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The Lone Star State is home to sleek, stunning cities and plenty of people but it also holds some of the country’s most incredible natural sights, which is why we’re counting off 16 national parks in Texas that are totally worth a trip.
We’ve got bayous, canyons, pine forests, and a whole lot of history ahead. So whether you enjoy hiking, rafting, or traveling back in time, there’s a place on this list that will fulfill all your wildest Texas dreams.
Keep reading for your need-to-know breakdown of each of the state’s national parks and the unique activities they have to offer.
A lot of the drives to these far-flung corners of the state are almost as beautiful as the destinations themselves.
If you want to see even more, check out our recommendations for the top road trips in Texas. (Some of the spots are so good they made it to this list too)!
If you plan to visit another national park within a year, the best value is to buy the America the Beautiful pass. For only $80, you get access to every US national park. Click here to buy you America the Beautiful pass.
16 Incredible National Parks in Texas
The term national park may bring up images of packed parking lots and overcrowded nature, but this post goes above and beyond typical scenic pit stops.
Not only did we include the best vistas, but also a number of national monuments, historic sites, and seashores.
Of course, if you do love a classic hiking trail, we’ve got you covered too. From family-friendly weekends to tougher outdoor adventures, Texas is more than diverse enough to accommodate any visitor.
Don’t miss out! Click here to purchase your America the Beautiful Pass!
1. Alibates Flint Quarries
Imagine a time in which wooly mammoths still roamed the Earth and native peoples lived off the land.
At Alibates, the landscape that witnessed these moments still survives, and visitors can dig deep into history by hiking across it.
The park is located in northern Texas, about 45 minutes away from Amarillo, and has been a popular destination for more than 13,000 years. It’s one of the oldest national monuments in Texas!
Back then, mammoth hunters would collect Alabates’ unique flint to shape them into tools.
Today, the gorgeously colored rocks are still highly prized possessions and visitors can embark on ranger-led tours of the quarries in order to learn more about the Native Americans who originally made use of the area’s natural resources.
Alibates has a number of walking trails, so guests of all fitness levels can find something to enjoy.
Along the way, you’ll also catch a glimpse of petroglyphs dating back as early as 1100 AD and of course lots of mesas, rock formations, and native plants.
Entrance to the park and tours are free!
Three hours from San Antonio and straddling the line between the United States and Mexico, the Amistad Reservoir is a haven for nature lovers.
This self-proclaimed “borderland paradise” is full of a wide range of activities, most of which involve getting a little wet.
Boating and fishing are two of the most popular things to do, and the area’s pristine, clear waters make it an excellent place to scuba dive as well.
Of course, the kind of heat that comes with traveling through the Texas desert means swimming opportunities are ample and welcome.
A number of hiking trails will take you through gorgeous vistas and close-up encounters with local flora.
Meanwhile, history buffs can visit the 4,000-year-old Native American paintings found in caves around the Amistad area.
Entrance to the Amistad National Recreation Area is free, but lake use, camping, and hunting all come with small additional fees.
Read next: Romantic cabins in Texas
3. Big Bend National Park
One of the most famous national parks in Texas can be found in the far west corner of the state, about 5 hours from El Paso.
If you really want to dive into the Texas wilderness, this enchanting destination is the place to do it.
Big Bend is a sprawling park that holds an almost never-ending array of landscapes, native species, and fascinating remnants of history.
Hikers will be completely at home among Big Bend’s more than 150 miles of trails that wind through deserts, mountains, canyons, and rivers.
Backcountry camping and overnight backpacking are possible with a permit.
For those that want to see the sights without all the walking, Big Bend has a number of scenic drives as well as some rougher dirt roads accessible only by 4WD.
Whatever mode of transportation you choose, stunning views await!
Entrance costs $15 for individuals on bike or on foot, or $30 per vehicle.
Pssst: If you want to experience more of the state and see more of the Lone Star’s wilderness up close, you might want to check out these incredible hikes in Texas!
4. Big Thicket
Can’t decide which natural wonders to explore first? At Big Thicket National Preserve, nine ecosystems converge and visitors can hike, bike, or paddle their way through some of Texas’ most stunning wilderness.
Big Thicket spans more than 100,000 acres, so it’s safe to say that you won’t be able to experience all of it in one trip.
However, the park’s flora and fauna are so diverse that whichever route or area you choose to focus on, there won’t be a shortage of things to see and do.
You can head out on their over 40 miles of walking trails or more than 300 miles of paddling trails on your own or sign up for a ranger-led tour.
To make the deal even sweeter, there are no entrance fees necessary, and backcountry camping permits are also free of charge.
Chamizal stands apart from other national parks in Texas, functioning also as an urban park home to murals, museums, and a full performance theater that holds a number of major events throughout the year.
Until 1963, the area was actually owned by Mexico. Now located in the heart of El Paso, Chamizal is one of the more accessible Texas national parks, and a trip here means you also get to see the beautiful mountain-swaddled city.
