With a state as big as Texas, it’s not surprising that the state park system is a sizable one as well. More than 120 state parks and state historical sites make up the Texas system, and that means there is something of interest for everyone. From sandy beaches to windswept canyons to grassy plains, there is a landscape to suit every taste. There is also a wide range of activities available. Visitors to Texas state parks can enjoy not only the standard picnicking, hiking, and fishing, but also more unusual fare like dune surfing, shelling, and rock climbing.
Texas State Parks Pass
Most Texas state parks charge an entrance fee, so if visitors are planning to spend time in more than one park, purchasing a Texas State Parks Pass makes good sense. In addition to enjoying unlimited visits to the parks and historical sites scattered throughout the state (which includes the carload of guests traveling with you), there are other discounts and online planning tools that come along with the pass. Passes may be purchased at a state park or through the State Park Central Reservations line. See www.tpwa.state.tx.us for more details.
Below is just a sampling of variety of state parks that can be found within the state.
Brazos Bend State Park
Considered the crown jewel of the Texas State Park system, Brazos Bend contains nearly 5,000 acres of Gulf Coast plains land, including live oak woodlands, Brazos River bottomlands, and marsh. This area contains a profusion of plant and animal life, with more than 277 species of birds alone, including roseatte spoon bills, yellow-crowned night heron, and wood storks. The park offers park visitors a Nature Center, Environmental Education Center, amphitheater, and 20 miles of hiking and biking trails. The Creekfield Lake Nature Trail even offers special signage for the visually impaired. Outdoor programs are a regular event, and fishing and picnicking are popular here.
Caprock Canyons State Park and Trailway
Located in one of the state’s most scenic regions, this Texas state park covers more than 13,000 acres. Spectacular landscapes abound, and colorful cliffs and canyons can be found at the edge of the Caprock (“high plains”). Abundant wildlife, including African aoudad sheep, mule deer, and golden eagles can be spotted here. In addition to sightseeing, the park is famed for its hiking trails (along with an abandoned railroad tunnel, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places). Mountain biking and horseback riding are also popular sports activities in the park, and fishing can be had at nearby Lake Theo.
Dinosaur Valley State Park
Glen Rose, TX
This area contains some of the best preserved dinosaur tracks in the state. The first sauropods (plant eating dinosaurs) were discovered here, as well as two other types of dinosaur–duckbilled and theropods (“meat eaters”). Interpretive exhibits show visitors what Texas was like 100 million years ago. In addition to dinosaur exploration, visitors to this Texas state park can enjoy camping, picnicking, and nature trails.
Goose Island State Park
Located on 300 acres of land sandwiched between Copano and St. Charles Bays, Goose Island State Park is perhaps most famous for its “Big Tree,” an immense live oak estimated to be more than 1,000 years old. Fishing is the sport here, and there are fishing piers, fish cleaning tables, and boat ramps, in addition to picnic sites and camping facilities. The park also has a children’s playground.
Hueco Tanks State Historical Site
El Paso, TX
In a dry area of the state, this location became famous for the precious rainwater that was “stored” in the area’s natural rock basins. For centuries, this was a strategic stop for travelers passing through. Today this historical site is famous for its rock face containing Native American pictographs and the names of ’49ers making their way west to the gold rush. Visitors to Hueco Tanks can enjoy camping, climbing, hiking, and picnicking.
Monahans Sandhills State Park
The 4,000 acres of wind-sculpted sand dunes found at this Texas state park resemble a landscape straight out of the Sahara. These sand hills once presented an enormous problem for pioneers and their wagon trains who were moving through the state. The Native Americans of the area, however, frequently camped in the area after discovering that pure, fresh water could be obtained by digging a trench between dunes. This water has also been the source of nourishment for one of the largest oak forests in the country. However, the Harvard Oaks that cover more than 40,000 acres here seldom rise above 3 feet in height, even though their root structure may extend down 90 feet or more. The park offers an interpretive center and museum, as well as picnicking and camping…and many visitors’ favorite activity, sand surfing.
Mustang Island State Park
Port Aransas, TX
This Texas park has more than 3,000 acres of sand dunes, sea oats, and beach morning glories, with 5 miles of beach front enjoyment on offer. Camping, fishing, swimming, surfing, and shelling are favorite pastimes of visitors to this state park. This is also a great spot for bird watching, with its abundance of shore and migratory birds.
Wyler Aerial Tramway State Park
El Paso, TX
Visitors to this Texas state park can get a bird’s eye view of 70,000 miles of Southwestern landscape from atop Banger Peak in the area’s Franklin Mountains. At more than 5,000 feet, those who enjoy this aerial ride can spot the Hueco Mountains, New Mexico’s White Sands, and even a portion of Mexico.
Although this is just a small sampling of the parks and historical sites that make up the Texas State Park system, it’s clear that there is a wide variety of lakes, beaches, prairie, canyons, and mountains all to be found within Texas’s state parks. There are activities for families, thrill seekers, and those who enjoy nothing more than some solitude and a pair of binoculars. They say that “everything’s big in Texas” and that includes the enjoyment that can be had within its state parks.