The Best Natural Wonders in Texas 2020
Texans are famous for their state pride, but mercy sakes, look around Lone Star territory and you can see why. It includes everything from a national seashore to mountains, canyons, deserts, and piney woods—not to mention storied rivers like the Rio Grande and dreamy, cypress-dotted Caddo Lake. When we asked readers to try and name their favorites—a tall order—Big Bend topped the list. And no wonder. It’s the stuff of cowboy movie dreams, with a kind of stark, rugged beauty you won’t find just anywhere, not to mention some of the darkest night skies you’ll ever see, covered with more stars than you ever dreamed possible. There’s Palo Duro Canyon State Park, with cabins dating back to the 1930s, Barton Springs Pool, a swimmin’ hole like nobody’s business, and even a giant rock that sings . . . sort of. If you’ve never been to Texas, you should probably go, right? Spring’s the perfect season for a trip-of-a-lifetime.
10. Caddo Lake State Park
An East Texas gem adorned with cypress trees and Spanish moss, Caddo Lake looks like a slice of Louisiana dropped into Texas—fitting, since it spans the border between the two states. With almost 27,000 watery acres, it’s dotted with bayous and sloughs, sheer heaven for paddlers and anglers. Find out how to rent one of its historic cabins here.
Learn more; 903-679-3351; 245 Park Road 2, Karnack, TX 75661
9. Dinosaur Valley State Park
Follow dinosaur tracks along the bed of the Paluxy River and enjoy hiking and horseback riding trails throughout this state park in Glen Rose, Texas. The tracks were explored in the late thirties by R.T. Bird, who wrote about them for National Geographic in 1954. (Because dinosaur tracks are in the riverbed, they aren’t always visible. Check the park's Facebook page or Twitter feed for visibility info before you go.)
Learn more; 512-389-8900; 1629 Park Road 59, Glen Rose, TX 76043
8. Enchanted Rock State Natural Area
This soaring granite dome, about 20 miles from Fredericksburg, Texas, rises over 1800 feet above mean sea level, offering impressive Hill County views. But it’s perhaps best known for the Indian legends surrounding it, sparked by the strange sounds that emanate from the dome when the evening temperature drops after a hot day and by “ghost fires”—a glittering on the rock at night. According to the Texas State Historical Association, there’s a perfectly logical explanation for both. But that’s no fun.
Learn more; 830-685-3636; 16710 Ranch Road 965, Fredericksburg, TX 78624
7. Natural Bridge Caverns
Back in 1960, four college students discovered the largest known cave system in Texas—now one of the state’s most popular attractions—below a natural rock bridge on a ranch near San Antonio. One of the students would drop out of school to help the landowners develop the amazing cave system—or part of it. The caverns, open to the public since the sixties, continue to be explored. A National Natural Landmark, the Natural Bridge Caverns attraction is still owned by the Wuest family, who risked their land and livelihood to develop it decades ago.
naturalbridgecaverns.com; 210-651-6101; 26495 Natural Bridge Caverns Road, San Antonio, TX 78266
6. Palo Duro Canyon State Park
The park opened in 1934, its rustic cabins built by the Civilian Conservation Corps created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Great Depression. (Find out how to rent one here.) Palo Duro, located in the Texas Panhandle near Amarillo, is the second largest canyon in the United States—120 miles long, 800 feet from the floor to the rim, and 6 miles wide on average, though it’s over three times that in places. The canyon inspired famed American painter Georgia O’Keeffe. Hike it, bike it, or saddle up and explore it on horseback.
palodurocanyon.com; 806-488-2227; 11450 State Hwy Park Road 5, Canyon, TX 79015
Check Out The South's Best Natural Wonders In Texas
5. Rio Grande River
Beginning as a mountain stream in Colorado, the Rio Grande flows across New Mexico and Texas, forming the border between the U.S. and Mexico, where the river is called the Rio Bravo. It empties into the Gulf of Mexico about 25 miles east of Brownsville, Texas. Almost 2,000 miles long, the Rio Grande is the 5th longest river in North America, flowing through some of the most dramatic landscapes—desert, steppe, and mountain—in America.
4. Guadalupe River
If you’ve never gone tubing on the Guadalupe River with a cooler full of icy beverages and a passel of your closest friends, your life is incomplete. This famous Texas waterway begins in Kerr County and winds its way past some cool Hill Country towns—New Braunfels (home of historic Gruene and its famous dance hall) and Seguin among them—before reaching San Antonio Bay.
Learn more; 830-438-2656; 3350 Park Road 31, Spring Branch, TX 7807
3. Barton Springs Pool
The jewel of downtown Austin’s Zilker Park, 3-acre Barton Springs Pool is a manmade swimmin’ hole fed by natural underground springs that keep it a cool and refreshing 68-ish degrees, even on the hottest Texas summer day. Depth ranges from kiddo-splashable-shallow to 18 feet.
Learn more; 512-974-630; 2201 Barton Springs Road, Austin, TX 78704
2. Padre Island National Seashore
Maybe you hear “Padre” and think spring-break-central. That’s South Padre. In contrast, the Padre Island National Seashore is an ecological treasure trove—70 miles of protected, undeveloped barrier island. On its eastern shore lies the Gulf of Mexico. It’s separated from mainland Texas by the striking Laguna Madre, one of just six hypersaline (more salt than the ocean) lagoons in the world. In fall, winter, and early spring, thousands of migratory birds winter on Padre or pass through on their annual journey.
Learn more; 361-949-8068; 20420 Park Road 22, Corpus Christi, TX 78418
1. Big Bend National Park
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. It was preserved as a state park in 1933 and became a National Park in 1944, named for its position in a formidable bend of the legendary river that forms the border between Texas and Mexico. Big Bend’s remoteness makes it ideal for dark-sky stargazing.
Learn more; 432-477-225, Big Bend National Park, TX 79834