21 of The Best Texas State Parks for Outdoor Recreation and Relaxation

If you want to explore the great outdoors in Texas, you’ll find no shortage of parks. Although Texas is home to two National Parks and various regional, city, and county parks, the outdoor spaces managed by Texas Parks and Wildlife are some of the state’s most beautiful and historic spots.

Texas has 89 state parks, historic sites, and natural areas to explore. Whether looking for a day trip or planning a week-long camping adventure, Texas State Parks are one of the most budget-friendly options for exploring the state.

Check the individual park’s website for entry fees and reservation information while planning your visit. Some of the more popular spaces will reach capacity during peak times.

Here are 21 of the best Texas State Parks to put on your bucket list.

1. Bastrop State Park

The city of Bastrop and Bastrop State Park is located 35 miles from downtown Austin. It is the site of the famous “Lost Pines,” an isolated region of Loblolly pines and hardwoods. Forest fires and floods have ravaged the park recently, but nature bounces back.

Hike, bike, or fish in Lake Mina. The park has seven miles of trails and a swimming pool that is open seasonally. Explore Park Road 1C between Bastrop and Buescher state parks to enjoy the park’s scenery. The hilly 12-mile road takes you through recovering and forested areas of the Lost Pines.

If you’re interested in exploring more of the outdoor areas near Austin, check out the town of Driftwood or go for a hike at Hamilton Pool Preserve.

The park has many tent sites, but if roughing it isn’t your thing, Bastrop State Park has several cabins to rent that sleep anywhere from two to eight people. There are indoor cooking facilities, a window A/C unit in the living area, and ceiling fans in the bedroom. The cabins are a step up from sleeping in a tent but still quite rustic.

2. Guadalupe River State Park

A short, easy drive from San Antonio and Austin, Guadalupe River State Park is a popular swimming spot for south and central Texas residents. With four miles of river frontage, the Guadalupe River is the star of the show, but there are other things to do, too.

Swimming and picnicking in the day-use area along the river banks are the most popular pastimes at this Texas state park. Arrive early to stake out your spot, especially on summer weekends.

The park also has 13 miles of hike and bike trails. Grab a map and recommendations from the park rangers.

If you’d like to overnight camp, the park has 85 water and electric campsites and nine walk-in tent sites. Texas Park Outfitters provides equipment rental and setup if you don’t have camping equipment. For more information and to book their service, visit the Texas Park Outfitters website.

3. Palo Duro Canyon State Park

Located near Amarillo, Palo Duron Canyon is the second-largest canyon in the United States. Texas Parks and Wildlife manage half of the canyon, and the other half is private land.

Hiking and horseback riding are two of the most popular pastimes at Palo Duro Canyon State Park. It’s the best way to take in the park’s stunning scenery and rock formations. You can join a guided ride if you don’t have a horse.

Explore the private side of the canyon by booking a tour with Palo Duro Creek Ranch.

If you want to camp in Palo Duro Canyon State Park, you have options galore, with full campsites with electricity and water for RVs, equestrian sites, tent sites, and backcountry camping areas. The park has three cabins on the canyon’s rim and four cabins on the canyon floor, all very rustic.

Palo Duro Glamping might be for you if you’re more of a glamper than a camper. Each site is fully furnished and has amenities like bikes and board games. There’s also no shortage of private cabin rentals in hotels in the nearby town of Canyon.

4. Caprock Canyon State Park & Trailway

The bison roaming free throughout the park makes this lesser-known Texas State Park really special. Check with the ranger station and read the posted signs for wildlife safety tips.

The red rock terrain of the park is similar to Palo Duro Canyon State Park, but Caprock Canyons is decidedly less lively.

Campsites range from drive-up sites with electricity to hike-in primitive sites. Equestrian campsites with corrals are also available. Make sure you’re an experienced rider before you try it.

Caprock Canyon State Park has over 90 miles of trails to explore. Mountain biking, hiking, and horseback riding are all popular things to do.

5. San Angelo State Park

San Angelo State Park is located just outside San Angelo, Texas. The park converges on the banks of O.C. Fisher Reservoir and the Concho River, which runs through the nearby city.

Explore Angelo State Park, which has over 50 miles of multi-use trails for hiking and exploring. Check out bison and real Texas Longhorn cattle, hike, camp, fish, and geocache. Fish, boat, and swim in the reservoir and river. San Angelo State Park also offers a Junior Ranger program and fishing equipment loans.

If you want to enjoy camping, San Angelo State Park offers a variety of options, from rustic cabins to primitive hike-in sites.

6. Pedernales Falls State Park

Pedernales Falls State Park is located along the Pedernales River, nine miles east of Johnson City. It’s a popular camping spot for San Antonio and Austin.

Explore over 20 hiking trails of varying lengths, elevation gains, and difficulties. The swimming area can be accessed after a quarter-mile strenuous hike. There’s a steep stone staircase with no railings to navigate to the water.

