If you want to get out there and see a part of Texas you never knew existed this spring, you could walk all 800 miles across the state. (Fun fact: That’s approximately the greatest east-west distance.) But if that sounds like a bit much, instead set your GPS for one of Texas’s excellent state parks. They’re a diverse bunch, with Mars-like desert landscapes, rolling hills and winding rivers, and with unlimited options for outdoor adventures, including hiking, kayaking and casual spelunking.
We’ve collected six of the best hiking destinations in the state, from Big Bend to Enchanted Rock. Make sure to wear a good pair of shoes, bring plenty of water and enjoy the scenery.
Big Bend National Park and Big Bend Ranch State Park are West Texas neighbors and both worth visiting. The national park is the biggest of the two, covering 800,000 acres of high-desert terrain. It stretches along the Rio Grande river, borders Mexico and is generally removed from civilization — it’s 100 miles from Marfa and 300 from El Paso. Temperatures soar in the summer, so a spring visit is a good bet. When you get there, take advantage of the 200 miles of hiking trails that climb up to nearly 8,000 feet in the Chisos Mountains. Keep it easy with day hikes, or backpack your way through the park, stopping at one of the more than 100 backcountry campsites as you go. If you need a fun diversion, you can book guided river trips or drop a fishing line in the water.
Take a hike: The Cattail Falls Trail leads to a hidden 80-foot waterfall that descends into clear pools below.
The Texas panhandle is home to the second-largest canyon in the country, runner-up to a little-known marvel called the Grand Canyon. More than 30 miles of hiking, biking and equestrian trails are available, as well as campsites that range from bare bones to luxurious. Palo Duro is also where you’ll find hoodoos — or tent rocks — which are long spires of rock that protrude up from the ground. They make great photo opps, and are a lot closer than other examples in Utah and Cappadocia, Turkey.
Take a hike: With so many options for hiking, it’s easy to overlook the .9-mile Palo Duro Caves Trail. It starts easy enough, but the dirt trail then hits a cave, where you can clamber over rocks, squeeze through narrow passages and enjoy the noticeably cooler temperature. Bring a flashlight and watch your head.
Colorado Bend State Park is a choose-your-own-adventure destination with plenty to do across the 5,300 acres of wilderness. If you want to stay on land, hike along the 35 miles of trails or do a little single-track mountain biking. If it’s water activities you’re after, go bass fishing or kayak along the Colorado River. And if you’d rather see what lies beneath the surface, take a guided spelunking tour and explore the park’s 400 caves.
Take a hike: No trip to Colorado Bend is complete without a glimpse of Gorman Falls, a 70-foot spring-fed waterfall that’s reachable via a three-mile round trip hike. Cables line the final descent, so you can make your way down the slippery rocks to reach your destination. Pack a lunch to eat on the wooden deck that looks out over the river.
Thirty miles west of Austin lies Pedernales Falls State Park, named for the winding Pedernales River that flows around and over huge slabs of limestone. Those stones are perfect for basking in the sun, but you can also hike, camp, fish and paddle your way down the water. Skilled cyclists can test their mettle on the Juniper Ridge Trail, a 10-mile technical single track mountain bike run.
Take a hike: The Twin Falls Nature Trail is a half-mile hike that leads to an overlook of the falls. So, do that. But save some time for the six-mile Wolf Mountain Trail, which leads to Arrowhead Pool, a series of stepped pools that formed where Bee Creek spills into the river.
Fredericksburg is the epicenter of the Texas Hill Country wine region, so it’s a fine place to spend a long weekend. But when you want to get out of the tasting room and onto a trail, head for Enchanted Rock. The massive mound of pink granite stands 425 feet tall and is estimated to be 1.1 billion years old, and humans have been coming to the area for at least 12,000 years. More than just a history lesson, it’s also a fun place to camp, hike, rock climb and stargaze — the area is an international Dark Sky Park, controlling light pollution to keep the stars visible above.
Take a hike: There are nearly 11 miles of hiking trails around Enchanted Rock, but if you’re only doing one hike, make it the Summit Trail. This short but breathless trek takes you straight to the top, where you can enjoy the scenic Hill Country views as you mine your backpack for water and snacks.
Caprock Canyons is a hiker’s paradise, with 90 miles of trails that range from easy out-and-back walks to extra-challenging, extra-long hikes that navigate canyon rims and picturesque plateaus. You’re not the only animal roaming around the area; Bison run free in the park, so keep your head on a swivel and always yield the right of way.
Take a hike: The Haynes Ridge Trail leads to the park’s highest point. After a steep scramble to the top, you’ll settle onto a flat, scenic overlook that provides uninterrupted views of the land below.
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