Did you know that there are two National Parks in Texas? Plus, 12 Park Units and two National Trails? It's true, and this Texas National Parks Guide covers each and every one!
Keep reading to discover what makes them unique, the best things to do in every park, get helpful tips and a free map, and so much more.
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It's hard to believe, but I've lived in Texas for over five years! Do you think I can call myself a true Texan yet?
While I like many things about this state, my favorite is definitely the fascinating history and diverse landscape. Take a trip around Texas, and you'll find deserts, plains and prairies, mountains and mesas, sand dunes, canyons, and seashores. The wildlife is just as unique, and the history is truly one of a kind!
The best place to discover all of this fascinating history and natural resources? Texas National Parks, of course! I've made it my mission to visit them all (still have a few to go), and I'm so excited to share these special places with you.
Whether you're planning a road trip or plotting your bucket list, this fun guide is the perfect place to start!
Texas National Parks Guide
There are 2 major National Parks in Texas (Big Bend and Guadalupe Moutains), 12 Parks Units, and two National Historic Trails which aren't considered "official" parks ... and this guide covers every single one!
You'll find info about each one below, plus the best things to do there. I've also includes tips on nearby destinations (including fun cities, state parks, and other Texas National Parks) ... hopefully, you find that helpful when dreaming about your trip!
As you read the guide, you'll find the parks separated into three sections:
- National Parks - these are the major parks and probably the most well known. I've listed these two parks first.
- Park Units - next, you'll find all the Monuments, Recreation Areas, Historical Parks, Preserves, etc.
- Related Areas - these two trails are listed last. While they're related in importance to the others, they're not managed by the National Park Service (NPS), so they're not considered "official" parks.
One very important thing to keep in mind when planning your vacation? This state is huge, and what looks close on a map, is often quite a fews hours apart. The old saying really does hold true: everything is bigger in Texas!
To help you out, I've also included an interactive map of Texas National Parks, which you can use to determine locations, as well as what parks are near big cities, like Dallas, Houston, Austin, San Antonio, and El Paso. There's a printable list of parks, too, so you can create your bucket list, plus answers to frequently asked questions, trip planning tips, and info on where to find other historic / natural areas that are worth checking out.
Ready to start exploring?
To read the whole article, just keep scrolling! Otherwise, use the links below to jump to the section you are looking for:
There are two major National Parks in Texas, Big Bend National Park and Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
Big Bend National Park
Escape the bustle of everyday life at Big Bend National Park ... Texas' largest National Park! This breathtaking park is located along the Texas - Mexico border, and it's known for its natural resources and cultural history. From the banks of the Rio Grande to the soaring Chisos mountain range and the weather-beaten Chihuahuan Desert, there is so much to explore here.
Big Bend is truly isolated. Be prepared to do lots of driving to get there from any large city ... the nearest, Midland / Odessa is 235 miles away. There's also a considerable distance between the park and the closest (small) towns, so make sure you always prepared with food, drinks, and a full gas tank.
Things to Do
With hundreds of miles of roads and hiking trails, you could spend a week in Big Bend and still not see it all!
- Take a scenic drive on over 250 miles of paved and dirt roads.
- Hike over 150 miles of desert, river, and mountain trails. Popular hikes include the Santa Elena Canyon Trail, Hot Springs Trail, Window Trail, and the Lost Mine Trail, but there are many more.
- Visit the Castolon Historic District to learn about human history in the park, from Indigenous people to later settlers.
- Explore the park's unique geologic record (it spans 130 million years!) at the open air Fossil Discovery Exhibit.
- Bring your passport and cross the border into Boquillas del Carmen, Mexico ... it's just a quick $5 boat ride away.
- Take a float trip on the Rio Grande. (The Rio Grande National Wild & Scenic River, another Texas National Park, is located in the park. More info below.)
- Keep an eye out for the spectacular wildlife, including 11 species of amphibians, 56 species of reptiles, 40 species of fish, 75 species of mammals, 450 species of birds, and 3,600 species of insects.
- Check out the remains of Big Bend's first resort in the Hot Spring Historic District. You can even soak in the springs!
- Stay overnight at the Chisos Basin Lodge, one of the four developed campgrounds, or get a permit to go backcountry camping.
- Watch the desert skies come alive as your spend the evening stargarzing.
Can't get enough of this area? Big Bend Ranch State Park is right next door, nearby Marathon is considered the gateway to Big Bend, and it would be a shame to miss Terlingua ghost town and quirky Marfa. If you're up for the drive, Fort Davis National Historic Site is just under two hours away, Amistad National Recreation Area is about three hours aways, and Guadalupe Mountains National Park is about four hours aways.
Park entrances are open 24 hours a day, and there are five Visitor Centers in the park:
- Panther Junction Visitor Center, located at 310, Alsate Drive, Big Bend National Park, Texas 79834, is open 8:30 AM to 5:00 PM (reduced hours on Christmas Day). Start your visit here at Park Headquarters to check out the exhibits and a movie, visit the bookstore and post office, fill up with water, and get groceries and gas.
