straightforward, taking you from El Paso to Alpine through the heart of West Texas. You will discover the historic Clark Hotel Museum in Van Horn and the pop-culture phenomenon Prada Marfa, along the way.

You'll also have the chance to visit the famous Marfa Lights Viewing Area and explore the innovative art at The Chinati Foundation and Ballroom Marfa.

This route will also lead you through Fort Davis National Historic Site, Davis Mountains State Park, and the McDonald Observatory, offering both historical sites and awe-inspiring views of the Texan landscape, especially past the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center and Botanical Gardens.

Take the longer Carlsbad Caverns Route, and you will pass several hidden gems of the Southwest. You'll have the chance to stop to explore the breathtaking landscapes of Guadalupe Mountains National Park and The Salt Basin Dunes.

You can descend into the astonishing depths of Carlsbad Caverns National Park, visit the tranquil oasis of Rattlesnake Springs, and explore Living Desert Zoo and Gardens State Park.

Historic attractions like the Pecos River Flume and Historic Old Town in Fort Stockton offer a trip back in time, as does the informative Museum of the Big Bend and local culture at the Catchlight Art Gallery.

How to drive from El Paso to Marfa and Alpine

The map above shows our suggestions for the best road trip routes between El Paso, Marfa and Alpine. Keep reading for detailed descriptions of both routes, where to stay on either, and the best things to do on the way.

The Direct Route

From El Paso head southeast out of El Paso on Interstate 10 (I-10) until you reach the small town of Van Horn. Here, you can step back in time with a visit to the historic Clark Hotel Museum.

Continue on the I-10 to the artistic installation of Prada Marfa, an unconventional roadside attraction that's a must-see for art and fashion enthusiasts.

Not far from here you'll head along US-90 to the small town of Marfa, a hub of minimalist art housed within The Chinati Foundation and Ballroom Marfa.

The next day go along TX-17 and TX-118 and make your way to Fort Davis. Here, you can immerse yourself in history at the Fort Davis National Historic Site, and take a scenic drive through Davis Mountains State Park, visiting McDonald Observatory for some stargazing.

From the McDonald Observatory, your journey heads southwest towards Alpine along TX-118, passing stunning West Texan scenery to Alpine.

Rugged surroundings and historic buildings dotted across of Fort Davis National Historic Site, Alpine, Texas
Stop off and explore the preserved Fort Davis National Historic Site, packed with exhibits and artifacts. A must visit for any history fans.
William Silver/

The Carlsbad Caverns Route

The Carlsbad Caverns Route starts east from El Paso along Interstate-10 (I-10), with your first stop at the quirky Cornudas Cafe. It's a classic highway pit stop where you can grab a snack before heading back onto the open road.

From Cornudas, take US-62 to Guadalupe Mountains National Park. This area provides stunning landscapes of the mountains and make sure to check out Salt Basin Dunes, a beautiful spot in the park that's unlike anything else in Texas.

As you continue heading east, you'll cross the state border into New Mexico and arrive at Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

Here, you can explore the magnificent limestone caves and enjoy Rattlesnake Springs, a picturesque and quiet oasis in the desert known for bird-watching, before heading on to Carlsbad, where you can explore the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens State Park.

After a night or two in interesting and scenic Carlsbad, head back into Texas via US-285 southwest where you can take a short detour to Fort Stockton along I-10, for a stroll through the Historic Old Town and visit the Sul Ross Desk at the Fort Stockton Historic District.

As you venture west to Alpine, make sure to stop at the Museum of the Big Bend and Catchlight Art Gallery before marveling at Marfa Lights Viewing Area, providing you with one final chance to spot the mysterious lights dancing across the desert sky before arriving in Marfa.

Underground pathway through the Big Room, with green and blue lights marking the way along Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico
Take the Carlsbad Caverns Route and you can immerse yourself in the underground world of limestone caves, which really are a spectacle.
Doug Meek/

Best places to stop between El Paso and Marfa and Alpine

Although this is a fairly short journey, as you travel the incredible route between El Paso, Marfa and Alpine take the chance to better explore the areas you pass with an overnight stop along the way.

