The Best National Parks And Sites In Texas

Endless adventures are ahead, from mountains to Spanish missions.

Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend National Park in West Texas
Photo: Tara Donne

Texans are famous for their state pride, and it's easy to see why. Beyond the bustling cities and charming small towns, there's still so much to explore—and endless amounts of adventure. Within the expansive state lines, you'll find mountains, canyons, deserts, prairies, islands, springs, and—of course—storied rivers like the Rio Grande and Guadalupe. While Texas only has two National Parks under its belt, there's also an impressive collection of national historical parks, national recreation areas, national monuments, and even a national seashore worth visiting.

Here are 13 noteworthy national parks and sites in Texas to put on your list.

01 of 06

Big Bend National Park

Angell Expeditions leads a river adventure in Santa Elena Canyon.
Tara Donne

With just over 800,000 acres, Big Bend contains the Chisos Mountains, 2 million acres of the Chihuahuan Desert, and nearly 200 miles of the Rio Grande. Located far out in West Texas on the southernmost edge of Texas near Mexico, it is the eighth-largest national park in the continental U.S., but it sees less than half a million annual visitors, making it one of the most sparsely touristed parks in the system. For easy access, book a stay in either Terlingua, which is located closest to popular Big Bend sight Santa Elena Canyon, or Marathon, which is located near the northern end of the park.

Big Bend National Park is over 400 miles away from Austin or San Antonio, as well as a three-hour drive from the nearest airport in Midland. For those making the trek, expect peace, quiet, and epic stargazing. It's been declared as having some of the darkest skies for gazing at the stars after a long day of exploring. Additionally, you can book various kayaking tours—choose from same-day or multiple days' long—with a guide from Big Bend Boating and Hiking. Visit

Read more about our trip to Big Bend

02 of 06

Guadalupe Mountains National Park

Guadalupe Mountains National Park

Getty Images/Education Images/Contributor

Another West Texas treasure located on the northwestern end of the state near New Mexico, this park is home to the highest peak in Texas, Guadalupe Peak, which tops at over 8,500 feet elevation. Guadalupe Mountains National Park is known for its bright-white Salt Basin Dunes, wildlife-rich grassland, and fossilized mountains. For popular half-day hikes, popular jaunts include the Smith Spring Trail (around two miles round-trip), Devil’s Hall Trail (around four miles round-trip), or McKittrick Canyon Trail (between five and seven miles round-trip). You're also able to horse-back ride within the park.

The park is located around two hours' drive from El Paso and around eight hours' drive from both Austin and Dallas. If interested, you're able to go across state lines into New Mexico to visit the Carlsbad Caverns roughly 30 miles away. Visit

03 of 06

National Historical Parks and Sites In Texas

San Antonio Missions National Historic Park

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San Antonio Missions National Historical Park
A UNESCO World Heritage Site (and the only one in Texas), this storied site preserves four of the five Spanish frontier missions in San Antonio. The 475-acre park boundaries are exciting to explore via walking or biking along the city's established Mission Trail.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park
Created in honor of 36th U.S. President, Lyndon B. Johnson, around his hometown of Johnson City in Texas Hill Country, this park is actually made up of a recreation area that sees wildflowers in spring, as well as Johnson's home, which is known as the "Texas White House."

Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park
In early May 1846, United States and Mexican troops fought on the prairie of Palo Alto, and the battle marked the first clash in a two-year long war. This historic spot is meant to preserve the site of a notable battle of the U.S.-Mexican War. It was officially established in 1992.

Fort Davis National Historic Site
For over 30 years from 1854 to 1891, Fort Davis in West Texas was a strategic post to protect emigrants, freight wagons, and mail coaches on the Trans-Pecos portion of the San Antonio-El Paso Road and on the Chihuahua Trail. Upon arrival, watch a 15-minute video on the history of the fort.

Blackwell School National Historic Site
Built in 1909, the Blackwell School served as a segregated school for the Hispanic population of Marfa, Texas, during the era of de facto segregation from 1889 to 1965. It was placed on the list of National Register of Historic Places in 2019.

04 of 06

National Recreation Areas In Texas

Lake Meredith Texas

Getty Images/Jessica Chalmers

Amistad National Recreation Area
Like an oasis in the desert near the Texas-Mexico border, this park includes the area around the Amistad Reservoir at the confluence of the Rio Grande, the Devils River, and the Pecos River. It's popular for water-based activities such as swimming and boating.

Lake Meredith National Recreation Area
You'll find this area within the dry plains of the Texas Panhandle, located about 30 miles north of Amarillo, Texas. Its main attraction is 10,000-acre Lake Meredith, a reservoir. Visitors enjoy access to the lake either by private boat or by a rental from the park’s vendor.

Big Thicket National Preserve
This national preserve is unique in that it features much diversity of life due to being located where multiple habitats meet in southeast Texas. Explore hiking trails that venture through nine different ecosystems, from cypress-lined bayous to longleaf pine forests.

05 of 06

National Seashores In Texas

Padre Island National Seashore & Laguna Madre (Texas)
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Padre Island National Seashore
Located on Padre Island—the barrier between the Gulf of Mexico and Laguna Madre Bay—this national park contains the longest stretch of undeveloped barrier island in the world. Its coastline runs over 60 miles long and shelters the rare Kemp’s ridley sea turtle and more than 380 bird species.

06 of 06

National Monuments In Texas

Waco Mammoth National Monument

Getty Images/Arpad Benedek

Waco Mammoth National Monument
This monument sits within 100 acres of wooded parkland that contained fossil specimens that represent the nation’s first and only recorded evidence of a nursery herd of ice age Columbian mammoths. Explore the area to see where these animals roamed across what is present-day Texas thousands of years ago.

Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument
Located in the Texas Panhandle, this monument memorializes an area where Native American peoples once derived Alibates flint for tools from the red bluffs of the High Plains. Hike to the quarries through a ranger-led guided tour and learn about this special type of flint.

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