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A Very Scenic Section Of Highway 170 In West Texas

A Scenic West Texas Road Trip: Presidio to Lajitas

A scenic west Texas road trip took us well off the beaten path. Although we had an itinerary, it was loose enough that we could change plans – and that’s exactly what we did when we had a closer look at the map.

Instead of rushing to Terlingua, a ghost mining town made famous by discoveries of quick silver (mercury), we meandered down Route 67 to Presidio, a much larger town than the map would suggest, on the US-Mexico border and from there enjoyed a very scenic Texas road trip traveling through to Big Bend National Park.

A Scenic Drive in West Texas: Presidio to Lajitas
An inauspicious start in Presidio

A scenic west Texas road trip

One of the most scenic drives in North America, at least according to National Geographic, is the 50 mile stretch on Highway 170. It starts in Presidio – exactly how I imagined a US – Mexico border town to be – hot, dry, dusty and lacking in civic pride.

But it gets better fast once you leave Presidio. I think its scenic but not as good as National Geographic makes it out to be.

The road itself is Highway 170, or the River Road. It follows the international border, squeezed between the Rio Grande and the hills and mountains of Big Bend Ranch State Park. It’s winding with plenty of those drops that leave your stomach behind – if you’re going fast enough. Lots of motorcyclists and Porsches were seen, probably because it’s such a fun road to drive.

Note: There are no services between Presidio and Lajitas.

A Texas road trip where you'll have to appreciate desert scenery to enjoy it
You’ll have to appreciate desert scenery to enjoy this part of the west Texas road trip
A Scenic Drive in West Texas: Presidio to Lajitas
If you speed on these roads you will leave your stomach behind
Plenty of green along the river and lots of elevation change on this Texas road trip
Plenty of green along the river and lots of elevation change
"Ocotillo blooming in April seen on a Texas road trip
Ocotillo blooming in April
A Scenic Drive in West Texas: Presidio to Lajitas
Lots of interesting rock formations to admire

Big Bend Ranch State Park – a great place for a hike

Much of the drive is through Big Bend Ranch State Park, the largest state park in Texas, covering over 300,000 acres.

If the weather is cool then there are a few big hikes to do including the very strenuous 19 mile Rancher Loop that takes you through the heart of the park. It was very hot when we were there (~100°F) so we opted for the short hike up and back on the Closed Canyon Trail.

The hike takes you down a narrow canyon which in places is no wider than your arms when outstretched. Even in the heat of the day there is some shade so don’t let a hot day keep you from doing this. We stopped when there were big, slippery boulders to climb and figured it was best to turn around.

A Scenic Drive in West Texas: Presidio to Lajitas
Hiking in Closed Canyon – Big Bend Ranch State Park

The photo you see below is of a western style movie set. It was constructed in 1985 for the filming of the movie Uphill All the Way, starring Roy Clark, Mel Tillis and Burl Ives. Since then nine more movies have been filmed here including Rio Diablo, Dead Man’s Walk and Streets of Laredo.

Western style movie set in west Texas
Western style movie set
The scenic section of this part of a Texas road trip ends in Lajitas
The scenic section ends in Lajitas but icy cold drinks and beer await

Enjoy this drive. There is haze – a combination of heat, dust and pollution from power plants in Mexico, but it’s still an interesting and very lovely drive. People who love the desert will love this drive.

For further information on travel in Texas visit the state tourism website.

Terlingua in west Texas
Terlingua in west Texas at the southern end of the road is a good place to stay

Further reading on things to do in Texas

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest board.

A Scenic Drive in West Texas: Presidio to Lajitas


Leigh McAdam

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 61,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. I’ve seen the Rio Grande from El Paso. It was a fascinating experience to see what a huge contrast from the US to Mexico separated by the river.

    As for my favorite drive, one of the most beautiful has to be anywhere along the central coast of California on Highway 1 near Carmel and Monterey.

    1. I’m with you on the California Coast drive. I think that has to rank in the top 10 in the US. I was disappointed that the Rio Grande wasn’t as grande as I imagined it to be. With 95% of the water now removed, one can only imagine how impressive a river it used to be. You’re right about the contrast along the border. We drove at night towards Marfa and while there was nothing to see on the US side for about an hour, we could see lights twinkling on the Mexico side during that time frame.

  2. If you continue driving past Presidio, the drive is really cool. It goes past an old mission in Riudosa and eventually to Candelaria, once visited by supreme court justice/naturalist William Douglas. On a private ranch there’s a 90 foot waterfall called Capote Falls, primitive beautiful austere

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