Located in the southwest corner of the Great Plains, El Paso, Texas is one of the largest cities within the Great Plains, and is home to almost 700,000 people. While there’s plenty to see and do in El Paso, you might find yourself wanting to explore beyond the city limits during a trip to the area. Luckily El Paso is also close to a number of other cool destinations, from small cities to national parks and monuments to ghost towns.
If you want to plan an escape from Chucotown, here are some of the best day trips from El Paso. Some will take you outside the Great Plains, but I chose to include them since they show how dynamic the landscape is for the cities on the edge of the Plains.
In this post, I promote travel to destinations that are the traditional lands of the Chiricahua Apache, Sumas, Mescalero Apache, Tampachoa (Mansos), Ndé Kónitsąąíí Gokíyaa (Lipan Apache), Piro, Piro/Manso/Tiwa Tribe, and Ndé Kónitsąąíí Gokíyaa (Lipan Apache) peoples. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.
Juárez doesn’t have a great reputation due to its association with cartels and violence when it comes to El Paso day trips. However, those who make the journey over the border to the Mexican city will encounter a beautiful surprise: catholic missions, quirky markets, and interesting museums.
As soon as you arrive, you can sip a margarita at Kentucky Club to get you in the right mood. In fact, Juarez is the birthplace of everyone’s favorite Mexican cocktail. You can then visit the Museo de la Revolución en la Frontera, a museum dedicated to tell the story of the Mexican Revolution. If you have the entire day to explore, drive a few extra miles and visit The Samalayuca Sand Dunes, the best thing by far to do in Juárez.
Las Cruces, New Mexico
Set on the edge of the Chihuahuan Desert, Las Cruces is a laid-back city in New Mexico. Las Cruces is one of the most accessible day trips from El Paso, sitting only 45 miles north of the Texas city. The charm of Las Cruces resides in its multicultural atmosphere. Its proximity to the border has made the city a melting pot where Mexican, Spanish, and Cowboy cultures collide.
There’s plenty to do during your stay. Visit Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park on summer days to escape the oven-hot weather. Wine lovers can sample American and European wines following the Mesilla Valley Wine Trail, featuring ten local wineries and wine-tasting venues. History buffs will have a blast at The Railroad Museum, which dives deep into railroading heritage in a historic Santa Fe Railroad Depot.
Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monuments
A day trip to the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument is the perfect getaway if you need some time away from the city’s hectic pace and lifestyle. Established in 2014, this monument encompasses the most stunning landscapes of the southern Rockies.
The geographical variety of the park is impressive. You have The Organ Mountains full of stunning rocky spires, The Doña Ana mountains with colorful desert flora and fauna, the Robledo’s with their canyons, and the Sierra de las Uvas with the petroglyphs.
It truly is a hiker and outdoor lover’s dream. If you’re up for a challenge, you can hike the Organ Needle, the high point in the complex, and get panoramic views from 9,000 feet high.
White Sands National Park
Nestled in the Tularosa Basin between the Sacramento and San Andres Mountain ranges, White Sands National Park is one of the newest National Parks in the U.S., having only gained its status in 2019. White Sands protects 145,000 acres of wave-like dunes of gypsum. The glistening white hills are a spectacle worth the drive.
Visitors can enjoy the magical dunes in a myriad of ways. You can hike around, watch the sunset, go backcountry camping, or hone your photography skills. Another way to see the park is by driving the Dunes Drive road. It covers 16 miles of scenic landscape and has designated spots to park along the way. The entire road takes around 45 minutes without stopping.
Truth or Consequences
Formerly known as Palomas Hot Springs, Truth or Consequences is one of the most relaxing day trips from El Paso. The city of Truth or Consequences has long been famous for its hot springs –now its former name makes a lot of sense, right?
Naturally, the city’s main attractions are the springs, and the wellness industry is the most developed here. There are uncountable resorts and spas in all price ranges in the Hot Springs Historic District, which comprises over ten thermal springs at 98 to 115 degrees.
Riverbend Hot Springs is a popular hotel offering open-air hot springs on the bank of the Río Grande. You can also check out Blackstone Hotsprings Lodging and Baths, whose shared spa, the Wet Room, boasts a mineral bath and a hot-water sauna, each with a waterfall.
Silver City, New Mexico
Silver City is an ideal place to soak in Old West vibes. The city was once a booming mining community with thousands of residents, and while its heydays are long gone, the historic district is full of surviving buildings that speak of that era. Your first stop should be the Silver City Museum. Here, you’ll learn all about the city’s mining stories and Western outlaws that called it home around the 1870s (like Billy the Kid).
Then, take a stroll through Big Ditch Park, the remains of the original main street left behind after a flood that surged through town. Informative boards explain what led up to the heart of downtown Silver City’s transformation into a deep channel.
You can also visit Gila National Forest for a day out in nature. It isn’t exactly in Silver City, but it is only an hour’s drive.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park
A quick getaway to Guadalupe Mountains National Park is one of the top El Paso day trips for hikers and outdoor lovers. A hidden gem, Guadalupe Mountains National Park has all you need to spend a lovely day in nature. Beautiful mountains, running creeks, and colorful flora. Hiking is the main activity here, and the park offers more than 80 miles of trails to explore.
Most of the park’s hiking trails are not for people with poor fitness levels. There are some short nature trails, but the vast majority of the trails are moderate to strenuous, taking most of the day. Plus, the terrain is rugged, adding extra difficulty. Also, be ready for extreme winds, so pack your windbreaker.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Make the drive to Carlsbad Caverns National Park and experience over 1000 bats flying out of the cave. The park features more than 100 caves, which over 17 bat species call home. The evening flight of the bats from the mouth of Carlsbad Caverns is spectacular. The bats surge from the cave in pulses and fly away to dine on bugs at the river just before dark. The bat fly is the park’s highlight. However, the caverns are just as fascinating. Visitors can take guided and self-guided tours to explore the caverns, about 700 feet below ground!
Science buffs will love making the drive to McDonald Observatory in Texas. It sits atop Mount Locke and Mount Fowlkes in the Davis Mountains, which is one of Texas’s darkest areas. Visitors can tour the facilities and surroundings from Tuesdays to Saturdays throughout the year.
However, the highlight of the observatory is its paid programs. Daytime programs include comprehensive talks about the history of the Sun, its formation, and what it will do over the next 5-6 billion years. Of course, the solar view finishes with safe views of the Sun through specially filtered telescopes.
You can also book the observatory’s star parties! It hosts them every Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday evening, and you get to explore the vast immensity of the galaxy in the company of knowledgeable astronomers.
The quirky Texas town of Marfa promises a day trip like no other. While the town is brimming with Wild West charm, Marfa is famous for being a major center for minimalist art. You’ll find tons of strange and sporadic art installations all over town.
One of the most famous is the Prada Marfa, a “store” of the famous Italian fashion house that appears out of nowhere while you drive along U.S. Route 90. Other art-related attractions are the Chinati Foundation and Judd Foundation. Both facilities house impressive artworks by World famous artists.
Marfa is also famous for the Marfa Lights, which are as strange as the art installations in the town. The Marfa Lights are mysterious glowing orbs that unexpectedly and inexplicably appear in the desert. They’ve been around since the 1880s, and no one really knows what they are. Some believe they’re UFOs. Others think they’re ghosts. You’ll have to draw your own conclusions.
Which of these El Paso day trips will you be planning? Have any questions about exploring beyond El Paso on a day trip? Let me know in the comments!