The Ultimate Texas Nature Bucket List: 40+ Outdoor Adventures Divided by Region
March 21, 2023
If you're looking for the best outdoor adventures in Texas, you're in the right place! Texas is a state full of diverse ecosystems, from mountains and deserts to bayous and beaches.
Let this list of bucket list things to do in Texas be your guide to exploring some of the most beautiful places that the Lone Star State has to offer! These 40+ natural destinations spanning across the state are all worth adding to your Texas bucket list.
This list was originally published in 2021 but has been updated with new locations in March 2023.
Please make it a priority to Leave No Trace when exploring the outdoors. This includes leaving nothing behind, respecting wildlife, minimizing campfire impacts, respecting those around you, planning ahead and traveling on durable surfaces. For more details, read about the seven principles at lnt.org.
See one of the largest sites of preserved dinosaur tracks in the world at Dinosaur Valley State Park. The park is close to DFW and offers swimming in the Paluxy River along with a variety of hiking trails. Experience beautiful river valley views and secluded mini waterfalls as you explore the area.
The Dallas Arboretum is located in Dallas on the banks of White Rock Lake. The gardens include 66 acres of beautiful landscape, waterfalls, and sculptures, creating a perfect location for a leisurely stroll, a picnic or a photoshoot. While this destination is more manmade than the others on this list, it’s still a beautiful place full of greenery that is worth seeing while you’re in Dallas.
Visit Lake Texoma, a large reservoir on the border of Texas and Oklahoma. Surrounding the water, you’ll find rocky cliffs and caves to explore. Check out Eisenhower State Park for trails along the water and a great swimming beach.
For more information on visiting Eisenhower State Park and Denison, head to my Denison guide.
Caddo Lake is the only naturally formed lake in Texas and is beautifully mysterious, featuring clumps of spanish moss hanging from 400 year old cypress trees. Paddle or ride a boat to admire the scenery and unique habitats of the wildlife and plants.
Martin Dies Jr. State Park is located in the East Texas Piney Woods at the northern edge of the Big Thicket. The park features a lake and is full of trails for hiking and biking, along with areas to paddle. It’s perfect to catch the sunset and you might even see an alligator!
The Big Thicket National Preserve is one of the best places in Texas for nature lovers. The preserve has 9 different ecosystems and protects 113,114 acres of land. It contains 40 miles of hiking trails but one of the best ways to explore the area is by boat. Begin at the visitor center and plot your day’s bayou exploration.
For more details on visiting the Big Thicket, check out my guide to outdoor adventure in Beaumont.
What began as the final phase of the Beaumont wastewater system is now a large wetlands area that is home to over 290+ species of birds, alligators and more. The Cattail marsh covers 900-acres and has over 8 miles of gravel roads that can be used for biking, hiking and more. I saw 19 alligators and countless birds including egrets, roseate spoonbills and more. This is a must-visit for a trip to Beaumont.
The Tyler Municipal Rose Garden spans across 14 acres, making it the nation’s largest rose garden. The garden includes 38,000 rose bushes and over 600 different types of the flowers. Also at the garden, you’ll find waterfalls, fountains and well-maintained landscaping to admire and explore. The Tyler Rose Festival takes place in the fall, but you can also see the roses in the spring or summer.
For a full guide of visiting the Northern Texas Pineywoods, check out my guide.
Visit Tyler in March or April to experience the Azalea Trail, a ten mile trail of residential gardens and historical homes featuring azaleas, tulips, wisteria and more splendid flowers. Visit during this time to capture bright and cheery photography of the spring flowers.
For things to do in Hill Country beyond the nature, check out my list of over 40 places to go in Texas Hill Country!
The WestCave Outdoor Discovery Center is a protected preserve only accessible by a guided tour. The preserve is home to a fascinating grotto covered in green moss, which is next to a cave that you can explore. The area feels like an enchanted oasis straight out of a fairytale. Be sure to visit West Cave if you're planning a Texas natural wonders road trip.
