Officially, there are only two National Parks in Texas. They are Big Bend National Park and Guadalupe Mountains National Park. However, the National Park Management Services manages another 12 significant national areas, including recreation areas, monuments, seashores, and historical parks. All of them offer some or all of the following: spectacular natural beauty, historical or cultural significance, wildlife reserves, and lots of outdoor activities.
Although I would recommend visiting both National Parks of Texas and all 12 of the other national areas managed by the National Park Management Services, here are the six best.
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The Best National Parks In Texas
Big Bend National Park In Texas
By Kate Storm of Lone Star Travel Guide
Big Bend National Park is about 6 hours west of San Antonio and 4.5 hours east of El Paso.
Tucked into Chihuahuan Desert, right along the border with Mexico, lies the magnificent Big Bend National Park, one of the two National Parks in Texas.
Known for its mountainous desert landscape, its stunning canyons, and beautiful vistas, hiking in Big Bend National Park is one of the best things to do in West Texas.
Big Bend National Park Weather
Big Bend National Park is known for its brutal summers and mild winters. If at all possible, avoid the summer months. Spring and fall are lovely.
Big Bend National Park Map
Here is a PDF copy of Big Bend National Park Map.
Big Bend National Park Camping
There are four campgrounds in Big Bend National Park, and backcountry camping is also allowed although a permit is required. There’s also an RV hookup site in the park. As Big Bend is an extremely isolated area, this is a great opportunity to camp.
Big Bend National Park Lodging or Hotels
If you’d rather not camp, the Chisos Mountain Lodge and Cabins is located inside this National Park in Texas and is the most convenient place to stay. However, it books far in advance, so plan ahead.
Otherwise, Terlingua and Marathon offer hotels and cabins – but keep in mind that the isolated nature of Big Bend means that you might need to drive an hour to the start of your trailhead, depending on your location and chosen hike.
Search booking.com for the best rates for Big Bend National Park lodging.
Big Bend National Park Hiking Recommendation
One of the most popular hikes in Big Bend is the Window Trail. This hike is ranked as “moderate” and is 5.6 miles round-trip (approximately 2.5-3 hours). The views are worth the effort, but keep in mind that this trail saves the hard work for the end – the return route is all uphill!
For excellent hiking shoes to ensure your hike is comfortable, please take a look at the following articles:
- 13 Best ADIDAS Hiking Shoes For Ultimate Comfort (Review);
- 7 Coolest And Best NIKE Hiking Shoes (Review); and
- 10 Best NEW BALANCE Hiking Shoes For Exceptional Comfort (Review)
Things To Do In Big Bend National Park
Popular things to do in Big Bend National Park include checking out Balanced Rock and hiking to the Santa Elena Canyon.
Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument
By Umiko Buhl of Two Worlds Treasures
Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument is around 5 hour and 45 min drive northwest of Dallas.
Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument Weather
Located in the Texas Panhandle, the best time to visit the Monument is in spring or fall when the temperature is mild. Winter is usually mild, too, but snowstorms, sleet, and hail can occur. Summer temperature can exceed 100 degrees, so it’s better to avoid visiting at this time.
Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument Map
Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument Camping
About 5 miles from the monument is Lake Meredith National Recreation Area, where you can camp for free on a first-come-first-served basis. Or, you can book 1 of the 10 RV sites that have electrical and water hookups.
Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument Hotels or Lodging
If you prefer hotels, Amarillo is a close city with lots of hotels from which to choose. If you have a dog, check out Fairfield Inn and Suites Amarillo Airport because dogs stay for free. And, it’s not too far from the must-see attractions in Amarillo.
Search booking.com for the best rates for Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument lodging.
Borger, Texas is another option. It is a smaller city than Amarillo, but still offers lots of modestly priced lodging.
Things To Do In Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument
One of the best things to do in the park is to see the colorful flints that were used by mammoth hunters from 13,000 years ago to make weapons and tools. Most of the flints are on the hill and hiking to the top with a ranger is the way to do it. It’s a moderate 2-mile hike, with a climb of 170 ft. in elevation.
Padre Island National Seashore
By Kay of Dotted Globe
Padre Island National Seashore is a 35 minutes drive south of Corpus Christi.
Padre Island National Seashore Weather
The best time to visit Padre Island National Seashore is from fall to spring. The water is not too cold while the weather is sunny and a perfect escape from the cold winds in the rest of the state. In the summer, you will have to contend with the high Texas heat and occasional thunderstorms.
Padre Island National Seashore Map
Padre Island National Seashore Camping
If you want to truly experience Padre Island National Seashore then you must camp on the beach. This is one of the best places to camp on the beach in Texas. You can camp right by the sand dunes, a few feet away from the water’s edge. Visitors can also drive a 4WD vehicle right on the beach.
To ensure a safe camping experience on the beach, please take a look at The 8 Most Affordable And Brightest Headlamps (Review).
Padre Island National Seashore Hotels
The nearest hotels to the park are located in Corpus Christi.
Search booking.com for the best rates for Padre Island National Seashore lodging.
