Texas is a mix of myth, legend, and attitude. This goes for the geography, the people, and the state’s history. Native Texans like to boast about their state and have plenty to boast about in many respects.
The State Park System in Texas is an example. Few states in the US can match the number, diversity, and richness of the Texas State Park System.
Texas State Parks are managed by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. The TPWD oversees 640,000 acres of parks, historic sites, and natural areas. Part of this land is the Texas State Park system and the 89 parks within the system. From seashores to alpine mountain areas, you can find Texas State Parks to match your destination dreams.
Picking 20 parks from the 89 official Texas State Parks list is no easy task. Every one of the Texas State Parks has a unique flavor. Most were chosen to protect something very special, making the parks some of the best in the world.
In my travels around Texas, I have visited more than a few Texas State Parks, and these are my picks as the ones you don’t want to miss.
- 1. Palo Duro Canyon State Park
- 2. Davis Mountains State Park
- 3. Mustang Island State Park
- 4. Palmetto State Park
- 5. Goliad State Park and Historic Site
- 6. Kickapoo Cavern State Park
- 7. Balmorhea State Park
- 8. Big Bend Ranch State Park
- 9. Galveston Island State Park
- 10. Lake Casa Blanca International State Park
- 11. Lockhart State Park
- 12. Longhorn Cavern State Park
- 13. Inks Lake State Park
- 14. Lake Corpus Christi State Park
- 15. Mission Tejas State Park
- 16. Monahans Sandhills State Park
- 17. Caprock Canyons State Park and Trailway
- 18. Dinosaur Valley State Park
- 19. Fort Boggy State Park
- 20. Lake Mineral Wells State Park and Trailway
- Texas – A Land that is Big, Beautiful, and Diverse
1. Palo Duro Canyon State Park
Texans like to claim that everything in Texas is big. While not the biggest canyon in the United States, Palo Duro comes in a close second. Situated just a few miles south and east of Amarillo, Palo Duro Canyon State Park is easy to access from Interstate 27.
You can tour the park easily by paved road to get a feel for the canyon system. However, some of the most intriguing features, such as Lighthouse rock, require hiking to get an up-close look.
If camping is your thing, you will find a fully developed park. Amenities range from full RV hookups to back-country primitive camping. You can even rent a fully furnished rock cabin for your overnight visit.
One attraction to be sure to make is the seasonal performance of the outdoor musical “Texas” performed in the outdoor amphitheater. You can enjoy a BBQ dinner and the show in season. Other activities include horseback riding, birdwatching, and a zip line outside the park entrance.
For more information about Palo Duro Canyon State Park, follow this link. Campground reservations are available by clicking here. For more information about the outdoor musical “Texas,” check out the webpage here.
2. Davis Mountains State Park
From a deep and majestic canyon, we go high into the mountains of southwest Texas to visit Davis Mountains State Park. Many people think of Texas as being a flat desert country. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The Davis Mountain region contains peaks as high as 8,000 feet, with pine forests, hardwood forests, and alpine areas to delight anyone. Drive up the mountain to view the incredible vistas over the surrounding area.
Davis Mountains State Park boasts one of the most beautiful developed campgrounds in the system. Full RV hookups are available, or you can find primitive camps in the surrounding area. Restrooms and bathhouses are available.
If camping is not your thing, put Indian Lodge on your bucket list visit. This comfortable and elegant facility was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s and has been continually upgraded and improved. Make your reservations early if you plan to visit Indian Lodge by clicking here.
A highlight of a visit to Davis Mountains State Park is a visit to the McDonald Observatory, just a few miles away. You can take tours of the massive telescopes, learn more about astronomy at the Visitor Center, or make reservations to attend a Star Party in the evening for some stargazing. For reservations, click here.
3. Mustang Island State Park
One of my favorite places to visit is the Texas Gulf Coast, and no beach is more inviting than Mustang Island State Park. This state park is located on one of the barrier islands between the Gulf of Mexico and the inland waterway known as Laguna Madre. Mustang Island State Park and the beach are popular attractions even in the winter.
Mustang Island State Park has an RV campground with electric and water hookups. A dump station is provided as well. Shower facilities and bathrooms are close to your RV space. Primitive camping is available at 50 drive-up campsites scattered throughout the park.
The beach is only a short walk over the dunes from your campsite. You can also enjoy kayaking, boating, swimming, and fishing at the park.
Mustang Island enjoys one of the few established kayaking trails. The Mustang Island State Park Paddling Trail will lead you along the western shoreline in Corpus Christi Bay.
Reservations at the RV park and for primitive campsites can be made at this link. Reservations are encouraged, especially during the summer months.
