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Must see state parks in Texas

Updated on August 14, 2010
courtesy: jpo on
courtesy: jpo on

Texas has a lot to offer

The second largest state in the union, Texas has a vast variety of terrain and plenty of incredible destinations for your next vacation.

I have lived in Texas my entire life and spend a great amount of time traveling to the different state parks and wildlife area's of the Lone Star State. While every state park is unique and well worth the visit, there are a few you simply won't want to miss. Here they are, in no particular order.

courtesy: TPWD photo by Chase Fountain
courtesy: TPWD photo by Chase Fountain


This park is unforgettable. It is one of the youngest state parks (opened to the public in 1979) but it is also one of the most breathtaking.

If hiking is your thing, this is the place for you. The park takes up over 2000 acres with plenty of hill country hiking paths. Be sure to bring comfortable shoes and a good camera!

There are also a couple crystal clear creeks running through the park that are pretty much ice cold year round. Perfect for cooling off.


Padre Island National Seashore

Ever wanted to re-inact your favorite beach scene from Lost or Castaway? This is the place to do it!

The Padre Island National Seashore is the largest undeveloped stretch of beach in the world. It will take you several hours to drive (15mph speed limit) from the entrance at Malaquite Beach to the Southern jetty separating it from South Padre Island. If beach vacations are your thing, this is an area you simply can't pass up.

Tourists who head for South Padre Island on vacation quickly learn that every other tourist in the country had the same idea. The national seashore (North Padre Island) however, provides that true "escape" feeling. Even though there are thousands of people in the park during the summer months, it's easy to find a stretch of beach all to yourself.


The Bad

  • Primitive. No Restrooms, showers, running water, electricity... no facilities of any kind once you head down the beach
  • No shade. There are no tree's on the beach except for the ones that wash up on shore. Bring your own shade
  • Poor/ non existent cell phone service. Much of the beach is a cellular dead zone
  • plenty of opportunity to get your vehicle stuck. Soft Sand! When the sign says 4 wheel drive only... it means 4 wheel drive only. (The sign is several miles down)

The Good

  • Isolation. Drive far enough down the beach and you can't even SEE other people
  • Primitive camping. Yes, it's in the Negative list too... some of us like camping without the inventions of society
  • Amazing fishing! Surf fishing, nearby piers and jetties where you can catch HUGE fish... including shark
  • Surfer, kite boarders paradise. (Wake boarding can be fun too!)
  • Incredible nights. The milky way has never been so visible or clear. Remember, largest uninhabited beach in the nation
  • Exploration and discovery. I have found silver coins from old sunken ships, deer antlers, even once found a twenty pound bag of pot that washed up. (Reported that one to authorities, I promise)
  • Uh... it's the beach!

Dinosaur Valley State Park

As the title suggests, this state park is all about Dinosaurs. Visitors are given the rare opportunity to exam authentic dinosaur footprints in the wild. Not kidding. Pick any trail and start walking. Keep your eyes on the ground and you WILL step into the preserved footprint of a brontosaurus, T-rex, or other long extinct creature.

Also in the part is a small museum with a history on the park, all sorts of fossils and artifacts recovered from the site, and a list of the best places to see these footprints.

There is a large creek/river that runs through the park. Certain times of year it is full and running with beautifully crystal clear water that is fantastic for swimming and cooling off. During the drought months, however, the creek is all but dry. Don't worry though. Some of the most impressive dinosaur footprints in the park can be found in this creek.


The Bad

  • Creek drys up during drought months
  • Not the biggest of all parks
  • popular location, call ahead to find out the busy months.

The Good

  • Exploration and discovery at its finest! Finding dinosaur footprints is a rush. It's exciting no matter who you are.
  • plenty of shade. Texas summers are hot, no doubt, but you won't have any problems keeping cool here.
  • Plenty of hiking
  • Crystal clear water, perfect for swimming
  • Breath taking scenery and wildlife

Lake Corpus Christi State Park

The park may be named for Corpus Christi, but this lake actually resides about 35 miles north of the city proper, just outside the small town of Mathis.

This park is fantastic for just about everything from trail walking, to fishing and water sports.

Located just outside Mathis, Texas, you will never be too far away from a general store where you can pick up all those little things we always seem to forget when we go camping.

The bait stand just outside the park entrance is also a great place to get anything you might need. The couple that run the joint are damn good people too. They also have firewood so you don't go without the campfire on those beautiful Texas nights.

Fishing in this Texas lake is AMAZING almost year round. If you don't have a boat, look around the shoreline for deep inlets and submerged trees.


The Bad

  • Thick South Texas wilderness. Strong overgrowth of mesquite trees makes hiking off the beaten trail a little difficult
  • Park Rangers can be a little strict.  There is no driving in the park after 11pm. I once got a ticket for driving to the restrooms at night.
  • stickers. Wear shoes as you approach the water. There are thorny stickers in the grass along the shoreline.

The Good

  • Amazing catfish, crappie and bass fishing
  • Plenty of deep, open water for a variety of water sports
  • Easy use hiking trails
  • Screen shelters with spectacular views overlooking the lake
  • Lighted fishing pier
  • Not usually very busy, so privacy is rarely a problem

Courtesy: Clinton Steeds on
Courtesy: Clinton Steeds on

Palo Duro Canyon State Park

Located in North Texas, a few miles outside Amarillo, Palo Duro state park was once home to American Indians. There are still several parts of the canyon off limits to guests because of the Indian burial grounds that reside there.

There is a large amphitheater in the middle of the park. People from across the globe come in the early summer months to catch "Texas". This is a high budget, very well put together play on the struggles of early settlers to the Texas panhandle. The play is going into its 70th season! I remember first seeing it way back in the early nineties and it's amazing to hear that it STILL takes place. If you visit the park, this is an absolute MUST.



The Bad

  • It gets HOT in the summer. I'm talking 100+ degrees
  • Large crowds during the months of the Play. Despite the crowds around the amphitheater, though, it never feels crowded in the park
  • Only one or two small creeks go through the park, so no water sports or fishing
  • Did I mention it gets HOT in the summer?

The Good

  • The World Famous Texas Play
  • horse rental and horseback riding through miles of rough terrain along the canyon floor
  • Plenty to explore (we even found a couple fairly large caves along the canyon wall)
  • Rock collectors paradise (you will find your fill of geodes) 
  • Winter visitors to the part usually get the added treat of a snow covered canyon. Beautiful.

And Many More!

Well, that's it for me. Those are the most memorable parks from my childhood, and a couple from my adult life. There are many more great parks in Texas and as I get out and do some more traveling, I'll have more for you soon. Till then, check out these wonderful parks and enjoy the great outdoors!


37221 FM 187 Vanderpool TX 78885:
FM 187, Vanderpool, TX 78885, USA

get directions


11450 Park Road 5 Canyon, TX 79015:
State Highway Park Road 5, Canyon, TX 79015, USA

get directions


P O Box 396 Glen Rose TX 76043:
Glen Rose, TX 76043, USA

get directions


20420 Park Road 22, Corpus Christi, TX 78418:
20420 Park Road 22, Corpus Christi, TX 78418, USA

get directions


Box 1167 Mathis TX 78368:
Mathis, TX, USA

get directions



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