Things To Do In Padre Island National Seashore
Padre Island National Seashore is a barrier island located in the Gulf of Mexico. The island is famous for its undeveloped sandy beaches and excellent birding. Laguna Madre on the Bayside of the island is also the perfect place for windsurfing. While the park doesn’t have marked trails, visitors can hike, bike, or even ride on horseback along the 70 miles stretch of the beach.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park In Texas
By Megan Starr of Megan & Aram
Guadalupe Mountains National Park is located 1 hour and 45 minutes east of El Paso in the Guadalupe Mountains.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park Weather
Usually, the summers in Guadalupe Mountains National Park are extremely hot and long and the winters are cold, windy, and dry. This means that Guadalupe Mountains National Parks is the perfect US National Park to visit in April, May, and during the fall.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park Map
Guadalupe Mountains National Park Camping
It’s possible to stay at a simple campground near the base of the Guadalupe Mountains. They offer potable water, restrooms, and utility sinks.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park Lodging
Unfortunately, there is no lodging inside of this National Park in Texas, so for more comfortable accommodation, you will need to stay in nearby cities like Whites City or Dell City, which are approximately 30-40 minutes away from Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
Search booking.com for the best rates for Guadalupe Mountains National Park lodging.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park Hiking Recommendation
There are many hiking trails in Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Some of the most famous trails are the Park Guadalupe Peak Trail, Devil’s Hall Trail, and The Bowl. If you are looking for an easy hike, then you should try the Smith Spring Trail, a 2.3-mile hike round trip, starting at Frijole Ranch Trailhead.
Things To Do In Guadalupe Mountains National Park
The gem of this National Park in Texas is Guadalupe Peak. You can hike it and take amazing photos, especially during the sunset. You may also get lucky enough to spot some of the wildlife! Guadalupe Mountains National Park is also known for the beautiful Salt Basin Dunes.
San Antonio Missions National Historical Park
By Erin Mushway of Sol Salute
The San Antonio Missions National Historical Park is located in the city of San Antonio, a one hour drive southwest of Austin.
San Antonio Missions Weather
You can visit the Missions year-round but spring and summer will offer the best weather to enjoy their beautiful grounds without it being too hot or cold. You can drive or take the hop-on-hop-off bus to visit all the missions.
San Antonio Missions Map
San Antonio Missions Camping
There are several RV sites and campgrounds in and around San Antonio Missions.
San Antonio Missions Lodging
One option is to stay at The Crockett Hotel next to the Alamo. The hotel is supposedly haunted by the men who died on these grounds defending the Alamo. The Emily Morgan is another great option just behind the Alamo for more luxury and modern comforts.
Search booking.com for the best rates for San Antonio Missions National Historical Park lodging.
San Antonio Missions Hiking Recommendations
For hikers, there is a hike & bike trail that runs along the San Antonio River and connects all five missions. It’s 2.5 miles between each of them. The trail is family-friendly but wear sunscreen and pack plenty of water.
For comfortable walking shoes, please take a look at the following articles:
- The 7 Most Comfy And Best ASICS Walking Shoes (Review); and
- 11 Best SKECHERS Go Walk 5 Shoes And Sandals For Ultimate Comfort (Review)
Things To Do in San Antonio Missions
The Spanish missions in San Antonio are both a National Historic Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and one of the best things to do in the Texas Hill Country.
Four missions are found in the San Antoni Missions National Historical Park. They are, from north to south, Mission Concepción, Mission San Jose, Mission San Juan, and Mission Espada. A fifth mission, the Alamo, is found nearby and is part of the San Antonio Missions World Heritage Site.
Guided tours of the missions, demonstrations, native natural habitats, trails, and movies are just a handful of the many indoor and outdoor activities to enjoy. The four churches within the park are active parishes, and you are welcome to join a service.
Lake Meredith National Recreation Area
Lake Meredith National Recreation Area is about 30 miles north of Amarillo, Texas, in the Texas Panhandle. It is a 12-mile drive from Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument.
Lake Meredith National Recreation Area Weather
The weather is most pleasant in the spring and the fall. Winter is cooler but with little rain, so still an inviting place to go with proper outerwear. June through to September can be quite hot and might be best to avoid depending on your taste for extreme heat.
Lake Meredith National Recreation Area Map
Lake Meredith National Recreation Area Camping
Lake Meredith offers a variety of camping, including scenic overlooks, shoreline camping, and wooded campgrounds. They are free and available on a first-come, first-served basis.
In addition, there are 10 RV sites at Sanford-Yake with electric and water hookups that require an advanced reservation and a small fee.
You may camp at any location within Lake Meredith National Recreation Area for up to 14 consecutive days within a 30-day period, although no more than 60 days per year.
Lake Meredith National Recreation Area Lodging
A number of modestly priced hotels are located in Borger, Texas, within a 15 minute drive.
Search booking.com for the best rates for Lake Meredith National Recreation Area lodging.
Lake Meredith National Recreation Area Recommended Hike
The South Turkey Creek Trail is an easy to moderate hike that begins across the road from the picnic area at Harbor Bay. This hike takes you along the shoreline of Lake Meredith through several habitats.
The first section of the trail covers 6.17 miles to South Turkey Creek. This should take you less than 4 hours to do. You can add an additional 4.17 miles loop. This hike will take you along rolling hills with breathtaking views of the lake and deep canyons.
Things To Do In Lake Meredith National Recreation Area
Lake Meredith National Recreation Area is a haven for migratory birds and other wildlife. The Canadian River has cut dramatic 200-foot canyons through the plains and Lake Meredith is found within several of them.
Lake Meredith National Recreation Area is an outdoors person’s dream. Along with hiking, you can hunt, off-road, and fish provided that you follow the stated regulations and restrictions.
The best National Parks in Texas and the best National Areas offer spectacular beauty, amazing outdoor activities, exposure to wildlife, and historical and cultural encounters. If you love to camp, most offer you free or inexpensive access to campgrounds, whereas if you prefer a comfortable bed, those are easy to find as well. Hiking, walking, and generally being outdoors enjoying nature is available to anyone who needs a little time away from the city or everyday life.