Table of Contents[Hide][Show]
- 1. Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument
- 2. Amistad National Recreation Area
- 3. Big Bend National Park
- 4. Big Thicket National Preserve
- 5. Chamizal National Memorial
- 6. Fort Davis National Historic Site
- 7. Guadalupe Mountains National Park
- 8. Lake Meredith National Recreation Area
- 9. Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park
- 10. National Historic Trails of Texas
- 11. Padre Island National Seashore
- 12. Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park
- 13. San Antonio Missions National Historical Park
- 14. Waco Mammoth National Monument
- Spring Visits to Texas National Parks? Here’s Where to Find Texas Bluebonnets
- More Great Family Vacation Ideas in Texas
- The Great Outdoors of Texas Tips from a TravelingMom
It seems Texas national parks offer a little bit of everything, from miles of coasts, wild & scenic river adventures, acres of evergreen pine forests and mountains that touch the clouds. Come along to discover the diversity in the Great Outdoors of Texas.
Since it takes a whole day to drive across the state, I’m still exploring Texas with the wonder of a child. Thanks to my three kids, we’ve traveled to every corner of the state.
As a Texas native, I want to share a few of my favorite national parks so your family can discover the great outdoors of Texas too.
1. Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument
Back 15,000 years ago, mammoth hunters knew about this area in the panhandle of Texas since it was a source for arrowhead flint. And it’s the first National Monument in Texas.
It is also one of the least visited NPS sites in the U.S. To take a tour contact the visitor center at (806) 857-6680 before arriving.
Located at 37084 Albates Rd., Potter County, 35 miles north of Amarillo. The visitor center is open every day from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Free.
2. Amistad National Recreation Area
The National Park Service protects areas used for recreation also. At the convergence of the Rio Grande, the Devils River, and the Pecos River, the Amistad Reservoir offers boating and fishing, along with birdwatching and even hiking trails for pictographs, ancient stone pictures.
Located at 10477 Highway 90W, Del Rio in South Texas. Open 24-hours a day and 365 days year. The Amistad NRA Visitor Center is open Monday to Saturday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Free though $4 a day to launch your boat.
3. Big Bend National Park
Big Bend National Park, a personal favorite, offers rugged western scenery that conjures up images of cowboys on horseback, riding on ridges. In a land where roadrunners outnumber the residents, Big Bend offers campers ample roaming room and a nightlife glittering with stars. It’s part of the Chihuahuan desert.
Big Bend offers rugged hiking where visitors might catch a glimpse of a mountain lion or a black bear, both residents of the park. Or you can float through its most remote scenery only accessible by a raft that meanders through Santa Elena Canyon, with its sheer rock walls.
The Chisos Mountains, the only mountain range located entirely within a national park, offers a lodge and family-friendly trails. Big Bend National Park even offers its own border crossing so visitors can tour the tiny village of Boquillas del Carmen.
Water lovers will want to float the Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River. Arrange a guided trip through a local outfitter.
Several visitor centers along with full-service campgrounds and lodging can be found in the Big Bend. Best explored during the school year due to high temperatures during the summer.
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Located in West Texas’ bend where the U.S. and Mexico meet. Texas Highway 118 and FM 170 enter Big Bend National Park Open 24-hours a day and 365 days year. Seven-day pass is $30.
4. Big Thicket National Preserve
Protecting 113,000 acres across seven counties, the Big Thicket National Preserve includes nine different ecosystems. With all the space, Big Thicket doesn’t offer many roads through the preserve.
The best way to explore is via paddling the numerous bayous, creeks or the Neches River. Or you can hike along the 40 miles of hiking trails. Start your day at the Big Thicket National Preserve Visitor Center, open Monday to Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Primitive camping available.
Located at 6044 FM 420, 30 miles north of Beaumont. Open 24-hours a day and 365 days year. Free.
5. Chamizal National Memorial
This 55-acre park sets aside 100 years of disputed land along the Rio Grande in El Paso. The Treaty of Hidalgo in 1848 made the Rio Grande the boundary between Mexico and the United States.
Then a flood moved the route of the Rio Grande in 1864. President John F. Kennedy and Mexican President Adolfo López Mateos finally settled the border dispute in 1963.
Find walking and biking trails along with a cultural center.
Located at 800 South Marcial Street, El Paso. Open Monday to Sunday from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. The Chamizal National Memorial Cultural Center is open Monday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Free
6. Fort Davis National Historic Site
The best example of a southwest fort from the Indian Wars of 1854 to 1891. It protected emigrants and mail coaches on the Trans-Pecos portion of the San Antonio-El Paso Road and the Chihuahua Trail.
Located at 101 Lt. Flipper Dr., Fort Davis in West Texas. Open Monday to Sunday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Seven-day pass is $20.
7. Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Mountaineers know the Guadalupe Mountains since it’s the high point of Texas at 8,751 ft. The mountain offers a developed trail for high pointers to reach the summit and mark another peak off their list.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park offers dark skies and quiet hiking. Guadalupe Peak is a rugged mountain backdrop. Find over 80 miles of hiking trails, some accessible and over half open to horseback riding.
Located at 400 Pine Canyon, Salt Flat, just south of the New Mexico border and 110 miles east of El Paso. Open 24-hours a day and 365 days year. The Big Springs Visitor Center is open Monday to Sunday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Admission is $7 a person for 16+ for a seven-day pass.
8. Lake Meredith National Recreation Area
The 10,000-acre Lake Meredith offers lots of boating. Created by Sanford Dam on the Canadian River, enjoy hiking as well.
Located at 419 E. Broadway St. in Fritch, 30 miles north of Amarillo. Open 24-hours a day and 365 days year. Free
9. Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park
The presidential park in Johnson City offers a complete history of the 36th American president. Tour the Johnson Settlement, The Boyhood Home and the LBJ Ranch with the Texas White House and an airstrip.