There are the standard hiking and biking trails and picnic spots, but Chamizal also boasts an art gallery featuring work by borderland artists and concerts, plays, or dance performances most weekends.
Above all, Chamizal commemorates the resolution of decades of conflict between the US and Mexico over where the border between the two countries should lie.
The Chamizal Convention was signed in Mexico City in 1963, and although it caused the displacement of people and land, it ultimately fostered a strong sense of diplomacy.
Entrance to the memorial is free, but some of the shows may require tickets.
6. El Camino Real de los Tejas
Like a line from “This Land is Your Land,” El Camino Real de Los Tejas stretches from the Rio Grande to the Red River Valley, cutting straight through the Texas heartland and up into Louisiana.
And with 150 years of history, there are lots to see along the way. In the Texas portion alone, there are 32 sites where you can stop and learn more.
Swim in natural spring pools at the state’s oldest public park, walk along trails once used by American Indians, and see what life on the frontier was like for early settlers.
For a deeper educational experience, you can also pay a visit to some of the many museums, visitor centers, and historic missions.
There are no costs for the trail itself, but some of the facilities along the route may charge separate entrance fees.
Read next: Luxury cabins in Texas
7. El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro
Tracing its way 404 miles up from Mexico and through New Mexico, El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro only passes briefly through the tip of West Texas.
However, there are 10 sites within the state that are well worth a visit. Several missions and former frontier residences show off the centuries-old architecture, while Keystone National Park near El Paso provides acres upon acres of wetlands, gardens, and archeological sites.
The El Paso Museum of History also makes for an interesting stop if you want a bit more understanding of all the incredible sights El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro holds.
You can also hike, bike, or horseback ride various portions of the trail.
There are no entrance fees for the National Historic Trail itself, but since it does run through two countries and two states, facilities along the way may come with a range of additional charges.
8. Fort Davis
Many of the frontier military outposts of the Southwest have been lost to weather damage, battles, and other trials of history, but Fort Davis withstood the test of time and still, today offers visitors a glimpse into the past.
From 1854-1891, this outpost protected travelers and mail coaches that were passing through to the West Coast.
After switching hands several times during the Civil War, it finally came under protection as a National Historic Site.
Immerse yourself in the fort’s history by walking through its restored buildings and ruins, where interpreters dressed in period clothing are available to answer any questions you may have.
Guests can still hear the bugle calls and watch soldiers parade across the grounds in regularly scheduled marches.
If you want to see the fort from another perspective, there are a number of hiking trails around the area, all packed with lovely viewpoints.
Access to the park costs $10 per individual or $20 per vehicle.
9. Guadalupe Mountains
Texas national parks are known for their natural beauty, but this one may just dwarf the rest in comparison (literally).
Two hours east of El Paso, the Guadalupe Mountains jut out of the normally flat Texas terrain. This national park is the largest wilderness area in the state, and also holds its four tallest peaks.
Furthermore, lucky visitors are able to enjoy the world’s largest Permian fossil reef and some of the most varied natural landscapes, flora, and fauna Texas has to offer in one of the least visited national parks.
Most people go to Guadalupe to hike, and it’s no wonder why. The park has more than 80 miles of trails that will take you straight into the heart of the area’s beauty, through canyons, along freshwater springs, and up and over mountains.
There are backpacking opportunities for the more serious nature lovers, but also hour-long treks as well as half or full-day hikes.
Just want to take it easy? Birdwatching, horseback riding, RV camping, and stargazing are a few of the less physically challenging activities offered at the park.
Entrance costs $10 for adults 16 years and older and is good for 7 days.
10. Lake Meredith
Deep in the Texas Panhandle, an hour north of Amarillo, the monotony of the high plains is broken by an oasis of deep blue waters, colorful canyons, and quiet coves.
Lake Meredith is an adventurer’s paradise, with a range of entertaining outdoor activities all accompanied by stunning scenery.
It has hosted visitors and residents for close to 13,000 years, from Native Americans to soldiers to early settlers.
On the water, you can go boating, canoeing, kayaking, or fishing. On the land, you can enjoy one of several well-maintained hiking, horseback riding, or mountain biking trails.
Camping opportunities are also spread throughout the park, so you can wake up among the woods or even directly on the lake’s gorgeous shoreline. Besides the RV sites, setting up a tent for the night is totally free.
Access to the park is also free of charge, so leave your wallet in the car and just jump into nature!
11. Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park
Imagine the White House, but removed from its urban environment, Southernized, and set on a sprawling ranch.
This idea comes to life at the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park, home to the so-called Texas White House, the former residence of the 36th President of the United States.
It’s just one stop on a tour of the grounds that also covers the President’s childhood home and the family cemetery. You can drive the entire route at your own pace and in your own vehicle.
If you want to stretch your legs, there is also a one-mile walking trail that leads you past the old log cabin where President Johnson’s grandparents once lived.
