When I think about the great state of Texas, the initial images that fill my head are of the sprawling city of Houston and the Dallas skyline. But if I let my mind drift away from two of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas, I see fields of blue and white bluebonnets and pointy purple thistles reaching toward the sunny sky. I see cool lakes surrounded by trees and waves of striated rocks lining a very grand canyon.
As the largest state in the contiguous United States, the Lone Star State is full of natural beauty. Whether you are seeking a refuge from the hustle and bustle of an urban area, staying near the Gulf of Mexico, or traveling through the Panhandle, you’ll want to get out and explore one of these fantastic hikes in Texas.
1. Big Bend National Park
While travelers require passports to cross the imaginary lines established by humans to mark national borders, Mother Nature does what she wants. In Southwestern Texas, the Rio Grande establishes the U.S. border with Mexico while the dusty, cactus-filled Chihuahuan Desert extends across the border into Parque Nacional Canon de Santa Elena and beyond.
With the nation’s southernmost peaks, a significant swath of the continent’s largest desert, the meandering Rio Grande, and hot springs, Big Bend National Park offers mountain, desert, and water hikes.
One of the most popular hikes in the Chisos Mountains is the 4.2-mile, moderately challenging Lost Mine Trail that winds through lush forests and offers breathtaking views of the canyons below. To explore the Chihuahuan Desert, hike the Window Trail. From its starting point near the Chisos Mountains Lodge, this 5.2-mile out-and-back trail descends about 800 feet, so remember that the return trek is all uphill! For a shorter hike, follow the mile-long Hot Springs Historic Trail that winds through an abandoned resort and homestead on its way to the 105-degree springs.
No matter which trail you choose, keep an eye out for a wide range of wildlife. With more than 450 species of birds, more than 70 types of mammals, and a variety of insects, Big Bend National Park proudly boasts more types of birds, bats, butterflies, ants, and scorpions than any other national park in the country. (Although I’d sure rather see a wide variety of butterflies than scorpions!)
2. Palo Duro Canyon State Park
In the Texas Panhandle, about an hour southeast of Amarillo, Palo Duro Canyon State Park encompasses walls of fossil-rich sedimentary rocks carved by the Red River and strong West Texas winds. The crown jewel of the park is Palo Duro Canyon, the country’s second-largest canyon. (Arizona would like to take this opportunity to remind you that not everything is bigger in Texas!)
One of the most popular hiking routes in Palo Duro Canyon State Park is the Lighthouse Trail. This moderately challenging 6-mile hike treats trekkers to a beacon-like rock formation that resembles a lighthouse. For a shorter, easier outdoor experience at Palo Duro, hike the Juniper Riverside Trail. This 2-mile loop is relatively flat, with only a 170-foot elevation gain.
3. Arbor Hills Nature Preserve
Winding through 200 acres of prairie land and forest in Plano, the Arbor Hills Nature Preserve includes 6 miles of paved and unpaved hiking trails in North Texas. Wander along creeks, watch for wildlife, explore the open prairie, and climb the observation tower when you visit this lush green space on the western edge of town.
4. Katy Trail
Hardcore hikers may scoff at this next suggestion, but it is one of my favorite trails in Texas. This path was established in the mid-1800s when Union Pacific laid down steel tracks connecting Missouri, Kansas, and Texas. More than 150 years later, a group of local residents and businesses transformed the abandoned railroad line into a 3.5-mile, tree-lined escape from the hustle and bustle of the Big D.
I love staying at Hotel Zaza, a unique boutique hotel in Dallas’s Victory Park neighborhood, and it’s easy to jump on the Katy Trail for a quick run in the morning or a long walk in the evening when I am in Dallas for work.
5. Cedar Ridge Preserve
Just 20 minutes southwest of downtown Dallas, on the east bank of Joe Pool Lake, Cedar Ridge Preserve protects 600 acres of wildlife and natural beauty in the Texas Hill Country.
If you are visiting the Dallas-Fort Worth area in the early spring, check out the mile-long Bluebonnet Trail to drink in the lush landscape and beautiful wildflowers in bloom. For a longer walk, the 2.4-mile Cattail Pond Loop rounds the northwestern edge of a small lake about halfway through the journey.
Cedar Ridge Preserve also offers two ADA-accessible experiences, the Little Bluestem and Butterfly Garden Trails.
6. Ann And Roy Butler Hike-And-Bike Trail
In the heart of Austin, the Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail rings a portion of the Colorado River known as Lady Bird Lake from the Longhorn Dam to the Crenshaw Bridge. When you visit Austin, pause on the Congress Avenue (Ann Richards) Bridge at sunset and watch more than a million winged mammals take flight as the world’s largest urban bat colony dines on up to 30,000 pounds of insects (like mosquitoes). And on the south side of the water, look for the larger-than-life statue of legendary blues guitarist and native Texan Stevie Ray Vaughan.
7. Barton Creek Greenbelt
Lining both sides of Barton Creek with natural beauty, the Barton Creek Greenbelt is a popular outdoor destination in Austin. One of the most fantastic hikes in the capital city is the 3.7-mile out-and-back trail that winds past Twin Falls and Sculpture Falls on the Barton Creek Greenbelt. This dog-friendly hike features wildflowers, waterfalls, and a natural swimming spot.
8. Friedrich Wilderness Park
To the north of San Antonio, the Friedrich Wilderness Park marks the southern edge of the Texas Hill Country. Covering 600 acres of undeveloped land, this natural area offers hikers more than 10 miles of paved and unpaved trails while protecting the habitat of two endangered songbirds, the golden-cheeked warbler and the black-capped vireo.
9. San Antonio Mission Trail
While The Alamo is one of Texas’s most-visited attractions, it’s only one of five Spanish missions in San Antonio. Beginning with Mission Espada, about 8.5 miles to the south, you can see all five missions by hiking the San Antonio Mission Trail. You’ll follow the San Antonio River past fields of colorful wildflowers as you travel north through these UNESCO World Heritage sites maintained by the National Park Service.
10. Coastline Hiking Trails
Gulf Of Mexico
Covering more than 250,000 square miles, Texas is the largest state in the contiguous U.S. So it should be no surprise that it features a variety of ecoregions, from high plains and open prairies to a marshy coastline that ultimately leads to the Caribbean. To soak up the sun while splashing along the Gulf, check out one of these trails.
South of Galveston, the Kelly Hamby Trail near Freeport starts as a short and flat 0.5-mile trek along coastal prairie and ends at a wooden boardwalk at the Gulf. Traveling northeast up the coast, the Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge offers a variety of hikes ranging from a 0.6-mile boardwalk to a 2-mile trek along the abandoned Missouri Pacific Railway.
North of Galveston, the Crystal Beach Trail in Port Bolivar stretches along the Gulf of Mexico, providing miles of waterfront views and glimpses of coastal birds. Further up the coast, the McFaddin National Wildlife Refuge offers 5 miles of wildlife watching from its nature trails.
What To Know Before You Go
Most of Texas, especially the southern portion of the state, is extremely hot and humid in the summer months. As a result, these hikes are most fantastic from September through May.
Regardless of when you tour the Lone Star State on foot, be sure to take plenty of water and wear sunscreen, especially if you select a route that has little to no shade. As a general rule, plan on at least one quart of water per person per mile.
This article is presented by KEEN Footwear. For my hikes, I wore the KEEN SOLR Sandal in Light Gray/Ocean Wave. The acronym stands for Sea Ocean Lake River, and the SOLR was the perfect shoe to splash around in when visiting waterfalls and trekking along creeks and rivers. Shop KEEN’s SOLR and other hiking shoes here.