Krause Springs is an enchanting Hill Country swimming hole with an impressive waterfall, over 32 natural springs, a grotto and butterfly garden. The swimming hole is on the National Register of historic places and is a great representation of the beauty in Texas Hill Country.
Take a short hike to a large and beautiful grotto and gaze at the iconic waterfall at Hamilton Pool Preserve. This protected canyon is stunning to see and harbors several rare plant species. Be sure to make a reservation in advance. As of 2022, the swimming is closed at Hamilton Pool Preserve due to falling rocks, but you can still hike to the grotto!
For a full guide on Dripping Springs that includes more information on Hamilton Pool, check out my guide.
Swim in an iconic Texas swimming hole at Jacob’s Well. The well is an artesian spring, so water flows up to the surface naturally. This is also the second largest fully submerged cave in Texas. Previously, you could swim here, but it is closed to swimming as of July 2022.
The Blue Hole Regional Park is home to an iconic Texas swimming hole with clear blue water, bald cypress trees and limestone bluffs. The large park also has a multitude of trails and lots of space to relax.
Walk across limestone ledges just minutes from Austin at McKinney Falls State Park. There are two waterfall areas with streams that carve through limestone and empty into swimming holes. The park also has a massive and historic cypress tree and miles of trails.
Inks Lake State Park offers excellent swimming areas surrounded by interesting rock formations. You can jump off of cliffs into the water, see a waterfall at certain times of year and hike among clumps of cacti. The park is also a prime spot for camping.
Longhorn Caverns State Park offers an impressive and rare type of cave that was formed by the cutting away of rock from an underground river. Underground, you’ll find a room of crystals, a rock resembling a dog and learn all about the history of the cave on a guided tour. You can even go on a wild caving tour if you are extra adventurous.
Garner State Park is an amazing Hill Country park with a range of different hikes, views of Texas Hill Country, cave formations and a river perfect for floating or paddling. Climb to the top of Mt Baldy for incredible views or hike to Crystal Cave to descend into a large cave with walls that shine with crystals.
Lost Maples State Natural Area is gorgeous all year round, but add visiting in the Autumn to your Texas bucket list. The park has a large population of Uvalde bigtooth maple trees that produce amazing fall foliage in October or November. There are also great Hill Country views and secluded grottos to explore.
Enchanted Rock State Natural Area is a mystical-feeling pink granite dome in Texas Hill Country. It’s the largest isolated pink granite rock in the US and is the perfect place for hiking. Climb to the top for views of the area or hike around the bottoms for beautiful rocky scenery.
Walk across a waterfall at Pedernales Falls State Park. The park is most known for its 300 million year old limestone ledges that contain pockets of water and mini waterfalls, but also is perfect for hiking and swimming.
See the stunning Gorman Falls, swim in spring-fed streams and explore caves in the beautiful and remote Colorado Bend State Park. This Hill Country park is a gem highly worthy of exploration. There are a variety of trails for all skill levels.
Grab a group of friends and spend a summer day floating on a tube down a Hill Country River. There are lots of options for locations; some of the best spots include the Guadalupe River, Frio River and Comal River. Many companies offer tube rentals, drop-offs and pickups!
Paddling on Lady Bird Lake is a must when visiting Austin, Texas! Kayak or paddle board with views of the Austin skyline in the center of the city. If you go in the evening, look for the bats emerging from the ‘Bat Bridge’ at South Congress Avenue for the quintessential Austin experience.
Drive the Willow City Loop in March or May to experience fields of bluebonnets, the Texas state flower. The scenic drive is located outside of Fredericksburg and has beautiful Hill Country views that are enhanced by the wildflowers in the spring. The loop road is a great place to see the flowers, but you can also see them all over North Texas and Hill Country.
Visit the nation’s largest working wildflower farm at Wildseed Farms in Fredericksburg, Texas. You can walk on trails around fields of flowers and even cut and create your own bouquet. Enjoy a glass of wine at the winery onsite and bring home seeds to plant in your garden.
