There is a historic hotel hidden in the Davis Mountains out in West Texas. It’s the perfect play to stay for hikers, mountain bikers, nature lovers, and star enthusiasts who would rather stay in comfort than in a tent or cabin. The Indian Lodge is a West Texas getaway for anyone seeking some adventure or relaxation while being surrounded by mountains.
Indian Lodge: A West Texas Getaway
Address: 16453 Park Rd. 3, Fort Davis, TX 79734
Located in the Davis Mountains State Park
There is no State Park entrance fee if you are staying at the Hotel
I have visited the Indian Lodge twice. My first visit was in the fall of 2013 with my now husband’s family. It’s a yearly getaway for his family. Some of my photos are from that trip. We weren’t able to join the family trip again until November 2018. The first time we visited we hiked, stopped by Balmorhea (was way too cold for swimming), visited Fort Davis, toured the Observatory, and did a lot of lounging. This past trip involved light hiking, some day trips, the star party at the Observatory (which I highly recommend) and a lot more lounging. There is plenty to do here, so a long weekend or a full week is best, especially if you drive here all the way from San Antonio, like we did.
If history is your thing, read below to learn about how this hotel in middle of the mountains came to being. Otherwise, scroll down to find out more about the hotel and things to do is this West Texas Oasis.
Indian Lodge History
Did you know that Texas did not have any State Parks prior to 1923? In fact, the development of National Parks didn’t happen until President Teddy Roosevelt made conservation of America’s land a priority in the late 1800s. As the automobile became more popular and affordable in the early 1900s, Americans began exploring the country and enjoying a newfound freedom more than ever before. But driving long distances had its challenges. One of which was overnight lodging. One man in Texas knew this better than anyone: Governor Pat Neff, the first governor to campaign by car across the state. Seeing a need for roadside camping, he created the Texas States Parks Board. His efforts to purchase or have land donated for State Parks was put on hold, however, when the Great Depression hit the country. Governor Neff’s dream would soon be realized with the election of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932.
The Indian Lodge was built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The CCC was a program “spearheaded by the Works Progress Administration” under President Roosevelt’s “New Deal”. The Texas Civilian Conservation Corps provided work to young men during the depression. These men focused on building parks and preserving natural resources. The CCC developed 41 State Parks between 1933 and 1942; twenty-nine still exist today. One of these parks is the Davis Mountains State Park. The park was one of the earliest projects undertaken by the CCC in Texas. The Indian Lodge sits inside the park, and was one of the many sites constructed by the CCC during this time.
The pueblo inspired adobe hotel was opened in 1939. Three years shy of being ready for the “1936 Texas Centennial” which celebrated the 100 year anniversary of Texas’s independence. Texas was able to piggyback off of many New Deal projects occurring around the state to help prepare for this state-wide celebration. The Indian Lodge and Davis Mountains State Park were just two of the projects undertaken by the state. You can find memorial museums, 20 bronze statues, 45 monuments (“many in the modern Art Deco or Nouveau styles”), 16 restored historic sites, park improvements, and community centers all over Texas thanks to this enterprise.
Each CCC park and building was designed with nature in mind. Local materials were used, each project was designed to fit into its surroundings, and hand-made tools were used in each construction project. Every park is unique. The Indian Lodge is like no other in Texas. The hotel was designed as a “sixteen-room pueblo-style hotel set on the north slope of Keesey Canyon” in the Davis Mountains.
You can find photos throughout the hotel of the men in the CCC working on the Indian Lodge and Davis Mountains Park.
After reconstruction completed in 1965, the Indian Lodge now has 39 rooms to accommodate guests who want to explore West Texas. Along with the additional 24 rooms, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, added a dining room, meeting room, and swimming pool to the grounds.
I love visiting the Indian Lodge during the fall and winter months. Not only is the weather not sweltering, but the hotel has a ski lodge atmosphere, perfect for a cozy evening, curled up with a book by the fire or sitting on the balcony watching the sunset.
