Texas Mountain Ride!

The mountains in Far West Texas are a surprise to most people, and they provide easy climbs and thrilling descents through charming small communities with real cowboys and ranchers. We’ve got a great three-day ride through unspoiled mountain scenery, in the historic path of Comanche and Buffalo Soldiers and modern hipsters, on smooth roads with no traffic. Sound good?

Day One - Marathon, TX to Fort Davis, TX (via Alpine, TX); 54.1 miles - view the Google map

Start your journey in Marathon (pop. 400) a historic ranching town, and gateway to Big Bend National Park. Before heading out, most cyclists visit the French Co. Grocery for last minute bike and camping supplies and provisions.

Bikes at French Co. Grocery, Marathon, TX (taken by Marci Roberts, March 2011)

From here, you follow the route Buffalo Soldiers used to patrol the region, providing safe passage for stagecoaches heading west -- now Hwy 90 to Alpine, and Hwy 118 to Fort Davis. Comanche, Kiowa and Apache warriors raided the area when early settlers were making their homes here, and when folks passed through on their way to California to make their fortune in the Gold Rush of 1849.

Mitre Peak between Alpine and Fort Davis, TX (taken by Beth Nobles, November 2008)

While in Alpine, be sure to stop at the Museum of the Big Bend, for a fun, comprehensive introduction to the prehistory, history and culture of the area. Head on into Fort Davis for the night, after an easy 54 miles for the day, and a visit to the best-preserved frontier fort in the West, Fort Davis National Historic Site.

Fort Davis National Historic Site (taken by Beth Nobles, December 2010)

Spend the night in Fort Davis -- a National Trust for Historic Preservation-designated “Distinctive Destination, pop. 1050 -- at any of our Texas Mountain Trail cycle-friendly hotels, B&Bs or historic motor courts

Cycle-friendly Indian Lodge Hotel in Davis Mountains State Park, Fort Davis, TX (taken by Beth Nobles, February 2009)

Day Two - Fort Davis, TX to Marfa, TX; 21.3 miles - view the Google map

Because you’ll want to linger in Fort Davis a bit, day 2 is an easy 21 miles down Hwy 17 to Marfa (pop. 2000). (Head down unpaved Fort Street on your way out of town, and you’re on the historic San Antonio-El Paso Road and the Butterfield Overland Mail Route.)

Blooming Cholla cactus forest (from Fort Davis to Marfa), (taken by Beth Nobles, June 2010)

In the 1960s, minimalist artist Donald Judd established the Chinati Foundation to provide a home for groundbreaking visual art. You’ll want to spend time here too, to take in Marfa’s sun-kissed adobe downtown, climb the 88 steps to the top of the Presidio County Courthouse for a bird’s eye view of the area, or tour Judd’s legacy, the Chinati Foundation. Built on the site of Fort D.A. Russell, which was established during the Mexican Revolution and active during World War II, Chinati offers a visual art experience unparalleled outside New York City. Or you could just sit in local restaurants and watch old ranchers interact with the young hipsters who’ve come to Marfa for its art, and the scene.

Day Three - Marfa, TX to Alpine, TX to Marathon, TX; 57.1 miles - view the Google map

Next morning, head back to Alpine (pop. 6500) on Hwy. 90 and enjoy a leisurely visit of this charming mountain community -- home to Sul Ross State University. There are lots of places to explore, including the Murphy Street Raspa Co. for cool shaved ice treats. If your bike needs some care, stop at the region’s only bike shop, Bikeman, on the way into town on Holland Avenue.

Cyclists Jon Gondreau (of Cleveland, OH and Austin, TX) and Brooks Jones III (of Cleveland, OH)
on Hwy 90 between Marfa and Alpine, TX (taken by Beth Nobles, April 2011)

Then, ride parallel to the train tracks back to Marathon, through expansive ranchland and spectacular mountains. Treat yourself to a stay at the historic 1927 cattleman’s Gage Hotel, now a luxury accommodation.

Historic Gage Hotel Courtyard, Marathon TX (taken by Beth Nobles, December 2009)

If you need more miles on the road, try a 10 mile roundtrip Ride to the Post, a Texas Mountain Trail heritage bike ride to a modern-day oasis and Buffalo Soldier encampment.

Get more information about bike overnights.

Best bike shop? Bikeman at 602 W Holland Avenue, Alpine, TX 79830, (432) 837-5050. Some supplies/bike repair/equipment also available at French Co. Grocery, Marathon, TX; and at Old Schoolhouse Bed and Breakfast, Fort Davis, TX.

