While there are only two national parks in Texas, Guadalupe Mountains, and Big Bend, there are numerous National Park Service-protected sites, forests, monuments, and more. Here are five of the best in the state for you to visit!
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One of the two official national parks in Texas, the Guadalupe Mountains in far west Texas. It is home to the four tallest mountains in Texas, including the famous Guadalupe Peak. Hiking Guadalupe Peak is by far the most popular activity with visitors. The hike takes between six and eight hours round-trip, and there are excellent views of the park to be experienced from the top of the mountain. Other popular activities in the park include camping, bird watching, and visiting the beautiful McKittrick Canyon. The park is best explored on foot or by horseback, although some roads are accessible by four-wheel-drive vehicles.
One of the most remote national parks in the US, Big Bend lies over an hour’s drive from the nearest town, in a wild and quite inaccessible region adjacent to the Rio Grande and the Mexican border. The park has a rich mixture of desert, mountain and canyon scenery, with many hiking trails and endless opportunities for off-trail exploration and primitive camping. Animal and plant life is plentiful, including over 60 species of cacti plus other spiky plants. Most areas of the park can only be accessed on foot. There are more than 150 miles of hiking trails to choose from, ranging in difficulty from easy to very difficult. Park is very isolated and large in size, visitors are advised to spend at least one night in the area.
Lake Meredith National Recreation Area
Lake Meredith is the main feature of this national recreation area. It is an artificial reservoir measuring at 10,000 acres in size. It was created along with the Sanford Dam within the Canadian River. Since it was established in 1990, this attraction gets over half a million visitors per year. There are several recreational activities in the site including fishing, swimming, hiking, camping, boating, and hunting. Several boat ramps in the site enable tourists to explore all of these activities.
San Antonio Missions National Historical Park
San Antonio’s missions, including the Alamo, became UNESCO World Heritage sites in 2015. The four southernmost Spanish colonial missions – San José, San Juan, Concepción, and Espada are part of the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. These missions help tell the story of how natives survived by giving up their traditional lives. That meant accepting a new religion and learning a new way of life. All four of these missions are about 2.5 miles apart from one another, and the Missions Hike & Bike Trail connects them all, plus the Alamo, creating a great entryway to explore the rest of San Antonio. All of the missions can be visited free of charge.
Big Thicket National Preserve
The Big Thicket once stretched across much of southeast Texas, a dark, dense forest, mixed with swamps, rivers, and patches of prairie. Nine remaining sections came under NPS protection in 1974, as the nation’s first nature preserve. This is crossed by various roads, 40 miles of trails and several navigable waterways, and is popular for many kinds of recreation. The Big Thicket National Preserve protects numerous habitats in East Texas. Canoeing and kayaking are also popular, as miles of creeks, bayous, and river flow through the preserve. Wildlife is very rich, and common predators you may come across are river otters, muskrat, alligators, and bald eagles.
Which of these national parks in Texas will you put on your bucket list?