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17 Best State Parks in Texas

17 Best State Parks in Texas

Due to the sheer size of the state, the best state parks in Texas offer a huge range of natural scenery for your family to enjoy!

In the Big Bend Region of West Texas, Balmorhea State Park features the world’s largest spring-fed swimming pool while Big Bend Ranch State Park is in the middle of the rugged desert mountains.

In Hill Country, you can go from expansive views of rolling pastures to the steep limestone cliffs of a river valley within just a couple of miles.

Hit the road this year and immerse yourself in everything the Texas landscape has to offer. Purchase a Texas State Parks Pass to get unlimited admission into all state parks for an entire year and discounts on camping fees, park store purchases, and secondary state park passes.

The Best State Parks in Texas: Big Bend Country

1. Balmorhea State Park

One of the best state parks in Texas is Balmorhea State Park
Pool at Balmorhea State Park, Photo by Flickr/Angi English

Head to this oasis in the foothills of the Davis Mountains for year round swimming, snorkeling, and diving. The spring-fed pool at Balmorhea State Park covers over an acre, reaches depths of 25 ft., and stays at a constant temp of 72-75 degrees.

The adobe motel in the park, San Solomon Springs Court, provides unique lodging within walking distance of the pool. Canals run along the length of the motel as part of the area’s restored wetland habitat.

2. Davis Mountains State Park

view of the milky way from Davis Mountains state park in Texas
View of the Milky Way from Davis Mountains State Park, Photo by Flickr/Robert Hensley

Escape the Texas heat in the Davis Mountains. Trails through the high desert yield some pretty epic views of the expansive landscape below.

Pitch a tent or grab a room at the historic Indian Lodge. The lodge is a white, adobe inn built into the hillside with 39 rooms, a pool, and the Black Bear Restaurant on site. There is a 2.5-mile loop trail behind the lodge with nice views and wildflowers in the spring.

Don’t miss a star party at the McDonald Observatory, about 25 minutes outside of the park. The observatory is still worth a visit in the daytime for solar viewings, a guided tour of the telescopes, and a walk through of the exhibit gallery in the visitor’s center.

3. Monahans Sandhills State Park

Monahans Sandhills State Park in Texas
Dunes in Monahans Sandhills State Park, Photo by Flickr/Diann Bayes

It’s hard to believe this is Texas! Sled Texas-style on the white sand dunes of Monahans Sandhills State Park.

These dunes are part of a 200-square-mile dune field. There are no marked trails on the dunes, just let the wind be your guide in finding the best sledding slopes. Campsites in the park have water, electricity, and shade shelters.

4. Big Bend Ranch State Park

One of the best state parks in Texas is Big Bend Ranch State Park
The Rio Grande at Big Bend Ranch State Park, Photo by Flickr/CMy23

This state park deep in the wilderness of Big Bend Country is frequently claimed to rival Big Bend National Park. It is not only the biggest state park in Texas, but also designated as an International Dark Sky Park.

Witnessing the night sky and exploring the nocturnal ecosystem in this park is an incredibly unique experience. Stay at a primitive camping site or the Sauceda Ranch House bunkhouse inside the park.

Thinking of hitting some of these state parks in West Texas? Check out our guide to the 10 Top Attractions on a West Texas Road Trip.

Best State Parks in Texas: The Gulf Coast

5. Galveston Island State Park

Galveston Island State Park Boardwalk
The Clapper Trail Loop Boardwalk in Galveston Island State Park, Photo by Flickr/Dan Thibodeaux

Galveston Island State Park spans the width of the island from gulf to bay. Kayaking and birding along the three paddling trails are especially popular past times on the bay side. Camp or rent one of the lodges in the park.

Galveston State Park is a great compromise option if your family isn’t full of nature lovers. There is great food and entertainment just 20 minutes away in Galveston. Check out our Top 10 Things to Do in Galveston with Kids!

6. Mustang Island State Park

Mustang Island State Park in Texas
Camping on Mustang Island State Park, Photo by Flickr/Marcus Calderon

If you dream of camping directly on the sand of the Gulf of Mexico, this is the place to do it! Sea turtles and coastal birds thrive in this park, so definitely bring your binoculars.

Mustang Island State Park has five miles of shoreline to explore and enjoy with the family. Swim and kayak the paddling trail in Corpus Christi Bay, collect shells on long beach walks, or simply sit and listen to the sounds of the waves.

This park is included in our roundup of the 10 Best Beaches in Texas for Families. See what else made the list!

Best State Parks in Texas: Hill Country

Want to see the Texas Hill Country in one fell swoop? Several of these state parks are included in our Ultimate 5 Day Texas Hill Country Road Trip with Kids.

7. Colorado Bend State Park

Gorman Falls in Colorado Bend State Park
Gorman Falls in Colorado Bend State Park, Photo by Flickr/Randall Chancellor

Colorado Bend State Park is nestled along the Colorado River just north of Lake Buchanan. Highlights include a hike to Gorman Falls, swimming holes along the Spicewood Springs Trail, fishing and kayaking in the river, and a tour of the cave network underneath the park.

The beginners cave tour accepts ages four and up and the intermediate tour accepts kids over eight.

8. Garner State Park

Frio River in Garner State Park
Frio River in Garner State Park, Photo by Tarlie Harris

The cool water of the Frio River in Garner State Park is a respite for Texans during the long, hot summer.

Hike to the top of Old Baldy for a great view of the river valley, spend hours tubing and swimming in the river, find the closest rope swing, or play a round of putt-putt golf. The park has cabins, screen shelters, and tent/rv sites with great facilities throughout .