4. Palmetto State Park
Texas has it all. Deserts, alpine regions, beaches. Is there anything else? Of course, there is. How about a tropical paradise in the heart of Texas?
Palmetto State Park is an hour south of San Antonio. Here you will find a tropical oasis that includes several water sources that contribute to the lush tropical vegetation in this park.
You can swim or tube in the San Marcos River or fish and canoe to your heart’s content. Kayaks are for rent in the park. Water features heavily in this park, where you can visit Oxbow Lake and an artesian well.
Watch for wildlife around the swamps that make up part of the park area. Of course, hiking, biking, and birdwatching are huge attractions at Palmetto State Park.
If you want to stay in the park, reserve one of the 19 tent campsites or 19 RV campsites. If camping isn’t your style, rent the park’s air-conditioned cabin that can accommodate up to six people. Make your reservations at this link.
You can even access the park by Kayak using the Luling Zedler Mill Paddling Trail. Get on the water at the Luling City Park and paddle the six to seven-hour trip to the park on the San Marcos River. This is the best way to see this amazing part of Texas.
5. Goliad State Park and Historic Site
Texas has a rich historical past with traditions from many cultures. Six flags have flown over Texas in the past, including the Lone Star Flag of the Republic of Texas. Much of the historic flavor of Texas can be experienced at Goliad State Park and Historic Site.
Goliad State Park pays homage to the Spanish influences that helped shape Texas. One of the battles that eventually led to the establishment of the Republic of Texas occurred in Goliad. You can learn more about these historical events at the Visitor Center in the park.
There are enough activities to keep you involved for several days, so plan to spend a few nights at the park’s campsites or RV sites. You can choose tent camping with water only or bring your RV and reserve a campsite with full hookups. Screen shelters are also available to rent. Click this link to make reservations.
Apart from the chance to immerse yourself in Texas history, you can fish, swim, or paddle to your heart’s content in the San Antonio River. There are ruins of Spanish missions to explore and miles of hiking and biking trails for your enjoyment. Birdwatching in Goliad State Park attracts birders from around the world.
6. Kickapoo Cavern State Park
While you are in the San Antonio area, plan a trip to Kickapoo Cavern State Park. The park has more than 20 known caves, and the largest is Kickapoo.
Texas has as much to offer underground as it does above ground. One thing to remember, the cave tours are only offered on Saturdays, so plan accordingly.
Entry to the caves is strictly controlled to protect park visitors and the bats that inhabit the caves. You must make reservations for a tour at this link well in advance of your visit. You will see the fabulous cave formations formed by water millions of years ago.
If caving doesn’t excite you, there are miles of hiking and biking trails throughout the park to enjoy. Over 140 species of migrant and native birds can be seen in the park during the year, making this a birdwatcher’s haven. You can borrow binoculars at the Park Headquarters if you don’t bring your own.
An overnight stay at Kickapoo Cavern State Park is a treat allowing you to watch the bats fly from the caves at sunset. The park has ten campsites with water and a small RV park with full hookups.
T&T Tip: Make your reservations early by clicking this link to ensure your space is available.
7. Balmorhea State Park
Few people think of swimming or scuba diving when someone mentions the arid desert region of West Texas. A visit to Balmorhea State Park is a treat, especially in the summer when temperatures can soar above the 100-degree mark.
Balmorhea State Park is home to the world’s largest spring-fed swimming pool. The natural spring flows more than 15 million gallons of water through the pool every day. In places, the pool is 25 feet deep and covers 1.3 acres. Be prepared. The water temperature is a chilly 72 to 76 degrees.
The park and pool are surrounded by large trees that shade the picnic areas. If you want to play volleyball or other outdoor sports, there are areas just for those activities.
Birdwatching is huge in Balmorhea State Park, so bring your binoculars. The wetlands are fed by a part of the spring and are home to numerous endangered species that can be viewed if you are lucky.
Camping is available at the park at one of the 34 campsites. The San Solomon Springs Courts offer motel-style accommodations for the less hardy. This facility was built in 1930 by the Civilian Conservation Corps and offered a retro-style experience. To make reservations click this link.
8. Big Bend Ranch State Park
If you are looking for solitude instead of the usual tourist fare, then Big Bend State Park is a perfect choice. This park is in the remote southwest region of Texas in the high desert country.
With over 300,000 acres in the park to explore, camp, hike and 4-wheel drive, you can be assured of finding a place where you won’t be disturbed.
