Dwarfed only by the colossal Alaskan wilds in the north, the state of Texas encompasses more land than any other in the continental United States. It ranges from the wide, white beaches on the Gulf of Mexico to the arid desert highlands of the Chihuahuan and vast grasslands of the Oklahoma plains, incorporating more climates and ecosystems than any other state. Accordingly, no fewer than 100 recognized conservation areas are currently in place across this vast Texan landscape, offering would-be visitors one of the most immersive and exhaustive cross-sections of American wilderness available.
Here are five of the state’s top parks, where guests can explore some of the undisputed natural must-sees of the American south, along with a range of cultural and historical, proudly Texan gems.
Located in easy reach from Austin city limits, the McKinney Falls State Park incorporates the most dramatic waterfall sections on the famous Onion Creek. Most visitors come to walk the maintained hiking routes that wind in and out of the forested banks, while wildlife lovers can often be seen trying to spot the elusive white-tailed deer, or enjoying the colorful springtime bloom. Historically bent travellers should be sure not to miss the overhanging Smith Rock Shelter, where Native Indians were thought to come for protection against the heavy Texan storms.
Monstrous cypress tree groves and magnificently carved riverside bluffs line the four mile long banks of Guadalupe riverside that meanders its way through the centre of this state park, making it a great place for outdoorsy exploration from both land and water. Accordingly, visitors enjoy numerous hiking routes, a recently opened horse riding trail and a smattering of maintained camping spots, as well as the service of a number of canoe and tubing tour providers. Families should be sure to visit the all new Children's Discovery Center, where regular immersive introductions to the flora and fauna of the Guadalupe River area are available.
Some believe that it’s the lingering spirits of long dead native tribesmen that cause the mysterious night-time groaning of the great Enchanted Rock just north of Fredericksburg, while others have attributed the noises to a curious geological expansion and contraction. Whatever the reason, the bulbous rise that dominates the heart of this state park has long been the inspiration for local folklore and legend, and it unquestionably offers up one of the most intriguing backcountry jewels in all of Texas State.
A quintessential image of the American Wild West, the patchwork of hoodoo canyons and red rock desert bluffs that rises and falls from the dusty ground at the Palo Duro State Park is undoubtedly best explored on horseback. Today there are a number of on-site tour providers that get visitors into the saddle, while others provide classic cowboy wagon rides which are perfect for the kids! What’s more, the Palo Duro visitor’s center offers a great introduction to the region’s natural beauty in a rugged and raw canyon home setting dating from the 1930’s.
The long and immersive history of the winding caverns at Longhorn State Park rarely fail to enthral first-time visitors. Once a tactically located shelter spot for Native Indian tribesmen, the smoothly carved cave walls also provided protection for the infamous train robber Sam Bass, while during Prohibition it was a hotspot for smugglers and proprietors who made use of the cave’s unique underground acoustics and hidden location. Today, regular one-and-a-half hour tours depart from the on-site Visitor Center, while walkers are sure to enjoy the picturesque Backbone-Ridge nature trail.