The Johnson family came to central Texas to raise and drive cattle. Now the LBJ National Historical Park has locations in and around Johnson City.
Find the LBJ State Park in the area as well, located west of the LBJ Ranch, a National Park Service site.
Start at the LBJ National Historical Park Visitor Center located at 100 Ladybird Lane, Johnson City. Open every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Grab a map and tour the nearby sites. Then head to the LBJ Ranch that’s still working cattle ranch with LBJ’s beloved longhorns, located at 1472 State Park Road 52. Check in at the LBJ State Park Visitor Center for LBJ Ranch tour permits. It’s open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Free
10. National Historic Trails of Texas
Two major trails originated out of Mexico City. One headed north to Santa Fe through El Paso. The other headed east to Louisiana.
El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro National Historic Trail retraces the King’s Highway or Royal Road to Santa Fe.
El Camino Real de los Tejas National Historic Trail retraces the trail through San Antonio and Austin to Natchitoches, Louisiana.
The National Historic Trails do not have a visitor center or charge a fee. Since the trails traverse private and public land, it’s essential to get permission from landowners before exploring.
11. Padre Island National Seashore
Padre Island National Seashore offers refuge for animals and a respite for animal lovers. As the longest section of an undeveloped barrier island in the world, it protects 70 miles of Gulf of Mexico shoreline and the Laguna Madre, a hypersaline lagoon.
More than 130,000 acres of dunes, prairies and tidal flats for protection, birds and turtles take center stage. The Gulf of Mexico is home to five different species of sea turtles, all federally listed as endangered or threatened, all find refuge on South Padre Island, especially Kemp’s ridley.
Kemp’s ridley sea turtles lay their eggs in shallow sand nests where predators and human disruption can destroy them. Since the 1970s the National Park Service has recovered the nests and released the tiny turtle hatchlings along the shore. Watching the turtles crawl to the safety of the Gulf of Mexico delights kids and adults alike.
Birding is big in Texas during the winter. The central flyway, a bird migration route, runs though Padre Island and offers migrating birds a protected winter home. Spot Sandhill cranes, snow geese and redhead ducks, and 380 other bird species that stop here before they continue further south.
Located at the end of Park Road 22, south of Corpus Christi. Open 24-hours a day and 365 days year. The Malaquite Visitor Center is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. everyday. Camping is available. Admission is $20 for a seven-day pass, $10 for a one-day pass.
12. Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park
Learn about the U.S. Mexican War of 1846 to 1848. The Palo Alto Battle happened on May 8, 1846 and was the first battle of the war.
Located at 7200 Paredes Line Road, Brownsville. Open every day from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Free
13. San Antonio Missions National Historical Park
According to the National Park Service, the people of South Texas lived in peace for 10,000 years until the Apache raided in the 1700s. This attack was followed by deadly diseases arriving from Mexico. The newly built missions offered survival. Though protection came at a cost – a new language, a new religion, and a new Spanish king.
The San Antonio Missions National Historical Park incorporates a line of missions, each about two miles from the next. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the only one in Texas.
The Alamo—Not in the San Antonio Missions, though a must for a visit to San Antonio. The northern-most mission and originally called the Mission San Antonio de Valero.
Mission Conception—The oldest unrestored stone church in the U.S. Located at 807 Mission Rd.
Mission San José—The largest mission and includes the NPS Visitor Center. Fully restored in the 1930s as a Works Progress Administration project. Located at 6701 San José Dr.
Mission San Juan—Explore the landscaped grounds and see the historical crops. Located at 9101 Graf Rd.
Mission Espada—First mission to be built in 1690. Locate at 10040 Espada Rd.
The Visitor Center is at 6701 and open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The mission grounds are open from sunrise to sunset. The missions are active churches and may close to visitors for services. Free
14. Waco Mammoth National Monument
Imagine a 14-foot tall and 20,000-pound furry elephant roaming around Waco. This is the only site to see an intact nursery herd of ice age Columbian Mammoths. The guided tour of the indoor facility that protects the dig is a must.
Located at 6220 Steinbeck Bend Dr. Open every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Free to enter grounds though to see the mammoths a guided tour ticket is required. Adult admission is $5, students $4 and kids 4 to 12 $3.
Spring Visits to Texas National Parks? Here’s Where to Find Texas Bluebonnets
Although bluebonnets, the state flower of Texas, bloom everywhere across the state, one of the best places to find them is the Texas Hill Country and the Highland Lake Bluebonnet Trail. You will probably also see them along the side of the highway on any Texas road trip during the spring.
Most of the parks and monuments mentioned are in relatively rural or will take you down roads less traveled. Parks, country roads and near lakes are great places to find bluebonnets.
Bluebonnets bloom from late March to early April (varies depending on how cold the winter was). More on where to find bluebonnets here.
More Great Family Vacation Ideas in Texas
- Best Day Trips from Austin with Kids
- Kid-Friendly Day Trips from Dallas
- 5 Central Texas Resorts that are Worth the Splurge
The Great Outdoors of Texas Tips from a TravelingMom
- The Kemp’s turtle release is open to the public when the conditions are favorable. Advance notice is limited.
- Terlingua and Marathon, the tiny towns outside of Big Bend National Park, have limited services.
- Big Bend is a designated International Dark Skies Park so outdoor lighting is minimal. Remember your flashlights or lanterns.
- National Parks are popular destinations during school breaks and holidays–make reservations as early as possible.
- Bring food and refillable water bottles for your national park visit. Food service is limited.
- Keep an eye on the gas gauge in West Texas where gas stations may be 50 miles or more apart.
- Texas is home to 15 species of venomous snakes.