El Paso offers outdoor adventures and a fascinating glimpse of life here hundreds of years before Texas became a state. Here are the best things to see and do.
Travelers have stopped in El Paso for more than 10,000 years, leaving behind ancient art, gorgeous missions and a vibrant hole-in-the-wall culinary scene that blends authentic Mexican recipes with fresh chiles and sauces.
Start your day by heading to H&H Car Wash and Coffee Shop to get your car hand-washed while you enjoy a typical El Paso-style breakfast. With turquoise countertops and tables and bright red stools, this vintage diner hasn’t changed much since it opened in 1958.
Franklin Mountains State Park
Next, get a bird’s-eye view of this city when you hike in Franklin Mountains State Park. Little known fact: the park is the nation’s largest urban park. At the top, enjoy stellar views of Texas, Mexico and New Mexico.
You’ll explore the Chihuahuan Desert landscape dotted with cacti, calliope hummingbirds and golden eagles when you visit Franklin Mountains State Park. Put on sturdy walking shoes and explore amazing hiking trails, including the 1.2-mile out-and-back trail to Aztec Cave, which you can stand in.
Very experienced hikers will enjoy El Paso’s most challenging hike: the half-day trek past two caves on the Ron Coleman Trail via McKelligon Canyon. At the top, you’ll see into two countries and three states. Hike from south to north to use the chain assists on your uphill rather than your downhill on a near-vertical rock face.
Explore the El Paso Mission Trail
The nine-mile El Paso Mission Trail connects two of the nation’s oldest continuously operated missions: Ysleta Mission built in 1682 and Socorro Mission built in 1691.
Amid fire and perennial flooding from the Rio Grande floodplain, Ysleta Mission is one of the nation’s longest continuously occupied religious buildings. It’s filled with symbols of the Tigua Indian community that settled in the area after the 1680 New Mexico Pueblo Revolt. Look for the statue of Kateri Tekakwitha, the Catholic Church’s sole Native American saint. Don’t miss San Elizario Presidio Chapel where the presidio, a Spanish fort, was built in 1789. Call ahead to each mission for hours of operation as they differ.
Visit Hueco Tanks State Park & Historic Site
Afterwards, visit Hueco Tanks State Park & Historic Site, home to world-renowned bouldering and ancient paintings and carvings. This gorgeous state park is world-renowned for its bouldering [a form of climbing large boulders without ropes] and ancient rock paintings.
It’s well-worth visiting to watch the climbers and to see the park’s Native American art. Hundreds of years ago, Native Americans sought water in the boulder’s huecos [naturally occurring holes]. Because the park limits the number of people who enter the North Mountain area every day to 70, call ahead up to 90 days in advance to reserve your spot, especially during peak climbing season that runs from October through February. The permit phone number is (512) 389-8911.
Explore Red Sands near El Paso
Thirty-four million years ago, an ocean covered the Red Sands area west of Hueco Tanks State Park & Historic Site. Today, it’s a fantastic off-road desert riding area. Stop by Rent A UTV Off-Road Adventures located at the Red Sands entrance to rent a UTV or to go on a 1.5 or 2.5-hour guided tour.
Afterwards, have some of the best steak in the region at the family-friendly Cattleman’s Steakhouse at Indian Cliffs Ranch. It’s on a working ranch in the Texas desert, but you can also spend time at the petting zoo, see horses, bison and longhorns and go on a hayride while you’re there. It’s just 35 minutes back to downtown El Paso.
Vineyards and Museums in El Paso
Don’t miss visiting a local vineyard while you are in the area. Sip wine at Zin Valley Vineyards where local musicians play tunes while visitors picnic on Sunday afternoons. El Paso’s first vineyards were actually planted nearly 400 years ago by Spanish Franciscan priests.
Cool down in the El Paso Museum of History, which tells the border area’s rich, multinational and multicultural history. Don’t miss the DIGIE, a giant 3-D touch-sensitive TV screen filled with photographs and videos of the area’s past and present.
Lastly, arrive hungry at Kiki’s Mexican Restaurant where the unofficial slogan is “Pig out! We’ll make more.” Try Kiki’s Famous Machaca, which is chicken, brisket or crab with tomatoes, green chiles, green sauce and cheese.
Events in El Paso
For those looking for adventure, check out the El Paso Puzzler, a mountain bike race that offers 50-mile, 35-mile and 15-mile courses through rocky terrain, single-track and some roads. In 2019, the races kick off Jan. 20 from Bowen Ranch Round House. Need time to train? Make it a goal to complete one of the courses next year.
In February every year, climbers from all over descend on Hueco Rock Ranch for the Hueco Rock Rodeo. Held from Feb. 14-16, 2020, the 27th climbing festival features a bouldering competition, clinics, dance parties, artists market, gear demos and more. The clinics and climbing competitions will take place inside Hueco Tanks State Park.
In the summer, stop by the El Paso County Fair, which includes equestrian events, auto races, live music, food and a rodeo. In 2019, the fair will be held July 13-20 and the Ranch Rodeo will be held on July 13. The first county fair was held in 1905 with travelers arriving by wagon to the festivities. Over the years, the fair has grown and modernized to today’s 7-day action-packed festivities.
Learn more at visitelpaso.com or at The Union Depot Visitor Information Center, 400 W. San Antonio. The Airport Visitor Information Center is inside the El Paso International Airport in the main lobby.