You might find that a day or two turns into longer with so much to see and do along this memorable road trip!

Mysterious lights and minimalist art in Marfa

Marfa, around three hours into The Direct Route from El Paso to Alpine, is a perfect place to take a break. Known for its mysterious ghost lights and modern art, this cool and quirky city in the middle of the Texas desert will captivate you with its charm.

The star of this route is the artsy city of Marfa itself, with its eclectic mix of modern culture and historic southwestern charm. The Chinati Foundation, a contemporary art museum founded by artist Donald Judd, houses large-scale works by a limited number of artists.

View outside Tiny Target roadside attraction, with abandoned trolley and remote surroundings
As you make this journey you can enjoy viewing many art installations including the famous Marfa Target store.
Janet Murrill/

Another highlight is the Marfa Lights Viewing Area, which offers a chance to witness the enigmatic Marfa Lights, a phenomenon of unexplained lights often seen dancing on the horizon at night. Gaze into the night sky and see if you can spot these unusual lights for yourself.

Be sure not to overlook Prada Marfa, a unique art installation that mimics a Prada boutique and is located off U.S. Highway 90. Just outside Marfa, another art installation, often referred to as the "Target Marfa" or the "Marfa Target", can also be found.

While visiting Marfa, we suggest staying at the fabulous El Cosmico. This unique accommodation is more than just a hotel, it offers vintage trailers, safari tents, and teepees for an unforgettable stay.

Relax next to the outdoor fireplace for an evening of stargazing or live music, and make sure to sign up for yoga classes under the desert skies. With its top location right off the highway and close to central Marfa, you're never far from dining options and local attractions.

Explore Carlsbad above and below the ground

Carlsbad, about halfway through The Carlsbad Caverns Route from El Paso to Marfa, is a fantastic place to pause your journey. Renowned for the Carlsbad Caverns National Park right on its doorstep, this city is home to numerous caves and has a unique appeal for nature lovers.

The star of this route is undoubtedly the Carlsbad Caverns National Park. This UNESCO World Heritage site offers a rare glimpse into an underground world of unique geological features, formed over millions of years.

Landscape across The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens State Park
Make a visit to the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens State Park, teeming with wildlife and fun for all the family.
Mariusz S. Jurgielewicz/

Another must-see is the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens State Park. This unique zoo showcases native animal species and plants found within the Chihuahuan Desert. It's a perfect place for families and nature enthusiasts to explore and learn.

You should also take the opportunity to visit the Pecos River, which flows right through Carlsbad. A special boat tour allows visitors to enjoy the festive decorations from the end of November until the end of December, drawing thousands of visitors each year.

While visiting Carlsbad, we suggest staying at the TownePlace Suites by Marriott. This modern hotel offers relaxing outdoor pools to freshen up in after exploring the neighboring Carlsbad Caverns or Guadalupe Mountains National Park.

Begin each day with a delicious breakfast served, and come evening, unwind on the outdoor terrace by the fireplace. The hotel's prime location along the main route through Carlsbad means you are close to top attractions, including Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

Where to stay when you reach Alpine

Perched in the scenic high desert of Texas, Alpine is often called the "Gateway to the Big Bend" due to its proximity to Big Bend National Park. This charming city is a paradise for outdoor lovers, offering plenty of hiking, camping, and stargazing opportunities.

Beyond its geographical allure, Alpine is steeped in history and culture. Stroll around downtown Alpine and Historic Murphy Street, taking in the lively atmosphere of this West Texas gem. The Museum of the Big Bend, located on the Sul Ross State University campus, showcases the natural and cultural history of the Big Bend region.

For a bit of local fun, consider visiting during the annual "Alpine Cowboys Poetry Gathering." This quirky event brings together cowboys and poets from all over to celebrate the traditions, lifestyle, and culture of the American cowboy.

After exploring Alpine, unwind at the Hotel Parker at Quarter Circle 7, an ideal place to rest on your road trip. From its location, you can soak up panoramic views overlooking Alpine, or enjoy a massage in the on-site wellness center and dip in the year-round indoor swimming pool.