- Chisos Basin Visitor Center, located at 142 Chisos Basin Road, Big Bend National Park, Texas 79834, is open from 8:30 AM to 4:00 PM (closed for lunch; reduced hours on Christmas Day). You'll find exhibits, restrooms, a bookstore, and a water faucet here.
- Castolon Visitor Center, located at 600, Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, Big Bend National Park, Texas 79834, is open November 13 through April 30 from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM (closed for lunch; closed on Christmas Day). Exhibits, bookstore, and restrooms are available.
- Persimmon Gap Visitor Center, located at Main Park Road, Alpine, Texas 79830, is open November 5 through April 30 from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM (closed for lunch; closed on Christmas Day). Check out the exhibits, mini-theater, bookstore, and restrooms.
- Rio Grande Village Visitor Center, located at 450 Rio Grande Road, Big Bend National Park, Texas 79834, is open November 5 through April from 9:00 AM to 4:30 PM (closed for lunch; closed on Christmas Day). Exhibits, garden, bookstore, restrooms, and water faucet are available.
Read more about Big Bend National Park.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Craving an adventure off the beaten track? Let the diverse landscape of Guadalupe Mountains National Park call your name! This secluded, yet stunning park encompasses mountains (including four of Texas' highest peaks), canyons, desert, and dunes, and it protects the world's most extensive Permian fossil reef.
Facilities are extremely limited, with no restaurants, lodging (apart from campgrounds), or gas to be found in the park. The nearest town, White City, NM, is 35 miles away (Dell City, TX is 45 miles away). For the most successful visit, plan ahead and bring everything you need.
Things to Do
There is so much to see and do in this remote National Park ... give yourself at least a couple days if you want to do more than scratch the surface!
- Explore over 80 miles of diverse hiking trails. Popular day hikes include Devil's Hall, Smith Spring Loop, and McKittrick Canyon. You can even hike to the "Top of Texas" on the challenging Guadalupe Peak Trail.
- Go stargazing ... 11,000 stars and the Milky Way can be seen on a clear night.
- Try to spot the one of the many animals that live in the park, including various birds, mule deer, coyotes, jackrabbits, mountains lions, javelinas, lizards, and more.
- Visit the Salt Basin Dunes on the remote west side of the park.
- Check out the Frijole Ranch to learn about the different groups of people who've lived in this area for centuries.
- Enjoy stunning fall colors from mid-October through mid-November.
- Spend the night at one of the two developed campgrounds or get a permit for a wilderness campsite.
Have a little time on your hands? As long as you're up for the drive, you can easily check a few more parks off your National Parks List! From Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Carlsbad Canyons National Park is only about 45 minutes away, and White Sands National Park is about a three hours drive away. Both are located in New Mexico.
To hit all three parks in one trip, I'd recommend flying into El Paso, Texas. While there, you can visit Chamizal National Memorial (more details on that park below), too. Then, drive to Guadalupe Mountains NP. After a couple days there, head to Carlsbad Canyons, and then on to White Sands, spending a day in each park. From White Sands, the drive back to El Paso is about an hour and a half.
Most trails (and the campgrounds), are open 24 hours a day, however some areas (including McKittrick Canyon, Williams Ranch, and Salt Basin Dunes) are for day-use only. The Pines Springs Visitor Center, located at 400 Pine Canyon Drive, Salt Flat, Texas 79847, is open from 8:00 AM to 4:30 PM seven days a week (except Christmas Day). Visit the museum and park store, get brochures and maps, and obtain permits here. There is also a Visitor Center located at the McKittrick Canyon trailhead, however it is only staffed on weekends and during peak seasons in the spring and fall.
Read more about Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
In addition to its two major National Parks, Texas is home to 12 other park units. These units include two National Monuments, two National Recreation Areas, a National Preserve, a National Memorial, a National Historic Site, a National Seashore, three National Historical Parks, and a Wild & Scenic River.
Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument
Alibates Flint Quarries became the first National Monument in Texas when it was established in 1965! During your visit, you'll learn about the fascinating history of the various Indigenous tribes who lived in this area for thousands of years, and how they mined colorful Alibates flint in shallow quarry pits to make essential tools.
Things to Do
Many of the activities in this park are centered around the Visitor Center. Don't miss the flint quarries hike!
- Watch a short film and explore the exhibits in the Visitor Center.
- Take a ranger-led hike up a mesa to the flint quarries. (Space is limited; make sure to reserve your spot in advance.)
- Check out the interpretive garden.
- Watch a flint knapping demonstration.
- Hike the short trail near the Visitor Center.
Lake Meredith National Recreation Area is very close to Alibates Flint Quarries, and the popular Palo Duro Canyon State Park (also nearby) is definitely worth a visit. If you're staying in Amarillo, Caprock Canyon State Parks is also really cool, and about an hour and a half away.
