If you’re hoping to explore the best national parks in Texas, keep reading!
As the second largest state by land area, Texas is filled with diverse landscapes including everything from beaches and flatlands to little-known mountain ranges. If you’re ready to get outside and explore Texas national parks, then you’ve come to the right place!
Pack your bags for day trips or get ready to go camping. Each park offers unique experiences to dig into the history of Texas and enjoy beautiful scenery at the same time. Parks in Texas will get you outdoors and in touch with the rugged beauty of the south.
You can explore geologic wonders like a mountain range that began as a coral reef 280 million years ago as well as more recent historical sites such as a UNESCO World Heritage Site which documents the complex history of indigenous people and Spanish colonizers in southern Texas.
Tour the home of one of the nation’s presidents in a national park near Austin or travel back in time to imagine the mammoths that once roamed the region in a national monument near Dallas.
If you’re interested in wildlife and water based activities near the ocean, Texas national parks also indulge water-recreation lovers. Whether you’re into kayaking, swimming, boating, and windsurfing or birdwatching and sea turtle hatchling releases, one of the best national parks in Texas has it all.
16 Best National Parks In Texas To Explore
Guadalupe Mountains National Park
The Guadalupe Mountains are located near the border of Texas and New Mexico. This stunning mountain range was once a 400 mile long coral reef under the sea. Fossils can be observed at the park, but to allow scientists to study the ancient organisms, it is illegal to collect any.
There are many great trails for day hiking such Devil’s Hall Trail where you can find a natural stone stairway to an unusual canyon with steep walls on either side. You can even climb to the top of the tallest mountain in Texas, Guadalupe Peak!
Padre Island National Seashore
Padre Island National Seashore is home to the Laguna Madre, one of the world’s only lagoons that is actually saltier than the ocean! The lagoon is known worldwide for its perfect windsurfing conditions. You can also kayak, swim, and fish.
If you’re new to kayaking, the protected waters of the lagoon offer a great place to get started and even have many areas of interest to keep experienced kayakers interested. Birds nest and roost on little islands within the lagoon. You can get a great view from your kayak, but leave them enough space to feel comfortable in their home. Sea kayaking on the open ocean is also an area of interest for avid paddlers. And as long as you have the correct license and stamps, you can even fish from a kayak!
Padre Island is also a great place to spot wildlife. Five species of sea turtles, including Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles, nest on these shorelines! Park service members monitor nests and, if necessary, move them to safety until they hatch. Watch baby turtles make a beeline for the waves during a hatchling release in the summertime.
Waco Mammoth National Monument
Located two hours south of Dallas, the Waco Mammoth National Monument will transport you back to the most recent Ice Age. Learn about the discovery of these fossilized Columbian mammoths. This park will make a great quick stop on your own Texas road trip on your way from Hill Country to Dallas.
It is the only known example of a complete herd of mammoths which died and were preserved together in the U.S. It is believed that the prehistoric giants perished in a flash flood and were buried under sediment. Columbian mammoths differed from their woolly relatives, and thrived in warmer conditions than woolly mammoths of other regions. The Columbian mammoth would have weighed 20,000 pounds and stood approximately 14 feet tall!
Waco Mammoth National Monument peels back the layers of the earth, allowing visitors to see exactly how the mammoth were found and learn how paleontologists work in the field.
Big Bend National Park
Big Bend offers so much to explore as one of the most popular National Parks in the south. With hiking, camping, stargazing, and scenic drives, there is something for everyone at this Texas national park. Most famous for the Santa Elena canyon, accessible via a 1.4 mile round trip hike. Keep an eye out for wildlife. If you’re lucky you might spot a bobcat or a black bear! Seventy-five different species of mammals live in this spectacular park.
There are 150 miles of trails within the park which are perfect for hikers and backpackers alike. Trails traverse areas of the Chihuahuan desert, the Chisos Mountains, and wander along the course of the Rio Grande. Each area provides a different type of scenery and experience. The hot summer temperatures may limit hiking experiences through the lower elevation desert areas, but the mountains can provide cooler temperatures.
Big Bend is also known for its biodiversity, including that of plant life. Wildflowers and cacti abound! The National Park Service even offers a list of hiking trails for plant enthusiasts!
Visiting the section of the Rio Grande protected by the National Park Service provides an opportunity to view the countryside from water level in a float trip for experienced kayakers.
Float trips can be planned for either short and easygoing stretches or extended and remote stretches of the river.
Portions of the Rio Grande are protected within Big Bend National Park. One ideal 10 mile trip is the Mariscal Canyon. Class II and III rapids generate interest in this trip along with the gorgeous canyon walls rising 1,400 feet above either side of the river for portions of the trip.
Big Thicket National Preserve
The Big Thicket is located in a region where many different ecosystems meet and combine. The thicket contains swamps and bayous, piney woods and palmetto flats, and even wetland pine savannah and arid sandyland.
Carnivorous pitcher plants can be seen here as well as cacti and orchids. The array of plant and animal life that lives in this park is astounding! Alligators, ring-tailed cats, armadillos, river otters are just a few of the animals that roam free in the Big Thicket National Reserve.
