Downtowns and highways are forever connected in Texas. While in many small towns a historic highway is the lifeblood of a downtown commercial district, even in the largest cities you can find vestiges of state and U.S. highways.
In Texas, U.S. Highway 281 stretches 643 miles from Brownsville to Burkburnett, connecting communities of all sizes. Many travelers choose this route as an alternative to the frequent congestion and construction found on Interstate 35 and appreciate the slower pace, scenic beauty, and unique downtown destinations.
From the Lower Rio Grande Valley, to Central Texas, to the rolling hills of the north, the communities of Highway 281 have much to offer.
- Population: 79, 707
- Visit Pharr
Known as the ”hub” of the Valley for its location at the intersection of U.S. Highway 281 and Expressway 83, Pharr is the only city in the Texas to be designated a “Triple Crown City,” receiving the Preserve America City, National Main Street City, and All-American City awards.
U.S. 281/South Cage Boulevard is the main thoroughfare of downtown Pharr. Boasting destinations like the Junction Café and Smitty’s Juke Box Museum, it’s also the location for downtown events like La Posada, Hub Fest, and the city’s Veterans Day celebration.
The recently installed Welcome to Pharr gateway features an homage to the original neon cowboy sign formerly located on the rooftop of the old Texan Hotel. Today the neon cowboy is in storage, awaiting restoration.
- Population: 1,388
- Visit Hico
Some of the highest traffic counts in Central Texas can be found at the intersection of 281 and Texas Highway 6 where they meet in Hico, creating an incredible opportunity for businesses and cultural assets located both on and off the highways to thrive in the town “Where Everybody Is Somebody.”
Downtown Hico has seen a slew of new businesses open in recent years including a winery, mercantile, and The Midland Hotel, originally founded in 1896. Several are owned by new Hico residents who were drawn to the community’s small-town feel, central location, and friendly people.
- Population: 15,065
- Visit Mineral Wells
Mineral Wells is home to another “crossroads of America.” U.S. 281 runs north–south from Canada to Mexico, and Highway 180 (part of the old Bankhead Highway) runs from the East Coast to the West. Though locally referred to as Oak Avenue, Highway 281 is the city’s designated Main Street, home to downtown shops, dining, and historic hotels.
In the last few years, a renaissance has been underway in downtown Mineral Wells. The famous Baker Hotel, vacant and neglected for decades, is under renovation. The Crazy Water Hotel, a smaller lodging a few blocks north of the Baker, is being converted into a mixed-use development utilizing a Public Benefit Corporation (the first in Texas) to allow for local investment. These projects, coupled with new retail and restaurant options, have attracted attention not only in Texas, but also nationally.
As you are planning your next road trip, be sure to check out nearby communities and attractions for even more ideas of what to see and do on and off Highway 281. We know you will not be disappointed!
- Highway 281 is the only continuous three-digit U.S. route that extends from the Mexican border to the Canadian border. Beginning in Brownsville, the ribbon of highway extends northward through the middle of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota and North Dakota to reach the International Peace Garden at the Canadian border.
- At 1,875 total miles, the road is also the longest continuous three-digit U.S. route!