The Alibates Visitor Center is located at 37084 Alibates Road, Fritch, Texas 79036. It is open from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM seven days a week (except Thanksgiving and Christmas). The Monument can only be accessed with an NPS Ranger, so plan on visiting during those hours.
Read more about Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument.
Amistad National Recreation Area
Located along the U.S. - Mexico border, Amistad (Spanish for friendship) is a literal oasis in the desert! The area surrounding the Amistad Reservoir is known for its bounty of outdoor activities, huge variety of plant and animal life, and fascinating cultural heritage.
Things to Do
Opportunities for exploring the great outdoors are nearly endless at Amistad National Recreation Area:
- Launch your boat and explore the reservoir, try your luck at fishing, or even go waterskiing.
- Explore the natural beauty of the area by hiking one of the trails.
- Cool off from the desert heat at one of the designated swimming areas.
- Learn more about the park through exhibits, a movie, and at the bookstore.
- Go birdwatching. You'll find a wide variety of birds in the park, including black-capped vireos, golden-cheeked warblers, and colima warblers.
- Check out what's lurking underwater in the scuba diving cove at Diablo East.
- Discover 4,000 year old Native American rock art in Panther and Parida Caves via boat. Don't have a boat? Take a tour at nearby Seminole Canyon State Park and Historic Site.
- Pitch a tent in one of the five designated campgrounds.
Before you go, make sure to explore Del Rio, Texas ... this border town has an artsy vibe and a unique blend of Mexican and American culture. While you're there, check out Val Verde Winery, the oldest winery in Texas or cool off in a local swimming hole.
You'll also find a number of state parks nearby, including Seminole Canyon, Devil's Sinkhole (must love bats!), and Kickapoo Cavern. Amistad is also less than three hours from San Antonio, home to San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, and in the other direction, Big Bend National Park is about three hours away.
Amistad is open 24 hours a day, however some areas (including Governors Landing, picnic areas, and viewpoints) are considered day-use areas.The Amistad Visitor Center is located at 10477 Highway 90 West, Del Rio, Texas 78840. It is open from 8:00 AM to 4:30 PM seven days a week (except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day).
Read more about Amistad National Recreation Area.
Big Thicket National Preserve
Explore the amazing biodiversity of nine different ecosystems as they converge at Big Thicket National Preserve! The Preserve is located at a biological crossroads where southeastern swamps, eastern deciduous forests, central plains, pine savannas, and dry sandhills meet. You'll soon discover that this unique area of Texas is like no other!
Did you know? Big Thicket was the first National Preserve in the U.S. Park System! Well actually, it's tied with Big Cypress National Preserve ... both were established on October 11, 1974, and both Preserves claim to be the first. Ha!
Things to Do
With over 113,000 acres and 15 separate sections of parkland to explore, Big Thicket has a little something for everyone!
- Paddle your way through miles of creeks, bayous, and rivers in a canoe or kayak.
- Hike through a longleaf pine forest or a bog of carnivorous plants on one of the many trails.
- Pack a picnic and enjoy it alongside the bayou.
- Learn about the history of the area at Stanley Cabin, Teel Cemetery, or one of the many local museums.
- Go mountain biking or horseback riding on the Big Sandy Trail.
- Discover why the Preserve has been called the "American Ark" as you try to spot as many of the 1,320 plants, 60 mammals, 86 reptile and amphibian species, 34 species of freshwater mussels, almost 1,800 invertebrates, 97 fish species, over 300 bird species, and 660 species of mushrooms as you can.
- Get a free permit and go camping in the backcountry.
Looking for more things to do in the area? Visit a nearby state park, including Village Creek and Martin Dies, Jr. There are also numerous wildlife refuges nearby. Check out nearby Beaumont, with its oil history, many museums, world's largest working fire hydrant, and parks, or drive to Nacogdoches, the oldest town in Texas, which is less than two hours away.
Big Thicket's roads, trails, and waterways are open 24 hours a day.The Visitor Center is located at 6102 FM 420, Kountze, Texas 77625. It is open from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM seven days a week (except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Eve).
Read more about Big Thicket National Preserve.
Chamizal National Memorial
In the 1850s, severe flooding and gradual erosion caused the Rio Grande to shift course, leading to a decades long international boundary dispute between the U.S. and Mexico. During your visit to Chamizal National Memorial (located on land that was part of Mexico until 1963), you'll discover how diplomacy finally settled the dispute over 100 years later!
Things to Do
Whether you're interested in culture, history, or nature, Chamizal offers many opportunities for exploration!
- Learn more about the boundary dispute in the museum.
- Walk, bike, or jog along trails covering over 55 acres of gently-rolling hills.
- Keep an eye out for urban wildlife, including hummingbirds, robins, grackels, coyotes, squirrels, snakes, and doves.
- View paintings, sculptures, and other works by borderland artists at the Art Gallery.