The Lodge was built using adobe blocks made on site. After checking-in, you’re likely going to pass through the plaza-like courtyard on the way to your room. Off the courtyard is the lounge, where you’ll find the only working fireplaces. The beams you see throughout the hotel are hand-hewn pine, matching the longleaf pine floors. The rooms are furnished with hand-carved cedar furniture built by the CCC in the shop at Bastrop State Park.
For a Map of the Indian Lodge, click here.
The Lobby is the heart of the Indian Lodge. Located in the center of the Lodge, you’re likely going to find yourself here several times during your stay. Not only is it very cozy, it is great at bringing your family and friends together — it’ll feel like what life was like before TV and Phones. There are games and puzzles stored in the lobby for guests to use during there stay. This is also where you can enjoy a fire on chilly evenings.
If you aren’t visiting the Lodge to unplug, the Lobby is where you’ll find WiFi.
Black Bear Restaurant
Added during the 1960s renovations, this full-service restaurant serves South Western style meals. Breakfast is served buffet style with the option to order from a menu. I’ve always been out and about during lunch time, so I can’t comment on lunch service.
If you plan on eating here, plan ahead. Breakfast ends at 10 am, so don’t sleep in too late. The restaurant closes at 2 pm so you’ll need to find dinner elsewhere. Breakfast also ends at 10 am, so don’t sleep in too late. You’ll be on your own on Mondays (and possibly Tuesdays), too, as the restaurant is closed.
When making reservations, you can stay in the Historic section or the newer section of the hotel. The historic section includes the original rooms built during the 1930s and have a traditional adobe style fireplace (for decoration only). The rooms numbered in the 100s are the original rooms.
These rooms are very comfy and cozy, but they’re still a little rustic. Some of the amenities in the room include: shower/bath, towels, hair dryer, coffee pot, heating and cooling, a TV, and a telephone (which you’ll likely need if you’re traveling with other people as cell service is limited). There is only weak WiFi available in the Lounge.
Tip: Bring your own coffee and tumblers. Don’t forget scissors for opening the coffee bag, a clip to close it, and a spoon for scooping. Pack some hot cocoa for those chilly evenings!
Things to Do During Your Stay at the Indian Lodge
(1) Fort Davis National Historic Site
Address: 101 Lt. Flipper Dr. , Fort Davis
Hours: 8 am – 5 pm
Fee: $7 per person, good for 7 days
Fort Davis was once an American frontier military post during the ‘Indian Wars‘. This term refers to the conflicts between whites and Native Americans over the span of United State’s history. They began with the arrival of European settlers and include wars between rival European nations attempting to claim land in the “New World”. During the late 1700’s, the threat to Native American populations came from the newly created United States of America and a desire to expand West. With the acquisition of Texas and more lands in the Southwest territories during the 1840s, the situation between American settlers and Native Americans became especially volatile. As more and more people moved West, the government built outposts along many of the roads.
Fort Davis was named for, then U.S. Secretary of War, Jefferson Davis. “From 1854 until 1891, troops stationed at the post protected emigrants, freighters, mail coaches, and travelers on the San Antonio-El Paso Road hoping to reach the gold fields of California.” During the Civil War, the fort was occupied by Confederate soldiers until, one year later, the Union took possession once again. By the 1880’s, “Fort Davis had become a major installation with more than 100 structures, and quarters for more than 400 soldiers.”
As the government removed the native American populations, the original need for the fort no longer existed. In June 1891, “Fort Davis was ordered abandoned, having ‘outlived its usefulness.'” It wasn’t until “[s]eventy years later, in 1961, [that] the fort was authorized as a national historic site.”
I visited the Fort in 2013 during my first visit to the Indian Lodge. It was a brief visit. We were only there for access to a trailhead (see more about hiking below). If you’re interested in learning more about a bleak time in our history, consider visiting the Fort. Let me know your impressions after your visit!
(2) Swimming at the Lodge
There is a pool at the Indian Lodge to enjoy on a warm Texas day, or for the polar bear swimmers in the winter. But if you’re not a polar bear swimmer, leave your suit at home because there is no hot tub at this pool.
