The 25 Best State Parks in Texas

By Lisa Medeiros April 12, 2021
(Credit: Alex Couto/Shutterstock)

As the second-largest state by area, Texas is brimming with stunning state parks. Its desert landscape gives way to countless canyons and caves, each harboring intriguing legends and tales. Grab your hiking shoes and picnic basket and check out our list of the 25 best state parks in Texas. The ranking below is based on visitor reviews and recreation opportunities.

1. Lake Livingston State Park

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The 25 best state parks in Texas: Lake Livingston State Park (Credit: Kasey Englehart/Shutterstock)

Hours: 6 am10 pm daily
Admission: $5 for adults; free for children 12 years and under

An hour north of Houston sits the tranquil oasis of Lake Livingston State Park. This well-maintained park spans 635 acres along the shores of Lake Livingston, Texas’ second-largest lake. You can hike Lake Livingston Trail for serene waterfront views, or take a nature walk through the woods on Pineywoods Nature and Briar Loop Trails. But most visitors come for the water sports. Lake Livingston is 39 miles long with 84,800 acres of surface area ideal for swimming, boating and fishing (it’s known statewide for its abundant white bass population).

2. Palo Duro Canyon State Park

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The 25 best state parks in Texas: Palo Duro Canyon State Park (Credit: Adventures on Wheels/Shutterstock)

Hours: 7:30 am10 pm daily
Admission: $5 for adults; free for children 12 years and under

Known as the “Grand Canyon of Texas”, Palo Duro Canyon was formed by over ninety million years of forceful wind and water erosion. Spanning 120 miles long, six miles wide on average and 820 feet deep, Palo Duro is the second largest canyon in the U.S. Located in the Texas panhandle, 25 miles from Amarillo, the Palo Duro Canyon State Park offers 30 miles of biking, hiking and equestrian trails. The Texas Outdoor Musical entertains summer visitors.

3. Big Bend Ranch State Park

The
The 25 best state parks in Texas: Big Bend Ranch State Park (Credit: Paul Leong/Shutterstock)

Hours: 8 am10 pm daily
Admission: $5 for adults; free for children 12 years and under

Touted as Texas’ largest state park, Big Bend Ranch State Park provides a wealth of outdoor adventures within its 311,000 acres. Its 23-mile frontage along the Rio Grande makes river rafting a popular activity, and plenty of trails allow for hiking, biking and horseback riding. The park is best known for its cattle ranches, including Longhorn cattle. Along with miles of multipurpose trails, the park houses 70 miles of rugged dirt roads perfect for off-road adventures. With 300 species of birds within the park, Big Bend is a bird watcher’s paradise. 

4. Inks Lake State Park

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The 25 best state parks in Texas: Inks Lake State Park (Credit: Natalia Silyanov/Shutterstock)

Hours: 8 am10 pm daily
Admission: $6 for adults; free for children 12 years and under 

Nestled in the Texas Hill Country just an hour from Austin, Inks Lake State Park encompasses 1,200 areas of parkland to explore. The park is best known for its 803-acre lake, ideal for fishing, scuba diving, boating and swimming. Devil’s Waterhole, a small extension of the lake, is a popular swimming hole surrounded by granite rock formations. This scenic sinkhole provides swimmers a refreshing escape from the Texas heat.

5. Franklin Mountains State Park

Franklin
The 25 best state parks in Texas: Franklin Mountains State Park (Credit: DSuit/Shutterstock)

Hours: 8 am5 pm daily; extended hours AprilSept; Sat: 6:30 am8 pm; Sun 6:30 am5 pm
Admission: $5 for adults; free for children 12 years and under 

One of the largest urban parks in the country, Franklin Mountains State Park sits within the El Paso city limits. But the location of this 24,247-acre park isn’t its only unique feature. In the early 1900s, the Franklin Mountains were home to the nation’s only tin mining operation. Visitors can hike the 6.6-mile Tin Miners Trail leading to the abandoned mill. Tour this cave-like structure to experience a piece of Texas mining history. 

