In a state that measures 801 miles from north to south (and over 770 from east to west), there’s bound to be a variety of rich landscapes to find. Whether you’re planning your trip around nature or just adding stops along your route, here are some absolute must-sees.
Inner Space Cavern | 3.5 Hours
We’re all curious about the inner workings of caves, but how many of us are prepared to deal with the taxing terrain and rigorous elements inside? Inner Space Cavern, just north of Austin, remains at a constant 72 degrees all year long, never floods, has paved trails that require no more gear than practical sneakers and has plenty of large, open areas for all the claustrophobic folks. The cave was hidden for over 10,000 years and is filled with stunning rock formations. Tours depart regularly on a first-come, first-served basis.
4200 S. I-35 Frontage Road, Georgetown
Enchanted Rock State Natural Area | 4 Hours & 10 Minutes
Have you ever seen pink granite? The sights of Texas Hill Country can’t be beat, and with 11 miles of hiking trails, plenty of spots for rock climbing and picnicking, and prime real estate for stargazing, this park has it all. One of its most impressive features is a 425-foot pink granite batholith (we had to search for that definition, too), which is a type of rock that forms when magma rises to the earth’s crust without erupting.
16710 Ranch Road 965, Fredericksburg
Hamilton Pool Nature Preserve | 4 Hours
Views of the water at this preserve will leave you wondering if you’re still in Texas. Head down a hiking trail that leads to a natural swimming pool located underneath a 50-foot waterfall — that also happens to be surrounded by a grotto. It’s nature’s defense against the elements, so you can enjoy the scenery regardless of rain or shine. The grotto and canyon were formed by thousands of years of water erosion, and the land is home to several endangered species, so be mindful when entering their habitat!
24300 Hamilton Road, Dripping Springs
Big Thicket National Preserve | 4.5 Hours
This massive preserve covers 113,000 acres and has been nicknamed “the biological intersection of North America” for its nine different ecosystems. Bayous might be more commonly attributed to Louisiana, but you can paddle right along a cypress-lined bayou at Big Thicket. Unique species of carnivorous plants (don’t worry, they only eat insects) and various snakes, birds and other animals call the thicket home. If you’re interested in sharing a space with them for the night, this is also a great spot for camping.
6044 Farm-to-Market Road 420, Kountze
Dinosaur Valley State Park | 1 Hour & 40 Minutes
Walk along a path that dinosaurs roamed millions of years ago at this easy-to-visit park. Dinosaur footprints run along the riverbed, forever frozen in time after the giant reptiles stomped through trenches of mud. Although the tracks are sometimes hidden by the riverbed, you can download a map that will help guide your journey into the past. The park even features massive replicas of dinos!
1629 Park Road 59, Glen Rose
Marfa Lights | 8 Hours
Buckle up for a supernatural adventure in the mysterious town of Marfa. Once the sun goes down, you might find yourself staring up at an unexplained light show that dances across the desert sky. These eerie orbs have been baffling scientists and locals alike since the 19th century, and theories range from car headlights to alien encounters. They shine in various hues from blue to red and appear regardless of the season. Although the explanations may vary, one thing’s for sure: the Marfa Lights Viewing Area is the perfect spot to catch these shocking illuminations. So grab your binoculars, a tinfoil hat and, of course, some snacks.
Balmorhea State Park | 7.5 Hours
Plunge into the crystal-clear waters of Balmorhea State Park, home to the world’s largest spring-fed swimming pool. However, this isn’t your average pool party — beneath the surface, you’ll discover an underwater utopia teeming with rare and endangered species. Slip on your snorkel or scuba gear (because 15 million gallons flow through here each day) and swim with the Comanche Springs pupfish and the Pecos gambusia. White-tailed deer, turtles, lizards and more also await you. One of our favorite parts? The pool remains at a comfortable 72-76 degrees Fahrenheit year round.
9207 TX-17, Toyahvale
Palo Duro Canyon | 6 Hours
Who says you have to leave Texas to get a glimpse of one of the seven wonders of the world? Behold vibrant red rock formations and a dropoff of 800 feet to the canyon floor at this site, which should be labeled the Grand Canyon’s younger sibling. It’s located only 25 miles from downtown Amarillo, and the scenic landscapes at this state park make it the ideal spot for your next camping excursion. Whether you’re bringing a tent or an RV or just settling in for a picnic, the park’s easily accessible campgrounds, RV hookups and restrooms have you covered. Looking to stay in the height of luxury instead? Check out Doves Rest Resort, nestled right in the canyon about 3,500 feet above sea level. Their cabins offer 360-degree views, grills and fireplaces and even allow pets.
11450 Park Road 5, Canyon
Devil’s Sinkhole State Natural Area | 6 Hours
Dare to dive into darkness at the Devil’s Sinkhole, a massive vertical cavern that’s home to millions of Mexican free-tailed bats. As the sun sets, you’ll witness a bat exodus — a nightly spectacle that’s as dynamic as a firework display. (Just take note: this mainly happens from April through October when temperatures are warmest.) Be sure to set up a guided tour because reservations are required. Although you won’t be allowed into the cavern, it’s astonishing to think that a 50-foot wide shaft drops 140 feet down. Another wild fact to ponder as the bats leave in search of food: scientists estimate that the crew of three million eats up to 30 tons of beetles and moths every evening. So get ready to thank the bats for their service and head to the Devil’s Sinkhole for an unforgettable night.
101 N. Sweeten St., Rocksprings
Hueco Tanks State Park | 9.5 Hours
Stargaze, bird-watch and plan a stunning hike among the colorful boulders of Hueco Tanks State Park! These ancient rock formations appear to defy gravity as larger rocks balance atop seemingly pint-sized pedestals. One unique fact about the boulders is that they’re able to trap rainwater for an extended time via their rock basins (aka “huecos”), which form pockets. This also makes them ideal for bouldering — and who wouldn’t want to climb around on rocks that were formed 34 million years ago? The park’s rugged terrain is adorned with Native American pictographs and artifacts as well as inscriptions of the names of US Cavalrymen. Whether you’re a climber, a history buff or simply an admirer of the great outdoors, Hueco Tanks will leave you feeling more vibrant than a Texas sunset.
6900 Hueco Tanks Road No. 1, El Paso
Gorman Falls | 3 Hours & 45 Minutes
The breathtaking 70-foot spring-fed waterfall at Gorman Falls is a product of the Colorado River’s ongoing erosion of limestone over thousands of years. The falls culminate in a tranquil pool, surrounded by lush ferns and sparkling mineral deposits. The hike to the waterfall is about three miles round trip with some rocky terrain and provides an up-close experience of this geological wonder. For angling enthusiasts, the Colorado River offers excellent fishing opportunities, with a variety of bass and catfish. Kayaking on the river is another popular activity that you won’t want to miss out on. But the most unique attraction here? You can book a cave tour and explore the underground landscape as well!
1201 Colorado Park Road, Bend