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12 Unique Things to Do in Terlingua, Texas (Terlingua Ghost Town)

Head deep into the heart of West Texas, and you will find the fun and quirky town of Terlingua, Texas, most commonly referred to as “Terlingua Ghost Town.”

This small Texas town is the perfect stop when visiting the Big Bend National Park area, exploring the Rio Grande, or checking out other West Texas towns like Marfa and Alpine.

What started as a quicksilver mining town in the 1880s has become one of Texas’s most famous ghost towns and is on many Texas road trip itineraries.

As one of the closest places to stay near Big Bend National Park, Terlingua, Texas, has gained popularity as one of the premier tourist towns in Texas.

A mecca for backpackers, glampers, tourists, and artists, the small town of Terlingua lives up to its motto, ‘Viva Terlingua.’

Let’s dive into all the fun and unique things to do in Terlingua, Texas!

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    History of Terlingua Ghost Town

    Terlingua, Texas, sprang to life when the Cinnabar, the raw metal used to make mercury, was discovered in the Chisos Mountain Range.

    Mining companies flocked to the area, and with them, miners and their families.

    During World War I, the Chisos Mining Company helped to create a booming mining industry in the Chisos Mountains, creating a quickly formed boom town in Terlingua, Texas.

    This boom continued until the Chisos Mining Company filed for bankruptcy after World War II.

    This caused the miners and their families to seek jobs elsewhere, thus turning Terlingua, Texas, into a ghost town.

    Things to Do in Terlingua, Texas

    1. Visit the Terlingua Cemetery

    For a unique perspective on the area’s history, you have to visit the Terlingua Cemetery.

    Located just below the ghost town, this cemetery is unlike any other we have visited in the United States.

    That explains why it is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.

    You won’t find perfectly manicured lawns or beautifully ornate headstones in this cemetery.

    Instead, you will find scattered graves marked with wooden crosses and homemade adornments.

    The majority of the graves here are miners who perished during mining accidents or people who died from the 1918-1919 influenza epidemic.

    As you wander among the graves scattered without rhyme or reason to their placement, notice the unique trinkets left on them.

    They seem to tell a story of the deceased, guiding one to the intrinsic personalities of the people in the graves.

    2. Explore the Terlingua Ghost Town Site

    While there isn’t much to do in the ghost town site itself, you can’t come all the way to Terlingua and not explore it.

    Take time to walk around the ruins of the old mining district town.

    Explore the ruins of the houses and see how the locals that first settled in this area once lived.

    3. Eat at The Starlight Theatre and Saloon

    The historic Starlight Theatre and Saloon is not only the centerpiece of Terlingua, it is also one of the most popular tourist attractions in the town.

    The Starlight Theatre was constructed in the early 1900s as a live entertainment venue. The establishment offered some much-needed downtime for the miners of the area.

    Today, The Starlight is part event center and part restaurant, and definitely a favorite watering hole for locals.

    During your visit, you can enjoy a savory burger or steak while enjoying some live entertainment and a cocktail or two.

    If you have a party of ten or larger, call ahead and make a reservation, as The Starlight gets extremely crowded.

    4. Explore the Art Scene

    Like many small Texas towns, Terlingua has a thriving art scene.

    Granted, the Terlingua art scene differs from that in big cities like Houston, Austin, Dallas, or Fort Worth, but it is still well worth some of your time.

    We loved visiting Earth and Fire Gallery in Terlingua.

    Earth and Fire Gallery is an eclectic mix of local artists, selling everything from beautiful jewelry to unique paintings.

    Their collection of Mexican pottery was so beautiful I wanted to take home every piece!

    You can also check out Terlingua Gallery to purchase paintings related to the unique landscape of Terlingua and the Big Bend National Park area.

    5. Visit St. Agnes Church

    When you consider that the mining community of Terlingua is located in a Catholic religious region, it makes sense that one of the buildings still standing among the ruins today is a church.

    Formerly known as the Chisos Mission, the church was renamed the St. Agnes Church in 1914.

