With summer behind us, we can finally breathe — and ideally you’ll reserve some breaths for the fresh air found in one of the excellent Texas state parks. Within its massive borders, Texas is loaded with parks that range in size, topography and natural features, from the lush, green expanse of the East Texas Piney Woods to the desert landscapes and dark skies of Big Bend.
If you’re up for an adventure, bring your gear and spend the night. Texas state parks offer some of the best camping opportunities around, and with options running the gamut of primitive campsites, RV hookups, cabins and glamping tents, there’s something for everyone. Below, we’ve rounded up 10 of the best state parks for camping this fall.
First, a note on how to reserve your campsite: All Texas state park campsites can be booked via the Texas State Parks reservations system. Input your preferred park and travel dates, and it will show you what’s available.
Located in the Texas Panhandle, just a short drive from Amarillo, you’ll find Palo Duro Canyon State Park, home to the country’s second largest canyon. The park is rugged and scenic, with dramatic rock formations — keep your eyes peeled for hoodoos — as well as 30 miles of hiking, biking and equestrian trails. When it’s time to bunk down for the night, you can choose from campsites with water and electricity hookups, tent sites or primitive sites, in which you must bring everything in and out. But if you want to sleep in (relative) luxury, try the glamping cabins, with real beds, A/C, covered patios, fridges and coffeemakers.
Set along the Colorado River, this state park is full of top attractions, including the Spicewood Springs swimming hole, the 70-foot Gorman Falls and a series of 400 caves. Once you’re situated, take a guided tour of said caves, or guide yourself along 35 miles of hiking and biking trails. When not playing in the water, hiking or spelunking, Colorado Bend has plenty of campsites to spend the night, most of the rugged variety. Expect a mix of camping options ranging from drive-up sites to primitive areas that you can access via hike. If you’re with a large group, reserve one of the group campgrounds, and you can swap ghost stories with a crowd.
A quick drive from Austin, Pedernales Falls is an easy getaway for weekend trips that feel far removed from city life. There are 69 campsites with electricity, though a construction project will block access from November 1, 2023 through the end of 2024. Instead, hike two miles into the park to one of the remote campsites, and you can sleep in solitude. Or go the other route, and stay at Ranch 3232, which is located just outside the park’s entrance and offers climate-controlled safari tents with queen beds, a bath house and a community kitchen. Either way, spend your days aboard a canoe or kayak and navigate the river, or explore the hiking and biking trails. Don’t miss the short stroll along Twin Falls Nature Trail, which leads to a scenic overlook.
Depending on who you ask, Big Bend Ranch State Park is either one of the country’s best parks for camping, or it’s too rugged and inhospitable for overnight stays. So, know what you’re getting yourself into. But the arid desert landscape is wild and peaceful, with steep canyons, 238 miles of multi-use trails and dark skies that are perfect for stargazing. Camping is primitive, so you’ll need to plan ahead, but if you don’t mind pitching a tent and making your own dinner, the scenery is worth the effort. If you’re feeling more federal than local, Big Bend National Park is about two hours away and offers more creature comforts, like paved roads and developed campgrounds.
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The Frio River winds through this Hill Country park, which means water activities are always within reach, including tubing, kayaking and paddleboating. If you’d rather stick to the land, there are 16 miles of trails leading you through a varied landscape of fall foliage, rock mesas and limestone cliffs. Campsites with water and electricity are ready to host you, but the smart move is booking one of the climate-controlled cabins — they’re outfitted with kitchens, fireplaces and private bathrooms.
Lost Maples is one of the best spots in the state to peep fall foliage, as its maples turn orange and red during autumn. Ogle those trees on 10 miles of trails, including a loop that skirts the top of a 2,200-foot cliff. You can also fish in the Sabinal River or break out the binoculars for birdwatching and finally learn what a golden-cheeked warbler is. Camping is easy with 30 sites offering water and electricity, but there are also hike-in primitive sites if you prefer roughing it. For the opposite of roughing it, the Lodges at Lost Maples offers comfortable cabins about 10 miles from the park.
Dinosaur Valley isn’t just a fanciful name — it’s an accurate representation of what’s in store when you enter the park. Find fossilized dino tracks in the bed of the Paluxy River and try to imagine what life was like 65 million years ago. Non-dinosaur activities include hiking and mountain biking on 20 miles of trails and ample opportunities for camping. The park has 44 campsites with electricity, water, picnic tables and grills, so pull your car in and get settled. There are also eight primitive sites that can be accessed via a quick walk, and seven more that require up to a 2.5-mile hike, plus a river crossing. Choose your adventure carefully.
This Hill Country gem is a favorite among day-trippers and campers alike. The name comes from the massive pink granite dome that rises above the park, and scrambling to the top pays dividends in great views. There are 11 miles of hiking trails, and come nighttime, the dark skies provide some of the area’s best stargazing. When staying overnight, you can choose from 35 campsites with water, grills and fire rings, plus bathrooms and showers nearby. Otherwise, there are 20 primitive sites — eight at Moss Lake and 12 at Walnut Springs — that require a one- to three-mile hike over rugged terrain.
The remote Davis Mountains in West Texas provide some of the state’s highest peaks, with mountains topping 8,000 feet. Hike, bike or explore on horseback, and take the meandering trail system across scenic ridges and through valleys. Campsites are aplenty, with 26 sporting full hookups and another 60-plus offering water and/or electricity. You can also leave those comforts behind and hike four miles into the mountains to access primitive campsites. If your preferred idea of camping involves a restaurant and housekeeping, there’s Indian Lodge, a historic 39-room motel located within the park. It’s reopening early next year after a major renovation.
Like trees? Caddo Lake State Park has lots of them, and they turn brilliant gold and orange hues during the fall. Want to fish? Caddo Lake spans more than 26,000 acres and hosts more than 70 species of fish. Want to paddle? Rent a canoe at the park office, or bring your own. Need a place to spend the night? The park has 46 campsites, ranging from water-only to full hookup sites, plus screened shelters and climate-controlled cabins with bathrooms, kitchens and fireplaces.
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