- Experience the area's culture at the Chamizal Theater or during the Nuevo Siglo Drama Festival, Chamizal Cultural Festival, Music Under the Stars, or another event.
- Pack a picnic and make a day of it!
You can't visit this National Memorial without checking out El Paso ... it's such a cool city! (Read my El Paso to Phoenix Road Trip article for tips.) The city is also home to Franklin Mountains and Wyler Aerial Tramway State Parks (and Hueco Tanks is about an hour away).
A number of National Parks are located near El Paso, too ... read my tips under Guadalupe Mountains NP for turning a visit here into a National Parks road trip. And in the other direction, you can drive to Fort Davis National Historic Site (see below) in about four hours.
Chamizal National Memorial is located at 800 South San Marcial Street, El Paso, Texas 79905. It is open from 7:00 AM to 10:00 PM seven days a week (except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day). The Cultural Center (which is currently closed) is normally open from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM daily (although it is closed on many holidays).
Read more about Chamizal National Memorial.
Fort Davis National Historic Site
Fort Davis was established in 1854 to protect settlers from Comanche, Kiowa, and Apache raids as they traveled the San Antonio-El Paso Road, a major link along the most southern route to California. With over 400 soldiers, it was one of the largest frontier military outposts in the American Southwest, and today, it's one of the best preserved.
Things to Do
Fort Davis has so much history to discover, and you'll enjoy the natural landscape, too:
- Learn about the Fort's history through exhibits in the Visitor Center and the adjacent Museum.
- Check out the various buildings, including a Commissary, Barracks, Officers and Lieutenants Quarters, a Hospital, and more. Interpreters dressed in period clothing may be around to help guide your experience during peak season (summer and spring break).
- Visit the hospital to test your knowledge of frontier medicine on the Wheel of Misfortune.
- Discover the history of the Buffalo Soldiers, Black infantry units created after the Civil War, who were stationed here and played an important part in the Indian Wars.
- Keep a checklist of all the birds you spot. Over 400 species of birds call Fort Davis home or have been spotted migrating through the area.
- Learn about the controversial court-martial of Lt. Henry O. Flipper, the first Black graduate of West Point, who served in Fort Davis during 1880 and 1881. He was dismissed from the army in 1882, posthumously received an honorable discharge in 1976, and fully pardoned in 1999.
- Hike one of the park's many scenic trails.
- Watch 1880s baseball games and artillery-firing demonstrations during summer. In the fall, join a lantern-led night tour.
Explore the area further at the nearby Davis Mountains and Balmorhea State Parks, McDonald Observatory, or the Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute. You're also within a few hours driving distance of Big Bend National Park, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, and Chazimal National Memorial.
Fort Davis is located at 101 Lt. Flipper Drive, Fort Davis, Texas 79734. It is open from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM seven days a week (except Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, New Year's Day, and Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday).
Read more about Fort Davis National Historic Site.
Lake Meredith National Recreation Area
Just when you're beginning to wonder if the relentlessly flat plains of the Texas Panhandle will ever end, Lake Meredith National Recreation Area surprises you! The deep canyons found here (cut by the Canadian River) are an oasis on the high plains, providing endless opportunities for outdoor adventures.
Fun fact: with 1,612,784 visitors in 2020, Lake Meredith is Texas' most visited park! Amistad National Recreation Area is number two, followed by the San Antonio Missions.
Things to Do
The many recreational activities found at Lake Meredith are a boon for outdoor lovers!
- Explore the canyon and Canadian River from your boat, paddle board, canoe, or kayak. (You may also rent one from the park vendor.)
- Hike one of the four trails along the lake and over a spectacular terrain of canyons, rolling hills, steep mesas, and grassy prairie. Along the way, you're sure to spot plenty of wildlife and interesting plants.
- Follow the bird walk in Spring Canyon to view migrating birds (and other wildlife) during winter and spring.
- Bring your horse for a ride along the dirt roads and trails of Plum Creek, Mullinaw Trail, and McBride Canyon.
- Hit the trails on your mountain bike at Harbor Bay, South Turkey Creek, and Mullinaw Trail areas.
- Spend the night in one of 11 camping areas.
Before you go, make sure to visit nearby Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument, where you can learn more about the geology and people who settled in this area. Palo Duro Canyon State Park is also relatively close and definitely worth a visit. If you're staying in Amarillo and have the time, head a little further southeast to check out Caprock Canyon State Park, too.
The Lake Meredith Visitor Center is located at 419 E. Broadway in Fritch, Texas 79036. While the park is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, the Visitor Center is only open from 8:00 AM to 4:30 PM Monday through Friday (closed on holidays).
Read more about Lake Meredith National Recreation Area.
Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park
Learn more about the birth, childhood, political career, retirement, and death of 36th President Lyndon B. Johnson at this Hill Country park. LBJ was born and died at his beloved ranch, and a visit here will help you understand why it held such a big place in his heart.