    Standing on a hill overlooking the town, the St. Agnes Church is a gathering place for the community and the Terlingua area.

    6. Grab Cocktails at High Sierra Bar and Grill

    If you are in the mood for a laid-back atmosphere and no-frills food, then the High Sierra Bar and Grill is the answer.

    Pull up a seat and enjoy a juicy burger paired with an ice-cold beer as you listen to live music.

    High Sierra boasts a great outdoor patio area in addition to its indoor seating as well!

    7. Enjoy Live Music and BBQ at DB’s Rustic Iron BBQ

    DB’s Rustic Iron BBQ serves delicious slow-smoked meat and some incredible sides.

    When you combine this great bbq with the live music that often plays at DB’s, you have the makings for a fun evening out in Terlingua, TX.

    We had the brisket (which practically melted in your mouth) and the smoked sausage during our visit. Both were amazing, and the portions were HUGE, so be prepared.

    8. Check Out the Terlingua Chili Cook-Off

    Chili heads and spicy food lovers will not want to miss this Terlingua, TX event!

    The annual Terlingua Chili Cook-Off started in 1967 to draw tourists back to Terlingua.

    This cook-off earned Terlingua the title of “Chili Capital of the World,” according to the Chili Appreciation Society International.

    The event takes place over four days, with the cook-off winner crowned on the first Saturday in November.

    The cook-off is located at the Rancho CASI de los Chisos in the heart of Terlingua, TX, so you can’t miss it.

    Not only do locals compete, but so do the local restaurants, so you can eat chili until your heart is content when you add this to your trip itinerary!

    9. Stay in a Luxury Glamping Cabin

    If you’re like me and your idea of camping includes air conditioning and running water, then a luxury glamping experience might be more your style when compared to camping at traditional campgrounds.

    Luckily, a fabulous set of glamping cabins is in Terlingua, Camp Elena.

    “Camping” at Camp Elena means a weekend of rest and relaxation with fabulous amenities at your fingertips.

    Each luxury glamping cabin at Camp Elena offers breathtaking views of the local mountain ranges, a small kitchenette, a luxurious bathroom with all the amenities, a fire pit, a private parking space, and a small front porch.

    The private deck at the Camp Elena property is perfect for enjoying wine while watching the sunset or checking out the gorgeous night sky.

    We enjoyed spending a weekend at the Camp Elena property during our visit to Big Bend.

    Marty loved gazing at the night sky through the telescope they provided, and I loved sitting by the fire pit roasting s’mores.

    Camp Elena is truly my kind of “camping” and one of the reasons that Terlingua and the Big Bend area made our list of romantic getaways in Texas!

    10. Grab Tacos at Taqueria El Milagro

    If tacos are on your mind, Taqueria El Milagro is the place to go in Terlingua, TX.

    You know you are in for delicious tacos when you visit a place this close to the Mexican border, and I am here to tell you that Taqueria El Milagro delivers.

    Try out their traditional tacos like roasted chicken and barbacoa, or go for something unique like a prickly pear taco; the choice is yours!

    Of course, I loved that the establishment is also BYOB!

    11. Shop at the Terlingua Trading Company Store

    For those who love to shop while visiting a new area, head to the Terlingua Trading Company.

    This fun trading post is located next door to the Starlight Theatre and is the perfect place to grab your favorite Terlingua souvenir.

    The store is a true nod to the past thanks to its location in the old Terlingua Trading Company.

    12. Grab Coffee at Espresso Y Poco Mas

    Translated to “Espresso and a little bit more,” Espresso Y Poco Mas serves delicious coffee creations, freshly squeezed juice, and smoothies.

    If you’re hungry, don’t miss out on their breakfast and lunch items.

    The great food and drinks are served with a smile, and some incredible views of the Chisos Mountains and the Chihuahuan Desert.

    When Is the Best Time to Visit Terlingua?

    The peak season to visit Terlingua is late October through April.

    During this time frame, the temperatures are mild. Visitors can expect warm days and cool nights in the desert terrain during their trip this time of year.

    May through October in Terlingua means hot temperatures.

