As the second largest state in the US, the four corners of Texas offer something unique to explorers.
The Panhandle in the north is where you’ll find evidence of the country’s first inhabitants finding ways to bring down immense predators. Head west and you’ll find national areas and preserves packed with cacti where the stars glimmer with endless optimism in the night sky.
In other national parks in Texas, you’ll stumble under swampy bayous whose tea-colored water sparkles under the hot Texan sun. Elsewhere you’ll find areas where the mighty Rio Grande carves its way through vast rock that leads to craggy mountains.
10. Lake Meredith National Recreation Area
In northern Texas, Lake Meredith National Recreation Area is one of the top boating spots in the state. Surrounded by dry plains, the lake provides a hidden oasis and is a place of immense beauty among the barren landscape.
Surrounded by towering cliffs, the lake is the base of many on-water adventures. You can zip around by water skiing or wakeboarding, or simply cast a reel into the water and try your luck. For those without their own watercraft, you can rent boats in the park.
On dry land, you’ll have access to hiking trails that lead to beautiful viewpoints along with several campgrounds.
9. Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument
Thirteen thousand years ago, hunters came to what is now known as the Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument. Here they created tools to hunt the woolly mammoths. It began what has become an amazing story, a veritable mix of history and nature.
The monument can be found in a secluded section of the Texas Panhandle. In order to explore both the sights and learn about its history, you’ll need to join a ranger-led tour. The tours run in the summer months and take you on a single mile hike. You’ll get up close to the famed Alibates flint and discover a world of petroglyphs.
8. Amistad National Recreation Area
Straddling the US-Mexico border along the surging Rio Grande, Amistad National Recreation Area is loved equally among photographers and outdoor enthusiasts. At the southern end of the state, the recreation area is a splendid park to explore during the winter months, losing none of its balmy temperatures.
With the Rio Grande floating into the sprawling Amistad Reservoir, the park provides splendid boating and fishing opportunities. With the rich sandstone walls rising above, anglers can explore the underwater treasure chest of bass, catfish and alligator gar.
Off the water, you can discover a historic park that’s home to well-preserved petroglyphs that line the shelter walls. The park also has several beautiful nature paths that lead to campgrounds and deep into the backcountry.
7. Big Thicket National Preserve
In Southeast Texas, the Big Thicket National Preserve is home to not one, but four carnivorous plants. Now a UNESCO Biosphere Preserve, the park is a stunning example of diverse ecology. All up, there are nine distinct environments that range from bayous to lush pine forests.
You can wander between each of the nine sections along the 40 miles of hiking trails. The shortest is a quick 0.3 mile venture and the longest, a full-day trek covering almost 20 miles.
With bayous and swamps, there are several parts of Big Thicket you can’t reach on foot. Instead, get your hands on a kayak to explore the many rivers and creeks that meander through the preserve.
6. Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park
Created to honor the life of the 36th President of the United States, the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park is a unique insight into Johnson’s childhood. Each visit to the park begins with a stop at the Johnson Settlement. It was here that his grandparents first settled in Texas in the 1860s.
Afterwards, venture to Lyndon B. Johnson’s childhood home. The country-style abode features a visitor center and you can even explore the property using the old family cars. Later, visit the Texas White House on a guided tour before finishing up at the Johnson family cemetery.
5. San Antonio Missions National Historical Park
The Alamo may be the hottest ticket in town, but the wider San Antonio Missions National Historical Park is not to be missed. Arrive early to see the Alamo while giving yourself plenty of time to explore the rest of the fascinating park, home to four frontier missions from the 18th century.
The park comprises over 300 years of history and culture while being the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in Texas. You can explore the vast historical park on the Hike and Bike Trail. Each location is 2.5 miles apart along the glistening San Antonio River.
Top sites include Mission San Jose, the largest mission along with Mission Concepcion, the oldest unrestored stone church in the US.
4. Guadalupe Mountains National Park
The wide open plains of Texas continue to grow drier, making it harder to imagine that parts of the state were once covered in a turquoise sea. In West Texas, Guadalupe Mountains National Park was once a part of a vast coral reef some 265 million years ago. Today, the park provides you with the opportunity to see one of the top examples of fossilized reefs in the world.
Alongside the spectacular fossils, the park is home to the highest view in Texas. From Pine Springs, hikers can complete the 4.2-mile trail to the summit of Guadalupe Peak. At 8,750 feet, it’s the tallest in the state. Other highlights include ruins of the old stagecoach station.
3. Fort Davis National Historic Site
If you’re someone that likes a little history in their parks, then Fort Davis National Historic Site is the place for you. The military post was once at the forefront of western expansion, with the military playing a prominent role in the settlement of Texas.
Walking trails will take you between several historic buildings, such as the old commissary and hospital, alongside the battle-worn barracks. Fringing the site are craggy cliffs. You can reach the summit via a steep trail which provides an excellent view of the historic site.
Kids under 14 can explore Fort Davis in greater detail with the park’s regular ranger programs. The tours last up to two hours.
2. Padre Island National Seashore
A lot of Texas’ 350 miles of Gulf Coast has been taken over by resorts and waterfront residences. But some remain as wild as ever. Padre Island National Seashore is a perfect example. Here, you’ll find the longest undeveloped barrier island on earth.
The park protects a 70-mile slit of tidal flats and rolling sand dunes. Among them is a vibrant world untouched by man or woman. Your soft footsteps will put you alongside the beautiful Kemp’s ridley sea turtles. Female turtles swim across the Atlantic Ocean, choosing only two beaches to lay their eggs. Luckily for us, one of those is Padre Island.
Beyond turtles, bird watchers can admire almost 400 species that stop here along the migratory route, the Central Flyway.
1. Big Bend National Park
As the saying goes, everything is bigger in Texas. So it comes as no surprise that the state’s crown jewel of parks is called Big Bend National Park. The immense swath of protected land is larger than the state of Rhode Island and features the iconic 90-degree curve of the Rio Grande.
It’s the biggest state or national park in Texas, providing hikers with over 200 miles of trails to explore. These cover short and sweet treks to multi-day journeys well beyond the beaten path.
Each trail will help you discover a range of gorgeous ecosystems that span from arid desert and towering rocky peaks to soaked valleys carved by the famed river. Travelers will also find front and backcountry camping along with luxurious mountain lodges.