9 Unique Texas State Parks
From oceans to canyons, there is surely a Texas park for everyone.
Texas. The name alone conjures up images of barren deserts, cowboys and tumbleweeds; and I'd be lying if I said I didn't have the same notion before moving here. But with more than 268,820 square miles, you're bound to find a view that you love. Canyons in the north, lake in the south, sand dunes to the west and the coast on the east; the state is an outdoor paradise. Here are four of my favorite places to camp in the Lone Star State.
Growing up on the East Coast scenes of people roasting marshmallows over the flicker of a campfire with waves crashing in the background seemed like a dream, but along the Gulf Coast of Texas you can do just that. Here you can drive your vehicle right onto the sand and with miles of shoreline it is easy to find a spot all to yourself. Pitch your tent, grab your boogie board and kick back and enjoy the sun. It may not be the prettiest of beaches, but there are few other places left in the country that allow such freedom.
They say everything is bigger in Texas, and while nothing can compare to the Grand Canyon in Arizona this state is home to the second largest canyon in the United States. Palo Duro Canyon is a haven for hikers and mountain bikers and steeped in history, you could easily spend a week here and still not explore all it has to offer. Make sure to visit this park during the cooler months as there is very little shade and no where to swim.
Summers in Texas can be hot, oppressively hot. Luckily there are countless swimming holes within a few hours of all the major cities in the state. One of my favorites is Inks Lake State Park which is an hour outside of Austin. An oasis from the searing heat of July and August, at Inks Lake you can swim, fish and rent kayaks. Best of all for the daredevil inside of all of us, take a leap from the top of the 40 foot rock in to the aptly named "Devil's Waterhole" (don't worry there are plenty of other smaller cliffs to jump from). It can get a little crowded at times, but that's all part of the fun. Sit back and relax while watching people take the plunge.
Amidst the oil wells of western Texas there is a sea, a sea of sand. Our own miniature version of New Mexico's White Sands, you can't help but wonder how such a place popped up in an otherwise flat and desolate landscape. Monahans State Park is a giant sandbox for both adults and children, be sure to rent a sled from the ranger station and take a try at sliding down the hills. It's the closest you'll come to actual snow covered hills in Texas. Being so far removed from any of the major cities, this is definitely a park where you'll want to spend the night. Marvel at the star-filled sky while falling asleep to the howls of distant coyotes.
This is the place to go if you want to camp in true solitude. This reservoir has shores in both the US and Mexico so bring your passport if you plan on paddling across the border. With more than 65,000 surface acres Amistad is a haven for fishermen and water sports enthusiasts, but come nighttime the place is empty. Pitch your tent anywhere along the 547 miles of shoreline and enjoy complete isolation.
If you're traveling from Austin, this park should probably be saved for a three-day weekend at the minimum. This Texas National Park has it all, the Chisos Mountains, The Rio Grande and the Chihuahuan Deserts; an eco-system for any and all explorers. After hiking to the top of Emory Peak, the highest point in the park, be sure to take a dip and relax in the 105-degree hot springs located within the park.
Popular activities in this park include backpacking, mountain biking and horseback riding. But the sweeping views of the vast west Texas landscape are reason enough to visit the Davis Mountains and the Fort Davis National Historic Site.
Here’s a view from “Devil’s Hall” as the path narrows. “Hiker’s Staircase” is visible in the foreground at Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park boasts the four highest peaks in Texas as well as some of its deepest, darkest skies, and more than 11,000 stars (and planets and galaxies) are visible to stargazers who camp there. For a pro-level preview of what you might see when you visit the park, check the weekly online stargazing calendar from the McDonald Observatory. Guadalupe Mountains National Park is also one of America’s least-visited parks, meaning fewer people and beautiful, unobstructed views like this.
Rent a bicycle or bring your walking shoes for a relaxing ride or stroll through the cottonwood forest around the Rio Grande river. The Paseo del Bosque runs for 16 miles through the city and Rio Grande Valley State Park. The trail is dotted with public art installations. At Pueblo Montaño, for example, you’ll find sculptures artist and firefighter Joseph Chavez carved from burned tree stumps with a chainsaw after a wildfire charred the area in 2003.