Texas is known for it’s rich history in the development of our nation, but it’s physically characterized by breath-taking scenery. When you think about the landscape of the Lone Star state, images of flat desert come to mind, but Texas is full of high peaks and low caves. Below is a list of top 10 national and state parks to go out and explore:
1. Big Bend National Park and Big Bend Ranch State Park
Big Bend National Park and it’s neighbor, Big Bend Ranch State Park, both sit on the border of the U.S. and Mexico. The Rio Grande runs through both parks which encompass and protect a large portion of the Chihuahua desert. The two parks offer more than 200 miles of hiking trails, some of which can be completed in a day. Notable sites within the park include Chisos Basin and Rio Grande Village.
A Native American legend claims Caddo Lake was formed when one of the Caddo Chiefs failed to obey the Great Spirit. The Great Spirit retaliated with an earthquake which created and filled the lake. Today, the cypress swamp of Caddo Lake State Park is an excellent location to camp, hike and kayak.
3. Longhorn Caverns State Park
Once a refuge for ice age animals, Native American peoples, pioneer settlers, Confederate soldiers and outlaws, Longhorn Caverns State Park is now attraction for all. The limestone caverns were formed by an underground river that dwindled away thousands of years ago. The naturally cool temperature of the caverns (68F) makes this destination ideal to visit during the summer months. While there is no overnight camping allowed, there are daily tours available.
4. Padre Island National Seashore
Located off the southern coast of Texas, the Padre Island National Seashore is a constantly changing coastline of dunes and tidal flats. One of the island’s greatest attractions, Kemp’s ridley sea turtles nest their eggs along the coast. If you have a chance to visit, don’t miss the sunset over the Gulf of Mexico.
5. Enchanted Rock State Natural Area
The Enchanted Rock, a massive pink granite dome, is the focal piece of this Texan park, located in the plains west of Austin. Visible for miles in the area, this rock is has been exposed for (as geologists estimate) more than one billion years. A short .6 mile hike will lead you up to spectacular views of the park.
6. Monahans Sandhills State Park
Located near the town of Monahans, Monahans Sandhills State Park has sand dunes that can up to 70 feet tall. This is an ideal location for recreational activities like sand-boarding, sand surfing and sand football.
7. Kickapoo Cavern State Park
With 18 miles of trails available to birders, hikers and mountain bikers, this park has more to offer below the plains of the southwest. This state park has 20 caves, the largest of which is open to the public via guided flashlight tours. The park has something to offer to animal lovers in particular, visitors can watch Mexican free tailed bats emerge from the caves from March through October.
8. Hueco Tanks Park and Historic Site
Once inhabited by the people of Jornada Mogollon, the Hueco Tanks Park and Historic Site are know for the pictographs left behind by previous cultures. There are more than 200 face designs left behind by the Mogollon, as well as pictographs from the Apaches and Kiowas.
9) Pedernales Falls State Park
Whether you want to climb over the limestone rocks along the Pedernales River or wade in the low flow of the river, this park is full of gorgeous scenery. Be careful of the highly variable levels of the river, when it is low it is ideal for swimming.
10) Palo Duro Canyon State Park
Home to the second largest canyon in the U.S., this park has 30 miles of biking, hiking and equestrian trails. You may also see Longhorn steers grazing along these trails, part of official Texas state longhorn herd is known to wander around the edge of the park.