Texas’s wide open skies and warm weather invite you to pitch a tent, get some fresh air, and explore the many diverse types of topography around the state. Take a road trip and set up camp at these national parks across Texas.
Inks Lake State Park
Inks Lake State Park sits an hour away from Austin in the Texas Hill Country. The lake’s water level stays fairly sustained year-round, meaning its a great spot to kayak, canoe, swim, boat, or even scuba dive when the weather is nice. Campers can rent equipment for many of the aforementioned activities, as well as fishing equipment to catch bass, catfish, and sunfish. There are 200 campsites and 22 cabins to choose from, as well as playgrounds, trails, and a general store.
The Sam Houston National Forest spans over 160,000 acres of protected land 50 miles north of Houston. It is one of only four national forests in Texas and contains the winding, 128-mile Lone Star Hiking Trail. Primitive camping is allowed, except during deer hunting season, and multiple campgrounds have electric and water hookups available. Due to this park’s massive size, campers can enjoy a wide variety of camping activities such as horseback riding, wading, boating, bicycling, wildlife watching and hunting, and canoeing.
Possum Kingdom State Park offers one of the most relaxing camping experiences in the state. The clear water provides opportunities to snorkel, water ski, scuba dive, boat, swim, or have a shoreline picnic. As an alternative to sleeping in a tent, the onsite air-conditioned cabins can be key to fully enjoying camping during the hot Texas summer. Kids can participate in the Junior Ranger program and complete exploration activities to earn their badge.
Colorado Bend State Park is for adventurers who love to explore and learn everything about the great outdoors. The 32 miles of trails allow for venturing into caves, mountain biking, primitive camping, and birdwatching. The Colorado River running through can provide fishing and kayaking opportunities, though the water level fluctuates often due to drought or flooding. Multiple ranger-guided tours are available, such as the Gorman Falls tour and cave tours.
Palo Duro Canyon State Park is known as the “Grand Canyon of Texas” due to the similarity in its erosion-formed red rocks. The juniper and and mesquite trees in the area led to the naming of Palo Duro, or “hard wood,” by Spanish explorers. The canyon is 120 miles long, and campers can stay along the perimeter in cabins or a range of primitive hike-in, developed, or equestrian camping sites.
Venture into the mountains of West Texas for a refreshed state of mind. Trek through Davis Mountains State Park on foot or by car, bike, horseback. A choice of primitive campsite, developed campsite, or Indian Lodge – the park’s 39-room historic motel – offer prime stargazing. With an enclosed bird blind with watering and feeding stations, as well as an enclosed blind in the ranger’s Interpretive Center, this park is also one of the best spots in Texas for birdwatching.
Also in West Texas is the most notable of Texas’s parks: Big Bend National Park. The Rio Grande cuts through the 800,000-acre park, providing rafting and swimming opportunities. Examine dinosaur tracks, hike, bike, horseback ride, or just enjoy the scenic views. Unlike many camping sites, there is much to do at night as well, with live music and saloons in the area’s ghost towns. Big Bend is so large, the geography features differ from one end to the other; check out 17 stunning shots of Big Bend for a more comprehensive picture of the area.
If the beach sounds like a better vacation, camp along the Padre Island National Seashore at the bottom tip of Texas. The 70 miles of coastline is the longest stretch of undeveloped barrier island in the world, creating a haven for coast-dwelling creatures like sea birds and sea turtles. This camping area offers a special experience for conservation enthusiasts: the opportunity to help rescue and release rehabilitated sea turtles, which are endangered.
Big Thicket National Preserve in southeast Texas is vastly different than the many mountainous and dry camping areas in the state. Explore the bayous and forests of Texas here by either foot or paddleboat. There are no cabins or developed campsites, but free camping permits for a primitive site are available from the visitor’s center. This area also attracts hunters, who can hunt squirrels, deer, and hogs with either shotguns or bows and arrows.