This park lies alongside the Rio Grande River and offers the opportunity to float and fish even though it is a desert area. The park has more than 238 miles of multi-use trails that can accommodate hikers or horseback riders. If 4-wheeling is a passion, 70 miles of rough, unmaintained roads beckon those with high clearance vehicles.
Camping is mostly drive-up or hike-in style. This park can find some of the most amazing Texas vistas. Imagine waking up to a sunrise over vast mountains, deep canyons, and the Rio Grande River.
If you like things a little less primitive, make reservations at the Saucedo Bunkhouse. You will need to bring your linens and is true bunkhouse-style accommodations.
Separate areas are provided for men and women, and there is a kitchen but no food service. You are on your own with your fellow bunkhouse residents. For reservations for camping or the bunkhouse, click here.
9. Galveston Island State Park
Galveston Island State Park straddles Galveston Island offering gulf side beaches and bayside access. With access to both sides of the island, this park offers a wide array of activities to keep you occupied. Galveston Island has a grand and rich historical tradition to explore and discover.
For beach lovers, the Gulf side of the island offers pristine beaches, warm gulf waters, and ample space to enjoy the sun and surf. Long sunset strolls on the beach are a favorite pastime.
On the bay side, you can enjoy some of the best fishing on the gulf coast or catch a glimpse of the many species of birds.
Don’t forget to visit Galveston. You can explore the railroad museum, the historic seaport, or one of the many fine art galleries scattered around the historic downtown area. A unique offshore oil drilling rig can be toured, and no one should miss the Moody Gardens.
Camping at the park is available year-round. Sites are limited, and reservations are a must. This is an RV or travel trailer-only park. No tent camping is allowed. Each site has full hookups, and a 50-amp service is available. Click here to make your reservations early.
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10. Lake Casa Blanca International State Park
Lake Casa Blanca International State Park is a bucket list destination of one of the great Texas State Parks near the border with Mexico. Located in Laredo, Texas, on the shores of Lake Casa Blanca, this is a premier state park in the Texas system.
The border with Mexico is minutes away from the park. Across the border lies Nuevo Laredo, which offers an international flavor to explore. However, you won’t have to make that trip to find lots to keep you occupied. Lake Casa Blanca is a mecca for boaters, water skiers, and fishermen.
You can hike and bike around the trails, swim at the beach on the lake or visit the Webb County golf course nearby. The park also features playgrounds, a baseball field, volleyball, and basketball courts. Geocaching in the park has become popular for young and old alike.
Lake Casa Blanca International State Park offers a full-service campground with water and electricity at all campsites. Sewer connections are available at selected campsites as well. If your group is larger, one of the picnic pavilions or a group hall might be a better fit. Make your reservations ahead of time for this popular park by clicking here.
11. Lockhart State Park
If you are in the Austin or San Antonio area and are looking for a peaceful and restful place to spend some time, Lockhart State Park should fill the bill nicely. This quiet park with many trees, fishing in Clear Fork Creek, or swimming at the park swimming pool is a great getaway.
Lockhart State Park is one of only a handful of Texas State Parks with its golf course. The nine-hole course was built by the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps more than 80 years ago.
Of course, you can hike the many trails in the park or ride your mountain bike. Fishing in Clear Fork Creek can yield abundant sunfish, catfish, and bass. The calm and tranquil setting is never better than a visit to the waterfall flowing over the CCC-built dam or a drive to the top of the hill for a panoramic view of the park.
The park campsite has everything from primitive tent sites to full hookups for your RV or travel trailer. Make your reservations early because this is a popular retreat in the center of Texas. Click here to make your reservations.
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12. Longhorn Cavern State Park
People visited Longhorn Cavern long before it became part of the Texas State Park system. Archeological evidence puts prehistoric tribes in the cave thousands of years ago.
Some legends say that outlaw Sam Bass hid a fortune in the cave. We know that the cave was used during the Confederate war to manufacture gunpowder.
In the 1930’s the Civilian Conservation Corps removed tons of debris and mud from the cavern, making it accessible to the public. At the same time, many facilities still in use in the park were built.
However, it isn’t the legends or the history that draws many people to the cavern. The spectacular geological features keep people coming back.
Entrance to the caverns is by guided tour only. You can reserve your place on a tour by clicking this link. You can take a walking tour of the cavern or get more adventurous by going on the wild cave tour. Expect to get a little muddy, dirty, and to see things that will leave you breathless.
There is a park headquarters at Longhorn Cavern State Park but no camping or lodging facilities. However, Nearby Inks Lake State Park offers camping.
Nearby cities and towns also have lodging, restaurants, and RV parks. For more information about Inks Lake State Park and Longhorn Caverns, you can get the interpretive guide using this link.
