From giant canyons and towering mountains to majestic sand dunes and intriguing caves, Texas is home to a wide range of natural wonders and you never have to travel far to find them. To celebrate the beauty of this great state and help you discover the awe-inspiring landscapes of Texas, here is a list of 13 State and National Parks. Now go explore!
About 60 miles north of Van Horn, TX, you’ll find the tallest peak in Texas! Atop Guadalupe Peak, which sits 8,749 ft. in the sky, you’ll get the best view of Texas for miles and miles around. The trek to the top of the peak covers a grueling 8 miles and can take 6-8 hours to complete, but it’s worth it once you reach the top (watch our trek here). For those who can’t make this hike, there are tons of other things to do at this national park including birding, hiking (they’ve got over 80 miles of trails – including handicap-accessible trails) and backpacking!
When the nights get longer and the leaves start turning in October and November, the place you need to be is at Lost Maples State Natural Area in Vanderpool, TX. At Lost Maples, you can hike along the limestone of the Edwards Plateau and bubbling Sabinal River surrounded by the breathtaking bright orange and red fall foliage in the maples around the trails. Be sure to check the Fall Foliage Report before you arrive.
Texas is not flat (which you already know if you’ve watched our Turkey, TX episode), and at the Caprock Canyons State Park, you can roam massive, rocky, red-orange canyons. The Caprock Canyons, as well as Palo Duro Canyon in Amarillo, are a part of the Llano Estacado where the flat Texas land dips into gorgeous canyons. As you explore this rugged terrain, you might just spot the Official Texas State Bison Herd, direct descendants of the preservation herd Charles Goodnight started in 1878. It’s also a great place to horseback ride, mountain bike, fish and, of course, feel like you’re a cowboy in an old Western film!
In Blanco State Park exists one of the most underrated swimming holes in Texas, The Blanco River. The calming blue waters flow right through the middle of this park and cascade into dozens of waterfalls over the dam, making it the perfect spot to cool off on a hot summer day or fish for trout or bass when the weather is too cold for a swim. There are also great nature trails for hiking along the river. View our time at this park here.
Big Bend National Park sits on the northern end of the Chihuahuan Desert right next to the border of Mexico and near Terlingua,TX, It includes the Chisos Mountains with the tallest point, Emory Peak reaching up to 8,000 ft. There are so many stunning sights to see in this park like the famous Balanced Rock, a giant boulder balancing atop two stones, or the Santa Elena Canyon, a 1,500 ft. limestone canyon towering majestically over the gently rolling Rio Grande. Big Bend National Park is the perfect place for hiking, mountain biking and backpacking as it is the largest expanse of roadless land in Texas, but they also have scenic drives ranging from smooth, paved roads to primitive, dirt roads for those that prefer to drive. Check out this view from atop the South Rim.
The Monahans Sandhills State Park looks more like it belongs in the Middle East rather than the middle of West Texas in Monahans, TX. You can explore the miles of ever-changing sand dunes on foot or by renting a sled at the park office for “sand surfing.” At the visitor’s center, there are also hands-on activities for children and windows overlooking a waterhole for observing wildlife. Check out our time at the park here.
Palo Duro Canyon in Canyon, TX is the second largest canyon in the United States (the Grand Canyon being the largest) and a must-see spot for every Texan. As a part of the Llano Estacado, Palo Duro contains rocky ridges that plunge down 800 ft. into beautiful canyons and rivers. (Check out our time at the canyon here!) The park has over 30 trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding through the colorful canyon and contains a variety of wildlife that only call Palo Duro Canyon home like the Palo Duro Mouse and part of the Official State Longhorn Herd. And don’t miss the famous Lighthouse rock formation! While you’re near Amarillo, check out the Historic Route 66!
There’s nothing better than a State Park that you can make a splash in! And at Mustang Island State Park in Port Aransas, TX, there are miles and miles of open beach where you can swim, float or even build a sandcastle! If you’d rather explore than splash, paddle the Mustang Island Paddling Trail - the 20 miles of trails pass through waters that are great for birding and fishing. Either way, enjoy some good ol’ fun in the sun!
For an amazing view of Fort Davis, TX and the surrounding town, visit Davis Mountains State Park where you can hike or bike this West Texas mountain range that was formed by volcanic activity over 25 million years ago (you can see our time at the park here). Check out the epic sights like Frazier Canyon and The Sleeping Lion formation. Also in this mountain range is Baldy Peak, the fourth tallest peak in Texas at 8,379 ft. And if mountain climbing isn’t your thing, you can also stargaze at the McDonald Observatory or explore the Indian Lodge which was built in the 1930s and is still serving guests as a hotel.
Caddo Lake, in Jefferson, TX, is one of the most eerily beautiful sights in Texas. Don’t come expecting wide expanses of blue sky and open lake waters because Caddo Lake is actually more of a swamp that sits along the Cypress Bayou where you’ll find watery lanes slowly twisting and turning through thickets of tall Bald Cypress Trees and marshy backlands. The whole sight is awe-inspiring. Caddo Lake is a great place for fishing (the 26,000-acre lake contains over 70 species of fish), paddling and just admiring the East Texas wildlife.
This State Park in Fredericksburg is one of the strangest in Texas. The park, which is the smallest State Park in Texas, features a cave that was built by Fredericksburg residents in 1913 to provide a faster trade route to San Antonio and ran until the 1940s. In 2012, Texas Parks and Wildlife discovered the abandoned railroad tunnel housed a colony of over 3 million Mexican free-tailed bats, and bought the land to preserve the colony. The park is open nightly May – October so visitors can watch the bats fly out of the cave in search of food. There is also a half-mile nature trail where you can view the various wildlife that call this habitat home.
At this State Park that is called “The Home of the American Alligator,” you can get up close and personal with gators. Brazos Bend contains 5,000 acres of diverse ecosystems like forests, wetlands, swamps and coastal prairies. Throughout the park, you’ll find animals like Armadillos and American Alligators living in their natural habitat. Activities provided by the park include self-guided and guided nature tours, hands-on exhibits about wildlife at the Nature Center and fishing.
The cavern was formed by an underground river meaning it has smooth, carved stone instead of stalactites and stalagmites. One room is full of colorful crystals! Yet, the Longhorn Caverns State Park’s human history is just as amazing as it’s natural features. The largest rooms have been Indian tribal council rooms, a speakeasy, a church and more! Legend holds that famous outlaw Sam Bass buried treasure in these caves and LBJ had an emergency bomb shelter. Spend the day exploring the caverns and uncovering history on one of their many guided tours