*As the 2nd largest state in the USA, TX has so much to offer. Here’s the ultimate Texas bucket list from a local’s perspective. But, beware, these will make you fall in love with the Lone Star State*
No matter who you are or why you’ve found yourself in Texas, there’s an adventure waiting for you. Are you one of the 500,000+ people who relocated to Texas over the past few years? Or are you a tenured Texan looking for something new? Or maybe, you’re just passing through, and want to know the greatest hits list? Whatever your story, you’ve come to Texas and I’m so happy you’re here. My goal is to make you feel welcome and give you a remarkable trip idea.
We can all agree: Texas is big. It’s the largest state in the continental U.S. with an area of over 268 square miles. If you were to drive north to south, it would take you around 13 hours. Despite its impressive size, geographic stereotypes still exist. People think Texas is flat, barren, and boring. In reality, Texas has some of the most diverse and breathtaking landscapes in the country. In one state you’ll discover mountains, deserts, swimming holes, beaches, caves, and more.
Adventurers love options. But choosing what to explore in Texas can be a daunting endeavor. That’s exactly where this list comes in. Below you’ll find 14 bucket list trips (sorted by North, South, East, West, and Central Texas) for you to choose from. Friendly reminder: Please practice Leave No Trace principles when traveling. As the old saying goes: Don’t Mess With Texas. That said, saddle up, and let’s get going.
Discover Texas’ Vast Canyons In the Panhandle
Amidst the flat plains in the Texas Panhandle, there are deep red rock canyons. No, you’re not in Arizona, but it may feel like it. Palo Duro Canyon is the second largest canyon in the US. The most notable feature is the unique rock formation known as the Lighthouse. Take a hike or drive down winding switchbacks to feel the magnitude of this natural Texas wonder. If it’s peak season in Palo Duro, consider beating the crowds at Caprock Canyons State Park. It has a very similar aesthetic, but its uniqueness lies in its wildlife. Caprock Canyons is home to the state’s only bison herd, which roam free.
Take a Texas Safari at Fossil Rim Wildlife Center
Experience giraffes, zebras, and rhinos in Texas? Done and done. Fossil Rim Wildlife Center is an endangered species research and conservation center. It’s home to over 1,000 animals from 50 species. Located in Glen Rose Texas, Fossil Rim is about an hour and a half road trip from Dallas. At Fossil Rim, you can drive through, take a guided tour, or camp onsite to experience exotic wildlife. My family and I stayed here for a reunion and it was unforgettable. Driving through? Don’t forget to grab the feed (only one bag per car). My favorite animal to feed was the giraffes.
Experience One-Of-A-Kind Water Trails at Caddo Lake
Caddo Lake is on the Texas and Louisiana border. It offers an unmatched water exploration experience. Visitors can take a canoe, kayak, or paddleboard to navigate mossy water trails. Above the water, large cypress trees and elegant Spanish moss provide a break from the sun. The water trails are well marked and easy to navigate. Some campsites around the lake even have private access to the water. Full disclosure, it’s swampland and gators exist.
Capture the Colors of Fall in East Texas
Texas isn’t particularly well known for its fall season. But leaf peepers should fulfill their color cravings out in East Texas. Peak time varies, but you should target mid-October to late November. Your to-do for dramatic hues: Tyler State Park, Daingerfield State Park, Lake Bob Sandlin State Park, and Sabine National Forests. Temperamental Texas weather could make your fall foliage trip a treasure hunt. Be sure to research your stops before you go.
Get Your Classic Bluebonnet Picture During a Quintessential Texas Wildflower Tour
Texas has thousands of wildflower species. During the spring, there’s nothing more Texan than taking bluebonnet pictures. Other common wildflowers are Texas paintbrush, Firewheel, pink primrose, Mexican hat, and winecup. If you’re driving anywhere in the spring you’ll see wildflowers. They’re impossible to miss. The 40-mile triangle, between Linden, Avinger, Hughes Springs, is a recommended route. In April, Linden hosts an annual Wildflower Trails of Texas celebration you won’t want to miss.
Enjoy an Ultimate Beach Weekend in Port Aransas
Wait, there are good beaches in Texas? Yes indeed. Port Aransas, also called Port A, is a must-see summer destination. The soft sand beaches and warm Gulf water surprise most first-time visitors. You’re allowed to drive on the beach, which makes beach camping even easier. Late at night, you’ll see sandpit fires glowing. You’ll hear rolling waves. And you’ll feel the salty beach air. If you’re up late, try a crab hunt. Be sure to research all local camping regulations before setting up. If camping isn’t your thing, there are plenty of condos and hotels on the island. I’d recommend avoiding Port Aransas during spring break season — unless you want rowdy.
