Contrary to popular belief, Texas is much more than just flat prairie land. Texas is full of diverse terrain ranging from mountain ranges to piney woods. One of the best ways to experience the state’s landscape is to visit the many state parks in Texas.
Texas state parks are home to canyons, waterfalls, expansive beaches, and incredible mountain ranges. This diversity means that you can have fun and unique experiences throughout the state when you visit its state parks. Whether you are planning a weekend getaway, or an easy day trip, these state parks will fit the bill.
Since the Lone Star State is home to over 90 state parks, it can easily become overwhelming when trying to decide which parks to visit. Well, that is where I come in! I was born and raised in Texas and still call it home today, so I have visited my fair share of Texas state parks.
With that in mind, allow me to share with you my favorite state parks to visit in Texas!
1. Palo Duro Canyon State Park, Canyon
Palo Duro Canyon is the second largest canyon in the United States, earning it the nickname of “The Grand Canyon of Texas!” Offering 30 miles of hiking trails, this is an outdoor lover’s dream.
Located on the Texas Panhandle, near Amarillo, Palo Duro Canyon State Park boasts several campsites and numerous trails to explore. The trails here are multi-use and allow hiking, biking, and horseback riding. The views of the canyon from many of the trails are incredible and allow visitors to truly enjoy some of the diverse landscapes found in Texas.
Palo Duro Canyon also hosts a theater production called the Texas Outdoor Musical during the summer months. This unique show tells the story of the early settlers of the Texas Panhandle and includes singing, dancing, and fireworks!
This is one of the Texas parks that also offers glamping accommodations, perfect for a weekend in Palo Duro Canyon. These accommodations are great for people who want to connect with the great outdoors while still having some of the creature comforts we have become accustomed to.
2. Caddo Lake State Park, Karnack
A visit to Caddo Lake State Park is a truly amazing experience. Located in East Texas, Caddo Lake State Park offers a unique landscape that consists of swamp land laden with beautiful Spanish moss-covered bald cypress trees.
While there are hiking trails at Caddo Lake Park, most people prefer to explore the park using a kayak or canoe. You can bring your own, or rent one in the park to enjoy paddling through the 50 miles of paddling trails on Caddo Lake.
If the thought of paddling your own vessel doesn’t appeal to you, then consider taking a guided tour of the lake. There are several independent companies that offer this type of service.
If you want to stay a while at Caddo Lake, then you can choose one of their campsites, or rent one of the historic cabins that are onsite.
The park is a natural environment, so there is uneven terrain associated with visiting. Caddo Lake State Park does offer a wheelchair-accessible fishing pier, interpretive trail, picnic area, and cabins.
Pro Tip: Take note that there are alligators in Caddo Lake, so be sure to read and respect all of the warning tips that the park provides.
3. Pedernales Falls State Park, Johnson City
Here, the Pedernales River cascades over the large limestone rocks creating a beautiful waterfall area. The turbulent nature of the river during times of extreme rain means that swimming in the falls is prohibited, but you can swim in other areas of the park.
In addition to the falls, Pedernales Falls State Park also offers hiking and biking trails, campsites, geocaching, and an equestrian trail system.
Please note that trails to the river are rough and are not wheelchair accessible. However, the asphalt trail leading to the bird blind is wheelchair accessible.
4. Mustang Island State Park, Corpus Christi
Encompassing 5 miles of beachfront and 100 campsites, Mustang Island State Park has plenty of room to spread out and enjoy yourself. Here you can spend the day fishing, swimming, surfing, or birdwatching. For those of you that are feeling adventurous, Mustang Island also offers 20 miles of paddling trails to explore.
5. Guadalupe River State Park, Spring Branch
Head about 30 miles north of San Antonio to find Guadalupe River State Park. This fabulous park is one of the many Texas state parks near lakes and rivers, making it the perfect environment to enjoy a day of outdoor recreation. Popular activities at Guadalupe River State Park include swimming, fishing, hiking, and, in the summer months, river tubing!
The multi-use trails are perfect for mountain biking, hiking, or horseback riding. The park also offers campsites and is the start of the 5-mile Guadalupe River State Park Paddling Trail.
Pro Tip: Styrofoam and glass containers are not allowed on the river, so keep that in mind when packing your cooler for the day!
6. Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, Fredericksburg
Enchanted Rock State Natural Area in Fredericksburg, Texas, is another one of the awesome state parks in Texas.
The large pink granite rock that is Enchanted Rock is visible for miles. The minute it comes into sight over the horizon, you know you are in for a treat.
Visitors flock to Enchanted Rock to hike, camp, and, of course, climb the pink dome rock. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that this is one of the state’s most popular parks. There is even evidence that Enchanted Rock has been visited for thousands of years.
If you are choosing to go rock climbing during your visit, you will need to sign a release at the ranger station before ascending the 1,800-foot hike to the top of the dome. Once at the top, you are rewarded with incredible views of the Texas Hill Country. Just please take note that you need a good pair of hiking shoes to climb Enchanted Rock, and note that the granite rock is quite slippery when it is wet.
7. Caprock Canyons State Park, Quitaque
Caprock Canyons State Park offers visitors rugged terrain, a tunnel that bats love to call home, and prairie land that is home to native bison. What else do you need in a state park?
In addition to the wildlife viewing here, visitors can also enjoy nearly 90 miles of hiking and biking trails that range in ability level. Of course, there are also campsites here, including equestrian campsites.
When you need some relief from the Texas sun, you can jump into the 120-acre Lake Theo that is on the property. In addition to swimming in the lake, you can also try your luck at fishing.
8. Colorado Bend State Park, Bend
Colorado Bend State Park is another one of the unique state parks that you will find in Texas. While the park offers numerous trails and campsites, the star attraction at Colorado Bend is Gorman Falls.
After walking a rocky and uneven 1.5-mile trail, hikers descend down a rock embankment before being greeted by Gorman Falls. The 70-foot, spring-fed waterfall cascades down the hillside and makes you feel as though you have been transported to a Caribbean Island. You haven’t though, you’re still in Texas!
Of course, if you aren’t up for this hike, you can still enjoy a visit to Colorado Bend State Park. The park offers other outdoor activities like hiking, biking, and fishing.
9. Big Bend Ranch State Park, Presidio
The beautiful desert terrain here seems to go on forever and offers visitors plenty of opportunities to spread out and find a space all their own. Visitors to Big Bend Ranch State Park can explore the area on horseback, by hiking or biking, or by using their own vehicle.
Campers can choose from the park’s primitive sites or their equestrian sites for overnight accommodations. Since this park is designated as an International Dark Sky Park, the stargazing here is incredible!
The Rio Grande River is accessible through the park, making it easy to spend the day fishing or boating during your visit.
Pro Tip: Summers here are extremely hot, so avoid visiting at this time if possible. The best time to visit is fall or winter when the temperatures are mild and the evenings are a little chilly.
10. Garner State Park, Concan
Garner State Park is one of our favorite state parks to visit in the summer months thanks to its easy access to the Frio River.
A major attraction to Garner State Park is the fact that it is perfect for outdoor activities, especially tubing down the Frio River. Surrounded by the scenic Texas Hill Country, Garner State Park offers visitors miles of trails, picnic areas, and, of course, the river!
In addition to all of that, Garner State Park also offers equipment rentals for visitors to enjoy. This includes kayaks, inner tubes, tables, fans, and barbecue pits!
Pro Tip: Visit during the summer months to participate in the community dance that takes place here. This tradition has taken place since the 1940s and continues today. Just be sure to arrive early as this is a popular event that fills up fast!