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The Ultimate Texas State Parks Travel Guide

January 1, 2024

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!

2024 Update: 32 Texas state parks are the path of the total eclipse occurring on April 8th, 2024! Be sure to make your reservation 30 days in advance if you plan on watching it from any of the parks. See the full list here!

A canoe paddling on Mill Pond in Caddo Lake State Park.
Caddo Lake
A view of the Frio River from Mt Baldy in Garner State Park.
Garner State Park

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.



Reservations at Texas State Parks

An overlook of the Paluxy River in Dinosaur Valley State Park.
Dinosaur Valley State Park

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 reservations 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, Palo Duro Canyon and Dinosaur Valley.

If you are able, it is helpful to 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.

Hills of sand at Monahans Sandhills State Park.
Monahans Sandhills State Park

Should you get a Texas Park Pass?

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!

Lydia standing on a dock at Mineral Wells State Park.
Mineral Wells State Park

The park pass will also give you a discount on certain activities, such as cave tours.

Camping in Texas State Parks

The lighthouse rock at Palo Duro Canyon State Park.
Palo Duro Canyon State Park
Lydia walking under a tree with yellow leaves at Lost Maples State Park.
Lost Maples State Natural Area

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.

A view of limestone rocks at Pedernales Falls State Park.
Pedernales Falls State Park

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!

Gorman Falls at Colorado Bend State Park.
Colorado Bend State Park

Other Tips for Visiting Texas State Parks

  • Download the Texas State Parks app for information on each of the parks such as camping, directions, trails and more.
  • Be prepared with the 10 essentials if you plan on hiking. That includes water, a first aid kit, layers, food and more. Most Texas state parks have water for you to fill up.
  • Some parks are more remote than others. I always recommend downloading offline maps before you arrive.
A lake with lily pads surrounded by trees at Tyler State Park.
Tyler State Park

My Personal Ranking of Texas State Parks

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.

Lydia standing inside of the Closed Canyon slot canyon at Big Bend Ranch State Park.
Big Bend Ranch State Park
  1. Big Bend Ranch - Scenery similar to Big Bend National Park but without the crowds, this park can’t be beat!

  2. 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.

  3. Palo Duro Canyon - Known as the “Grand Canyon of Texas,” the rock formations here are incredible.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. Colorado Bend - With incredible hiking, swimming holes and a magnificent waterfall, this park is really a gem.

  7. Lost Maples - Lost Maples displays incredible fall foliage in autumn. All year round, you can hike to beautiful views of Texas Hill Country.

  8. Caddo Lake - The mossy cypress trees in Caddo Lake make for a truly unique landscape. Kayaking through Mill Pond is a sight to behold.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. Palmetto - I'm ranking this park highly because the scenery is so unique! The park is full of dwarf palmettos that will remind you more of Florida or Georgia instead of Texas. Plus, it was full of colorful wildflowers during my visit.

  13. Texas Hill Country State Natural Area - This Hill Country park has some amazing views! There are several miles of trails and the remote location provides peace and solitude.

  14. 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.

  15. Inks Lake - This Hill Country Park is amazing for hiking, swimming and camping!

  16. Brazos Bend - This park is right outside of Houston and is amazing for wildlife - you will likely see alligators and a variety of birds during a walk around one of the lakes.

  17. McKinney Falls - McKinney Falls offers a similar landscape to Pedernales with waterfalls and limestone ledges, but is located only minutes away from the city of Austin!

  18. Dinosaur Valley - Located in close proximity to Dallas and Fort Worth, Dinosaur Valley has great hiking, a river to swim in and dinosaur tracks.

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

  22. Mineral Wells - In close proximity to Fort Worth, Mineral Wells is a great place to get on the water, go rock climbing or hike.

  23. Tyler - This Piney Woods park has peaceful forested trails and beautiful clumps of lilies on the water.

  24. Daingerfield - Daingerfield is a quaint and peaceful Pineywood Park that is small but charming with a great lake and trails.

  25. 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!

  26. Sea Rim - This unique and remote park is right on the ocean and has beach access and a cool nature trail with a boardwalk over the water. It's a great place to see crabs, birds and alligators.

  27. 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.

  28. 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.

  29. Village Creek - This park is right outside of Beaumont is a great place for kayaking and secluded, walk in campsites! Don't forget your bug spray.

  30. 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.

  31. 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.

  32. Galveston Island State Park - This coastal state park protects marshland and offers a large campground right next to the beach! It's a great place for bird watching.

  33. 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.

  34. 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.

  35. 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.

  36. 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.

  37. 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!

FAQ's about Texas State Parks

How many state parks are in Texas?

There are currently 88 Texas state parks. Unfortunately one park, Fairfield Lake, closed in February 2023. However, the park Palo Pinto is set to open sometime in 2023.

Can you fish in Texas state parks?

Yes, you can fish without a license in Texas state parks!

Can you hunt in Texas state parks?

It depends on the park, but in many of them you can at certain times and with the proper permit. Hunting is sometimes used to address exotic species or overpopulation of animals like feral hogs. Visit the official Texas parks website for more information.

What are the best Texas state parks?

This is subjective, but after visiting 37 Texas state parks, my favorites are Big Bend Bend Ranch, Caprock Canyons and Palo Duro! All of these parks offer incredible hiking and views.

Are Texas state parks free?

No, Texas state parks charge an entry fee per person and very rarely offer free admission. If you will be visiting many parks over the course of a year in groups, you can save money with the Texas state parks pass.

What is the most visited Texas state park?

Garner has been the most visited Texas state park for the last 10 years! With a large number of campsites, amazing hiking and the option to float in the river, I'm not surprised. Be sure to make camping reservations early for this park. Palo Duro is the second most visited and Enchanted Rock is the third.

Lydia sitting on Enchanted Rock and watching the sunrise.
Enchanted Rock State Natural Area

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