Texas is huge. Across its vast, 268,000 square miles of widely diverse landscapes are 96 state parks. Whether you’re looking for family-friendly camping, adventurous hiking trails, gorgeous waterfalls, or the best place to view the star-filled night sky, you’ll find it in the Lone Star State. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department maintain and operate the state parks, and they’ve added an online reservation system to their website. This convenient feature makes it easy to plan your getaways around long weekends, holidays, school vacations, or yearly vacations. Most parks allow stays up to 14 days.
It’s no surprise this state park, just seven miles north of Concan, is a popular rock-climbing site. Visitors come for the 10 acres of riverfront shorelines along the Frio River, the limestone cliffs, high mesas, and scenic canyons at the beautiful Garner State Park. Wildlife is abundant here, with an array of technicolor vistas to take in, kayaking and canoe rentals, and a long list of other amenities. During specific times of the year, there are nightly community dances at the park’s Pavilion.
The Pineywoods and the Blackland Prairie ecoregions of East Texas intertwine in Lake Bob Sandlin State Park. Appreciated for its serene surroundings, the park is one of the state’s top choices for viewing autumn leaf changes due to the brilliant display of fall colors. Anglers enjoy fishing on the 9000-acre lake, which is teeming with largemouth bass, crappie, and catfish and stocked with rainbow trout in the winter. There’s no license required if you’re fishing from the shore in a state park. Hike or bike more than 3 miles of scenic trails. You’ll also find a variety of lodging options, including air-conditioned cabins.
The breathtaking landscapes at Davis Mountains State Park give you an idea of just how vast the western region of Texas really is. Whether you prefer hiking, riding a bike, or exploring the views on horseback, this park offers an extensive collection of trails to enjoy. The park was one of the first Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) projects in the state. Many of the facilities the CCC created are still in use. The park’s high elevation allows you to enjoy a limitless view of the night sky. Book a room at the historic Indian Lodge or camp out at one of RV campsites. If you prefer a more adventurous getaway, grab your backpack and hike the four-mile trek to one of the park’s primitive campsites.
In the far eastern region of the state is the only naturally formed, freshwater lake in Texas, Caddo Lake. Caddo Lake State Park is home to the lake and sits on the Texas-Louisiana border. The size of the lake varies with rainfall, but it averages about 25,000 acres of bayous and wetlands. Majestic bald cypress trees, laden with Spanish mosh, surround the lake. The best way for visitors to view the backwaters and hidden bayous is by boat, but there is also an observation pier that offers a view of the surrounding marsh and swampland. Plan a trip during late March and early April to experience the dogwoods in full bloom.
A limited number of campsites at this park combined with its popularity as a weekend getaway make it challenging to find a space to set down your gear. But a visit to this 5200-acre state park in the heart of the Texas Hill Country is worth the effort. Pedernales Falls State Park is about 9 miles east of Johnson City, and easily accessible from Austin or San Antonio. A picturesque and rugged landscape surrounds the sometimes-turbulent Pedernales River as it flows over giant slabs of limestone. Waterfalls cascade over the ancient rocks into clear-water pools. Some people come here to relax, but others come for the 21 miles of hiking trails, or the amazing kayaking, tubing, and river swimming.
It was once the site where the Comanche people held council meetings, where Sam Bass and his gang hid out from the law, a place where the Confederate soldiers stored their gunpowder during the Civil War, and a speakeasy in the 1920s. Longhorn Cavern State Park has a complex geology and a rich history. In the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps cleared out 30,000 cubic yards of debris from the cavern by hand so people could enjoy this natural marvel. Visitors descend about 1 ½ miles into Longhorn Cavern to see its geological wonders: the Hall of Marble and the Hall of Diamonds. The park is an enjoyable 90-minute drive from Austin.
Second in size only to the Grand Canyon, Palo Duro Canyon may not look like much from the highway as you drive toward the entrance. It’s hardly visible at all. Once you start the long, steep, winding descent between the multicolored walls of the canyon, however, you realize what a geological wonder it is. It’s a harsh, but beautiful area to hike in or drive through. The park’s most famous landmark, a 300-foot tall rock formation called the Lighthouse, is a fairly easy three-mile hike from the main road. In the summer months, you can see the musical drama, “Texas,” a long-standing tradition since 1966 at the canyon’s amphitheater.
The Paluxy River, a branch of the mighty Brazos River, winds its way through this 1500-acre park creating a lush and colorful landscape. Millions of years ago, dinosaurs left around 100 tracks along the banks and through the bed of the Paluxy River. Today, these fossilized footprints are some of the best-preserved in the world. Dinosaur Valley State Park is for anyone who has a love of all things dinosaur. Hang out with the 50-foot tall Tyrannosaurus Rex and the 70-foot long Brontosaurus statues. Swim or fish in the clear waters of the Paluxy or hike the 20 miles of available trails through the park. The park is a short hour-long drive from Fort Worth and offers some of the most beautiful panoramas in the state.
Sand dunes reaching 50 feet in height and miniature forests of four-foot shin oaks create a magical place called Monahans Sandhills State Park. Although it looks like a desert, it isn’t. This semi-arid ecosystem has a supply of groundwater beneath its constantly changing terrain of sand. Most visitors come here for the unique landscape but also its excellent dune sledding. Rent a toboggan or disk from the park’s headquarters and surf the sand.
A deep woodland forest, filled with loblolly pines, magnolia, and oak trees sits on the northern edge of the Big Thicket, on the shore of B.A. Steinhagen Lake. Martin Dies, Jr. State Park offers a unique natural setting with backwater swamps to explore, along with abundant fishing, boating, and a chance to see local wildlife in their habitats. Kayak one of the three marked paddling trails through the park, go alligator-watching, or rent a speed cruiser bike and explore. Two national forests border the park, the Sabine and the Angelina. The park is northeast of Houston.