6. Huntsville State Park

Lake
The 25 best state parks in Texas: Huntsville State Park (Credit: Makayla Sauceda/Shutterstock)

Hours: 8 am10 pm daily
Admission: $7 for adults; free for children 12 years and under 

Located an hour outside Houston, Huntsville State Park provides a tranquil oasis from the bustling city. This 2,000-plus-acre park offers a variety of outdoor recreation, from canoeing and paddle boating on Lake Raven, to mountain biking and hiking on 21 miles of marked trails. Meanwhile, bird watchers have 218 species of documented birds to spot. Head out to Lake Ravin and cast your reel in pursuit of Bluegill, catfish and bass. 

7. Pedernales Falls State Park

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The 25 best state parks in Texas: Pedernales Falls State Park (Credit: Daniel Mullins/Shutterstock)

Hours: 8 am5 pm Wed–Sun
Admission: $6 for adults; free for children 12 years and under

Until its state purchase in 1970, Pedernales Falls State Park was a working cattle and sheep ranch known as Circle Bay Ranch. Today, the park offers a variety of  outdoor recreation options mainly centered around the Pedernales River. Visitors enjoy fishing, swimming and tubing when the weather is warm. Be sure to exercise caution as water levels can be unpredictable. Meanwhile, with nearly 20 miles of hiking and biking trails coupled with 10 miles of equestrian trails, there’s also plenty to do on land. 

8. Caprock Canyons State Park

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The 25 best state parks in Texas: Caprock Canyons State Park (Credit: Zack Frank/Shutterstock)

Hours: 8 am10 pm daily
Admission: $5 for adults; free for children 12 years and  under

Dubbed the “Official Bison Capital of Texas”, Caprock Canyons State Park is the official home to the Texas Bison herd, descendants of the last free-range Southern Plains bison. Park wildlife also includes African aoudad sheep, deer, bobcats and coyotes. Amidst the rugged sandstone canyons and bluffs carved by centuries of erosion, visitors can hike or bike its hilly desert terrain, or fish and swim in Lake Theo. The park is remotely located in the Texas panhandle 100 miles outside Amarillo. 

9. Dinosaur Valley State Park

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The 25 best state parks in Texas: Dinosaur Valley State Park (Credit: IrinaK/Shutterstock)

Hours: 8 am5 pm daily
Admission: $7 for adults; free for children 12 years and under

Head out on a prehistoric journey just outside Fort Worth by visiting Dinosaur Valley State Park. In addition to the traditional park activities, like hiking, biking, and picnicking, visitors can walk in actual dinosaur tracks along the Paluxy River. The park is a National Natural Landmark and includes Sauroposeidon Proteles footprints, the official Texas state dinosaur. Visit the small museum within the Visitors Center to learn how these historic footprints were formed.

10. Longhorn Cavern State Park

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The 25 best state parks in Texas: Longhorn Cavern State Park (Credit: Warren Price Photography/Shutterstock)

Hours: 9 am5 pm weekdays; 9 am6 pm weekends; closed Christmas Day
Admission: Free

Located within Texas Hill Country, just 90 minutes outside Austin, Longhorn Cavern State Park delivers a unique park experience. The park’s main attraction is its limestone cavern, carved by the cutting forces of a river which receded thousands of years ago. Take a guided walking tour of the cavern and learn its fascinating history as a speakeasy during prohibition. End the day by hiking the Backbone Ridge trail system or visiting the administrative building and observation tower built by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corp).

See the full list of the 25 best state parks in Texas

1. Lake Livingston State Park
2. Palo Duro Canyon State Park
3. Big Bend Ranch State Park
4. Inks Lake State Park
5. Franklin Mountains State Park
6. Huntsville State Park
7. Pedernales Falls State Park
8. Caprock Canyons State Park
9. Dinosaur Valley State Park
10. Longhorn Cavern State Park
11. Colorado Bend State Park
12. Guadalupe River State Park
13. Brazos Bend State Park
14. Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park
15. Village Creek State Park
16. Caddo Lake State Park
17. Garner State Park
18. Hueco Tanks State Park
19. Lake Casa Blanca International State Park
20. Bastrop State Park
21. Lake Mineral Wells State Park
22. Mustang Island State Park
23. Hill Country State Natural Area
24. Boca Chica State Park 
25. Blanco State Park

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