This area region is one of the most biologically diverse in the world and has been dedicated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
San Antonio Missions National Historical Park
Located in San Antonio, this park is the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in Texas. The missions were built by the Spanish in the early 1700s during their attempts to colonize and Christianize the indigenous populations.
The park contains examples and archeological remnants of the churches, workshops, farms, and homes that were built during this period. Faced with the introduction of European diseases, drought conditions, the work of the colonizers, the indigenous population, known as the Coahuiltecan people, had to become part of the agrarian community built around the missions to survive. Influences of both Coahuiltecan and Spanish cultures formed a new culture which may have been the basis of Tejano culture.
UNESCO recognized this site because of the intertwining of the cultural backgrounds and the archeological remains that provide evidence of the skill sharing and interchanges between these groups during this period of colonization. Visit this site to delve deeper into the cultural heritage of Texas.
Chamizal National Memorial
The boundary between the U.S. and Mexico had been a center of conflict and tension. The tension extended well after the end of the U.S.-Mexican War. After nearly a hundred years, a boundary was decided and the Chamizal Convention was signed in 1963.
This memorial was created to commemorate the diplomatic conclusion of this deeply disputed land. Visit this site to reflect on the peaceful negotiation that occurred here.
Lake Meredith National Recreation Area
Lake Meredith, located toward the tippy top of the Texas panhandle, is a dazzling oasis in the vast expanse of the prairies of the Great Plains. Boaters and fishermen will find this to be a welcome retreat.
A bait and tackle shop near the Sanford Yake boat ramp even rents kayaks, paddleboards, and pontoon boats for visitors who are excited to venture out but are in need of gear.
There are 10 campgrounds throughout the park including one for RVs which is available by reservation. Some campgrounds are located right at popular trail heads. From the Harbor Bay Campground, try the Harbor Bay Trail to view wetlands or the South Turkey Creek Trial to visit some excellent bird habitats.
Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument
The Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument is not far from Lake Meredith. Thousands of years ago, people came here to gather flint to make tools and even points for hunting mammoths. See petroglyphs carved into stones on the site by these ancient people.
Take a guided tour with a park ranger to learn more about the Native Americans that once populated the area and the geology which created the abundance of flint. The flint at Alibates occurs in a wide array of colors. The color ranges from the most common colors of red, orange, yellow to blue and even dark green.
Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park
This battlefield preserved by the National Park Service is the location of the first significant battle during the U.S.-Mexican War. Learn about the history of this site and the men who served in the war.
The National Park Service worked with the Federation of Genealogical Societies to build a database of information on the individual soldiers. Learn more about the people shaped by the U.S.-Mexican War or even look up the records of a family member to discover your own history.
Lyndon B Johnson National Historical Park
Visit the home of Lyndon B Johnson, known as the Texas White House. LBJ was president of the U.S. from 1963-1968, taking over after the assassination of JFK.
His home tells the story of who he was and gives insight into his life and growth as a president. LBJ was buried on the property and it is possible to visit the presidential grave.
Amistad National Recreation Area
This National Recreation Area called Amistad, which is Spanish for friendship, is an ideal location for hikers, campers, and everyone interested in water sports. The reservoir it is named for borders both the U.S. and Mexico.
Visitors can enjoy frequent fishing tournaments to see who can catch the largest fish! Surprisingly, Amistad is a great spot for scuba diving due to its crystal clear water.
Take a guided walking tour to explore caves containing 4,000 year old pictographs. Another fascinating cave called Panther Cave is only accessible by boat. Visitors can view enormous paintings of hundreds of animals including a 10-foot long panther.
Fort Davis National Historical Site
Fort Davis is a well preserved Southwestern military post dating built during the 1800s in the era of the Indian Wars and was also occupied by soldiers during the Civil War.
Soldiers stationed here clashed with local Apaches, Comanches, and Kiowas. Their duties included patrolling the roads to prevent attacks on settlers, mail coaches, travelers, and wagon trains. Explore this historical location to get a better insight into life during these times.
El Camino Real de los Tejas
This historical trail was established during the Spanish rule of Texas. This road was used for colonization of Texas and Louisiana and gained importance after the Spaniards began to fear that the French were trying to colonize the same region.
The road provided a strong link to Mexico city and connected cultures as varied as they were numerous. The cultural exchanges along this road included not just Spanish, but Native American, African American, Mexican, and French.
Today the trail can be accessed from various points and serve as a reminder of the historical diffusion of cultures that occurred along its many miles. Visitor centers and exhibits showcase different historical elements.
El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro
Another road created by the Spanish to link the furthest colonies the Mexico City is preserved by the NPS to safeguard the historical significance of these once-critical paths.
El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro was the only link to all of Spain’s colonies in New Mexico. It was first established in 1598 on an excursion Juan de Oñate. Trace footsteps of travelers along this trail and explore hiking opportunities near El Paso. The trail passes by the missions of San Elizario, Socorro, and Ysleta before it continues on into New Mexico.
Texas offers so many great National Parks to explore. There are plenty of opportunities for learning about historical sites in Texas and experiencing the wild habitats of Texas. National parks preserve history and ecology side by side.
Whether you are looking to experience the wild habitats of Texas or immerse yourself in the history of the state, there is an opportunity waiting for you at all of these parks.