There are 16 National Park Services in the state of Texas. The state has two National Parks – Big Bend and the Guadalupe Mountains. The rest of the national park services consists of breathtakingly beautiful National Recreation Areas and a National Preserve and National Seashore. There are wonderful National Historic Trails as well as National Historic Sites and National Historic Parks. You’ll also find a National Monument, and a Wild and Scenic River. So, whether you are into seas, rivers or lakes, history, heritage or hikes, The Lone Star State has a national park service to suit your interests. Ready to embrace the state’s many wild wonders? Here’s our list of the best national parks in Texas.
7 Best National Parks in Texas
1. Big Bend – National Park
The Big Bend is in southwestern Texas, along the border with Mexico. It is situated north of a prominent bend in the Rio Grande river – this is how the National Park got its name. It is some 250 miles (400km) southeast of El Paso. Big Bend National Park protects the largest area of Chihuahuan Desert landscape and ecology in the United States of America. The Chihuahuan Desert covers parts of northern Mexico and the southwestern United States, including West Texas, the lower Pecos Valley in New Mexico, and a portion of southeastern Arizona. The park is home to more than 1,200 species of plants, over 450 species of birds, 56 species of reptiles, and 75 species of mammals. It is a wildlife lover’s paradise. Inside the park, you’ll also find the Chisos Mountains as well as sites of cultural, historical, and archaeological importance.
2. Guadalupe Mountains – National Park
Guadalupe Mountains National Park is a breathtaking landscape of mountains, canyons, deserts and dunes. This National Park protects the most extensive Permian fossil reef in the world. It is also home to the four highest peaks in Texas and a diverse array of flora and fauna. Located in West Texas, just south of the New Mexico state line, the Guadalupe Mountains rise more than 3,000 feet (915 metres) above the surrounding Chihuahuan Desert. The park’s most striking and famous feature is El Capitan, a 1,000-foot-high (305 metres) limestone cliff, which is the 10th-highest peak in Texas. However, the park’s Guadalupe Peak, which rises 8,751 feet (2,667 metres) above sea level, is the highest point in Texas. There are lots of things to do in this park including star gazing. The night sky is so clear here that there are weekly stargazing events.
3. Rio Grande – Wild and Scenic River
Texas has approximately 184,797 miles (297, 402km) of river, of which 191.2 miles (307 metres) are designated as Wild & Scenic – all of which are part of the Rio Grande from river mile 842.3 above Mariscal Canyon downstream to river mile 651.1 at the Terrell-Val Verde County line. The Rio Grande flows through isolated, rugged canyons and the Chihuahuan Desert. It meanders through some of the most critical wildlife habitats in the country. Taking a ride on this stretch of the Rio Grande, be that on a boat or a canoe, is a rewarding way to explore this remote part of Texas and allows you to experience the area’s remarkable solitude, landscapes and natural soundscapes.
4. Amistad – National Recreation Area
The Amistad National Recreation Area sits on the American side of the International Amistad Reservoir (the other side is in the State of Coahuila, Mexico). Amistad is the Spanish word for “friendship”. This is a recreational oasis in the desert and attracts visitors from all over who come to enjoy camping and hiking, and fishing and boating. The area also has a rich cultural history and people come here to admire Native American rock art. In the Amistad National Recreation Area, you’ll also find a wide variety of plant and animal life, both above and below the water. To see more of the underwater life, you can go scuba diving in the clear waters.
5. El Camino Real de los Tejas – National Historic Trail
Along El Camino Real de los Tejas, National Historic Trail, you can explore and learn about a diverse array of histories including the conflict between the Spanish and Native American peoples to the growth of cattle ranching and on to the struggle for Texan independence and statehood. This 2,580-mile historic route crosses two states and travels into Mexico and on to Mexico City. There are some wonderfully interesting sites along the trail, but one of the most popular is La Villita Historic District in San Antonio. La Villita was San Antonio’s first neighbourhood and it played an important role in the Texas Revolution. Today La Villita is a thriving art community with a series of small shops and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
6. Lyndon B. Johnson – National Historical Park
The Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park tells the story of the 36th President of the United States of America – Lyndon Baines Johnson. The story starts right at the beginning with his ancestors the covers his birth, childhood, political career, retirement, death and final resting place on his beloved LBJ Ranch. After the President’s death in 1973, his wife continued to live at the ranch part-time until her death in 2007. On a tour, you can see the President’s birthplace and the Johnson family cemetery. You’ll also see the Johnson’s ranch house known as the Texas White House. The LGJ Ranch is located in Stonewall in eastern Gillespie County on the Pedernales River.
7. Padre Island – National Seashore
Padre Island National Seashore is the longest stretch of undeveloped barrier island in the world. The seashore separates the Gulf of Mexico from the Laguna Madre. It is one of just a few hypersaline lagoons in the world. This means the water contains significant concentrations of sodium chloride or other salts. The saline levels surpass that of ocean water. The Padre Island National Seashore protects 66 miles of coastline, dunes, prairies, and wind tidal flats. These tidal flats are teeming with life, for instance, the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle and over 380 bird species including sandhill cranes, snow geese, and redhead duck. Coyotes and deer also roam the dunes. As you can imagine, it is a wonderful place for wildlife spotting.