There’s a running joke about everything being big in Texas. But the truth is, Texas itself is one super-sized state. It took SheBuysTravel writer and Texas-resident Jill forty-something years to make it from San Antonio to El Paso (AKA Sun City) and she came back from her trip pleasantly surprised about all this West Texas city has to offer. She’s sharing some fun things to do with kids in El Paso Texas. Next time you’re on a Southwest road trip, consider stopping in El Paso or making it your planned destination.
I’m so happy we chose to explore El Paso, which is located in the far Western tip of Texas. Among the things that surprised our San Antonio family (in a good way) was how large the city is. El Paso (which means the pass in Spanish) is situated along the Rio Grande River and is home to almost 700,000 people. My kids and I spent three days in El Paso and we weren’t ready to leave when it was time to move on…always a solid indicator that good times were had. We’ll definitely be planning a return trip and look forward to adding to this list of fun things to do with kids in El Paso Texas.
1. The El Paso Zoo
The El Paso Zoo is focused on education, conservation, and helping us learn about ourselves and the environment through animal observation and interaction.
One of the things that impressed me most about the El Paso Zoo is the level of animal activity. We visited during the heat of the day and a great many of their animals were active. Also, their lion exhibit is really awesome. It’s a large habitat with several different viewing areas, so no matter when the lions (three females and one male) are hanging out, you’ll likely be able to see them up close. This is the absolute best big cat exhibit I’ve ever seen.
The El Paso Zoo has three different areas: Asia, Africa and The Americas. You can plan your visit out ahead of time by checking out their interactive map. Among many other things, the El Paso Zoo has an orangutang exhibit and a rare, endangered Asian Wild Horse , known as Przewalski’s horse. I love the zoo in my hometown of San Antonio but I loved seeing so many new and different animals at the El Paso Zoo. I definitely recommend going.
Also to put on your don’t miss it list is the Wings Over the Desert Bird Show (3 showings a day) and the giraffe feeding. The meerkat exhibit is pretty cool, too. We were lucky enough to visit when they were having their enrichment: a kiddie pool full of plastic balls and bugs and some ice cubes with bugs inside. If you are a meerkat, bug-filled ice cubes are mega exciting. One of the things we learned about meerkats is that they can be quite ferocious. They’re small and they look cute and cuddly but they actually have a jaw formation similar to a lion. Who knew, right?
I have great respect for zoos done right. They’re essential to conservation and teaching our children to respect and understand wildlife. The El Paso Zoo is certainly a zoo done right but here’s what else knocks my socks off:
This might look like a plastic container but it’s not plastic. This material is completely biodegradable. I love this commitment to conservation and a better environment. You’ll also learn about things you might not expect to learn about during a day at the zoo, such as water conservation and gardening. This is a very immersive experience and I cannot recommend it enough. There is also free WiFi throughout the zoo.
And, they don’t call El Paso Sun City just for fun. Summers are brutally hot and the temperatures are what most people would consider pretty warm year ’round. For my Northern friends, this means that Texas is a great place to visit during winter. Kids love cooling off in this splash pad that’s adjacent to the playground.
Get more info on the El Paso Zoo’s hours and programs by visiting their website. They have a ton of seasonal activities, so you should definitely check out what’s being offered close to the time of your visit to El Paso.
2. Franklin Mountains State Park
The high desert mountains of Franklin Mountains State Park are breathtakingly beautiful. The park is about a 15-minute drive from downtown El Paso. We loved our sunrise drive up the mountain. Franklin Mountains State Park offers opportunities for hiking, mountain biking, camping, and exploring.
We took a tour with Geobetty Tours, which offers guided hiking tours and mountain biking tours of the park. Geobetty Tours was recommended to us by the El Paso Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. Geobetty Tours is also endorsed by the state park system, so they’re a company you can trust, which is important, especially if you’re inexperienced adventurers. There is an abandoned copper mine in the park that has limited access – Geobetty Tours can take you into the mine and you can also ask about special ranger-led mine tours, although I can’t recommend the experience with Geobetty enough. Mostly because our tour guide was a really cool guy and we loved hanging out with him. He really sparked a spirit of adventure with my kids.
After a short hike, we slithered into the mine and spent about an hour exploring these beautiful mountains from the inside. My kids were eight at the time we took this tour and they did really well. There’s plenty of space inside the mine and although there were a few places I had to duck, I didn’t experience any feelings of claustrophobia. We loved learning about the different minerals and seeing the creepy crawlies that live inside the mine. Did you know that crickets that have never (literally!) seen the light of day are colorless?
If you’re an experienced hiker, you might feel comfortable navigating the Franklin Mountains State Park on your own. But if you’re looking for a guided tour, Geobetty will definitely give your family an A+ experience. Check out their website – they offer some great adventures for all levels. Get an early start, especially in warmer months (which in El Paso is most of the time.) We started our adventure at 7:00 a.m. and by 11:00 or so it was getting too hot to be outside.