9. Inks Lake State Park

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Inks Lake, Photo by Flickr/G. Lamar

Take the short hike up to Devil’s Waterhole for a rocky climb along the stream that feeds into Inks Lake. Cliff jump into the deep parts of the lake or spend hours playing in the sandy-bottomed shallower parts. Ranger led activities include fishing and a nature program examining the underwater ecosystem. The park has cabins in addition to tent sites and rents kayaks at the park store.

10. Longhorn Cavern State Park

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Longhorn Caverns, Photo by Flickr/sarowen

Access to the caverns is by guided tour only. Choose between a walking tour and a wild cave tour to explore the cave and enjoy the cool temperatures underground. The Walking Tour is 90 minutes long, with a total walking distance of just over a mile.

The Wild Cave Tour takes guests ages 8+ through the undeveloped lower level of the cavern and lasts almost three hours. Crawling, a willingness to get wet and dirty, and a sense of adventure are required!

The park also has hiking trails and an observation tower for superb views of the surrounding hill country.

11. Pedernales Falls State Park

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Pedernales Falls, Photo by Tarlie Harris

When the Pedernales River is flowing, the water cascades down huge, limestone boulders in the falls section of Pedernales Falls State Park. No swimming is allowed in the falls area, however climbing and traversing the boulders is great fun, yielding unique views of the falls from every angle. Further down the river, set up camp on the sandy bank under massive cypress trees and swim all afternoon.

There are hiking and mountain biking trails throughout the park, as well as campsites with water and electric hookups.

12. Lost Maples State Natural Area

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Lost Maples State Natural Area, Photo by Flickr/G. Lamar

Lost Maples State Natural Area is THE best state park in Texas for viewing fall foliage. It is home to a stand of Uvalde bigtooth maple trees along the Sabinal River. Peak color is mid-to-late November.

The park maintains a fall foliage report staring in mid-October for planning purposes. The park has hiking trails, a couple of good fishing holes, and camp sites with water and electricity.

Check out our other top picks for finding Fall Color in Texas!

Best State Parks in Texas: The Panhandle Plains

13. Palo Duro Canyon State Park

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Palo Duro Canyon, Photo by Flickr/Kimberly Vardeman

Palo Duro Canyon is the second largest canyon in the United States. Park visitors can enjoy hiking over thirty miles of trails throughout the park. Don’t miss the trek to Lighthouse Rock for incredible views of the red canyon below. Camp in the park, overnight in a cabin on the canyon rim, or book a glamping experience on the canyon floor.

During the summer, enjoy dinner and a show! Book a chuck wagon dinner and watch TEXAS the Musical at the park’s beautiful amphitheater set amongst the canyon wall.

Palo Duro Canyon State Park is one of the stops included in our Texas to Colorado Road Trip Itinerary.

14. Possum Kingdom State Park

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Possum Kingdom Lake, Photo by Flickr/Robert Hensley

Possum Kingdom Lake is known as one of the clearest lakes in the southwest, making it a great spot for swimming, kayaking, boating, diving, fishing, and snorkeling.

The park store rents pontoon boats and kayaks/SUPs. Stay in a cabin or camp at a full hookup site. The park is on the Palo Pinto Loop of the Great Texas Wildlife Trail as it is home to many bird species including herons, egrets, and bald eagles.

Best State Parks in Texas: The Piney Woods

15. Daingerfield State Park

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Daingerfield State Park, Photo by Flickr/nsmithnz

As you drive east in Texas, it is impossible not to notice the trees growing taller with each passing mile. This park in the piney woods of east Texas is beloved for its trails through a “cathedral of trees” including pine, oak, and dogwood. This is a great park to visit to see fall color or spring blooms.

The Rustling Leaves Trail is an easy loop around the lake, while the Mountain View Trail takes you to one of the highest points in East Texas for great views of the valley below.

Fish, swim, or kayak in the lake and spend the night in a cabin or campsite. During the summer, Saturday nights are for dancing to the jukebox at the pavilion. During the holidays, enjoy light displays in the “Christmas in the Park” drive through trail.

Best State Parks in Texas: The Prairies and Lakes

16. Dinosaur Valley State Park

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Footprint at Dinosaur Valley State Park, Photo by Flickr/Randall Chancellor

Dinosaur enthusiasts won’t want to miss their chance to see the real dinosaur footprints that line the Paluxy riverbed. The park is just outside of Glen Rose, known as the “Dinosaur Capital of Texas.”

There are five main tracks sites, consisting primarily of theropod and sauropod footprints. The park provides extensive mapping resources and on the weekends, park rangers give “Track Talks” to provide more information about the tracks.

There are hiking and equestrian trails in the park, and the Eagle Eye Ranch Carriage Company leads various tours of the park on horseback.

Glen Rose is included in our list of 10 Best Day Trips from Dallas.

17. Ray Roberts Lake State Park

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Kiteboarding at Ray Roberts Lake, Photo by Flickr/TexasEagle

Lake Ray Roberts is a large lake with two full-service marinas and multiple boating ramps, perfect for a full weekend of boating with the family.

Even if you aren’t into water sports, there is plenty to keep the family busy. Twenty miles of hike and bike trails run along the Trinity River. Both the Isle du Bois and Johnson Branch have large, sandy swimming beaches and walk-in campsites. There is even a brand new nature center at the Johnson Branch and a fishing pond just for the kids!

The Lodge at the Lone Star Marina has 30 hotel rooms for those families that aren’t up for camping. The lodge sits high on a bluff with great views of the lake.