Chances are you’ll catch a glimpse of some native plant or animal species along the way.
Admission to the park is free, but donations are welcome and go towards educational programs. A guided walk-through of the Texas White House costs only $3 for adults above 18 years of age and is free for kids.
12. Padre Island
Most other national parks in Texas showcase the state’s plains, deserts, and lakes, but like Mexico to the South, the Lone Star State boasts some breathtaking stretches of coastline.
With the title of the world’s largest barrier island, Padre serves as a divider between the Gulf of Mexico and Laguna Madre and has enough activities to justify weeks of salty, sandy vacation.
On the beachside, you can go for a swim, look for shells to add to your collection or paddle out into the best surf in the state.
Because the seashore is large and mostly flat, it’s perfect for bike rides or even a drive along the water if you have a 4WD vehicle.
One of the most popular activities during the summer months is the sea turtle hatchling release, during which lucky guests can watch as dozens of baby turtles make their journey to the water’s edge.
On the lagoon side, you can experience one of the top windsurfing destinations in the United States, or go for a spin in a canoe or kayak.
Laguna Madre is one of the few hypersaline lagoons in the world, which means its waters are saltier than the ocean. Boating and birding will take you up close and personal with the island’s unique plant and animal life.
On either side, campsites let you wake up to sea breezes and sweeping vistas.
Entrance costs $10 per vehicle for a single-day pass and $25 per vehicle for a seven-day pass.
13. Palo Alto Battlefield
This National Historical Park marks the first battle of the US-Mexican War, which began in 1846, and history buffs and nature lovers alike will feel right at home in Palo Alto.
You can embark on a full day driving tour of the grounds, which includes forts, ruins, and other historical sites, or leave the comfort of your car for a slightly more immersive experience.
From September-May, the park hosts a number of living history events, where you can live life as a soldier on the frontier.
Try on woolen 19th-century military uniforms, watch reenactments of marching and weapons drills, or visit a typical camp kitchen.
You may even be able to catch a thrilling live musket and artillery demonstration.
But Palo Alto is more than just a battlefield–it’s home to myriad species that are only found in the US-Mexico border region. Bobcats, tortoises, and rattlesnakes are just a few of the native creatures you may be able to spot.
There is no fee to explore the battlefield or to attend any of the events or programs onsite.
14. Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River
Otherworldly landscapes that not many people traditionally associate with Texas can be found along the banks of the mighty Rio Grande River, which draws the dividing line between the United States and Mexico.
In some places, ancient limestone cliffs rise out of the whitewater rapids crashing along the canyon floor. In others, the river meanders almost soundlessly through the open desert.
Float trips will take you on an unbeatable adventure through miles of the Rio Grande. Depending on which canyons you want to traverse, boating expeditions can run from one-day, one-night trips all the way up to 10-day itineraries.
Entrance to the Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River is free but parts of it cross over into Big Bend National Park, where you’ll have to pay admission.
If boating isn’t for you, settle in at the Rio Grande Village Campground for a night or two.
From there, it’s easy to embark on shorter birdwatching or hiking excursions, and the surrounding views are so stunning that we won’t blame you for just hanging around the site.
Use of the river also requires a permit, which is free for day trips but costs $10 per night for multi-day trips.
15. San Antonio Missions
Perhaps one of the most famous national parks in Texas, the San Antonio Missions receive millions of visitors every year, and for good reason.
If you’re looking for more of an active vacation, the Mission Hike & Bike Trail is a winding path that takes you to each of San Antonio’s four missions before heading further north to the Alamo. You also get to enjoy lovely countryside scenes along the way.
Driving the route is also possible, which may be the better option if you’re visiting during an infamous Texas summer.
As for the highlights of the tour, it’s hard to pick anyone above the others. Mission Concepcion is the oldest unrestored church in the country, complete with original paintings and architecture, while Mission Espada was the first to be built in Texas, dating back to 1690.
Many visit San Antonio to see the Alamo, but the other Spanish colonial missions are just as stunning and have a fascinating history of their own.
Admission is free, so stay all day and soak it all in!
16. Waco Mammoth
Many Texas national monuments commemorate more recent history, but this archaeological site digs deep into the ancient past.
Back in 1978, two men searching for fossils stumbled upon a much larger discovery–a massive femur bone that was later identified as that of a Columbian mammoth.
These giant creatures lived 10,000-1 million years ago all throughout North America and parts of Central America.
While scientists remain unsure of how the mammoths died, it is thought that the nearby Bosque River flooded and wiped out part of a herd.
Now, this site houses the only known remains of a herd of Columbian Mammoths in the world, and many of the bones still rest in their original place of discovery.
Tickets to access the dig shelter and view the bones are only $5 for adults, with discounts for students and young children.
You can also travel back in time on a ranger-guided tour of one of the area’s walking trails. Along the way, you’ll get to see plants that flourished during the Ice Age and live oaks nearly as old as the country itself.
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