Things to Do
You'll find many fun things to do at the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park:
- Check out the exhibits and movies at the Visitor Center to learn more about the President's heritage, life, and legacy.
- Find out what the President's early days were like on a guided tour of his boyhood home.
- Experience the cowboy atmosphere of the Johnson Settlement during a self-guided walking tour, where you can visit LBJ's grandparent's log cabin and other historic buildings.
- View the Bluebonnets (Texas' state flower) blooming in March and April.
- Take a self-guided driving tour of the LBJ Ranch, stopping along the way at various sites, including the President's birthplace, the Johnson family cemetery, and the Johnson's ranch house aka the Texas White House.
Don't leave with checking out the park's neighbor, LBJ State Park & Historic Site, where you can explore the Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm and walk trails passing bison, longhorns, wildflowers, creeks, and historic cabins. Pedernales Falls State Park is also located in Johnson City, and Enchanted Rock State Natural Area is in nearby Frederickburg. If you'd like to visit another National Park on your trip, head south to the San Antonio Missions (about an hour and a half drive away) or north to Waco Mammoth National Monument (about two and a half hours away).
This park is located in Texas' Hill Country, a popular vacation destination. You'll find many things to do nearby including wine tasting, shopping, art and music, outdoor adventures, and more!
LBJ National Historical Park has two Visitor Centers located about 14 miles apart. The Johnson Settlement / Visitor Center / Boyhood Home / Park Headquarters is located at 100 E. Ladybird Lane, Johnson City, Texas 78636, and it is open from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM daily (except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day).
The LBJ Ranch itself is located near Stonewall, Texas, and you can enter (and get tour permits) at the LBJ State Historical Park, 199 Park Road 52, Stonewall, Texas 78671. It is open from 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM from October through May and 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM from June through September (except Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Day, and the last Tuesday of every month).
Read more about Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park.
Padre Island National Seashore
Discover the longest stretch of undeveloped barrier island in the world at Padre Island National Seashore! The island, which has a fascinating history and separates the Gulf of Mexico from the Laguna Madre (a hypersaline lagoon), protect 70 miles of coastline, dunes, prairies, and tidal flats.
Things to Do
Whether you're looking to relax on the beach or explore the park's unique wildlife and natural landscape, you find so many things to do on Padre Island!
- Learn about the park's history, plants, and animals through exhibits at the Visitor Center.
- Drive 60 miles along the sandy shores of South Beach, which is only accessible in high-clearance 4WD vehicle.
- Collect seashells, sea beans, and driftwood on the beach's shoreline. You'll have the best luck at Little Shell and Big Shell Beaches or after a storm.
- View dolphins, green sea turtles, and other wildlife from the jetties overlooking Port Mansfield Channel.
- Boat, kayak, canoe, swim or windsurf around the Laguna Madre, one of the saltiest bodies of water in the world.
- Ride your bike along the beach.
- Spend a lazy day on the beach and go swimming in the Gulf of Mexico.
- Discover the island's amazing wildlife, including sea turtles, deer, and hundreds of birds which migrate through the area. If you visit from mid-June through August, you may even be able to watch a sea turtle hatchling release.
- Pitch your tent and spend the night in one of the park's two developed campground or go primitive camping on the beach.
Leave a little time to explore touristy Corpus Christi before you go! There are also a number of state parks in the area, including Mustang Island, Lake Corpus Christi, Goose Island, Goliad, and Choke Canyon. If you would like to visit another NP, you have two options, the San Antonio Missions or Palo Island Battlefield. Both are about three hours away, but in opposite directions. South Padre Island (the resort part of the island) is also about three hours south of Corpus Christi.
Padre Island National Seashore is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The Malaquite Visitor Center is located at 20420 Park Road 22, Corpus Christi, Texas 78418. It is open from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM, Wednesday through Sunday. GPS directions may be inaccurate, so get directions from the NPS before your visit. You can not reach South Padre Island from the park. It's separated by the Port Mansfield Channel and is about a three hour drive from Corpus Christi.
Read more about Padre Island National Seashore.
Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park
Explore the site of the first major battle of the U.S.-Mexican War at the Palo Alto Battlefield! The fighting here sparked a war over a territory dispute between the two countries and changed the map of North America forever.
Things to Do
History lovers will find plenty to do at Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park!
- Follow the footsteps of history by hiking the battlefield. As you walk through the coastal prairie, you'll learn more about the war.
- Explore the war through exhibits and a film in the Visitor Center.
- Keep an eye out for birds, horned lizards, antelope, and other animals that call the battlefield home.
- Join a guided tour with a park ranger to get a deeper understanding of the battlefield's history. Living history programs also take place from September through May.
- Walk or bike the Brownsville Historic Battlefield Trail, which connects Palo Alto Battlefield with other important sites in the region.
- Visit the Resaca de la Palma Battlefield unit, site of the second major battle of the U.S.-Mexican War.
- Take a Mexican War Sites driving tour to see other key locations, including Fort Polk, Rancho de Carricitos, and the grounds of General Zachary Taylor's Fort on the Rio Grande.
