When I share about our family mission to visit every state park in Texas, the next question is always, “how many have you been to and which one is your favorite”. With 10 natural ecoregion across the state it’s insanely hard to narrow it down to one, or even five favorites. Each region is so unique, and each park has so many different things to offer depending on what you enjoy most — hiking, trail riding, paddling, or just sitting around the campfire. It’s hard for me to even chose five out of the 27 or so we’ve visited, but I will because that’s what this blog post is titled and I must give the people what they want.
Caprock Canyon State Park
If you find yourself signing, “Oh give me a home, where the buffalo roam…”, then look no further than Caprock Canyon State Park. Nestled in the panhandle of Texas Buffalo, or rather Bison, are freely roaming through this park. When friends first told me they had a bison roam right through their campsite I didn’t believe them. Well friends, I’m here to tell you, it happens, and when it happened to us we watched it (from a safe distance) and my emotions vacillated between hysterical laughter and tears because it was by far one of the most magical experiences of my life.
Aside from the bison, there is also a significant prairie dog community. As you walk to the restroom they will yell at you from their burrows in the ground. They’re hilarious to watch and unlike any other creature I’ve observed in the wild.
But then there’s the hikes. Good heavens the hikes. You just can’t be mad about a secret dripping cavern of ferns hiding among the high and rolling plains and desert landscape. The views are next level and hold fast as some of my favorite hiking memories.
Mustang Island State Park
Growing up in Houston, Galveston was my picture of the Texas Gulf Coast, but Mustang Island State Park, located roughly 240 miles south of Galveston paints a whole new portrait. The sand is like fine baby powder and the water a cool blue, much closer to what I’ve seen in Mexico and a far cry from the silt stained brown water of Galveston.
A huge part of our love for Mustang Island is due to Ranger Eric. Before visiting we followed the park’s Instagram account where he regularly gives updates on sea life and conditions at the park. When we met him, he’d already seen my posts on Instagram and he was so kind with our daughter as she was loaded with questions (she’s a marine biologist in the making). We went to several of his group classes, which were all awesome and probably some of the best of all the parks we’ve visited.
Walking out on a jetty we spotted sea turtles, we paddled in the bay (the waves were a little too intense for paddling on the gulf side, however I feel like it was more of a challenge than a deterrent). Nightly campfires on the beach made for memorable moments watching the sun set over the water and listening to the waves crash against the shore. There are so many core memories made at Mustang Island. The hardest part is knowing we have so many more Texas State Parks to visit and still wanting to return to this park.
Inks Lake State Park
Inks Lake State Park in the spring is beyond dreamy. Texas wildflowers explode from every natural surface, prairie, hills, and even in between rocks. What shocked us is it wasn’t just a handful of variety of wildflowers it was dozens and dozens. We saw Firewheel, Pink Lady, Texas Thistle, and Coneflower. There was Nightshade, and Paintbrushes, Prairie Nymphs and Prickly Pear Flowers. It was hard to wrap your brain around the beauty and sheer variety.
Along with the flowers the paddling on Inks Lake is just wonderful. There’s coves to explore and swimming holes. The sunsets on the water will steal your breath and hold it there.
The wild flowers and the waterfall views make the hikes here all the more wonderful too.
Dinosaur Valley State Park
Dinosaur Valley State Park is one of the state’s most popular parks. I almost left it off the list because of its popularity, but I just couldn’t, it’s popular for a VERY good reason. You can see fossilized dinosaur footprints along the river bed. Dinosaur footprints. Somehow the experience of seeing these tracks the wild, standing in them, tracking them along the bank made the existence of dinosaurs so much more real than any museum I’ve ever been to. It connects you to the earth, to existence in a whole new way.
The trails at Dinosaur Valley, and the river are absolutely wonderful too. My suggestion would be to do more than the most popular trails because if the water levels are right, you’ll see a lot more tracks.
Again, you can stand in dinosaur tracks, visiting this park needs no more convincing.
Huntsville State Park
Guaranteed, Huntsville State Park is not on most top five Texas State Parks lists, but this one is a very personal favorite, it’s where I camped with my family as a child. It’s where I learned paddling skills and how to flip a canoe. I learned how to build a campfire in those campsites and watched the sky through the tall pines. Visiting, feels like going home.
Even without my personal feelings, Huntsville State Park is absolutely beautiful and deserves its day on some top 5 lists. There are so many hiking trails, loads of campsites (which means you may actually find a last minute reservation) and paddling the lake is one of my favorite things to do there.
I would LOVE to hear about your favorite state parks, make sure to leave them in the comments.