Best State and National Parks in Texas

big-bend-national-park-texas

The state and national parks of Texas contain some of America’s most incredible natural gems. 

Undoubtedly, the crown jewel of its park system is Big Bend National Park, which features acres of desert, mountains, and riparian environments practically side-by-side. 

However, your exploration won’t end there: there’s also Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Big Bend Ranch State Park, Palo Duro Canyon, and several other smaller state parks. 

Due to Texas’s massive size, landmarks are often hours apart—but this isolation only adds to the magic of every must-see natural wonder travellers can hope for while visiting the Lonestar State. 

Big Bend National Park

A star-filled sky displaying a prominent milky way in Big Bend National Park

Nearest City: Alpine, Texas

If you don’t believe the motto that “everything is bigger in Texas,” Big Bend National Park will definitely change your mind. 

In total, Big Bend protects over 800,000 acres. Within this expanse of land lies portions of the Chihuahuan Desert, Chiso Mountains, and several other rich and diverse natural environments. 

The cultural history of Big Bend National Park is just as rich. Several archaeological sites in the park have unearthed years of human evidence, most of which dates back about 10,000 years. These archaeological sites have also unearthed dinosaur fossils. 

Today, visitors can explore numerous hiking trails that meander throughout the park’s desert, mountains, and canyons.  You’ll also find areas to camp, birdwatch, and backpack. 

Additionally, Big Bend National Park was internationally designated as a Dark Sky Park in 2012. It is one of the least light-polluted areas in the United States. 

This means stargazing is truly out of this world, and an experience like no other. 

 

Guadalupe Mountains National Park

A large, barren, grey cliff face in Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas

Nearest City: Dell City, Texas

 

Guadalupe Mountains National Park resides east of El Paso, within the Guadalupe Mountain Range. 

Compared to Big Bend National Park, the Guadalupe Mountains receive far less visitors per year. 

However, the park has quite a bit to offer, and is revered for its isolation and stillness. 

The most prominent feature of the park is Guadalupe Peak which, at a height of 8,749 feet, is the highest point in Texas. It can be reached by visitors via the Guadalupe Peak Trail, beginning at the large parking lot adjacent to the campground. 

Additionally, visitors can hike the Bowl Trail and the McKittrick Canyon Trail, among others, and find several unique flora and fauna—including the Texas Madrone. 

 

Big Bend Ranch State Park

A muddy river flows through the valley of steep rocky cliff faces at Big Bend Ranch State Park, Texas

Nearest City: Alpine, Texas

Big Bend Ranch State Park is the largest state park in Texas. Adjacent to the aforementioned national park of the same name, Ranch State shares a similar landscape. 

However, this state park separates itself in terms of access to the Rio Grande River. Connect with an outfitter to whitewater raft down the Rio Grande. 

If rafting is not for you, don’t be discouraged. Big Bend Ranch State Park also is home to the Madrid Falls (the second biggest waterfall in Texas).

There’s also a number of hiking trails.  An expansive backcountry just begs to be explored. 

Additionally, the park still follows open range policies.  It works alongside a number of cattle ranches that operate on its property. 

 

Palo Duro Canyon State Park

Green desert vegetation fills the canyons constituted of red rock cliffs at Palo Duro Canyon National State Parks, Texas
Image Credit: Andrew Chin on Flickr

Nearest City: Canyon, Texas

The most notable element of Palo Duro Canyon State Park is a series of paintings from famous American painter, Georgia O’Keeffe.  She lived near Palo Duro Canyon and visited frequently. 

Visitors arriving at the park today will find the second largest canyon in the United States—which is just as grand as another very famous canyon—and a number of opportunities for outdoor recreation. 

Along the canyon walls, the park maintains 16 trails that offer visitors the opportunity to hike, bike, and horseback ride. Some of these trails pass by notable rock formations, such as the Lighthouse. 

 

Colorado Bend State Park 

A waterfall flows through dense, leafy trees at Gorman Falls / Colorado Bend National State Parks
Image Credit: John Hill on Flickr

Nearest City: Bend, Texas

Named for a large curve in the nearby Colorado River, Colorado Bend State Park is relative unknown—even to some residents. But it holds a number of hidden caves, breathtaking waterfalls, and natural springs. 

Visitors can embark down the Spicewood Springs Trail, which will take them across Gorman Creek to a number of deep swimming pools as well as Gorman Falls, the most popular location in the park. 

 

Relish in the Differences 

A sunset against a cloudy sky picturing the desert vegetation in the valleys at Guadalupe Mountains, Texas

Texas boasts many things, including immense state pride, no state taxes, and great barbeque.

However, with national parks such as Big Bend and Guadalupe, and state parks such as Palo Duro Canyon and Colorado Bend, Texas should also be recognized as an outdoor powerhouse. 

Sure, you won’t find anything similar to the large 14,000-foot peaks of Colorado, or the snowy Cascades of California.  But you will find plenty of natural wonders that make Texas wholly unique. 

Be sure to check out the national and state parks of Arizona and Nevada, as well, or the coolest places to travel to this year.