Contrary to popular belief, Texas is much more than just a flat prairie. Texas is full of varied terrain ranging from mountain ranges to pine woods. One of the best ways to experience the state’s landscape is to visit Texas’ many state parks.
Texas state parks are home to canyons, waterfalls, expansive beaches, and incredible mountain ranges. This diversity means you can have fun and unique experiences throughout the state when you visit its state parks. Whether you’re planning a weekend getaway or an easy day trip, these state parks will do the trick.
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’s where I come in! I was born and raised in Texas and I still call it home today, so I’ve 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 “The Grand Canyon of Texas!” Offering 30 miles of hiking trails, it’s an outdoor enthusiast’s dream.
Located on the Texas Panhandle near Amarillo, Palo Duro Canyon State Park has several campsites and plenty of trails to explore. The trails here are versatile and allow for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. The views of the canyon from many trails are incredible and allow visitors to really take in some of Texas’ varied landscapes.
Palo Duro Canyon also hosts a theater production called 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 parks in Texas that also offers glamping accommodations, perfect for a weekend in Palo Duro Canyon. These accommodations are perfect for people who want to connect with the great outdoors while enjoying the comforts we are used 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 of swamps laden with magnificent bald cypress trees covered in Spanish moss.
Although there are hiking trails at Caddo Lake Park, most people prefer to explore the park by kayak or canoe. You can bring your own or rent one in the park to paddle the 50 miles of paddling trails on Caddo Lake.
If the idea of paddling your own craft doesn’t appeal to you, consider taking a guided tour of the lake. There are several independent companies that offer this type of service.
If you want to stay at Caddo Lake for a while, you can choose one of their campsites or rent one of the historic cabins that are on site.
The park is a natural environment, so there is rugged terrain associated with visiting. Caddo Lake State Park offers 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 follow all warning advice provided by the park.
3. Pedernales Falls State Park, Johnson City
Pedernales Falls State Park is located in beautiful Texas Hill Country near the small town of Johnson City. This Texas park is a great place for some rest and relaxation.
Here the Pedernales River cascades over the large limestone rocks creating a beautiful waterfall. The turbulent nature of the river during periods 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 a network of equestrian trails.
Please note that the trails leading to the river are rugged and not wheelchair accessible. However, the paved path leading to the store is wheelchair accessible.
4. Mustang Island State Park, Corpus Christi
Mustang Island State Park is located on a long barrier island between Port Aransas and Corpus Christi. This Texas beach offers visitors the opportunity to spend a day on the Texas coast.
Encompassing 5 miles of waterfront and 100 campsites, Mustang Island State Park offers plenty of room to spread out and have fun. Here you can spend the day fishing, swimming, surfing or bird watching. For those of you feeling adventurous, Mustang Island also offers 20 miles of canoe 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 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, tubing on the river!
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 of Texas’ awesome state parks.
The large pink granite boulder that is Enchanted Rock is visible for miles around. As soon as it appears on the horizon, you know you’re in for a treat.
Visitors flock to Enchanted Rock to hike, camp and, of course, climb the pink dome rock. Therefore, it is no surprise that it is one of the most popular parks in the state. There is even evidence that Enchanted Rock has been visited for thousands of years.
If you choose to rock climb during your visit, you will need to sign a waiver 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 note that you need a good pair of hiking shoes to climb Enchanted Rock, and note that the granite rock is quite slippery when wet.
7. Caprock Canyons State Park, Quitaque
Caprock Canyons State Park offers visitors rugged terrain, a tunnel that bats love to call home, and a prairie that is home to native bison. What else do you need in a state park?
In addition to wildlife viewing here, visitors can also enjoy nearly 90 miles of hiking and biking trails that vary in ability level. Of course, there are also campsites here, including equestrian campsites.
When you need relief from the Texas sun, you can jump into the 120-acre Lake Theo which sits 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 you will find in Texas. While the park offers plenty of trails and campsites, Colorado Bend’s star attraction is Gorman Falls.
After traversing a rugged, rocky 1.5 mile trail, hikers descend a rocky embankment before being greeted by Gorman Falls. The 70-foot spring-fed waterfall cascades down the hillside and makes you feel like you’ve been transported to a Caribbean island. It’s not, you’re still in Texas!
Of course, if you’re not up for this hike, you can always 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
Big Bend Ranch State Park is located in southwest Texas on the US-Mexico border. As the largest state park in the Lone Star State, Big Bend Ranch spans over 300,000 acres!
The beautiful desert terrain here seems to go on forever and offers visitors plenty of opportunities to spread out and find a space of their own. Visitors to Big Bend Ranch State Park can explore the area on horseback, hike or bike, or by using their own vehicle.
Campers can choose from the park’s primitive sites or their equestrian sites for overnight accommodation. Since this park is designated as an International Dark Sky Park, stargazing here is amazing!
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 a bit chilly.
10. Garner State Park, Concan
Garner State Park is one of our favorite state parks to visit during the summer months thanks to its easy access to the Frio River.
One of the main attractions of Garner State Park is the fact that it is perfect for outdoor activities, especially tubing down the Frio River. Surrounded by scenic Texas Hill Country, Garner State Park offers visitors miles of trails, picnic areas and, of course, the river!
In addition to all this, Garner State Park also offers equipment rentals for the enjoyment of visitors. This includes kayaks, inner tubes, tables, fans and barbecues!
Pro Tip: Visit during the summer months to take part 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 quickly!