Pedernales Falls State Park has two campsites options. One has electricity and water with 69 available campsites allowing eight people at each site. The other is a primitive location that takes a 2-mile hike to get to and allows four people at each campsite.

7. Blanco State Park

This small park is a summertime favorite of South and Central Texans as well as Texas Hill Country residents. This small park hugs a one-mile stretch of the Blanco River.

Swim, paddle, picnic, or go fishing. Fishing equipment may be available at the park’s visitor center.

Various camping options allow travelers to choose from full hookup sites or check out a screened shelter overlooking the river.

8. Mustang Island State Park

Mustang Island State Park is located near Port Aransas and has five miles of Texas Gulf Coast running through the park. Visitors who want to combine a trip to the beach with the amenities of a state park will want to put Mustang Island State Park at the top of their list.

What you typically enjoy at the beach can be done at Mustang Island State Park. Surf, swim, build sandcastles, or just laze on the beach. There’s also a paddling trail.

Mustang Island State Park has 48 campsites with electricity and 50 primitive campsites. There are plenty of lodging options in the area for day-use visitors.

9. Garner State Park

Garner State Park is one of the most popular state parks in Texas. Located 90 miles west of San Antonio near the city of Concan, the park has nearly three miles of Frio River access.

Some of Garner State Park’s most popular warm-weather activities are swimming, canoeing, and tubing in the Frio River. There are 16 miles of trails to explore, including the popular Old Baldy Summit, a short but steep hike that rewards hikers with incredible views.

The park has nightly dances during the summer season, starting Memorial Day weekend. Dancing at Garner State Park has been a Texas tradition since the 1940s.

There are campsites, screened shelters, and cabins, but visitors must make reservations as far in advance as possible. The campsites and cabins book up quickly, and the park can reach capacity for day-use visitors.

10. Davis Mountains State Park

Located in the mountains of West Texas, Davis Mountains State Park offers views of remote, rugged landscapes, miles of trails, and opportunities to view the night sky. If you’re exploring Marfa or Alpine, you’re right in the neighborhood, so make sure to carve out some time to explore the park.

Watch birds at the “best little bird blind in Texas.” It has an enclosed viewing station, a shielded outdoor patio, food, and water stations.

Hike or mountain bike; the 4.5-mile Skyline Drive Trail meanders up and down mountain ridges and valleys. Davis Mountains State Park is also a great place to explore by car. There are plenty of places to stop and admire the view and see the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps.

There’s a 1.75-mile trail that connects the park to Fort Davis National Historic Site, which is also worth exploring.

If you want to camp, Davis Mountains State Park offers 90+ campsites. Primitive/backcountry camping is also permitted. If you want a bit more luxury, the historic 39-room Indian Lodge has a restaurant and a pool.

11. Caddo Lake State Park

The 26,000-acre Caddo Lake is located on the border of Texas and Louisiana. Caddo Lake is the largest natural lake in Texas, and the unique East Texas bayou landscape is popular with visitors.

Fishing is one of the most popular activities in the park. There are over 70 species of fish in Caddo Lake. Paddling, hiking, and wildlife watching are among other things visitors can do. Alligators live in the park, so read and heed the alligator safety rules.

It offers a variety of campsites, screened shelters, and cabins.

12. Brazos Bend State Park

Brazos Bend State Park is located 45 miles from downtown Houston. It is a great place for city dwellers, or anyone else, to visit and get up close and personal with nature. Although the park is a day trip from Houston, visitors can overnight here, too.

The park has 37 miles of trails, some of which are stroller and wheelchair friendly. There’s a boardwalk for wildlife viewing. Both shore and pier fishing are available. Alligators live in the Brazos Bend State Park, so beware of the alligator safety rules.

There are 73 campsites with electricity and 15 primitive walk-in campsites. The park also has 13 screened shelters and one cabin. None of the structures have bathrooms.

13. Balmorhea State Park

Balmorhea State Park is a cool oasis in the high desert of West Texas that is most popular for its spring-fed swimming pool. There are 33 campsites with electricity there. The San Solomon Motor Court, which is motel-style lodging built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, is currently closed for renovation.

The world’s largest spring-fed pool is the biggest draw for Balmorhea State Park. The pool is open year-round, and entrance to the pool is included in the park admission fee. There is an additional fee for scuba diving. No lifeguard is on duty, and the pool closes at 7:30 p.m. or at sunset.

14. Lockhart State Park

Located between San Antonio and Austin, this small park is a scenic place to relax and enjoy the outdoors.

Lockhart State Park has both a golf course and a swimming pool. Advance reservations are available and recommended for both. There are separate charges to golf or swim, on top of park entrance fees.

Other popular activities include picnicking, fishing in Clear Fork Creek, and exploring the park’s nature and hiking trails.

Lockhart State Park offers ten full hookup campsites and ten sites with electricity.