Palo Alto Battlefield is located near South Padre Island, so it's the perfect stop if you want to add a bit of history into your touristy vacation! You could also explore Brownsville, which is home to numerous museums, a zoo, the beach, and more, or visit other towns and cities in the Rio Grande Valley. There are number of state parks nearby, including Resaca de la Palma, Estero Llano Grande, and Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley. Drive three hours north to visit Padre Island National Seashore or head about four hours north to visit the San Antonio Missions.
Palo Alto Battlefield is open from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM seven days a week (except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day). The Visitor Center is located at 7200 Paredes Line Road, Brownsville, Texas 78526, and it is open from 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM Tuesday through Saturday, 12:00 to 3:00 PM on Sunday, and closed on Monday (the Visitor Center may be closed or have shortened hours on other holidays; check ahead). The Resaca de la Palma Unit is located at 1024 Paredes Line Road and has gates that are open from 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM, although the site officially closes at dusk.
Read more about Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park.
Rio Grande Wild & Scenic River
In 1978, 196 miles of the Rio Grande were designated as a Wild & Scenic River, and 68 of these scenic miles, run through Big Bend National Park! As you float along the river (or explore it in the park) you'll discover the diverse wildlife and natural landscape that surrounds it, including canyons, desert terrain, fast moving rapids, and more.
Things to Do
Ready for an adventure? You're visiting the right park!
- Learn about Big Bend wildlife, get use permits, check out a desert garden, and more at the Rio Grande Village Visitor Center.
- Explore the river on a float trip through Mariscal Canyon, Boquillas Canyon, or the Lower Canyons. If you don't have your own equipment, you can rent it through a local outfitter or hire a guide service.
- Hike along the river in Big Bend National Park.
- Relax in the Langford Hot Springs, one of the many springs found adjacent to the river.
Of course, you'll want to explore Big Bend National Park (more info above). Big Bend Ranch State Park is also right next door, and you may want to check out nearby Marathon (the gateway to Big Bend), Terlingua ghost town, and quirky Marfa. Further afield, you'll find Fort Davis National Historic Site (just under two hours away), Amistad National Recreation Area (about a three hour drive), and Guadalupe Mountains National Park (four hours away).
The Rio Grande Village Visitor Center, located at 450 Rio Grande Road, Big Bend National Park, Texas 79834, is open November 5 through April from 9:00 AM to 4:30 PM (closed for lunch; closed on Christmas Day). Check out the exhibits, garden, and bookstore, and use the restrooms and water faucet. There are also four other Visitor Centers in Big Bend.
Read more about Rio Grande Wild & Scenic River.
San Antonio Missions National Historical Park
The mission system in San Antonio (and elsewhere) was established to convert Native Americans to Catholicism and to settle and protect Spanish territory. At the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, you'll learn how these four mission communities led to a significant shift in culture, religion, and lifestyle among the Coahuiltecan people.
Fun fact: the San Antonio Missions are the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in Texas.
Things to Do
You'll find many ways to explore the history of these missions:
- Visit each mission to learn what makes it unique, from Mission San Jose (the "Queen of Missions") to Mission Concepción (the oldest unrestored stone church in America).
- Hike or bike the trail along the San Antonio River connecting all the missions.
- Check out the Espada Aquaduct, which was used to bring water from the San Antonio River through an acequia to Mission Espada and the area surrounding it.
- Admire the new mural on the Visitor Center, created by local artist Sandra Gonzalez, to commemorate 300 years of Mission San Jose.
- Collect a unique National Parks Passport stamp each of the four missions.
- Attend a Catholic mass in one of the churches.
Visit the Alamo (originally called Mission San Antonio de Valero) and learn about what makes it important. It's considered part of the World Heritage Site, but not the National Historical Park. You'll also want to explore the city of San Antonio itself, with its popular River Walk, notable museums, and much more. There are also a number of state parks nearby, including Guadalupe River State Park and Government Canyon, Hill Country, and Honey Creek State Natural Areas. Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park is about an hour and a half away, and Amistad National Recreation Area is about three hours away.
Grounds at each mission are open from sunrise to sunset (except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day). The Visitor Center is located at Mission San Jose at 6701 San Jose Drive, San Antonio, Texas 78213. It is open from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM seven days a week (except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day).
Read more about San Antonio Missions National Historical Park.
Waco Mammoth National Monument
In 1978, two men stumbled across a mammoth bone poking out of a ravine near the Bosque River. This unexpected discovery ended up being the U.S.' first and only recorded evidence of a nursery herd of ice age Columbian mammoths. At Waco Mammoth National Monument, you'll learn the history of the massive animals that roamed this area thousands of years ago, plus see their bones in the ground where they were discovered.
Things to Do
Spend an afternoon or morning learning about the fascinating history of the Waco Mammoth National Monument!