For a full itinerary on visiting Fredericksburg, head to my Fredericksburg guide.
Big Bend National Park is an incredible sight to behold. There is so much to explore in this remote park, highlights include hiking in the mountains, swimming in the Hot Springs and walking through the Rio Grande into a towering canyon at the Santa Elena Canyon.
Big Bend Ranch State Park is the less crowded companion to the nearby national park. Hike through the desert, explore a slot canyon and experience the West Texas desert with few people around.
Franklin Mountains State Park is the largest ‘urban’ park in the continental US, made up of 40 square miles all within the city limits of El Paso. It feels far from urban though, you’ll find over 100 miles of trails through the desert and among mountain peaks.
Hike to the highest point in Texas at Guadalupe Mountains National Park. The Guadalupe Peak hike is 8.5 miles round trip with lots of elevation changes, but there are many other great hikes in the park that are less strenuous. Explore the canyons, mountains and views at one of the least visited national parks in the country.
Read my full guide on visiting the Guadalupe Mountains for information of trails, where to stay and more.
The Hueco Tanks State Park is full of unique low mountains that have collected rainwater and provided shelter for the last 10,000 years. The unique structures also tell stories of early hunter-gatherers with pictographs and petroglyphs on the rock faces.
Explore a constantly changing canyon at Seminole Canyon State Park. The canyon becomes wider and deeper every year due to erosion. You can hike the canyon rim, experience views of Mexico and enjoy the solitude in this remote park.
Explore the remote mountains of the West Texas desert at Davis Mountains State Park. The area has an unique ecosystem due to its elevation and increased rainwater runoff. The park is also home to some of the oldest structures built by the CCC in Texas parks.
The Monahans Sandhills State Park is a surprising and unique area of sand dunes, nowhere near a body of water. Walk among the white sandhills and sled down the hills as you explore and photograph this unique destination.
The remote areas of West Texas have incredibly clear skies. Go camping near Big Bend and gaze up at the stars and search for constellations and the Milky Way. There is very little light pollution and few clouds, making it one of the best places to stargaze in Texas, if not the entire United States.
Read about unique West Texas accommodations that are perfect for stargazing in my Marfa to Big Bend Road Trip Guide!*
Float between the borders of Texas and Mexico with canyon walls towering above you on the Rio Grande River. Trips range from an afternoon to 10 days, so you can pick your own adventure based on your time and skill level.
Head to the bottom of the second largest canyon in the US at Palo Duro Canyon. This incredible park is one of the best natural wonders in Texas and is full of orange rock formations that you’d expect to see in Utah instead of Texas. Hike to the iconic Lighthouse Rock, explore the Big Cave and enjoy the incredible views.
Read about Amarillo and Palo Duro in this guide!
Caprock Canyons State Park and Trailway is located within a beautiful canyon and has 90 miles of trails. The park area has beautiful hiking trails among orange rocks, while the trailway is a converted section of railway. The trailway includes a tunnel that half a million bats call home.
Brazos Bend State Park is a park that features wetlands and tallgrass coastal prairie ecosystems. Many alligators live in the park, explore the trails and see how many you can spot!
Visit the Padre Island National Seashore to experience the largest undeveloped barrier island in the world. One highlight is the Laguna Madre, a 3 feet deep lagoon that is saltier than the ocean (it’s one of the only ones in the world!). Experience the seashore by watching the release of sea turtle hatchlings, driving on the beach or just laying out to relax.
Mustang Island State Park has 5 miles of coastline on a barrier island lining the gulf coast. Wild horses roamed the island many years ago, giving the island its name. Today, the coast is largely unspoiled and a serene place to enjoy sand and ocean.
Sea Rim State Park is located on the Gulf Coast and offers beach access, plus 1,000s of acres of marshlands to explore. One of the most unique and accessible parts of the park is the Gambusia Nature Boardwalk Trail. The boardwalk is entirely over water and is a great place to see birds and fish. It's a great park for camping or as a day trip from Port Arthur or Beaumont.
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