15 responses so far ↓

John Pierce - May 11, 2011 at 8:38 AM

Great photos!

gerry - May 18, 2011 at 4:33 PM

Sounds and looks like a fun ride. I see one of the pics is dated April 2011; What is the best time(s) of year to ride that area before it get real hot?

Darrell Robertson - May 20, 2011 at 5:59 AM

I recently rode from El Paso back to my home in Houston. The route included much of what is mentioned in this article. I highly recommend this route. The traffic volume is light and the people you meet along the way are extremely friendly. The scenery is beautiful and, at times, charming.

Beth Nobles, Texas Mountain Trail - May 20, 2011 at 6:25 AM

Gerry, Beth here, from the Texas Mountain Trail. Actually anytime of year works for this ride. We have a high altitude (mile high at the highest) desert environment, which means we have cool mornings and evenings, even in the worst heat of the summer. Yesterday, we had temps in the 90s late in the afternoon, yet this morning at 8:30 am, we're only in the low 60s. Our overnight temp was in the low 50s and this is one of our hottest months. Mid-late summer the rains come and things cool off. We do sometimes have high winds in March and April, but we also have still-as-tomb days in those months as well. We have riders doing this route year round...even in the winter, because of our moderate temperatures and almost-perfect weather. Does this help?

Beth Nobles, Texas Mountain Trail - May 20, 2011 at 6:27 AM

Darrell, we completely agree! Thank you for chiming in with your experience with the route. And we failed to add in our itinerary that most of that route has recently been worked on by the highway department...smoooth asphalt surface most of the way!

Bike Hermit - May 20, 2011 at 6:46 AM

Texas is a great state to ride bikes. The drivers are bicycle aware and the shoulders on this route are literally additional "courtesy" lanes. And don't forget the Chisos Mountains in Big Bend!

Beth Nobles, Texas Mountain Trail - May 23, 2011 at 9:10 AM

Beth, here from the Texas Mountain Trail...we just learned that one great attraction (Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center) on the road from Alpine to Fort Davis on this route is going to complete a paving project to their visitors center, making it possible for road cyclists to visit it for the first time! Paving should be complete June 2...don't miss this great place-- www.cdri.org

Ray Feyen - May 30, 2011 at 1:59 PM

Sounds like a great trip, Are you aware of any "public facilities" where you can put a tent up overnight ?

Beth Nobles, Texas Mountain Trail - May 30, 2011 at 2:06 PM

Ray, to answer your question, yes! Fort Davis has Davis Mountains State Park (http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/spdest/findadest/parks/davis_mountains/) , and in Marfa, tent camping is available at El Cosmico (http://www.elcosmico.com/tentcamping.php) for the overnights!

Darlene - Apr 15, 2012 at 8:05 AM

Is this a bike ride for a road bike?

Beth Nobles, Texas Mountain Trail - Apr 15, 2012 at 8:07 AM

Yes, it is Darlene. This is a great route for a road bike!

Blair Kellner - Apr 22, 2012 at 9:33 AM

What other challenges are there, other than the Paisano Pass, the ten mile stretch between Marfa and Alpine?

Beth Nobles, Texas Mountain Trail - Apr 22, 2012 at 9:57 AM

Blair, if you're looking for more challenge than the route outlined, we might suggest adding another day and tackling the 74 mile Scenic Loop with Fort Davis as the starting and ending point. The Loop takes you through incredible scenery on a road with light vehicular traffic, as well as by the McDonald Observatory at 6,790 feet. The Observatory climb is widely believed to be one of the highlights of cycling in Texas! Check out this page on the Texas Mountain Trail website, in the biking section: http://www.texasmountaintrail.com/index.aspx?page=1680

Ron Kokish - Dec 9, 2014 at 5:55 AM

Did this ride mid fall a couple of years ago. Very nice. The Indian Lodge was a great place to stay. Actually, all the places we stayed were very nice and the locals were quite welcoming.

Two things to watch out for: Wind on the last day back to Marathon made the ride more difficult than than it appeared and Goat Thorns everywhere along the road cost us many hours fixing flats on our very tough Schwalbe Marathon tires. Do not take your bike off the pavement for an instant unless you are carrying it.

Zac Sprague - Jun 26, 2015 at 8:39 AM

Hi! Thanks for providing such a wonderful guide. I've been in love with the Davis Mountains for a long time, and I'm planning on heading out there for a ride soon. If starting in Marathon are there any appropriate places to park a leave a car? I'll be heading out there solo.

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