Looking for the best national parks in Texas?
The Lone Star State is most well known for its 2 national parks sites of Big Bend National Park and the Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
However, there are actually 15 national monuments, parks, seashores, historical trails, and also NPS managed sites in the state.
These national parks boast of spectacular drives, diverse scenery, as well as plenty of hiking opportunities.
From the Gulf Coast to the remote mountain peaks, here are our favorite national parks sites in Texas.
Big Bend National Park
Located on the biggest curve of the Rio Grande about 6 hours from El Paso, Big Bend has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in Texas with over 450,000 visitors every year.
It’s surprising because, before the establishment of the park, this was one of the most remote parts of the country and only accessible through narrow dirt roads.
Now you can hike in between towering cliffs in a beautiful sandstone river valley without exhaustion.
You will see a lot of desert vistas and wildlife in this national park.
Try taking one of the hundreds of hiking trails, visit the hot springs and petroglyphs, as well as camp under the stars in the desolate Texas desert.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park
They say that the best time to visit Guadalupe Mountain National Park is in the fall when the weather is cool and the trees bring vibrant colors to the surroundings.
The park is located in West Texas, about 2 hours from El Paso.
Most would agree that the Park’s most stunning feature is Guadalupe Peak.
This mountain top is marked by a pyramid metal marker and accessed via a strenous trail.
From the peak, you can see almost the entire park and far west Texas desert stretched before you in all of its glory.
Just be prepared for a hike of 6 to 8 hours to reach the peak.
Other great sites and locations within the Guadalupe Mountains National Park include McKittrick Canyon, “The Bowl,” and Bush Mountain.
Just watch out for rattlesnakes! There aren’t many, but they are native to the park and very venomous.
Padre Island National Seashore
Padre Island is the largest undeveloped barrier island in the world with over 130,000 acres of dunes, grassland, and beaches.
It is located on Texas’ Gulf of Mexico coast.
Padre Island National Seashore is amongst our favorite national parks in Texas for a family trip.
While its southern part (South Padre Island) may be known for partying and spring breaking, that is not at all representative of the culture surrounding the Padre shoreline.
Instead, you’ll find here a very quiet national park with well-preserved beaches, excellent shoreline hiking trails, and even sea turtle hatchlings.
Visit the Malaquite Visitor Center and Pavilion to learn more about the area, try swimming at Malaquite, North, and South beaches, take a boat to Bird Island, and much much more in this fantastic seaside park.
San Antonio Missions National Historical Park
Inside the growing city of San Antonio is one of the country’s most well-known UNESCO world heritage site.
San Antonio Missions National Historical Park is home to four of the city’s oldest Spanish Colonial missions including the famous Alamo.
The Alamo and other missions of Concepción, San José, San Juan, and Espada, were built by Spanish priests in the 18th century to operate as the center of the new and ethnically diverse community.
They are located along the San Antonio river and can be easily seen along the Mission Trail.
The Texas national parks site is home to the largest and most well-preserved Spanish colonial missions in North America.
The oldest of the Missions is San Antonio de Valero, better known as the Alamo.
It marks the place where Texas forces made their final stand against the Mexican army during the Texas Revolution.
Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park
Are you a fan of former U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson?
Then this is the park for you!
Located about an hour and twenty minutes north of San Antonio and an hour and fifteen west of Austin the park tells the story of President Johnson’s life from his ancestors to his final resting place on his very own LBJ ranch.
The park encompasses Johnson’s boyhood home, the Johnson settlement, and finally the LBJ ranch – Texas white house for LBJ.
Make sure to pay for an audio tour or a tour guide because you won’t want to miss the story these places can tell.
Big Thicket National Preserve
Visit this awesome piece of Texas territory to find 113,000 acres of woodlands, wetlands, and waterways.
The park is located in Southeast Texas, very close to the Louisiana border, and about an hour and forty-five minutes from Houston.
Since the park is primarily swamp and marshland, it makes a great place for a kayak or canoe adventure.
However, there are also some primitive camping areas and hiking trails.
Notable locations in the park include Beaumont, Beech Creek, Big Sandy Creek, Hickory Creek Savannah, CanyonLands, Loblolly, and several other trails and waterways (both developed and untouched) that you can explore.
The preserve is an excellent day trip from Houston.
Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument
For thousands of years Flint, the rock which is used for fire and arrowheads, meant survival for humanity.
This area in the High Plains of Texas was where they would come to find.
Way way up North in Texas, about five and a half hours from Fort Worth, Alibates Flint Quarries have been frequented by people dating all the way back to 9500 B.C.
When you arrive at the park you can hike with a ranger up to the quarries and search for arrowheads while they inform you about the rich history of the land.
Alibates Flint is undoubtedly one of the most unique national parks in Texas as well as one of the best things to do in North Texas.
Weather in this part of Texas (the panhandle) can be volatile.