- Take a guided tour with a ranger to learn more about the ice age, see mammoth bones in situ (their original discovery place) in the Dig Shelter, and to find out why this National Monument is one of the most important paleontological finds in North America.
- Practice your digging skills at the Excavation Station.
- Walk the trails to see outdoor exhibits and to spot local birds and butterflies.
- Bring your lunch and enjoy a picnic before you leave.
Before you leave Waco, visit the Mayborn Museum Complex at Baylor University to view some of the mammoth bones that were discovered at the Monument up close. And of course, it's the perfect opportunity to check out the Magnolia Market! You'll also find a few state parks near Waco, including Mother Neff, Meridian, and Lake Whitney. If you'd like to visit another NP, head south to the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park, which is about two and a half hours away.
The Waco National Monument is located at 6220 Steinbeck Bend Drive, Waco, Texas 76708. It is open from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM seven days a week (except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day).
Read more about Waco Mammoth National Monument.
Texas also has two National Historic Trails that are considered Related Areas.
Related Areas preserve important segments of the U.S.' natural and cultural heritage. However, the majority are managed by other government / non-government agencies or landowners, and they're not considered official parks.
El Camino Real de los Tejas National Historic Trail
El Camino Real de los Tejas was a royal road (camino real) that connected Texas and northwestern Louisiana to the Spanish empire in Mexico City. Spanish, Mexican, French, American, Black, and Indigenous travelers followed the 2,500 mile route, leading to a mix of traditions, cultures, and laws that is reflected in current day people, landscapes, place names, languages, music, and arts.
Today, the trail isn't clearly marked, however you can visit museums, historic sites, missions, presidios, and original trail segments along the route in Texas and Louisiana.
Things to Do
There are many ways to explore this trail, whether you have a day or a week:
- Check out the interactive map, then start planning your road trip!
- Hike the original route at four different locations in Texas.
- Visit the missions, parks, and museums found along the historic trail.
- Get your National Parks Passport stamped at various destination along the route.
El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro National Historic Trail
El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro was the only road connecting New Mexico to the Spanish colonial empire in Mexico City. This royal road (camino real) descended from the Rio Grande Valley north of Santa Fe, then dropped through the natural gate at El Paso, before finally making its way to the Mexican capital twelve hundred miles to the south. Along the way, it connected the ancient cultures of Mexico and the American Southwest.
Today, you can visit museums, historic sites, churches, and original trail segments found along the original route. In Texas, these sites are located in the most western corner of the state in El Paso, Socorro, and San Elizario.
Things to Do
Explore a small portion of the trail of Texas:
- Check out the interactive map, then start planning your trip!
- Visit the missions and museums found along the historic trail, including Chamizal National Memorial in El Paso.
- Get your National Parks Passport stamped at various destination along the route.
- Extend your trip by heading into New Mexico, where you'll find even more sites to visit!
Are you looking for a park near one of Texas' largest cities? Start here:
- Austin - The closest National Park to Austin is Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park, which is about an hour way. San Antonio Missions National Historical Park is about an hour and a half away, and Waco Mammoth National Monument in about two hours from Austin.
- Dallas / Fort Worth - The closest National Park to Dallas / Fort Worth is Waco Mammoth National Monument, which is less than two hours from the DFW metroplex. While not in Texas, Chickasaw National Recreation Area in Oklahoma is only about two and a half hours away from Dallas.
- El Paso - The closest National Park to El Paso is Chamizal National Monument, which is located in the city. Guadalupe National Park is about two hours away, while Fort Davis National Historic Site is about four hours. White Sands National Monument and Carlsbad Canyons, both in New Mexico, are also located nearby.
- Hill Country - Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park is located in Hill Country (Johnson City). You could also easily visit San Antonio Missions National Historical Park to the south or Waco Mammoth National Monument to the north.
- Houston - The closest National Park to Houston is Big Thicket National Preserve, which is about a two hour drive away.
- San Antonio - San Antonio's closest National Park is the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, which is located right in the city. Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park is also about an hour and a half away, and Amistad National Recreation Area is about a three hour drive.
Tip: Driving times are estimates and will vary depending on what part of the city your are departing from, time of day, and road congestion.
Want to learn more about Texas' National Parks? Check out the answers to these frequently asked questions:
How many National Parks are in Texas?
There are 2 major National Parks in Texas (Big Bend and Guadalupe Mountains), plus 12 Park Units:
- Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument
- Amistad National Recreation Area
- Big Bend National Park
- Big Thicket National Preserve
- Chamizal National Memorial
- Fort Davis National Historic Site
- Guadalupe Mountains National Park
- Lake Meredith National Recreation Area
- Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park
- Padre Island National Seashore
- Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park
- Rio Grande Wild & Scenic River
- San Antonio Missions National Historical Park
- Waco Mammoth National Monument
What is the biggest National Park in Texas?
At 801,163 acres, Big Bend National Park is the largest National Park in Texas. It is also the 8th largest national park in the lower 48 states, and the 15th largest in the U.S.
