Texas may be known for rodeos and barbecue, but its national parks deserve a slice of the limelight. Texas boasts incredible countryside and shorelines worthy of any bucket list.
From the vast wilderness of Big Bend to the scenic dunes of Padre Island, landscapes throughout the Lone Star State are unrivaled. Surround yourself with natural beauty and rich history by checking out our top picks for national parks in Texas.
Best national parks to visit in Texas
- Amistad Reservoir
- Big Bend
- Alibates Flint Quarries
- Big Thicket
- Guadalupe Mountains
- Lyndon B. Johnson
- Padre Island
- Palo Alto Battlefield
- San Antonio Missions
1. Amistad Reservoir
National Recreation Area in Del Rio, Texas
The Amistad Reservoir sits along the Rio Grande, straddling the US-Mexico border. Photographers are drawn to the area for its picturesque landscapes and sparkling water.
It’s the perfect spot for an afternoon of boating, fishing, swimming and water sports. On land, you can find prehistoric rock paintings, called pictographs. More than 325 pictograph sites have been documented in the area.
2. Big Bend
National Park in Texas along the Rio Grande
Big Bend is the largest national park in Texas. It sits adjacent to the US-Mexico border on the large bend in the Rio Grande River. The landscape is incredibly varied here. It ranges from dry desert land to deeply carved river canyons to towering mountain peaks. Big Bend could very well be Texas’ most Instagram-worthy national park.
Spend the day hiking, biking or fishing. Or, for something a little different, take a river trip or go horseback riding. Paved and dirt roads offer opportunities for long, scenic drives. They also lead you further into the park where fewer visitors typically venture.
3. Alibates Flint Quarries
National Monument in Fritch, Texas
This National Monument in the Texas panhandle is steeped in history. Mammoth hunters came to what is now know as the Alibates Flint Quarries more than 13,000 years ago to gather stone for their tools.
Visitors can see the variety of colorful Alibates flint that drew prehistoric people to this site. The area is also covered in petroglyphs, which are ancient carvings in pieces of dolomite. Join a ranger-led quarry tour to see them up close. During the tour, you’ll also learn about the indigenous people who once occupied this plentiful land.
4. Big Thicket
National Preserve in Beaumont, Texas
Playfully called “America’s ark,” Big Thicket is one of the most biodiverse ecosystems in the world. UNESCO designated it as a Biosphere Reserve in 1981.
This habitat is home to 60 mammal species; 86 reptile and amphibian species; 300 bird species; and 1,320 species of trees. That’s not all! There are many other species of flora and fauna to be found throughout the park. Popular activities in Big Thicket include paddling, hiking, fishing, hunting, and backcountry camping.
5. Guadalupe Mountains
National Park in Salt Flat, Texas
Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas protects the world’s most extensive Permian fossil reef. The reef reveals that this area had been underwater for five million years!
The park is also home to the state’s four highest peaks and 80 miles of hiking trails. Striking vistas throughout this park have made it a hiker’s paradise. Trails range in intensity from easy to moderate to strenuous. Stay the night if you can. Backcountry camping in Texas’ Guadalupe Mountains affords an unparalleled stargazing opportunity.
6. Lyndon B. Johnson
National Historic Park in Johnson City, Texas
Head to this important National Historic Park to learn the story of our nation’s 36th president. Start your visit at the Johnson Settlement, where Lyndon B. Johnson’s grandparents first lived in the 1860s. Make your next stop President Johnson’s boyhood home. This Texas Hill Country abode is where he lived from age 5 until high school graduation.
Fourteen miles west, visitors can take a tour of the sites around the LBJ Ranch. This includes the famous Texas White House, which was the Johnson’s private home. A wreath-laying ceremony takes place annually at the Johnson family cemetery. This event marks the anniversary of the president’s birth on August 27.
7. Padre Island
National Seashore in Corpus Christi, Texas
Padre Island National Seashore stretches for 70 miles and is the world’s longest undeveloped barrier island. It protects important ecosystems, including the nesting beach of the world’s most endangered sea turtle species, the Kemp’s ridley. Visitors can watch hatchlings be released into the wild, which typically occurs from mid-June through August.
Other ways to enjoy this beautiful park include relaxing on the beach, swimming, fishing, camping, kayaking, biking, picnicking and bird watching. Padre Island National Seashore is located on North Padre Island, not on South Padre Island.
8. Palo Alto Battlefield
National Historical Park in Brownsville, Texas
This National Historical Park preserves the grounds of the 1846 Battle of Palo Alto. The battle was provoked by a border dispute after the annexation of the Republic of Texas. It was the first major battle of the two-year US-Mexican War.
Living history programs give visitors a glimpse of life during the war at the Palo Alto Battlefield. Watch musket and artillery demonstrations and interact with soldiers in living history camps. Don a replica 19th-century military uniform to see what it feels like to wear a wool uniform. Self-guided tours take you through the battlefield, where historical markers explain events of the past. It’s even pet-friendly!
9. San Antonio Missions
National Historical Park in San Antonio, Texas
This UNESCO World Heritage Site includes San Antonio’s four southernmost Spanish colonial missions: Concepción, San José, San Juan, and Espada. Spanish priests established these walled compounds along the San Antonio River in the 18th century.
The Hike & Bike Trail connects downtown San Antonio to all four missions, as well as The Alamo. Admission to this National Historical Park is free.
National parks in Texas FAQ
There are two national parks in Texas, Big Bend, and the Guadalupe Mountains. However, Texas has 14 protected areas that fall under the National Park Service. These include parks, historic sites, preserves, and the like.
Big Bend is the biggest national park in Texas. It covers more than 800,000 acres.
Marathon is the gateway town to Big Bend National Park. The closest large US cities are El Paso and San Antonio, Texas.
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