This hotel is a short drive to key attractions such as the Museum of Big Bend, Sul Ross State University, and Marfa Lights Viewing Center.

Things to see on a road trip from El Paso and Marfa and Alpine

Although a short road trip, it is still charming, with plenty of exciting sites to see along the way. Keep reading to see all the best places to stop off and explore en route.

The Direct Route

  1. Clark Hotel Museum, Van Horn - Originally a hotel built in 1901, this building in Van Horn, Texas, has been converted into a museum showcasing the rich history and culture of the town, with exhibits including native American artifacts, pioneer-era antiques, and memorabilia from the Old West.
  2. Prada Marfa - Prada Marfa, an art installation in the Texan desert, is a surreal sight that blends fashion and architecture. This remote "store" showcases Prada's iconic handbags and shoes, frozen in time. A quirky and unexpected stop, it's a must-see for art enthusiasts and Instagram aficionados alike.
  3. The Chinati Foundation - Located in Marfa, Texas, this is a captivating contemporary art museum housed in a former military base. Its vast collection includes large-scale installations by renowned artists like Donald Judd, Dan Flavin, and John Chamberlain, offering a unique and immersive art experience amidst the rugged desert landscape.
  4. Marfa Lights Viewing Area - This dedicated area offers a mesmerizing spectacle of unexplained phenomena. Witness the mysterious dancing lights that have baffled scientists for decades, as they flicker and float across the vast Texan desert. A must-visit for those seeking an otherworldly experience on their road trip.
  5. Ballroom Marfa - A renowned art space in the desert town of Marfa, Texas, this venue presents cutting-edge exhibits in visual arts, film, music, and performance, promoting creative innovation and cultural understanding.
  6. Fort Davis National Historic Site - A captivating destination for history enthusiasts. Step back in time as you explore the remarkably preserved 19th-century military post, complete with original buildings and artifacts. Discover the rich stories of Buffalo Soldiers and experience the rugged beauty of the Texas frontier.
  7. Davis Mountains State Park, Fort Davis - A hidden gem nestled in the rugged beauty of West Texas. With its towering peaks, breathtaking vistas, and miles of hiking trails, this park offers outdoor enthusiasts a chance to explore the unique flora and fauna of the Chihuahuan Desert. Don't miss the chance to stargaze under the darkest skies in Texas at the park's McDonald Observatory.
  8. McDonald Observatory - Experience the wonders of the cosmos at McDonald Observatory, Fort Davis. This world-class astronomical research facility offers breathtaking stargazing events, interactive exhibits, and guided tours, making it a must-visit for space enthusiasts and curious minds alike.
  9. Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center and Botanical Gardens - Located near Fort Davis in Texas, this center offers a captivating exploration of the region's biodiversity, including a botanical garden, greenhouse, and several miles of hiking trails for an immersive experience of the desert ecosystem.
The quirky art installation
This journey has plenty of quirky stop-offs, including the renowned Prada Marfa, where you can enjoy some window shopping!

