Happy Friday everyone!! I’m finally getting around to sharing my travel guide for El Paso, and am so excited to share a bunch of pictures and recommendations for you guys! I love love love reading blogger’s travel guides for destinations around the world and always take notes for future reference.
If you haven’t been following along with me for awhile, the reason I even went to El Paso last summer and this summer is because my sister and her husband are currently living in El Paso until the end of the year while my brother-in-law is finishing up his time in the Army. He is currently stationed in Fort Bliss, which is the army base the city was essentially built around. So the main motivation was to visit them, but my sister showed us around and took us on some pretty awesome adventures. Last summer I flew down with one of my sister’s best friends and this year I brought my teenage niece, Maddie along.
Now I figure El Paso isn’t high up on anyone’s travel bucket list (it definitely wasn’t even on my radar before my sister and brother-in-law were living there), but it’s actually a really cool destination! Even though El Paso is a pretty remote city, it is HUGE! It is just as big and modern a city as Denver, Nashville, Portland, etc. and has nearly every store, hotel and restaurant chain imaginable. When I visited for the first time last July, I was so surprised at how big of a city it is. Therefore, it is actually easy to fill an entire itinerary with awesome things to do here! Whether for a few days, or a week or two or more.
HOW TO GET THERE
The easiest way to get to El Paso is to fly into the El Paso Airport (ELP). Because it is such a remotely located city, this holds true for even most major cities in Texas. Flying from Houston or Dallas takes just shy of an hour and a half, while driving would take you between 9 and 10 hours. It still blows my mind that Texas is such a big state!
WHERE TO EAT
To help save money, we ended up eating a lot of our meals at my sister’s apartment. And when we weren’t doing that we ended up eating at a lot of chain restaurants that they have everywhere (Subway, Panda Express, Chili’s, etc.) so unfortunately I don’t have a ton of El Paso specific restaurants to report on. We did make it to a few cool places though!
Hana Banana: There are a few locations throughout El Paso, and from what I understand this place is exclusive to El Paso. Definitely make a trip here at least once!! We easily made 4 or 5 trips here throughout our 2 weeks because it is so good. It basically is a small crepe and smoothie shop that makes everything fresh as it’s ordered. They also serve shakes, bubble tea, and coffees. The interior of the shops are very cute, but they also have a drive-thru for added convenience. My absolute favorites that I got every time and still have cravings for were the Honeydew Boba Tea & Banana Pina Coco shake. Fresh, delicious and super refreshing in the west Texas heat! My sister got one of the dessert crepes and loved it as well. Don’t leave with making a trip here.
Crave Kitchen & Bar: My sister was excited to take us here for lunch, promising us a really cool restaurant with great food. It didn’t disappoint. The building inside and out is very modern and the eclectic menu, while relatively small, is delicious. There are 4 different locations throughout El Paso so find one and go! We would recommend the sweet potato waffle fries, green chili mac & cheese, pina colada lemonade, and the rosemary watermelon agua fresca. Also if it’s not unbearably hot out, request to sit out on the patio.
Teppanyaki: If you like Chinese & Japanese food and enjoy buffets, this is a must do. This place is huge and there are so many selections. My brother-in-law is particularly fond of the sushi bar, while I really loved the salad bar and honey chicken. While not particularly unique, I was impressed with the food and atmosphere on both visits here.
El Taco Tote: This is a super popular fast food option in El Paso so I made my sister take us here for lunch one day. Though the prices are a little high, the food was really good. They have a whole menu, but the main draw are the taco plates. We got the plates that come with 2 tacos and the meat and shell of your choice and a side of rice and refried beans. The tacos come plain, but that’s when you make your way over to the complimentary toppings bar and fill up on the different sauces, lettuce, pico de gallo, etc. Overall, this is a pretty decent food option if you’re in the mood for tacos.
Corner Bakery Cafe: I don’t think this is a restaurant chain exclusive to El Paso, but seeing as how El Paso has no Panera anywhere, this was a delicious and pretty darn close alternative. With a menu very similar to a Panera, you can’t go wrong. They offered salads, sandwiches, soups, and baked goodies and everything we tried was fresh and delicious.
WHAT TO SEE/DO
White Sands National Monument: If you have time for a short 2 hour road trip north of El Paso, you’ll find one of the world’s great natural wonders just west of the city of Alamogordo, New Mexico. With a few different trails and a looped road through the dune fields, it’s easy to get lost in the beautiful bright white sands for a few hours. With mountains lining the background and dunes as far as the eye can see, White Sands is a definite must do day trip.
Trestle Recreation Area: A 45 minute beautiful drive east through the mountains, you’ll come upon the small mountain town of Cloudcroft. With a few cute shops such as The Apple Barn (the cherry apple cider slush is not to be missed!) and yummy little diners, the main attraction of the area it the Trestle trail in the Trestle Recreation Area. The trail, while moderately difficult with quite a few uphill switchbacks, is gorgeous. There are numerous lookouts along the trail where you can gaze out on tree covered mountains and a handful of old railroad trestles in awe.