For more info on outdoor activities in West Texas, check out this post about exploring Big Bend National Park.
3. Wyler Aerial Tramway State Park
The Wyler Aerial Tramway at Franklin Mountains State Park features an aerial cable car situated on 195 acres of rugged mountain and rock formations on the east side of the Franklin Mountains. The drive to reach the parking area is half the fun – you’ll snake up the east side of the Franklin Mountains to reach the visitors center. Entrance into the Wyler Aerial Tramway State Park is free but there is a small charge to ride one of the gondolas to Ranger Peak, which boasts an elevation of over 5,600 feet.
On your way up you will enjoy a ranger-led tour that educates you on rock formations, plant life and abundant wildlife. Call or check the website prior to your visit during periods of high winds or other extreme weather.
Located in downtown El Paso, the El Paso Art Museum and the El Paso Natural History Museum are completely free attractions. I love to combine cultural activities with adventure and outdoor activities, and museums (hello, air conditioning) are a nice way to beat the afternoon heat. I’ll be honest, getting my kids to love an art museum is challenging, but the El Paso Art Museum had a children’s area where my kids could participate in some hands-on projects. You can learn a lot about the culture and history of a community through its art and artists and the El Paso Art Museum has a particularly interesting display of local art.
You might also be interested in the National U.S. Border Patrol museum, which is also a free attraction. Exhibits include info about the history of the Border Patrol as well as displays highlighting uniforms, vehicles, and weapons. Donations are welcome, since the museum doesn’t receive any federal funding.
El Paso is also home to the El Paso Museum of Archaeology, which presents 14,000 years of pre-history in the El Paso area, the great Southwest, and Northern Mexico. Admission is…you guessed it…FREE, and you can go through the exhibits self-guided or arrange for a tour (two weeks advance notice is suggested, so plan your visit early.)
5. Cattleman’s Steakhouse at Indian Cliffs Ranch
Cattleman’s Steakhouse is more than a place to eat, although it certainly is that! Indian Cliffs Ranch is a must-do for all visitors coming to the El Paso area. It is the largest ranch in the area and the scenery and history are spellbinding. A lake, an aviary, a zoo, a playground AND great food? Yep, this place has it all. The ranch also has an impressive list of movies filmed on location, so if you’re a Western buff, this will be especially fun for you.
Cattleman’s Steakhouse at Indian Cliffs Ranch is located a short drive from downtown El Paso. Definitely allow time for eating AND exploring.
Texas is a big, beautiful and diverse state with lots of big cities and small towns that are great for family travel. Come on down, y’all. Or up. Or over. You get the idea.
Where to stay in El Paso
We stayed at the Wyndham El Paso Airport. The hotel is advertised as a “water park and hotel.” We loved the hotel itself and would stay here again, but to call it a water park is a stretch. There is an awesome pool that has an eight-foot deep end not normally seen at a hotel pool. The water slide is aptly named the Texas Twister and there is also a splash pad area for younger kids and a hot tub. There’s plenty of seating (and a fair amount of shaded seating) and all the chairs, tables and umbrellas were pristine. We absolutely loved the pool space but if you’re expecting multiple slides and other water park features, you will be disappointed.
Amenities at the Wyndham El Paso Airport include an on-site beauty shop, a gift shop that sells sundries, souvenirs and food items, and a restaurant and lounge, Magnims. We ate at Magnims one night…I’m normally not a fan of hotel restaurants but we were exhausted and hungry. The food is very good and there’s a great variety, from burgers, to pasta to Tex-Mex. There’s also a bar menu with some really fun appetizers.
We stayed in a Tower Suite which was an inside corridor room, offering a bedroom with two double beds and a separate living room. The living room has a pull-out couch. There’s a work area and mini-kitchen (wet bar, counter space, microwave and fridge). The living room also has a second TV. Both the living room and the bedroom have lots of space to move around in and best of all? There’s a bedroom door. If you’re traveling as a family, this suite offers a ton of space and privacy. We did not feel cramped at all.
The bathroom is pretty standard issue hotel bathroom and is outside the bedroom area. Our suite also had a balcony, although there wasn’t room to do much more than stand and look. We had complimentary WiFi and we had a great connection. Breakfast is not included in the room fee but Magnims does offer a breakfast buffet at a reasonable price. You can purchase tickets at the front desk. The Wyndham El Paso Airport is conveniently located near plenty of other places to eat, should you choose to go off-property. The hotel can also provide a list of places that deliver. We saw a lot of pop-up pizza parties out by the pool.
The hotel staff is very friendly and engaged. The lobby has a high-end feel with beautiful furnishings, complimentary ice water (it’s HOT in El Paso most of the year!). They offer a coffee/fruit bar in the morning. We don’t usually stay at airport hotels if we’re planning on exploring the city but this location was central to everything we wanted to visit in El Paso. I’m definitely slapping the TMOM seal of approval on this hotel.