The Carlsbad Caverns Route

  1. Cornudas Cafe - Situated along U.S. Route 62 in Texas, this historic roadside diner offers classic American fare and provides a glimpse into the local culture and past, boasting a distinct 1950s ambiance.
  2. Guadalupe Mountains National Park - Located in Texas, is a stunning natural wonder boasting rugged peaks, deep canyons, and diverse wildlife. With over 80 miles of hiking trails, it offers outdoor enthusiasts a chance to explore its unique geological formations and experience the beauty of the Chihuahuan Desert.
  3. The Salt Basin Dunes, Guadalupe Mountains National Park - A striking gypsum dune field in West Texas located in a national park, visitors can explore the dunes and enjoy the rare sight of nocturnal wildlife, and it also provides stunning views during sunrise and sunset.
  4. Carlsbad Caverns National Park - A stunning underground wonderland located in New Mexico. It features a vast network of limestone caves, including the famous Big Room, adorned with breathtaking stalactites and stalagmites. Visitors can explore the caverns through guided tours and witness the mesmerizing beauty of this natural treasure.
  5. Rattlesnake Springs - Tucked away in the desert landscapes of New Mexico, this wildlife refuge is known for its lush greenery and abundant bird species, attracting bird watchers and nature lovers for its tranquility and diverse wildlife.
  6. Living Desert Zoo and Gardens State Park - Discover the awe-inspiring Living Desert Zoo and Gardens State Park on your road trip. Immerse yourself in the enchanting beauty of the Chihuahuan Desert, where you can witness elusive wildlife, explore stunning botanical gardens, and even encounter ancient petroglyphs etched into the rugged landscape.
  7. Pecos River Flume - Known as the "Aqueduct" or the "Water Bridge", this cantilevered concrete aqueduct in Carlsbad, New Mexico, completed in 1890, is a testament to the engineering prowess of the 19th century.
  8. Orla Ghost Town - A hidden gem on your road trip, Orla beckons with its eerie allure. Explore the remnants of a once-thriving mining community, now frozen in time. Witness dilapidated buildings, rusted machinery, and a haunting silence that transports you to a forgotten era.
  9. Historic Old Town, Fort Stockton - Discover the allure of Historic Old Town, Fort Stockton, where the echoes of the Wild West still resonate. Immerse yourself in the rich history of this frontier town, exploring its well-preserved adobe buildings, saloons, and the iconic Annie Riggs Memorial Museum. Uncover the untold stories of cowboys, outlaws, and pioneers, and experience the spirit of the Old West firsthand.
  10. The Sul Ross Desk - A historic artifact located in a university's library in Alpine, Texas, this desk signifies the rich academic heritage of the university, named after a Civil War general and Texas governor.
  11. Museum of the Big Bend - Situated on a university campus in Alpine, Texas, this museum is a treasure trove of exhibits showcasing the natural history, cultural heritage, and artistic evolution of the Big Bend region, with interactive displays for both adults and children.
  12. Catchlight Art Gallery - An art lover's haven located in Alpine, Texas, this gallery showcases a wide array of artworks from local and regional artists, including paintings, photography, ceramics, and glasswork.
Wide view across Guadalupe Mountains National Park, with mountains in the distance and desert landscape in the foreground
Take in the incredible views and landscape of Guadalupe Mountains National Park, the ideal place for hiking and wildlife spotting.
Brendan van Son/

Best time to go on a road trip from El Paso, to Marfa and Alpine

Heading along the open roads of Texas may not be a journey you'd want to embark upon year-round. While these charming towns in the Lone Star State are brimming with attractions that lure visitors, it's essential to consider the seasonal factors.

Summer in both Marfa and Alpine is an experience filled with long, warm days, ideal for exploring outdoor attractions and taking in the vibrant hues of the desert. Average daily high temperatures in Marfa and Alpine sit comfortably above 85 degrees Fahrenheit from May through September, making it a fantastic season for your trip.

Close up view of abandoned teacher desk with expansive Alpine desert view in the background
This fun journey is short but very sweet, with plenty of interesting stop offs along the highway.

However, be prepared for the heat. Carry plenty of water and use ample sun protection. Also, remember that summer is the peak tourist season, so while the towns will be bustling with life, some attractions may be crowded.

Winter in Marfa and Alpine can be a bit harsh, with average temperatures just above freezing and the possibility of snow. This weather might make some of the outdoor attractions less enjoyable. If you do not like the cold or snow-covered landscapes, you might want to skip the winter months for this road trip.

Spring and fall in Marfa and Alpine are beautiful, offering pleasant temperatures that are just right for exploring. These periods can also be less crowded than the peak summer season, making your journey more leisurely and peaceful. Plus, there's a good chance you'll find more affordable rates for hotels and attractions during these times.

Marfa hosts the Marfa Film Festival in July, and the Chinati Open House Weekend in October, a celebration of art installations. In Alpine, you can enjoy events like the Viva Big Bend Music Festival in July and Big Bend Ranch Rodeo in August.