BY SYDNI ELLIS
Sun-dappled paths form a dusty ribbon through the trees. Water in a nearby lake glistens in the hazy, late summer air — these scenes and more highlight the magic of hiking in the Lone Star State as autumn arrives.
Hiking is an exciting and healthy recreational activity that can reduce the risk of heart disease, hypertension, obesity, anxiety, osteoporosis, arthritis, and other ailments, making it an excellent activity for everyone. To make it more exciting, adventure beyond your neighborhood park trails. Explore one of Texas’s 80 state parks instead. Here are a few fantastic options for every skill level.
Short Yet Scenic Trails
Don’t have all day to hike or just want to find the quickest route to picturesque views? Head to the Enchanted Rock State Natural Area in Fredericksburg, where you can hike on the gorgeous pink granite dome. The 45-minute Echo Canyon Trail (moderately challenging) takes you around Moss Lake and into the area between Little Rock and Enchanted Rock. Or try the more challenging 45-minute Summit Trail that leads straight to the Enchanted Rock, featuring rare vernal pools, delicate fairy shrimp, and rock quillwort. (Yes, it’s as magical as it sounds!)
For those who have several hours to explore a trail, check out one of these half-day options at Palo Duro Canyon State Park in Canyon, Texas, near Amarillo. This is home to the “Grand Canyon of Texas,” an absolutely breathtaking place that offers a perfect backdrop to your hike. Beginners can go on the three-hour easy Rylander Fortress Cliff trail, which runs along the canyon rim and offers scenic overlooks perfect for stopping and taking a few pictures. For something a bit more challenging, try the three-hour Upper Comanche trail or the four-hour Lower Comanche trail. Both difficult routes are best for more experienced hikers, and they feature rivers, wildlife, and beautiful views.
Make a weekend trip by going on a longer trail. Many even offer campsites, so you can bring a tent, spend the night, and keep hiking. Climb to the top of Guadalupe Peak at the Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Salt Flat. This six-to-ten-hour strenuous hike is 8.5 miles round trip and is so worth it for the fantastic views at 8,751 feet — the highest spot in Texas.
After seeing the Top of Texas, travel to the biggest state park in Texas, Big Bend Ranch State Park in Terlingua. There are 238 miles of multiuse trails to choose from, so you’ll never run out of opportunities to explore. One of the most famous is the Rancherias Canyon Loop. The 9.8-mile two to three-day hike goes through the Chihuahuan Desert and takes you to several small canyons and the ridge of the Bofecillos Mountains. You can also try the 8.1-mile Lajitas Mesa trail, offering beautiful wildflowers, bird-watching, and other serene nature scenes in this moderate hike that gains 1,774 in elevation. While you’re there, set up camp in one of the many hike-in or drive-in primitive campsites to soak in the outdoors.
10 Things You Need on Your Hiking Trip
Whether you’re going on a short nature walk or a weekend exploration, it’s important to be prepared. The American Hiking Society recommends bringing these 10 things on your
- Shoes with the right traction, support, and protection — function over beauty — will make the difference between a happy hiker and a miserable one.
- A map, compass, or another way to tell the direction in case your phone loses signal, or the battery dies.
- H2O baby! The National Park Service recommends one gallon per day, per person.
- Calorie-dense food like protein bars is essential to keep your energy up throughout the day.
- Cool layers help you stay warm at night and not overheat during the day, as September in Texas is still pretty hot.
- Safety items like lights, an emergency fire signal, and a whistle
to alert others in case of an emergency.
- A first aid kit filled with basic supplies to treat illness or injury is one of those things you hope you won’t need but is priceless if you do.
- A small knife or multi-tool can be helpful in so many ways during your hike.
- Sun protection, including sunscreen and sunglasses, will keep you from getting a sunburn while you’re outside. Bring a hat with a brim to shade your face, and don’t forget the bug spray.
- Emergency shelter is great, especially for longer hikes. A lightweight space blanket, for example, will keep you dry in a sudden rainstorm.