As the largest state in the lower 48, Texas is full of incredible cities, great food, and most of all: stunning nature. That’s why I’ve put together this list of the 16 Best Texas State Parks — each one offers a unique glimpse at the varying foliage, wildlife, and natural landscapes that this great state has to offer.
From ancient cave dwellings to alligator-filled swamps to sweeping red rock canyons and more, read on to find out which Texas state park you should visit next!
16 Best Texas State Parks
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1. Explore Texas’s largest state park: Big Bend Ranch State Park
As the largest state park in Texas, Big Bend Ranch State Park is not one to miss. Comprised of high-desert terrain fit for incredible hiking, mountain biking, trail riding and more, you’ll never run out of things to do in this park.
Big Bend Ranch is also an International Dark Sky Park, making it one of the best places in Texas for stargazing!
2. Journey into the earth at Longhorn Cavern State Park
Looking to go underground? Longhorn Cavern State Park is the place to go. Take a guided tour of the caverns to learn all about the unique geological history of the park and see where ancient seas once flowed with full force.
3. Explore ancient cultures at Hueco Tanks State Park - Best Texas State Parks
Many different native communities have flocked to the Hueco Tanks State Park area to make use of the natural rainwater deposits that the park is named after. And most of these native groups left their own unique mark on the region through fascinating pictographs and petroglyphs.
Just note: to come and see this bit of history, or to climb the impressive rock features at Hueco Tanks, you have to obtain a permit first.
4. Cool off in the springs of Balmorhea State Park
This state park is a true oasis: in the middle of the high desert lies the world’s largest spring-fed swimming pool of Balmorhea State Park. You can scuba dive, snorkel, or just swim around the cool waters of this park.
While you’re there, don’t forget to check out the restored desert wetlands teeming with endangered wildlife.
5. Make the pilgrimage to Enchanted Rock State Natural Area
As part of the Texas state park system, Enchanted Rock is one of the most popular parks in the entire state. Thousands of visitors flock here every year to climb up the natural pink domed rock that rises above the surrounding Texas Hill Country. It’s a short but steep trek to the top, but you’ll be rewarded with incredible views, making it absolutely worth it!
6. Explore the rock formations of Palo Duro Canyon State Park
Dubbed the “Grand Canyon of Texas,” Palo Duro Canyon State Park is filled with stunning red rock formations and day-use areas. There are plenty of hiking and mountain biking trails, and exploring by horseback is a popular option too.
Consider visiting in the summer, when Palo Duro Canyon hosts the Texas Outdoor Musical at the Pioneer Amphitheater within the park.
7. Slide down the sand at Monahans Sandhills State Park - Best Texas State Parks
This is one of the only state parks in Texas that doesn’t have any maintained trails… and that’s because visitors simply don’t need any in order to explore! Monahans Sandhills State Park is filled with sand dunes that shift and change shape each and every day with the wind, and visitors are encouraged to explore in any direction they so choose.
Make sure to rent some sand discs to slide down the dunes with!
8. Admire the rushing waters at Pedernales Falls State Park
The massive Pedernales river twists and turns through ancient limestone deposits in Pedernales Falls State Park, and is a great place to hike around observing the natural beauty of the river.
Note: because the river is so swift and strong, swimming at the falls is not allowed, though you can swim in other parts of the river within the park.
9. See the alligators at Brazos Bend State Park
With a unique mix of wetland areas, tallgrass prairie, and lush forests, Brazos Bend State Park is filled with both stunning nature and fascinating wildlife. Most notably, Brazos Bend is a great place to spot the American alligator. Visitors can trek along several different trails in hopes of seeing these carnivorous creatures in their natural habitat.
10. Paddle your way through Caddo Lake State Park - one of the Best Texas State Parks
Situated close to the state border with Louisiana, Caddo Lake State Park offers an interesting landscape that isn’t seen in much else of Texas. If you like to canoe or kayak, then this may be one of the best Texas state parks for you. You can explore the swamps and marshy wetlands, and you may even see some alligators while you’re there.
11. Don’t miss the Fate Bell Shelter at Seminole Canyon State Park
Seminole Canyon State Park is home to Fate Bell Shelter, one of the oldest cave dwellings on the entire continent. You can see ancient pictographs and areas where evidence of human life dates back all the way to 7,000 B.C.
While you’re there, you can also check out the impressive Presa Canyon overlook and hike along the Rio Grande.
12. Choose your own adventure at Colorado Bend State Park
Colorado Bend State Park is one of the best Texas state parks no matter what sort of outdoor activity you’re into. Here are just a few ideas for your visit to this state park:
- Hike to one of the best waterfalls in Texas: Gorman Falls.
- Camp overnight for incredible stargazing.
- Take a tour through the caves of Colorado Bend.
- Go kayaking or fishing along the 6 miles of Colorado River shoreline within the park.
13. Enjoy the beach at Mustang Island State Park - Best Texas State Parks
Mustang Island State Park is one of the best Texas state parks for beating the heat in the summer. With over 5 miles of beach shoreline, this barrier island between Corpus Christi and Port Aransas is the ultimate spot to play in the sand and the surf. Visitors can swim, fish, camp, and even surf in the waves at Mustang Island.
14. Take in the fall foliage at Lost Maples State Natural Area
While beautiful any time of year, Lost Maples State Natural Area is the park you’ll want to visit most in the autumn. Home to the Bigtooth Maple, a variety of maple tree unique to Texas, this park bursts to life with stunning fall colors from September-November. Trek along one of the many hiking trails, and be sure to bring a camera to capture the bright autumnal hues of the trees changing color.
15. Go tubing in Guadalupe River State Park
Guadalupe River State Park is great for all visitors, but especially families with small children. This state park hosts an interactive Discovery Center that’ll keep little ones entertained and engaged with the natural environment for hours.
While you’re there, don’t miss out on tubing down the gorgeous Guadalupe River to cool off from the heat. Visitors can also fish or swim in the river.
16. Geek out at Dinosaur Valley State Park
Great for science buffs as well as families, Dinosaur Valley State Park is one of the most unique Texas state parks on this list. That’s because this park is home to real dinosaur tracks left behind millions of years ago in the bedrock of the Paluxy River.
In between searching for dino prints, visitors can also swim and fish in the river, or hike along the 20 miles of trails running through the state park.
Which of these best Texas state parks is at the top of your list to visit this year? Let me know in the comments or send me a DM on Instagram!
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