Travel Like a Local and Visit the Staple of the Texas Park System
Garner State Park is a classic taste of summer in Texas. Here you’ll experience the Frio River and Old Baldy like generations of Texans before you. Garner State Park was the first official park in Texas and is the most popular park for camping in the state. It’s great for families with hundreds of campsites and 1,774 acres of scenic Hill Country terrain. Since the 1940s, folks have gathered at the park’s concessions building for summer evening jukebox dances. Arrive early and bring your dancing shoes, because this is about as Texas as it gets.
Escape the Texas Heat and Go Underground at Natural Bridge Caverns
Hiking underground 180-feet below isn’t something you get to do regularly. Take advantage of this unique opportunity at Natural Bridge Caverns. The cavern is near San Antonio and is the largest known commercial cave in Texas. The temperature inside rests at 70 degrees year-round. It’s a perfect indoor-feeling, outdoor activity. If you’re lucky you’ll get a cave kiss. That’s just a drop of water falling from above reminding you this geological gem is still growing. Deep within the caverns tour guides will show you stunning formations and chambers. Some rooms are as big as a football field.
Take a Dip In Central Texas’ Most Unique Swimming Holes
Central Texas is known for its rolling hills and fantastic swimming holes. That’s why people call Austin the “Oasis” of Texas. Starting in the heart of the capital city, take a dip in Barton Springs Pool. This isn’t a chlorinated pool. It’s filled with water from a nearby natural spring. It’s cold — a chilly 68-74 degrees year-round. But, don’t let that deter you. Jumping into Barton Springs on a hot day is breathtaking and therapeutic. Two other must-see swimming holes are nearby: Jacob’s Well (Wimberly, TX) and Hamilton Pool (Dripping Springs, TX).
Summit One of the Largest Natural Rock Formation In the U.S. at Enchanted Rock
For those looking to get out of Austin and find 360-degree views of the Hill Country, take a trip to Enchanted Rock. This natural wonder is north of Fredericksburg and is a National Natural Landmark. Enchanted Rock’s granite dome rises over 400 feet above the ground. If you love Yosemite, don’t miss this stop. Outdoor enthusiasts will love this place for hiking, biking, and climbing opportunities.
See the Best-Known Feature of Big Bend National Park: Santa Elena Canyon
Big Bend National Park is one of the least visited national parks. Some might chalk that up to its lack of sights, but actually, it’s due to its remoteness. The park is set along the border of Texas and Mexico, separated by the Rio Grande. Santa Elena Canyon is the famous spot where you wade across the Rio Grande and stand directly between Texas and Mexico. Forewarning the water is muddy. You and your clothes will not come out clean. Wear shoes, like Chacos or Tevas. Other popular hikes include Boquillas Canyon, Emory Peak, and Window Trail. For breathtaking and expansive views: Try Emory Peak to South Rim. It’s a 15-mile gasser, but worth every step.
Witness the Mysterious Marfa Lights
Marfa is a secluded city best known for its art, architecture, and desert charm. But what intrigues most visitors are the strange light orbs. Out of the darkness, you’ll see yellowish-white lights glowing. They may fade, spin, change, and suddenly disappear. No one knows exactly why and what the Marfa lights are — which is why you have to see them for yourself. The ideal place to view this light spectacle is at the Marfa Mystery Lights Viewing Center.
Explore the Highest Point In Texas at Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Get your backpacking gear ready for Guadalupe Mountains National Park. The park has over 80-miles of hikes for all abilities. But the bucket list hike is the 9-mile round trip to Guadalupe Peak. This peak is the highest point in Texas at 8,751 feet. Here you’ll get breathtaking views of West Texas and the world’s most extensive Permian fossil reef. There’s a small campground at the base of the mountains. But this park is best savored with a backcountry permit.
Sand Surf at Monahans Sandhill State Park
The stereotypical picture of Texas comes to life out West. Think Flat landscapes, endless highways, oil rigs, and tumbleweeds. Monahans Sandhill State Park is a stunning break from the monotony. Located right outside of Odessa, the park has 3,840 acres of rolling white sand dunes. You won’t find hiking trails per se, but this Texas mirage feels like a scene from a movie. Tap into your inner kid and surf down the sand in a rented saucer or smooth board.
There you have it, friends, fourteen unforgettable trips to take in Texas. The next time someone says, “the only good thing in Texas is Austin.” Or “Texas is big and boring.” Please show them this collection of the Lone Star State’s hot spots. Happy adventuring!
About the Author
Leslie is an Austin native who’s lived across the U.S. She’s passionate about affordable and active adventures. Connect with her on Instagram @lesliehgreen.