The Ultimate Texas State Parks Travel Guide
May 4, 2021
Table of Contents
I absolutely love visiting Texas State Parks! No matter your interests, there is something for everyone in the 80+ state parks in the state. I am continuously impressed with the detailed maps, the well maintained facilities and the incredible trails and scenery. You’ll find a diverse range of nature across the many parks; lush waterfalls, mossy swamplands, dunes of sand, massive canyons and dry deserts. This post offers some important general information I have learned when visiting Texas state parks. I hope it inspires you to visit one or ten!
It is advised to make a reservation in advance for popular parks on weekends and holidays. Reserve your spot online or over the phone. Some parks require reservationsa all of the time, like Hueco Tanks and Enchanted Rock.
The most popular state parks regularly reach their capacity well in advance, especially on weekends. Reservations go on sale 30 days in advance, so try to book a month out if you know you want to visit a certain park. The reservation is specific to the type of car, license plate and number of guests, so keep this in mind when you book. In my experience, some popular parks that fill up quickly are: Enchanted Rock, Colorado Bend, Pedernales Falls, McKinney Falls, Palo Duro Canyon and Dinosaur Valley.
Print out your permit and bring it with you for ease of entry. At most state parks, a ranger at the gate will check your name and hand you a permit to tape in your window. At Colorado Bend, the permits were preprinted to take yourself. At Big Bend Ranch, there are no entry gates so you need to leave your print out visible on your dashboard.
As a result of the pandemic, many of the state parks are not currently offering equipment rentals. Keep that in mind if you are going to one where you might want to go canoeing or kayaking (like Caddo Lake!). You can still rent from outside the park and bring them in. Call the park ahead of time to see if they are offering rentals.
If you are going to be visiting multiple state parks over the course of a year, it’s worth it to buy a park pass! The park pass is $70 for a year and includes free entry to all parks for you and anyone in your car. It also includes discounts on camping and items in park stores.
Here’s how the math plays out: The entry cost to each park varies, but the average price is $5-$7 per person. Some have free entry and the most expensive entry price I’ve seen is Palo Duro Canyon at $8 a person. If you are always visiting with one other person, you’d need to go about 5-6 parks per year to break even with the cost of the pass. The price has easily paid for itself for my partner and I, but of course it will depend on the person!
The park pass will also give you a discount on certain activities, such as cave tours.
Camping is a great way to be as close as possible to all of the amazing hikes in the parks. Reservations for camping at Texas State Parks open up five months in advance. Like the day passes, they are currently filling up quickly for the popular parks. In general, all of the campsites I’ve seen are very nice! The online booking system for the campsites is full of useful information. Multiple pictures are shown for each site so you know exactly what you’re getting.
All of the campsites at Pedernales Falls have their own covered picnic tables and lots of space, making it an especially nice park to camp in!
Here is a running list of all of the Texas State Parks I’ve visited and how I rank them. No hate to the parks at the bottom, I’ve enjoyed every single one and it’s hard to choose! I will update this list regularly as I continue to explore.
Big Bend Ranch - Scenery similar to Big Bend National Park but without the crowds, this park can’t be beat!
Caprock Canyons - This Texas panhandle park is home to a herd of bison, prairie dogs and breathtaking hikes. The park feels remote and is the perfect place to camp.
Palo Duro Canyon - Known as the “Grand Canyon of Texas,” the rock formations here are incredible.
Garner - Garner has a river to float in, a mountain with incredible views of Hill Country and caves to explore! It is the most popular park in the state for camping.
Enchanted Rock - This gigantic monolith of pink granite is one of a kind and offers great views and hiking in the heart of Hill Country.
Colorado Bend - With incredible hiking, swimming holes and a magnificent waterfall, this park is really a gem.
Lost Maples - Lost Maples displays incredible fall foliage in autumn. All year round, you can hike to beautiful views of Texas Hill Country.
