Photos by The Dani Creative
Hello from Terlingua! A couple of months ago, I made the road trip across Texas to Marfa and Terlingua and you guys asked for this guide. Terlingua is a small ghost town located near the Rio Grande and the villages of Lajitas and Study Butte, Texas, as well as the Mexican state of Chihuahua – 64.98 miles from Marathon, 83.4 mi from Alpine, 485.4 miles (8 hours) from Austin, and 109.5 miles (1 hour 45 minutes) from Marfa. I really wanted to hike Big Bend National Park and the closest city was Terlingua so I booked us two nights here.
Terlingua ghost town started as a small mining town in the 1880s when it was discovered that the area was plentiful in cinnabar, a red-mercury sulfide, from which mercury can be extracted. This caused an influx of miners to the area, but it wasn’t until Jack Dawson’s discovery and production of the area’s first mercury in 1888 that it drew a population of 2,000 and by 1900 there were four mining companies in the area. By the second World War, the Chisos Mining Company had filed for bankruptcy and then the city became a ghost town. In 1967 the world’s first Chili Cook-Off was held here, and thus Terlingua gave birth to the now-famous event.
This small town currently has a population of 82 with only a couple of restaurants, Big Bend National Park, optimal stargazing, and a panoramic view of the Chisos Mountains. If you’re looking for a getaway to the middle of nowhere, I highly recommend Terlingua.
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Where to stay in Terlingua
If you are looking for an elevated glamping experience focused on sustainability, high-end amenities, and connecting with the outdoors, Camp Elena has 4 tented cabins that each overlook the Big Bend mountain ranges. The cabins complement the landscape and make you really feel the magic of Big Bend while you enjoy a glass of wine on the shaded deck or s’mores by the fire pit. Camp Elena is conveniently located minutes from the heart of Terlingua Ghost Town and the Big Bend National Park entrance.
Amenities for each cabin:
- En suite kitchen and bathroom
- Coyuchi linens and Aesop soaps
- Private shaded deck with grill
- Telescope & outdoor fire pit
40 ET Rd, Terlingua, TX 79852
I really wanted to stay at Willow House for its simple architecture and swinging bed overlooking the Chisos Mountain Range. There are only twelve casita desert retreats on 250 acres of private land and a communal Main House with a fully equipped gourmet kitchen. The property itself is really bare and simple but I think that’s the beauty of the experience to just fully experience the quietness of West Texas.
Making dinner in the communal kitchen and then going out to the swinging bed after midnight to stargaze was such a magical moment.
- Main House with a large gourmet kitchen, refrigerator, gas burning stove, double oven, microwave, dishwasher, and coffee maker
- Two covered patios with a grilling area
- Indoor-outdoor space with built-in benches
- Large fire pit
- Two outdoor showers
23112 FM170, Terlingua, TX 79852
Other places to stay in Terlingua
- Lajitas – golf resort
- Basecamp – cool glamping bubbles
- La Posada Milagro Guesthouse
- Really cool adobe huts on Airbnb – get $65 off your first booking!
Things to do in Terlingua
Popular outdoor activities include hiking, bird watching, photography, horseback riding, rafting, canoeing, and mountain biking.
Kayaking on the Rio Grande River
I really wanted to do SUP on the Rio Grande River but it was already out of season so we opted for kayaking through Far Flung Outdoor Center. Needless to say, it was quite the adventure that I didn’t sign up for. I didn’t know that the Rio Grande River would have rapids – I did survive the 3-hour kayaking adventure and would highly recommend SUP or kayaking on the Rio Grande River if you’re in Terlingua. Far Flung also offers other day tours.
Other local tour outfitter companies:
Hike Big Bend Ranch State Park – Big Bend is only 8 miles from Terlingua so it’s a quick drive. The park ranger highly recommended us to not use Google Maps when driving through the park and to use the paper map instead. Pack sunscreen and lots of water when you go hiking.
- Santa Elena Canyon – quick hike to a stunning view of the canyon that has the tallest cliffs forming the canyon wall—up to 1,500 feet. We did this hike first.
- Balanced Rock (Grapevine Hills Road) – 1.9 miles roundtrip that’s an easy to moderate hike to a boulder area. This was the second hike that we did on this trip in Big Bend and got to watch the sunset over the canyon. However, I do not recommend doing that unless you’re an experienced hiker because it’s a steep climb down in the dark and then a sprint back to the parking lot.
- Lost Mine Trail – 4.2 miles roundtrip that’s a moderate hike with amazing views
- Window Trail – 3.6 miles roundtrip that’s easy with an outlook viewpoint
- South Rim Trail – 12 miles roundtrip that’s strenuous but worth it
- Emory Peak Trail – 8.5 miles roundtrip that’s strenuous and moderately trafficked but has the best view
Stargaze at night – the Milky Way isn’t as prominent in Terlingua compared to Marfa but you can see just as many stars at night.
Boquillas Hot Spring – (closed when we were there due to COVID) hot springs located on the Rio Grande.
Mexican village of Boquillas – if you brought your passport, you can cross the Mexico border at Boquillas Crossing, and a guard will check your passport, and a man will take you across the river to explore the tiny town.
Fossil Discovery Exhibit designed by Lake Flato – experience the changes to Big Bend’s plants and animals through 130 million years of geologic time.
Where to eat in Terlingua
There are only a couple of restaurants in Terlingua but we enjoyed our meals at Starlight Theatre, Chili Pepper, and Espresso Y Poco Mas.
- Espresso Y Poco Mas – probably the only spot in Terlingua for coffee! We came here for lunch the day we were leaving and loved their asador burritos and tamales. Highly recommend getting the asador burritos to go to eat on the drive to Big Bend.
- Chili Pepper – one of the few spots open for lunch in Terlingua. We enjoyed the green chile and red chile pork at this local Mexican spot.
- Long Draw Pizza
- DB’s Rustic Iron BBQ
- Rio Bravo
- Starlight Theatre – a must-visit for dinner if you’re in Terlingua. The Chisos Movie Theater was originally constructed in the 1930’s to provide entertainment for the residents of Terlingua during the heyday of Quicksilver mining in the area. When the mines went bust in the late 1940s, the theater was abandoned. Years later, the roofing materials were sold as scrap and the building began deteriorating. When modern pioneers (naturalists, river guides, musicians, and artists) began to repopulate the Terlingua area, the theater found its calling once again as a gathering place for locals. The roofless old theater building provided a venue for open-air parties, jam sessions, concerts, and dances, as well as theatrical productions. Thus, the name, The Starlight Theater was born. We came here for dinner and the place was definitely the hot spot of the town. If you’re lucky, there is sometimes live music here.
- Taqueria El Milagro
- Rio Bravo
- La Kiva
- Cottonwood General Store – local grocery store
- Alon Gas Station