The 15 Best State Parks in Texas for Camping, Stargazing & Everything in Between

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As the saying goes, everything is bigger in Texas—and that includes the massive range of scenery. The Lone Star State has vast plains, deserts, rolling sand dunes, golden beaches and waterfalls. And the best places to soak in all this natural beauty are without question the (count 'em) 80 state parks.

Get ready to trade your cowboy boots for hiking boots because we’ve rounded up 15 of the top outdoor areas in Texas.


best state parks in texas lake livingston
Lake Livingston State Park - Texas Parks and Wildlife/Facebook

1. Lake Livingston State Park

Best for: Families with kids, hikers, cyclists, kayakers, fans of fishing, campers

300 State Park Road 65, Livingston, Texas 77351

A lakeside retreat in the southern portion of the Piney Woods region, Lake Livingston State Park lures families with the promise of fresh air, waterfront activities and tech-free time. Treasured memories are made while hiking, perch fishing and pitching a tent. Mountain biking and kayaking will make even the most social-media-obsessed teens put down their phones.

When to go: The weather in the summer and early fall is perfect for enjoying all the waterfront fun at Lake Livingston State Park.

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best state parks in texas franklin mountains
Gigi_my_girl/Getty Images

2. Franklin Mountains State Park

Best for: Hikers, cyclists, joggers, climbers

Tom Mays Park Access Road, El Paso, Texas 79930

Franklin Mountains State Park holds the title of westernmost point in Texas. With over 100 miles of trails for biking, hiking and jogging, deciding which rugged route to conquer first will probably be your toughest choice. Rock climbers can attempt to scale McKelligon Canyon. After working up an appetite, refuel with a picnic overlooking the dazzling desert terrain.

When to go: We wouldn’t recommend trying to hike or rock climb during the scorching summer months. By contrast, winters at Franklin Mountains State Park are mild, dry and ideal for desert adventures.

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best state parks in texas palo duro canyon
Robert W. Hensley/Getty Images

3. Palo Duro Canyon State Park

Best for: Hikers, road trippers, boaters

11450 State Highway Park Road 5, Canyon, Texas 79015

Not far from Amarillo, Palo Duro Canyon State Park boasts the second largest canyon in the United State. Not surprisingly, it’s a dynamite destination for hiking. Hit your daily steps? Consider doing the driving route. There are tons of lovely places to pull off the road and marvel at the grandeur of the escarpments.

When to go: While Palo Duro Canyon State Park welcomes visitors year-round, it’s best to avoid peak summer as it gets extremely hot. Instead, we’d suggest early spring and late fall for more moderate temperatures.

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best state parks in texas longhorn cavern
Bill Heinsohn/Getty Images

4. Longhorn Cavern State Park

Best for: Spelunkers, history buffs, families with kids

6211 Park Road 4 S, Burnet, Texas 78611

Longhorn Cavern State Park is famed for its ancient cavern, which dates back to prehistoric times. The best way to learn about the interesting history and geology of this subterranean standout? A guided tour. Equally as compelling as the wall carvings and sinkholes are tales of the cave’s use as a gunpowder manufacturing facility during the Civil War and later a 1920s speakeasy.

When to go: Longhorn Cavern State Park remains open 364 days a year (it's closed on Christmas Day). Since the bulk of your time will be spent underground, the weather doesn't really play a factor in deciding when to visit. Crowds, on the other hand, can be a real drag. So skip school holidays.

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best state parks in texas colorado bend
Olga Melhiser Photography/Getty Images

5. Colorado Bend State Park

Best for: Hikers, waterfall chasers, birdwatchers, campers

2236 Park Hill Drive, Bend, Texas 76824

A stunning example of the karst topography associated with the Texas Hill Country region, Colorado Bend State Park is known for its sinkholes, limestone cliffs, caves and spring-fed creeks. Another impressive feature? The eye-popping 70-foot cascade called Gorman Falls. More than 155 bird species call Colorado Bend State Park home. Don’t be surprised if you glimpse a black-capped vireo flying above.