Caddo Lake - The mossy cypress trees in Caddo Lake make for a truly unique landscape. Kayaking through Mill Pond is a sight to behold.
Hueco Tanks - This park is very special. It is home to petroglyphs and pictographs from 1000's of years ago and is also a great place for rock climbing. Reservations and an orientation video are required for your visit.
Pedernales Falls - At this Hill Country park, you can climb over limestone shelves and waterfalls, discover your own swimming holes and go on a variety of hikes.
Franklin Mountains - The Franklin Mountains are located in El Paso and are made up of beautiful desert landscape. There are several interesting trails; a view of El Paso, a hike to see plane wreckage and a cave to explore.
Guadalupe River - It's all about the river at this park - enjoy swimming, floating or paddling through beautiful scenery. The hiking trails are great for spotting armadillos, deer and other wildlife.
Inks Lake - This Hill Country Park is amazing for hiking, swimming and camping!
McKinney Falls - McKinney Falls offers a similar landscape to Pedernales, but is located only minutes away from the city of Austin!
Dinosaur Valley - Located in close proximity to Dallas and Fort Worth, Dinosaur Valley has great hiking, a river to swim in and dinosaur tracks.
Longhorn Caverns - This uniquely formed cave is full of interesting rock formations and chicken nugget sized bats - they offer guided walking tours and wild caving tours.
Monahans Sandhills - This is another park where the landscape just feels so special! I never would have guessed that there would be a pocket of sand dunes in the middle of Texas oil country.
Copper Breaks State Park - Copper Breaks is known for being an International Dark Sky Park, making it perfect for camping and stargazing. It also has great hiking trails, equestrian trails, mountain biking trails and more.
Mineral Wells - In close proximity to Fort Worth, Mineral Wells is a great place to get on the water, go rock climbing or hike.
Tyler - This Piney Woods park has peaceful forested trails and beautiful clumps of lilies on the water.
Daingerfield - Daingerfield is a quaint and peaceful Pineywood Park that is small but charming with a great lake and trails.
Eisenhower - Eisenhower State Park is located on the banks of Lake Texoma, right on the border of Oklahoma. They have a rocky beach to swim at, hiking trails and even ATV trails!
Cleburne - Cleburne State Park is just over a hour from Dallas and offers numerous trails for hiking with a lake taking center state. The most unique aspect is the limestone quarry that serves as a spillway - it is part natural and part CCC built.
Mother Neff - Mother Neff is one of the earliest state parks, located 35 minutes south of Waco. The park is small but has some interesting features like a cave, CCC-built tower and ponds.
Lyndon B. Johnson State Park & Historic Site - This park has two parts; a state park and a national historic site. There is a lot to do here; you can explore a farm with volunteers who dress in period clothing, do a driving tour of Lyndon B. Johnson's estate and more.
Blanco - Blanco State Park is an urban-feeling park located in between San Antonio and Austin. The park has a river to swim in, campsites and a couple short trails.
Lake Tawakoni - Lake Tawakoni is an hour east of Dallas and has 4+ miles of trails, a small beach, a boat dock and a variety of plants and wildlife.
Ray Roberts State Park - Ray Roberts Lake State Park is located between Dallas and Fort Worth and is made up of three separate units. The park has a variety of hiking and biking trails along with many water activities.
Purtis Creek - Purtis Creek State Park is located about an hour east of Dallas in the Piney Woods region. The park has 7 miles of flat trails and a large lake. The park is known for fishing but also has many nice and secluded campsites.
Cedar Hill - Cedar Hill is the closest park to Dallas! It has a variety of trails with lake views and even the remnants of a 19th century farm. The trails often close from flooding so be sure to check conditions ahead of time.
Fort Parker - Fort Parker State Park is located an hour and a half south of Dallas and features a large lake, a paddling trail, and 7 miles of wooded trails.
Use the links to check out my recommendations on visiting the parks above!
Thanks for Reading!
Let's stay in touch!
Join the Lost with Lydia email list to get monthly travel guides and tips!