Grindstone Lake: About another hour north of Cloudcroft, you’ll find the mountain town gem of Ruidoso, New Mexico. Nestled in the Lincoln National Forest, Ruidoso offers hours of fun for outdoor enthusiasts, with trails and lakes to explore. We only had time to check out Grindstone Lake, a man-made lake surrounded by mountains and trails. My sister’s dogs had a blast playing in the water, and my niece was brave enough to do some cliff jumping off the rocks at the one end of the lake. It was a beautiful place to explore.
Scenic Drive to Ski Apache: Near Ruidoso, in another small mountain town called Alto, is the locally famous ski lodge called Ski Apache. Popular for skiing and snowboarding in the winter, the lodge offers gondola rides, trails and a cafe during the summertime. We didn’t end up partaking in any of the activities at the lodge, but discovered that the actual hidden gem is the drive to the lodge. While researching things to do in the area, I didn’t remember seeing any description of the drive to the ski lodge. It ended up being a breathtaking (and mildly terrifying) windy 12 mile drive up and up into the mountains. You actually feel like you’re going the wrong way for awhile before finally seeing the lodge down the mountainside. But I can’t stress enough how gorgeous the views are. There were a few lookouts along the way once you get higher up and the views were unreal. The drive ended up being one of my favorite parts of our New Mexico weekend. I highly recommend it if you have the time.
Oliver Lee Memorial State Park: Right off of Highway 54 on the way out from or back to El Paso is another hidden gem that we almost didn’t stop at. We stopped on the way back to my sister’s apartment in the late afternoon and were so happy we did. This place was gorgeous. It’s nestled right in the mountains and the main draw here is Dog Canyon. The trail that takes you into the canyon is 11 miles roundtrip and incredibly strenuous, so needless to say we didn’t make it super far into the trail. But you don’t need to go very far up to see incredible views. I think we only made it a half mile up, but it’s all uphill switchbacks so you ascend really quickly. Definitely a must see! A word of caution though, this area was prime rattlesnake territory as there are signs posted, and while we didn’t see any we did hear quite a few rattles. Always be careful!
Franklin Mountains State Park: Lining or running through most of El Paso are the Franklin Mountains. The state park offers numerous different hiking trails and the Wyler Aerial Tramway.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park: Only 2 hours east of El Paso, you can’t not make the trip out to Carlsbad Caverns. The main draw of this national park is the main cave, offering the only self guided trail in the park. Make sure to go into the visitor center to pay the $10 per person fee (under 16 is free) to enter the cave otherwise you will get turned back by a ranger. Only water is allowed in the caves, no food or gum.
The cave is accessible by either the “Natural Entrance” which you can see in the above photos or by way of the elevator. If you choose to take the trail down into the natural entrance, be aware that it will take you about 45 minutes of walking down steep switchback trails to reach the cave floor. Likewise, if you choose to come up via the natural entrance, know that it is incredibly strenuous. We had planned to take the trail down into the cave and then take the elevator back up, however the elevator wasn’t operating on the day we went (which sucked). We hadn’t thought to check ahead of time, but we were there and weren’t not going to check out the cave. I’ll be honest, going down was fine other than being hard on the knees, but coming back up sucked. Granted I am not the most physically fit person, but it was very difficult. Also, not that it affected us, but strollers are not allowed and we saw a lot of parents having to carry their toddler or baby all the way back up. And it didn’t look fun.
The cave though, was incredible. I’ve never seen anything like it. All of the different formations, the darkness, the complete quiet. It was amazing. Walking down, doing the mile and half trail down below and coming back up took us about 3 hours, so you’ll want to allow yourself enough time. Also, there are restrooms and a little food kiosk selling drinks and snacks down in the cave. Which is super cool!
Guadalupe Mountains National Park: This national park is on the same highway as Carlsbad Caverns and is only about an hour away from the other. If you have time, even an hour, stop and check this place out. It is gorgeous! It doesn’t seem like it would be anything special, but it absolutely is. My sister has done the hike to Guadalupe Peak, which is all uphill switchbacks and takes about 6 hours to complete roundtrip. Since we had stopped here on our way back to El Paso from Carlsbad Caverns, we were much too worn out to attempt that trail that day, so we opted for a shorter and much easier trail called Devil’s Hall. I can’t recommend this trail enough, it was absolutely stunning. It winds you into the mountains, with trees, grass, mountains, and wild desert flowers surrounding you at every turn. We were there as the sun was beginning to set and the light cast on the mountains was breathtaking. This park was one of my favorite parts of the entire trip!
Hueco Tanks State Park: Last on my list of El Paso must-dos is Hueco Tanks. Only half an hour or so east of El Paso, this historical site features a very impressive and delicate landscape. Before getting access to any of the trails, every visitor is required to watch a 15 minute introductory and educational video at the visitor center. This place is a must visit for sure. The hiking is not super clear cut, but involves scaling some rocks and really getting in there. The views from the top are beautiful and not to be missed.
Hope you found this El Paso travel guide to be helpful! If you have any questions for me or think there’s something I should add, let me know in the comments!
Thanks for following along & have a great weekend!! xoxo