(3) Hiking in the State Park
There are several trails to choose from in the Davis Mountains State Park. Some of these trailheads can be found within short walking distance from your room at the Indian Lodge. For a map of trails, click here. Some of these trails allow for bike riding.
Skyline Drive Trail (2.6 miles)
I highly recommend this longer hike because it offers the best views. There’s one catch however, the trailhead locations. There is one entrance somewhat close to the Indian Lodge, but the other one, near the park entrance, starts at the top of the mountain ridge. Unless you want to extra hiking mileage and steep climb, I suggest the following:
(1) Have someone drive you to the Scenic Overlook trail head, then hike back down to towards the Indian Lodge. There is a paved road that guides people up to the Scenic Overlook (hence the name Skyline Drive) which is a popular sunset watching spot.
(2) Start at the trail head closest to the Indian Lodge, at ground level. Hike up the mountain and over to the Scenic Overlook/Trailhead. Then have someone pick you up and drive you back to the lodge. The trail is slightly over 2 miles, so you can give someone an estimated end time.
(3) For the hiking enthusiasts who think this trail is a piece of cake, hike the whole thing! It won’t matter where you start, but you can choose whether to hike up the steep slope to the overlook, or down the slope at the end.
(4) Last option is to have someone drive you to Fort Davis. There is an access trail in Fort Davis that leads up the mountain and west to the scenic overlook. Warning, this is a very steep climb and may not be the best option for every hiker.
Indian Lodge Trail (approx. 2 miles)
Located behind the Lodge, this is the easiest trail to access. The trail 1.37 miles before you reach a fork in the trail. If you take the Montezuma Quail trail, you’ll have only another .34 mile of hiking before you reach the main road. Or you can continue straight for .56 mile to finish the trail. (Or turn around and head back to the Lodge). There’s a great overlook spot where the two trails meet. You can also get great photos of the Lodge in the distance.
Montezuma Quail Trail
This trail connects with the Indian Lodge trail for those looking for a longer hike. Otherwise, this is the shortest hike available. But, it can be a steep climb, so choose your starting point wisely.
Old CCC Trail
This is one trail that I have not hiked during my visits to the Lodge. I believe its a flat trail, so if you’re looking for an easy walk, this may be the one for you. But if views are what you’re looking for, maybe save this one for another time.
Tip: You’ll want to pack hiking boots for these trails. Though not difficult, the trails are very rocky. Also, pack water and reusable water bottles for hiking and walking around the Lodge. Don’t forget bug repellent and sunscreen, even in the winter months. Be on the lookout for Canyon treefrogs, black-tailed rattlesnakes, mule deer and mountain lions.
(4) Watch Sunset from Skyline Drive
If hiking isn’t your thing, you can drive to the top of one of the mountains in the park and watch the sunset. To get there, you’ll drive through the campsites and look for the “Skyline Drive” sign (Park Road 3A). For a map of the park, click here.
(5) McDonald Observatory (20 min from Lodge)
Address: 3640 Dark Sky Drive, Fort Davis, TX 79734
Visitor Center Hours: 10:00 am – 5:00 pm; Star Party 30 min prior to twilight on Tuesday, Friday, Saturday
Take a tour! You can choose a guided or self-guided tour, or attend different programs offered by the Observatory. Guided tours include safely viewing the sun, visiting the Hobby-Eberly Telescope (HET), learning about how telescopes are operated. Tours can range from 50 minutes to 2.5 hours long, depending on what you choose and the weather.
There are a lot of telescopes that have been built at the McDonald Observatory since its opening in the 1930s. You find out more about them, here. The HET telescope is probably the most notable of them. It’s the world’s largest optical telescope to date.
Attend a Star Party! Tickets are required (pay attention to weather forecasts).
Star parties are a popular attraction. Reserve your tickets in advance! During a star party, guests sit outside on cement benches looking up at the sky as an instructor points out different constellations and galaxies. When the presentation is over, you are free to visit multiple telescopes that are set up around the Visitor’s Center. Some of these are permanent structures while others are brought in by guests. Each telescope points at different points of interest in the sky, from the moon to planets to galaxies.
