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The 8 Best State Parks in Texas for Camping, Hiking, Swimming

Best state parks in Texas
Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / 12019

Texas is full of natural attractions ranging from its rock formations to its rivers and sand dunes. Check out eight of the best state parks in Texas and get to know the state!

While you may have heard of the national parks in your area, have you checked out the state parks as well? State parks are often overlooked in favor of the more well-known national parks, but they can be just as beautiful and full of fun activities, and Texas is no different. 

Heading to a state park next time you’re in the mood for adventure has several benefits. Firstly, it’s likely to be less crowded than nearby national parks, meaning you can enjoy the natural environment in privacy and solitude. You’re also more likely to find something close by, too. Maybe you’ll discover a new weekend-getaway favorite. 

Rather than driving hundreds of miles across state lines to see a specific national park out of state, get to know what’s on your doorstep first. There are tons of state parks in Texas and some of these parks are even right outside of larger cities, so you could easily carpool or take public transport. 

Check out our other lists of state parks in the US that are definitely worth a visit:

1. Monahans Sandhills State Park

Monahans is a unique desert-like state park in Texas.
Monahans is a unique desert-like state park in Texas.
(Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / Navari)

The Monahans Sandhills are a great place to visit with the whole family. Located in southern Llano Estacado, this 3,840-acre state park is a natural wonder. The landscape is constantly changing, so there are no set trails. Instead, you can walk around and explore as far as the eye can see, in any direction you want.

Some of the dunes reach up to 70 feet in height, and you can even surf down them. The park also offers campsites with shade structures to protect from the heat in the hot summers. 

2. Colorado Bend State Park

Colorado Bend is one of the most beautiful state parks in Texas.
Colorado Bend is one of the most beautiful state parks in Texas.
(Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / Roselie)

North of Austin is the Colorado Bend State Park. This park has loads of attractions both on land, underground and on water. In addition to loads of biking and hiking trails ranging from 26 to 870 feet in elevation gain, the park covers six miles of Colorado River shoreline great for swimming, fishing and boating.

One of the most popular trails gets its name from the view, Gorman Falls. The park even has tours of its underground caves to explore. Head to Colorado Bend for a weekend getaway or a longer camping trip. 

3. Franklin Mountains State Park

Head to this Texas state park from downtown El Paso.
Head to this Texas state park from downtown El Paso.
(Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / Cianna)

Franklin Mountains State Park covers 27,000 acres of rocky landscapes. This unique park sits within El Paso city limits, making it very accessible. The park offers rock climbing, hiking and mountain biking.

Campsites are available for overnight stays, but day trips are very doable. The scenic drives and picnic lookout spots make it a great place for a quick getaway.

4. Big Bend Ranch State Park

Go kayaking along the Rio Grande in Big Bend Ranch State Park.
Go kayaking along the Rio Grande in Big Bend Ranch State Park.
(Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / 12019)

Big Bend Ranch is the largest state park in Texas, found on the US/Mexico border in West Texas. The park offers 238 miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding. The Rio Grande flows through the park and offers great opportunities for fishing and boating.

Various camping options are perfect for late-night stargazing; the park is known for its extremely dark skies and lack of light pollution in the area, making it great for watching the sunset and spotting constellations. Check out the 7 best dark sky parks in the US if you’d like more of that.

5. Palo Duro Canyon State Park

Palo Duro Canyon is one of the best state parks in Texas.
Palo Duro Canyon is one of the best state parks in Texas.
(Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / sjones68)

Just 25 miles outside of downtown Amarillo in the Texas Panhandle lies Palo Duro Canyon. Known as the Grand Canyon of Texas, Palo Duro Canyon was formed by millions of years of water erosion by the Red River.

The state park makes for a great visit for backpackers and day-trippers alike. There are several campgrounds, various hiking trails and day-use areas. The park is popular for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding. With 16 miles of paved road, you can also take scenic drives to explore the colorful canyon walls. 

6. Eisenhower State Park

With some luck, you might spot bobcats in Eisenhower State Park in Texas.
With some luck, you might spot bobcats in Eisenhower State Park in Texas.
(Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / Miller_Eszter)

Located in Grayson County, Eisenhower State Park is on the shore of Lake Texoma, making it great for fishing, swimming and boating. Lake fishing includes a variety of bass, sunfish and catfish.

Various trails go up to 173 meters in elevation gain, which is great for both hiking and mountain biking. There are opportunities for picnicking and wildlife observation as well. Make sure to visit in the spring to see the wildflowers in bloom. 

7. McKinney Falls State Park

Head from Austin to McKinney Falls.
Head from Austin to McKinney Falls.
(Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / KBaucherel)

McKinney Falls is at the confluence of Onion Creek and Williamson Creek in Travis County. Just outside of Austin, the state park makes for a great trip year-round as it offers swimming, camping, hiking, mountain biking, fishing and wildlife observation. There are several scenic trails overlooking the lower and upper falls, as well as many picnicking spots.  

8. Inks Lake State Park

Inks Lake is a great Texas state park for scuba diving.
Inks Lake is a great Texas state park for scuba diving.
(Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / joakant)

Located in Burnet County, Inks Lake State Park has something for everyone. The park offers over 200 places to stay for people of all tastes and requirements, ranging from campsites to plush cabins. The lake, a reservoir on the Colorado River, is great for swimming, kayaking and canoeing, scuba diving and fishing.

Canoe tours are offered to the famous Devil’s Waterhole, an extension of Inks Lake which is surrounded by rock formations. The hilly surrounding landscape provides many hiking trails, as well as wildlife spotting.

Tips for Visiting State Parks Across the Country

  1. Check out public transport: Check if there’s a way to get to your destination by public transport, rather than spending loads on gas and hurting the environment. There might be Amtrak routes or local buses which apply.
  2. Carpool: If there’s no option to take public transport, try finding people to carpool with and cut down on your carbon footprint together.
  3. Follow park regulations: The park rules are in place for a reason, so make sure to follow them. Read the signage when on park lands and respect the regulations, as they’re usually for the health and safety of both you and the wildlife. 
  4. Leave no trace: You may have heard this phrase before. This means that you should not leave any trace of your existence in the natural environment. Pack all your trash out and dispose of it properly when you have the chance. This includes things like apple cores, plastic wrappers and sanitary products. Always bring trash bags with you in case there are no trash cans around. Our favorite 15 vegetarian camping meals are easy to cook outdoors.
  5. Tell people where you’re going: Stay safe by telling a loved one or two which trail you plan to be on. If something happens, you will be found much more quickly. 
  6. Bring a GPS monitor and a map: Know where you’re going! Bring a map with you. A GPS monitor is even better, especially if you’re traveling alone.
  7. Pack and dress right: Pack lots of food and water, about one liter of water for every two hours of hiking. In case of emergency, it’s always best to have overpacked supplies — especially when wild camping. The same is true for clothing. Bring layers to stay warm and make sure to dress for the current season. Check out our sustainable camping packing list to have with you exactly what you need.

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