13. Inks Lake State Park
If you are in the Texas Hill Country and need a refreshing and comfortable place to spend a few days, check out Inks Lake State Park. This park is a wonder with opportunities for adventure on water, land, and underground. Near Austin, Inks Lake is easily accessible from the I-35.
There is no lack of things to keep you busy at Inks Lake State Park. Inks Lake is a constant-level lake making it accessible for water sports year-round. Fishing is excellent, as is the boating, kayaking, and canoeing. Swimming and scuba diving are popular with many people who visit this park.
On land, you can hike, bike, and geocache through the wooded park. The park store rents paddle boats, fishing gear, and bait. Remember, in Texas, you don’t need a fishing license to fish from the pier or the bank if you are in a state park. The park store also sells supplies, groceries, and souvenirs.
Inks Lake State Park has one of the largest campgrounds in the Texas park system. More than 200 campsites and fully equipped cabins can be rented. Most campsites have potable water and electric hookups for your RV or travel trailer. Click here to make your reservations at Inks Lake State Park.
14. Lake Corpus Christi State Park
If you want sun and fun in a single location, Corpus Christi State Park is a perfect destination. Situated on the 18,256-acre Lake Corpus Christi, this park is a fisherman’s paradise. There is birdwatching, hiking, biking, and nature trails to enjoy for everyone else.
Lake Corpus Christi is known for its largemouth bass and white bass. You can also catch crappie as well as an assortment of catfish. Two lighted fishing piers are available and are wheelchair accessible. No fishing license is needed in Texas when you fish at a Texas State Park.
More than 200 native and migrating species of birds inhabit the park. Many neotropical migrating birds stop over during the spring and fall months.
Hiking and biking trails are abundant and let you enjoy the varied habitats around the park. Caution is advised as alligators do inhabit the park and the lake.
Anything from primitive tent campsites to cabins are available to rent if you want to stay in the park. Many of the campsites are RV-friendly and have water and electricity hookups. A few have sewer hookups as well. Plan ahead and make your reservations early by clicking here.
15. Mission Tejas State Park
Among all the diverse climates, habitats and ecologies boasted by Texas, none is more unique than the Piney woods of East Texas. This park is situated where pine savannas, upland forests, and hardwood bottomlands merge. In the park, you can see the last of the old-growth pine forests that once covered much of the eastern portions of the state.
This area has a rich history. Native American tribes once roamed these forests. The Spanish El Camino Real Road wound through the area. More than eight miles of trails lead you to these locations within the park. You can visit a log cabin built by early pioneers trying to settle this country.
If you have never tried geocaching, borrow a GPS at the park headquarters and set out on an adventure. More information is available from the staff at the visitor center.
If fishing is on your schedule, the small park lake is amply stocked, and you can borrow gear at the visitor’s center. The San Pedro Creek also offers fishing.’
Bring your tent or RV and stay a few days in one of the 15 campsites within the park that have electricity and water. Two sites only have water. Well-maintained shower and restroom facilities are located close to the campsites. Campsites are limited, so click here to make your reservations early.
16. Monahans Sandhills State Park
For a completely different state park experience, Monahans Sandhills State Park is at the top of the list. At this state park, an ocean of sand creates a mystical landscape that can change overnight. You can experience towering dunes that shift and move with the West Texas Wind.
The 3,840 acres of dunes in West Texas have been home to Apache and Comanche tribes for more than 12,000 years. The early Spanish explorers chronicled their discovery of the sandhills more than 400 years ago. You can hike to your heart’s content but beware of the summer sun.
The Dunagan Visitors Center has exhibits and displays about the area’s history, ecology, and geology. You can also rent sand disks to go surfing in the sand. No water is needed to have the thrill of your life. The park also has an 800-acre equestrian area if you are a horse lover.
The park can host your camping adventure on one of its 26 campsites. Each campsite has water and electricity and a shade shelter. In some cases, the wind moves the dunes into the camping areas. You may find yourself with a huge dune as a neighbor. Click here to reserve your camping site.
17. Caprock Canyons State Park and Trailway
The Caprock is a magnificent result of eons of water and wind working to sculpt deep canyons and impressive amphitheaters that stretch from the northern parts of the Texas Panhandle to the center of the rolling plains near Post, Texas. Caprock Canyons State Park includes some of the most spectacular parts of the Caprock.
The 15,136 acres in Caprock Canyons State Park was once one of the largest working cattle ranches in the State of Texas. Texas bought the ranch in 1975 and opened the park to the public in 1982. The park is home to a herd of wild bison, what we call buffalo, which roams the park unhindered.
