Different corners of Texas deliver a different version of landscape, from wide open skies to mountains and beaches, some bristling with cacti. Technically speaking Texas has two national parks – Big Bend National Park and Guadalupe Mountains National Park, both in far west Texas. But the National Parks Services also operates 16 more public spaces in the Lone Star State, from national parks to historic sights, nature trails and even a national seashore. Today, we’re sharing with you some of our favorite state and national parks in Texas to plan your trip around!
1. Big Bend National Park
Let’s start with the big boys. Big Bend National Park in Far West Texas is where night skies are as dark as coal and rivers carve canyons in ancient limestone. Hundreds of bird species take refuge in a solitary mountain range that’s surrounded by weather-beaten desert. Tenacious cactus thrive under the southwestern sun, along with a diversity of wildlife species. The largest of national parks in Texas, Big Bend has plenty of space with over 801,100 acres of land. The last thing you’ll find here is big crowds!
2. Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Another spot to feel like you’re the only one around for miles and miles, experience mountains and canyons, desert and dunes, night skies and spectacular vistas in a place unlike any other. Guadalupe Mountains National Park protects the world’s most extensive Permian fossil reef, which reveals that this area had been underwater for five million years! There are over 80 miles of hiking trails here that will take you to some of the most beautiful viewpoints, including the highest peak in Texas. Stay the night if you can – backcountry camping affords an unparalleled stargazing opportunity.
3. Balmorhea State Park
It’s hard to imagine a giant spring swirling with fish in the middle of a desert, but that’s exactly what Balmorhea State Park offers. Fed from the San Solomon Springs, Native Americans, early explorers, and travelling soldiers have all drunk from here. In the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps turned the desert wetland into the world’s largest spring-fed swimming hole. Now it’s popular with swimmers, divers, snorkelling, or just about anyone looking to have a pool day.
4. Big Thicket National Preserve
From the longleaf pine forests to cypress-lined bayous, Big Thicket National Preserve is one of the most beautiful national parks in Texas. There are also four types of carnivorous plants here, so this is where to be if you want to watch them trap an unsuspecting insect and turn it into a meal. Hiking trails and waterways meander through nine different ecosystems, so paddlers can explore via kayak or canoe, too. Fishing is also a popular pastime here and in fall and winter, you can pursue deer, hogs, and other animals during hunting season.
5. Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park
If you’re looking to combine your outdoor trip with a history lesson, this historic park tells the story of America’s 36th President, Lyndon B. Johnson. Begin with the President’s grandparents in Johnson Settlement, where they settled in the 1860s. Then get a sense of what rural Texas life was like as you tour his boyhood home in Johnson City. Finally, head to his birthplace, home and final resting place at the LBJ Ranch. Unfortunately, the Texas White House is still closed due to structural issues, but visitors can still tour the Ranch on a driving tour.
6. Enchanted Rock State Park
The massive pink granite dome rising above Central Texas formed a billion years ago, when magma rose up through the earth’s surface and hardened into a granite batholith. Folklore of local Native American tribes ascribes magical and spiritual powers to the rock (hence its name!) The park has 11 miles of hiking trails, of which a must-do is of course to get to the top of the dome. There are also rock climbing areas. Come evening, set up camp and get ready to stargaze under one of the darkest skies in the world. And maybe listen for the weird noises that spooky legends say happen at night.