When to go: Most people prefer the picture-perfect conditions in spring and fall. Winter is great for hiking, however, you’ll need to wear layers and buy special cold-weather camping gear.

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best state parks in texas dinosaur valley
Dinosaur Valley State Park - Texas Parks and Wildlife/Facebook

6. Dinosaur Valley State Park

Best for: Budding paleontologists, history buffs, birdwatchers, campers, geocachers

1629 Park Road 59, Glen Rose, Texas 76043

Dinosaur Valley State Park invites visitors to step back in time. Some 113 million years ago herbivorous sauropods and meat-eating theropods roamed the land. Today, travelers can walk alongside actual Acrocanthosaurus footprints in the bed of the Paluxy River as golden-cheeked warblers soar through the skies. That’s not all, Dinosaur Valley State Park is also a tricera-top spot (sorry, couldn’t resist) for camping and geocaching.

When to go: Summers tend to be dry and water levels are low. This makes it the best time to view dino tracks.

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best state parks in texas mustang island
Mustang Island State Park - Texas Parks and Wildlife/Facebook

7. Mustang Island State Park

Best for: Beach lovers, wildlife enthusiasts, kayakers, campers

9394 TX-361, Corpus Christi, Texas 78418

Situated along the Gulf of Mexico, Mustang Island State Park spans 3,954 acres of fascinating flora and fauna. It’s home to everything from algae-covered tidal flats to endangered sea turtles. You’ll also find 20 miles of kayaking trails, plus plenty of opportunities for fishing, surfing and beach walks. Not ready to leave? Hunker down at one of the many campsites.

When to go: Given the abundance of warm-weather activities, Mustang Island State Park is best enjoyed during the spring and summer. If possible, time your trip to sea turtle nesting season, which runs from April to July.

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best state parks in texas lost maples
Lost Maples State Natural Area - Texas Parks and Wildlife/Getty Images

8. Lost Maples State Natural Area

Best for: Hikers, leaf peepers, wildflower lovers, stargazers

37221 RM 187, Vanderpool, Texas 78885

Located two hours northwest of San Antonio, Lost Maples State Natural Area has a magical mix of hills, canyons, leafy trees and wildflowers that will make you do a double-take. The scenic Sabinal River runs through it all giving travelers the chance to fish and swim. And it’s impossible to resist the allure of stargazing sans light pollution.

When to go: While Lost Maples State Natural Area is lovely year-round, it's particularly impressive when the maples erupt into an autumnal palette of red, orange and yellow. Don’t sleep on the spring wildflowers either.

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best state parks in texas monahans sandhills
Bud Force/Getty Images

9. Monahans Sandhills State Park

Best for: Dune surfers, horseback riders

Exit 86, 2500 I-20, Monahans, Texas 79756

Windswept sand dunes might not be the first thing you associate with Texas, but Monahans Sandhills State Park will certainly change that. Adrenaline junkies can rent discs and “surf” the dunes, some of which reach as high as 70 feet! If horseback riding is more your thing, be sure to check out the 800-acre equestrian area.

When to go: Eschew the scorching summer months (the average high is 96°F) in lieu of more pleasant temperatures in the spring and fall.

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best state parks in texas huntsville
Huntsville State Park - Texas Parks and Wildlife/Facebook

10. Huntsville State Park

Best for: Families with kids, hikers, bird watchers, campers

565 Park Road 40 West, Huntsville, Texas 77340

With 21 miles of trails, playgrounds, fragrant pine trees and a lake for canoeing, Huntsville State Park is the sort of place your kids will be clambering to spend the day. Thank goodness for campsites because the family certainly won’t want to leave at night. Let croaking frogs lull you to sleep and rise with the chirping birds.