Hiking, biking, horseback riding, and even fishing are on the list of things to do at Caprock Canyon State Park. You shouldn’t pass up the opportunity to hike at least a portion of the Caprock Canyons Trailway. This track follows the abandoned railroad right of way, including 46 bridges and the Clarity Tunnel.
You can make your way to one of the walk-in primitive backcountry campsites or park your RV in one of the spots with electricity and water. A dump station is located near the campgrounds as well.
Take a dip in Lake Theo or drop in a line to hook a catfish or bass. In the winter months, Texas Parks and Wildlife usually stocks the small lake with rainbow trout for the winter fishermen. Reservations are recommended. Click here to visit the reservation website.
18. Dinosaur Valley State Park
It’s time to go way back in history. Texas was once home to dinosaurs, and the proof is found at Dinosaur Valley State Park. Here you can see the evidence for yourself.
Dinosaur footprints are preserved in the rock along the Paluxy riverbed for you to discover. Put your foot in a dinosaur footprint and go back in time.
You can use your GPS or smartphone to map the footprint locations. Walk along the river and discover how history has been preserved in the rocks. There are over 20 miles of walking trails in the park to explore. The geology is fascinating, and the wildlife is abundant, so keep your eyes open.
Fishing, mountain biking, and a float in the river should also be on your schedule. The Visitors Center has interpretive displays and historical information about the region. The small store can provide camping supplies, fishing equipment, and souvenirs.
Camping at Dinosaur Valley offers sites for primitive hike-in sites and RV sites with electricity and water. No sewer hookups are available, but a dump station is located near the campsites. Showers and bathrooms are well equipped, clean, and friendly.
T&T Tip: Make reservations early by clicking here, as this is a popular stop for families
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19. Fort Boggy State Park
In the heart of East Texas is a state park that offers tranquility amid woods, fields, and lakes. Fort Boggy State Park is not the largest state park in Texas, but it must be one of the most beautiful.
This part of Texas doesn’t suffer from a lack of rain, and this park’s lush vegetation is a testament to that. The park includes the 15-acre Sullivan Lake, where you can fish, swim, or put in your kayak or canoe to explore the banks.
If you didn’t bring a boat, rent a kayak at the kiosk near the boat ramp on the lake. Fishing is always good and includes catches of bass, catfish, sunfish, and rainbow trout in season.
If birds are your interest, Fort Boggy State Park offers some of the best opportunities in the state. You can combine your birdwatching with hiking on the 3.5 miles of trails.
The park is home to many geocaches. Bring your GPS or smartphone to participate in this rapidly growing activity.
Camping at Fort Boggy is limited. There are a few cabins scattered throughout the woods. The rest of the park has primitive campsites requiring you to hike.
No water or electricity is available at the campsites, so plan on carrying everything you need for your stay. If you bring it in, be sure to take it out as well. Reservations are encouraged. You can click here to see what is available.
20. Lake Mineral Wells State Park and Trailway
Lake Mineral Wells State Park and Trailway are 49 miles almost due East of Fort Worth, Texas. The park and Trailway offer a look into the history and scenery of North Texas and a chance to learn more about one of the most interesting periods of history in this part of Texas.
Mineral Wells is named for the mineral springs that bubble up from the ground in this area. These springs led to the development of several large health resorts in Mineral Wells. At one time, Mineral Wells was a chosen destination by the rich and famous from across the United States.
The Trailway portion of the park runs along 20 miles of the old Weatherford, Mineral Wells, and Northwestern railroad right of way. This rail line was built to serve the huge number of passengers who came to Mineral Wells for the “healing waters” of the springs.
You can hike along the trail, which crosses 16 bridges. The trail is improved and open to walking and biking. No motorized vehicles are allowed.
At Lake Mineral Wells State Park, you can enjoy the 640-acre lake that allows swimming, fishing, and no-wake boating on the lake. Rentals are available at the park store.
Fishing for catfish, crappy, bass, and sunfish is a popular pastime. You can also hike the 12.8 miles of trails that surround the lake to get a 360-degree view of the park. Rock climbing is allowed in certain park areas for the more adventurous.
Camping is available year-round at one of the many improved campsites. Full hookup campsites are available as well as electricity only. Tents sites with water feature picnic shelters and ample parking. Click here to reserve your campsite.
Texas – A Land that is Big, Beautiful, and Diverse
Texas has something for everyone. You can visit state parks near the heart of the largest urban areas imaginable. You can venture into wilderness areas that are vast enough to boggle your imagination.
The diversity of ecology, geography, and geology is breathtaking. These are just a few of the state park opportunities in Texas. Don’t miss any of them.