    If you aren’t a fan of the scorching desert heat, I would avoid this area during this time frame.

    Honestly, this is a great place to experience fall in Texas!

    The summer also brings about snakes, tarantulas, and swarms of bugs. So, avoid this area during the summer if that isn’t your thing.

    The Rio Grande River surrounding Terlingua and in the national park also has a less dependable water supply during the summer, so if floating and or camping by the Rio Grande River is on your list, you better avoid the heat of the summer.

    I would also advise against visiting during any school holiday, especially Spring Break, as the Big Bend area can get crowded with families exploring Big Bend National Park.

    How Do You Get to Terlingua, Texas?

    Getting to Terlingua from anywhere will be a long drive, so grab your road trip essentials, cue up your songs about travel, and settle in because you’re in for a drive if you plan to visit far West Texas.

    From our hometown of Fort Worth, the journey takes about 8.5 hours. From Austin, Texas, you are looking at an 8-hour drive, and from places along the Texas coast like Galveston, you are in for an 11-hour drive.

    If you plan to fly into the area, the El Paso International Airport. Once you arrive and secure a rental car, you have a 5-hour drive ahead.

    Once here, you can enjoy camping in Big Bend National Park or Big Bend Ranch State Park, you can hire river guides to float the Rio Grande River or enjoy some mountain biking or hiking.

    Tips For First-Time Visitors to Terlingua

    Dress Appropriately

    Remember that this area is the desert, so bring layers. The days are warm, but the nights are cool.

    Don’t Count On Having Cell Service

    Cell phone service is hit-and-miss throughout Terlingua and much of the Big Bend area. With that in mind, don’t rely strictly on cell service.

    Be sure to download offline maps and be prepared with necessities in case of an emergency. You will be without telephone service in Terlingua and much of the National Park, so please be prepared.

    Get Supplies in Advance

    There aren’t any real grocery stores in Terlingua, so be sure to get your supplies prior to heading to town.

    If you need something, these convenience stores sell necessities, but you will pay a higher price.

    There is also the Cottonwood General Store just east of town on Highway 118, where you can find necessities like bread, pasta, wine, etc.

    Make Reservations In Advance for Accommodations

    While more and more short-term rental properties are appearing in Terlingua, securing your accommodations well in advance is still important.

    This is especially true if you are picky, like me.

    I require air conditioning and accommodations with modern comforts, amenities, and conveniences. These places fill up first, so plan in advance!

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    Michelle Snell founder of That Texas Couple and Totally Texas Travel

    About The Author

    Michelle Snell is a travel writer, history buff, wine lover, and enthusiast of different cultures. Michelle enjoys bringing places to life through her informative writing style on her blogs, That Texas Couple and Totally Texas Travel.  Her practical tips and suggestions help make travel dreams a reality while immersing her readers in the history, culture, and food of a region.  She is happiest sipping wine in Italy or chilling on a beach with her husband, Marty.


    Sunday 21st of May 2023

    Looks like that town has such character. I'd love to visit the ghost town and the saloon!


    Sunday 21st of May 2023

    It's so quirky and fun! Thanks for checking out the article, Ashley!


    Sunday 21st of May 2023

    Great info! Saving for later this year!


    Sunday 21st of May 2023

    Thanks so much, Shannon!


    Saturday 20th of May 2023

    What a quaint town to explore. Glamping with wine at sunset definitely sounds up my alley haha. The taco place sounds delicious place to eat at the end of the day. The cemetery sounds like a unique way to learn about the history of the town.


    Sunday 21st of May 2023

    It is a super small town and can be explored in a day or two. It's so fun to just hang out in though.

    Becci Abroad

    Saturday 20th of May 2023

    Wow, it sounds so cool and scary at the same time! I have never heard of Terlingua, but I will definitely put it on my list for a future visit to Texas!

    And wouldn't want to miss trying out the tacos at Taqueria El Milagro, they sound so yummy! Thank you for sharing!


    Sunday 21st of May 2023

    It's such a fun and quirky little town. Thanks for checking it out, Becci!