15. Palmetto State Park

Palmetto State Park offers a little taste of the tropics in Central Texas. Named for the dwarf Palmetto trees that prominently grow throughout the park, this quiet park is within an hour’s drive of San Antonio and Austin.

Palmetto State Park has two water sources, the San Marcos River and Oxbow Lake. Canoeing, paddling, tubing, and fishing are all popular activities. The park is partnered with a rental company that offers kayaks and paddleboards. There are also easy hiking trails that wind through the park.

The park has 17 sites with electricity and 19 sites with water. There’s one air-conditioned cabin available to rent.

16. Big Bend Ranch State Park

This remote park stretches along the Rio Grande in far west Texas, on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Float or fish in the river or explore the park’s 238 miles of trails. Big Bend Ranch State Park is designated as an International Dark Skies Park, so this is a great place to see stars sans light pollution.

Carefully check the park’s website for weather warnings and vehicle requirements. As the park is self-named “The Other Side of Nowhere,” help or services are not around the corner if something goes wrong, so ensure you’re prepared.

Guests who want to spend the night must be prepared to rough it at one of several drive-in or hike-in primitive campsites. If you need a roof over your head, you can rent a bed in the Saucedo Bunkhouse, which sleeps 30, for $35 per night. Bring your own linens and firewood.

17. McKinney Falls State Park

Stunning views await at this beautiful park featuring water from Onion Creek that rushes over the limestone. It is just 13 miles from downtown Austin, so it’s an easy day trip for a more urban vacation.

McKinney Falls State Park is popular with day hikers. Fish or swim in Onion Creek, go bouldering or have a picnic.

Ninety campsites with electricity and water are available if you want to stay overnight.

18. Inks Lake State Park

Inks Lake State Park is very popular and frequently appears at the top of the best Texas State Parks lists. It is located in the Texas Hill Country and is a popular warm-weather spot for water activities.

The water level in Inks Lake stays constant year-round, which makes it an ideal spot for swimming, boating, and fishing. There’s a designated no-wake area for paddlers. You can rent paddleboards and canoes and purchase food supplies inside Inks Lake State Park.

There are nine miles of hiking trails if you want to explore on land. Take a short hike to swim in Devil’s Waterhole or enjoy scenic waterfalls upstream from the lake if Valley Spring Creek is running.

There are 170 campsites with varying amenities. All but a handful of hike-in primitive sites have water. There are 22 cabins that sleep four people, but none have restrooms.

19. Enchanted Rock State Natural Area

Located just outside of Fredericksburg, this massive pink granite dome is a favorite hiking and recreation spot for South and Central Texans.

Hike to the summit for beautiful views. There are 8.4 total miles of trails. Rock climbing, birding, and stargazing are popular activities.

If you’re interested in dark sky viewing, night hikes, or star parties, this is your place. Check the schedule for ranger-led programs.

There are 35 walk-in campsites with water and 20 hike-in primitive sites.

20. Lost Maples State Natural Area

While Texas is hardly known for being a top-rated spot for leaf peeping, you can enjoy plenty of brilliant fall foliage at Los Maples State Natural Area. Located in the Texas Hill Country on the banks of the Sabinal River, this is where Texans go to soak in the fall scenery. It is an easy drive from San Antonio or Austin.

Locals come here for day hikes, but you can camp at Lost Maples, too.

The glorious fall colors draw the most visitors. But spring brings wildflowers and the river are beautiful all year. Birding, fishing, and stargazing are other popular things to enjoy here.

There are 28 sites with electricity and 50 hike-in sites.

21. Government Canyon State Natural Area

Government Canyon State Natural Area is located in northwest San Antonio. The biggest draw is the hike to 110 million-year-old dinosaur tracks. This moderately easy, five-mile trail is very popular with families who come with dinosaur-loving kids.

The dinosaur tracks can be found at the Joe Johnston Route. In addition, there are other trails to explore. Shop at the area’s onsite gift shop selling books about Texas and other souvenirs.

There are 23 walk-in campsites with water if you want to stay overnight.

Plan Your Next Adventure

Whether you’re looking for something packed with amenities or solitude to soak in the beauty of the outdoors, a park in Texas is waiting for you. Contact Texas Parks and Wildlife for more information

This article originally appeared on Wealth of Geeks. Photo Credit: [@rickmcmillin/DepositPhotos]

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
21 of The Best Texas State Parks for Outdoor Recreation and Relaxation
Jill Robbins

Jill Robbins is a San Antonio-based writer and the voice behind Ripped Jeans and Bifocals. What began as an adoption journal to chronicle two back-to-back adoption trips to China is now a robust family lifestyle and travel site, featuring destination guides, travel tips, and ideas for outdoor fun and exploration. Her writing has been featured in Business Insider, The Washington Post, Yahoo Life, Tripsavvy, Matador Network, and various other digital and print publications. Jill is also the travel editor at Wealth of Geeks.