In the summertime, the area can have extremely high temperatures (100℉) and even Tornadoes.
The winter has much more mild weather, but still, be prepared for snow and sleet.
Amistad National Recreation Area
This beautiful desert oasis is composed primarily of the Amistad reservoir that is shared by both Mexico and the U.S.
It is about two hours and fifty minutes from San Antonio on the border between the two countries.
The park has a number of landmarks and sites to see like the Amistad Dam (where you can take a tour and learn about hydroelectric power), a picnic area and walking trails by the water, and, of course, the reservoir itself where you can go for a swim.
If you’re the type who likes to see beauty from behind a steering wheel there is also a scenic drive you can take through the park on the unpaved Viewpoint Road.
Chamizal National Memorial
Want to visit one of the most important locations for the relationship between the United States and Mexico?
Then look no further than Chamizal National Memorial, El Paso.
This land and a few other tracts were disputed over ownership by the two nations for the better half of the century.
Finally, the Mexican and U.S. presidents settled the argument over a few years and the land was designated fairly.
Today the Memorial area is located inside the city of El Paso and offers biking trails, art museums, picnic areas, museum exhibits, and even ranger programs.
El Camino Real de Los Tejas
This national historic trail used to reach all the way from Texas to Mexico City.
Today, it can take you 2,580 miles from Northwest Louisiana, across Texas, and into Mexico.
Along the way, you will pass many visitor centers and museums like the Villa Antigua Border Heritage Museum and the Republic of Rio Grande Museum.
You can also visit a few missions like Nuestra Señora de Loreto de la Bahía and Mission Nuestra Señora del Espíritu Santo de Zúñiga.
Finally, if you’re really feeling energetic you can do some hiking.
The trails vary with some being refurbished and others covered by asphalt for roads in recent years.
However, this is said to be one of the prettiest trails you can take in Texas.
Fort Davis National Historic Site
When the U.S. Army and Native American tribes were at war with each other military outposts like this one were scattered all throughout the western frontier.
The bloody and heated battles lasted decades and led to the deaths of thousands during the expansion of the mainland U.S.
Fort Davis is a little over three hours from El Paso and will provide you with some insight into what these military outposts were like.
Here you can see reenactments and people dressed in traditional military uniforms from the era.
You can follow the life of a soldier from the past and listen to the bugle play from the park at scheduled times throughout the day as well as go for a hike on one of the many trails nearby.
Lake Meredith National Recreation Area
Northern Texas (in the panhandle) is known for its vast, flat plains and seemingly endless expanses.
However, inside this relatively unexciting terrain is a beautiful lake full of vibrant activities and colorful valley vistas.
Lake Meredith was cut by the Canadian river which over time carved it and 200-foot canyon where it is located.
Try going canoeing or kayaking to explore the lake and the abundant wildlife around.
Then take a walk on one of the great hiking trails they have there like Harbor Bay, Mullinaw, South Turkey Creek, Fritch Fortress, and Mesquite.
All of these trails vary in difficulty, but there is a trail for every hiker regardless of ability.
Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park
The Mexican-American war wasn’t the most gruesome or longest war in U.S. history.
However, it still played an important role in the shaping of the modern-day United States.
Palo Alto Battlefield marks the prairie where the two armies had their first clash.
It is about two hours and twenty minutes from Corpus Christi and close to the eastern-most part of the Mexican-American Border.
If you’re curious about this war then this is a great national park to visit.
You can take a guided tour here where a knowledgeable tour guide will lead you through the battle and explain the key points of the conflict.
Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River
Want to escape the hustle of your home city? Looking for a little peace and quiet in a riverside setting?
Then you must add the Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River to your itinerary.
The river stretches along the Mexico-America border and is filled with canyons and views.
You can take a day trip and see one or two, or take a 10-day trip and see it all.
Services for renting boats, kayaks, and canoes for the trip are available all over texas, simply find a city nearby where you want to start and they will be able to provide you with a vehicle and even a tour if necessary.
Boquillas Canyon, Lower Canyons, and Mariscal Canyons offer some of the most excellent river cliffs and water vistas in both Mexico and the continental United States.
Waco Mammoth National Monument
The Waco Mammoth National Monument is a paleontological site in Waco, Texas.
It preserves the remains of more than 20 Columbian mammoths.
These massive creatures once roamed the area, grazing on the grasses and shrubs that flourished in the temperate climate.
Today, the mammoth skeletons are preserved in the sediments of an ancient riverbed.
Their bones provide a fascinating glimpse into the past.
Visitors to the monument can see the mammoth remains up close, as well as enjoy hiking and picnicking in the scenic setting.
The Waco Mammoth National Monument national park service site is a unique and enlightening experience for visitors of all ages.
Also Read: Things to do in Waco, Texas
Did you like our guide to the best national parks in Texas? Which one are you visiting next?