Keep in mind that the phase of the moon will have a big impact on how many stars you’ll be able to see. Also, the only light permitted during the star party are the red lights along pathways, so keep your cell phones dark, don’t use flash, and definitely do not bring flash lights.
Tips for Winter Star Gazing: Bring a blanket for sitting on, a blanket for wrapping up in, toe/hand warmers, and a headlamp with a red light option to help you find your way back to the car. If you have enough hands bring your own hot beverage, otherwise you can purchase some in the lobby. Don’t forget your camera, tripod, and shutter release remotes for star photos. I definitely remembered by tripod but forgot the shutter release so my pics came out a little blurry.
(6) Day Trip to Marfa, TX (30 min. from Lodge)
Marfa used to be known for the Marfa Lights, but recently its become famous for it’s art scene, most notably an art installation (Prada Marfa) outside of the town, thanks to its popularity on Instagram. During our stay in 2018, we took a day trip to Marfa with the rest of the family, but didn’t plan things very well. Most places were closed. Also, the Prada Marfa was 35 miles out of the way. In the end, we spent a few hours walking around, eating lunch, and driving back to the Indian Lodge to catch sunset on Skyline Drive.
Park near the Courthouse, near Highland Street, then walk down Highland and E. San Antonio to see most of what this small town has to offer.
Things to Do & See in Marfa:
- Appreciate the Arts-
- Visit the Chinati Foundation and Judd Foundation to see Donald Judd’s large-scale art installations alongside other artists’ exhibitions.
- Pop into art galleries while you’re strolling through town. You can find free Marfa Gallery Guides around town to help you decide on which galleries you’d like to visit. Also, check out the Marfa Gallery Guide’s blog to learn more. One gallery, which is close to my Pizza Place recommendation, is Ballroom Marfa.
- Some galleries require appointments so plan ahead.
- Check when galleries are open before you visit Marfa. We visited on a Sunday and most places were closed.
- For a list of art galleries, click here.
- Go Shopping-
- My husband and I no longer buy souvenirs that you can find at airports or on every corner in the cities we visit. We much prefer buying something locally made and unique, usually a piece or art. Marfa has so many boutiques and stops for you to browse through that it’s easy to find the perfect non-souvenir souvenir.
- For a list of shops, click here.
- We did some window shopping in the stores inside Hotel Paisano and one more on our way to the Pizza Foundation.
- See the Marfa Lights
- Website: https://www.visitmarfa.com/marfa-lights/
- Located 9 miles east of town, along U.S. 90, towards Alpine. There is a building, the Viewing Area, for visitors to stay at as they wait for the lights to appear.
- Attend the Marfa Lights Festival (you can find info by visiting the website above).
- If you can’t attend the festival, visit the Viewing Area around twilight for a glimpse of the mystery lights along the horizon.
Where to eat on the weekend: Pizza Foundation
Address: 305 S Spring St, Marfa, TX 79843
Hours: Open Friday-Sunday 1 pm – 9 pm only
Located on the outskirts of town, it’s best to drive to this location (though walking worked for us). I also suggest calling ahead to place your order, then eat inside. It’s a popular place, so your wait may be pretty long if you order when you arrive. The pizzas are huge, so come hungry!
(Below are pics of me (who dressed way too warmly) and my sister-in-law, @catecreative)
Prada Marfa is actually located in Valentine, TX. (14880 US-90, Valentine, TX 79854), a 30 minute drive outside of Marfa. To find out more about this installation, check out the website here.
(7) Visit Alpine, TX (35 min from Lodge)
Have you ever heard of Alpine, Texas? Me neither until I visited the Indian Lodge in 2013.
Where to Eat:
We drove out to this tiny town for lunch at the Reata Restaurant. The restaurant has a more famous second location in Fort Worth, TX, too. It’s name, Reata, is Spanish for “rope” and is named after the ranch in the 1956 movie “Giant“, starring James Dean, Rod Taylor, Rock Hudson, and Elizabeth Taylor. The movie was filmed on ta ranch in the area surrounding Alpine and Marfa, hence the love affair with the Western drama.