What is the smallest National Park in Texas?
At just under 55 acres, Chamizal National Memorial is the smallest National Park in Texas.
What is the oldest National Park in Texas?
Big Bend National Park is the oldest National Park in Texas. It was established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on June 12, 1944. Read more about Texas' Gift to the Nation and how Big Bend was established.
What is the newest National Park in Texas?
Waco Mammoth National Monument is the newest National Park in Texas. It was established by President Barack Obama on July 10, 2015. Read more about the history of the Waco Mammoth National Monument.
What is the most visited National Park in Texas?
With 1,612,784 visitors in 2020, Lake Meredith is Texas' most visited park! Amistad National Recreation Area is number two, followed by the San Antonio Missions. Find visitor statistics for every park here.
What is the largest canyon in Texas?
Palo Duro Canyon is the largest canyon in Texas. In fact, you may even hear it referred to as the Grand Canyon of Texas, since it's the second largest canyon in the U.S.! Palo Duro Canyon is a state park, and it's located near Amarillo. Combine it with a trip to Alibates Flint Quarries and Lake Meredith.
How many National Parks are there in the U.S.?
There are 423 National Parks in the U.S. managed by the National Park Service. These sites—which include 63 major National Parks, plus hundreds of Battlefields, Historic Sites, Monuments, Seashores, Memorials, and more—span all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and numerous territories, including Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, and American Samoa, and Guam.
Are you looking for more parks and historic sites to visit in Texas? You'll find a lot in this huge state. Here's where to start:
- Texas State Parks - I've already mentioned a few parks, but you'll find many more throughout the state.
- National Historic Landmarks - You'll find over 40 historic properties that illustrate the heritage of Texas included in this national program.
- National Register of Historic Places - There are 3,300 historic buildings, sites, districts, structures, and objects on this list in Texas!
- National Natural Landmarks - Discover the 20 Natural Landmarks in Texas that promote conservation and appreciation of our nation's natural heritage.
- Texas Museums - There are hundreds of museums in Texas, big and small, in both huge cities and tiny towns. This directory is a great place to find one near you!
Every park is unique, but here are some tips for planning a successful NP visit:
- Give yourself plenty of time. Texas is huge, and what looks close on the map is probably hours away. Plus, there is so much to do, see, and learn about in these amazing parks. Allow yourself plenty of time to get there and to spend at the park.
- Mind the weather. Weather here is often severe and tends to change quickly ... something every Texan knows well! Temps in summer can be punishing, especially the farther south you travel. And yes, it does get cold (and might even snow) during the winter in Texas. Plan ahead, dress in layers, and always bring plenty of water and sunblock.
- Read as much as you can about the park before your visit. If you just show up, you might miss some of the best things to do. Don't forget to check hours and find out if you need permits ahead of time, too.
- Follow the rules. Our National Parks are awe-inspiring. They can also hold fragile environments and/or be dangerous. Always stay behind all fences, follow all posted rules, take only memories and leave only footprints, and keep a healthy distance from wild animals.
- Know your limits. If the extent of your normal activity is an evening walk around the block, an 8-hour hike in a 120 degree desert is probably a very bad idea!
- Avoid the crowds. Because of the Texas' hot summer weather, peak season in many parks falls in winter and spring (especially around spring break). Plan your visit during the shoulder seasons to avoid the crowds.
- Check out the Junior Ranger Programs. If you have kids, ask about the park's Junior Ranger Program. Your kids will love the fun activities, and they may even be able to collect a special badge.
- Purchase an America the Beautiful Pass. Not all parks charge an entrance fee, however admission fees can add up fast. If you plan to visit multiple parks in one year, make sure to get an American the Beautiful Pass. It will pay for itself quickly, especially if you visit a number of the major parks.
- Get a passport. A National Parks Passport is the perfect way to collect free stamps in every park you visit. It's actually kind of addictive once you start, and you'll find yourself searching for parks whenever you travel. There is also a Junior Passport, Collector's Edition, and an Explorer's Edition.
Looking for a map of the parks?
I created a Google map for you with all the National Parks in Texas plotted. Use this link to open the map on your phone or computer, then start planning the ultimate road trip!
Are you ready to start checking these sites off your bucket list? Then this printable Texas National Parks list is for you!
Click anywhere on the image below to download the free printable list.
I will leave it up to you to determine the best National Parks in Texas ... I sincerely can't decide, and so much of it comes down to personal preference! But I hope you enjoyed reading about all of these special places ... let me know about your favorite parks in the comments.
Before you go, check out these guides next to learn about more things to do in Texas:
- 20 Fun Things to Do in Amarillo
- Texas State Fair Guide
- Downtown Dallas Walking Tour
- Secret Teddy Bear Park in Dallas
- Happy, Texas ... The Town without a Frown
- El Paso to Phoenix Road Trip
And don't forget about my National Parks List ... it has every park in every state, plus a map and free printable list of all the parks!