When to go: Conditions in the spring are unparalleled. Expect clear skies, favorable temps and little rain.

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best state parks in texas cat
Dean Fikar/Getty Images

11. Enchanted Rock State Natural Area

Best for: Hikers, rock climbers, campers

16710 Ranch Road 965, Fredericksburg, Texas 78624

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area will literally take your breath away. Its primary attraction is an eye-popping 425-foot pink granite monolith—and pretty much everything centers around that. Expect epic hiking, climbing and mountain biking. A designated International Dark Sky Sanctuary, Enchanted Rock State Natural Area also provides unparalleled stargazing. The campsites are pretty out of this world, too.

When to go: Summer is the most popular time to visit Enchanted Rock State Natural Area. For us, the benefits of a springtime trip—fewer crowds, cooler temps and wildflowers—give it the edge.

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best state parks in texas inks lake
Inks Lake State Park - Texas Parks and Wildlife/Facebook

12. Inks Lake State Park

Best for: Hikers, swimmers, boaters, cliff jumpers

3630 Park Rd 4 W, Burnet, Texas 78611

Aquatic activities rank among the drawcards for Inks Lake State Park in Burnet. Take advantage of boating and swimming in Devil’s Waterhole. Craving a rush? Try cliff jumping. Back on land, explore the rocky hiking paths and admire the prickly pear cacti. Bonus: all this awesomeness exists just 50 miles northwest of Austin.

When to go: You can hike throughout the year. Just don’t bank on taking a dip in the winter.

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best state parks in texas pedernales falls
Pedernales Falls State Park/Facebook

13. Pedernales Falls State Park

Best for: Hikers, leaf peepers, families with children, birdwatchers

2585 Park Road 6026, Johnson City, Texas 78636

Pedernales Falls State Park makes for an unforgettable day trip. There are easy-to-navigate trails, rock formations, a meandering river as bird blinds for peeping white-winged doves, golden-fronted woodpeckers and turkey vultures (just to name a few winged inhabitants). Whether you're going to hike or just stop to snap some photos from Pedernales Falls Overlook, it's well worth the detour.

When to go: Pedernales Falls State Park shines brightest in the autumn when the leaves change color.

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best state parks in texas lake mineral wells
Lake Mineral Wells State Park & Trailway - Texas Parks and Wildlife/Facebook

14. Lake Mineral Wells State Park & Trailway

Best for: Hikers, fans of fishing, boaters, horseback riders

100 Park Road 71, Mineral Wells, Texas 76067

Like hiking through narrow passes and slot canyons? Like horseback riding? What’s your interest level in fishing for largemouth bass, crappie and catfish? Keen to take a flat-bottom boat, kayak or paddleboard out for a spin on a 640-acre lake? With so many selling points, it’s near impossible to come up with reasons not to visit Lake Mineral Wells State Park & Trailway.

When to go: There’s no wrong time to experience the magic of Lake Mineral Wells State Park & Trailway. Some trails close during wet weather. But that’s really all you have to worry about.

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15. Big Bend Ranch State Park

Best for: Hikers, cyclists, joggers, horseback riders, wildlife enthusiasts

1900 South Saucedo, Presidio, Texas 79845

A true Texas-size nature area, Big Bend Ranch State Park sprawls more than 300,000 acres and has 238 miles of multi-use trails. Such a ginormous footprint means ample space for hiking, jogging, biking and horseback riding. You’re likely to see jackrabbits, lizards and bighorn sheep while exploring the picturesque landscape. Add to that fishing and rafting on the Rio Grande. Basically, how the day unfolds really depends on your desired activity.

When to go: Spring and fall are your best bets weather-wise. Just keep in mind that Big Bend Ranch State Park tends to be flooded with spring breakers come March.

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Freelance PureWow Editor

Lindsay Cohn is a travel writer and serial trip planner who has visited 46 countries across six continents (and counting). When not globetrotting, she’s most likely either doing...