Another restaurant option in Alpine is Century Bar & Grill inside the Holland Hotel.
Visit the Museum of the Big Bend
Address: Sul Ross State University, Entrance Four from Harrison Street.
Hours: Tuesday – Saturday 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Sunday 1 p.m. – 5 p.m.; Monday Closed
There are several exhibits at the Big Bend Museum, but the main draw for most is the Big Bend Legacy. The exhibit takes visitors on a journey through natural and human history in the Big Bend area.
“The Museum’s mission – to collect, preserve, exhibit, and interpret the cultural artifacts of the region – began in earnest with the Museum’s construction in 1937, a project funded by the Texas Centennial Commission and assisted by the Works Progress Administration.” There are plans to expand the museum even more, so make plans to visit again in the future.
(8) Swim at Balmorhea State Park (40 min from Lodge)
Address: 9207 TX-17, Toyahvale, TX 79786
Fee: $7 /adult
Hours: 8 am to 7:30 pm (or sunset, whichever occurs first)
Another Civilian Conservation Corps project, this large natural pool is a popular haven for cooling off in the desert. Balmorhea features the “world’s largest spring-fed swimming pool.” The pool covers 1.3 acres and holds 3.5 million gallons of water. Fed from the San Solomon Springs, the pool stays at 72 to 76 degrees year-round. The 25 feet deep, crystal clear waters makes it a great scuba diving destination, too.
There are 34 campsites and lodging available at the park as well.
The photos above are from my very quick visit in 2013. When we drove past the park in the fall of 2018, renovations were underway on the pool and campsites.
Adventures Further From the Indian Lodge:
(1) Big Bend National Park (2 hr drive south)
Address: The Park is huge. Start at Panther Junction Visitor’s Center at 310, Alsate Dr, Big Bend National Park, TX 79834
Not recommended as a day trip. Plan ahead with reservations and gear.
Big Bend is a Texas treasure. It’s vast landscape features mountains and desert plains sprawling over 801,163 acres along the Rio Grande. It is the 15th largest national park. This massive parks offers visitors plenty to do and see.
Here’s a few things you can do on a visit:
1) Day Hikes
2) Backcountry activities: horeback riding, mountain biking, river trips, and backpacking
3) River Trips
4) Scenic Drives
5) Bird Watching
6) Stargazing – Big Bend has the lowest light pollution of any National Park in the lower 48 states. You’re likely going to see the Milk Way in all its glory while camping at Big Bend.
Big Bend is on my camping bucket list.
(2) Monahans Sandhills State Park (2 hr drive north)
Address: Park Rd. 41, Monahans, TX 79756
Fee: $4 / adult
If you’e always wanted to visit the White Sands National Park in New Mexico, but can’t make it there, then this Texas State Park is for you!
Enjoy a picnic, camp overnight, sled down the dunes, and take pictures during your visit.
When we last visited the Indian Lodge, I wanted to make a detour to the Sandhills are on our way home. But the distance and time required to enjoy our time at the park, made it less than practical if we wanted to get to San Antonio at a decent hour. Maybe our next visit to the Indian Lodge will include a day trip to the Sandhills.
Where to Eat in Fort Davis:
If the Black Bear Restaurant is closed, you’re likely going to be eating in town. Here’s a few options:
(1) Fort Davis General Store – Best for Breakfast
Address: 113 State St, Fort Davis, TX 79734
Summer Hours: Sun – Thurs 7:30 a.m to 8 p.m.; Fri – Sat 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
(2) Blue Mountain Bistro – Best for Dinner
Address: 100 North State Street, Fort Davis, TX 79734
Hours: Mon., Tues, Thurs. 5 to 9 pm; Friday – Sunday 3 to 9 pm; Closed Wednesdays
(3) The Porch – Breakfast or Lunch on the weekend
Address: 100 State St, Fort Davis, TX 79734
Hours: Saturday and Sunday 7:30 am to 2 pm
Have you stayed at the Indian Lodge? Let me know your favorite experience in the comments!