Texas adventures for active families and outdoor enthusiasts
There’s more to Texas than barbecue and rodeos. The Lone Star State serves up a bounty of a diverse activities perfect for families and individuals. We’ve pulled together a few of our favorites to inspire you to get out there and experience our amazing state—up close and personal.
Dry Surfing and Tobogganing
Over near Midland/Odessa lies a natural sandbox that does Texas right. With deceptively huge dunes, Monahans Sandhills State Park is a great place to dry “sled and surf.” You can rent sand toboggans and disks at park headquarters. Other activities include camping, hiking, and picnicking (and horseback riding, if you bring your own horses!). While in Monahans, check out nearby Odessa Meteor Crater, which provides an interpretive trail into the impact site.
Dazzling Fall Foliage (Yes, in Texas!)
You don’t have to travel to Vermont to go autumn “leaf peeping,” as New Englanders call it. Lost Maples State Natural Area, located around two hours northwest of San Antonio, protects a special stand of Uvalde bigtooth maples that deliver brilliant fall foliage. The large canopy maple trees are especially colorful in late November, painting the hills with bright orange, yellow, and red leaves. The park offers 10 miles of hiking trails with plenty of scenic twists and turns, including a loop that takes you along the top of a 2,200-foot cliff.
Hikes with a View
Texas is a hiker’s paradise, with trails of all types and gradients. For example, Galveston Island State Park, about an hour from Houston, offers reasonably nonstrenuous hikes about wetlands, sand dunes, and coastal prairies. Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, located on the Llano Uplift north of Fredericksburg, Texas, is especially popular. A four-mile loop trail offers interesting rock formations. A shorter, steeper summit trail leads to the top of Enchanted Rock, which is a huge pink granite outcrop. If you climb to the top of Enchanted Rock, you might even be forgiven for snapping a staged selfie amidst such a backdrop.
Catch a Rainbow
Love trout fishing? The Guadalupe River is a choice destination for rainbows and browns. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) routinely introduces them to the water each winter—December through early March. Many anglers agree the best place on the river for trout fishing is the Canyon Tailrace, located a few miles below Canyon Lake. Visit TPWD.Texas.gov for more information on stocking, regulations, and other great places (freshwater and saltwater) to fish in the public waters of Texas.
What could be more fun than viewing Big Bend’s canyons from the middle of the Rio Grande! Raft, canoe, or kayak your way through miles of canyons or choose a more open area of the river with quiet stretches that offer expansive views of the colorful buttes, mesas, and mountains in both the U.S. and in Mexico. Many river float enthusiasts enjoy Mariscal Canyon—the most remote canyon in Big Bend. Described as “mysterious and intimate,” the canyon’s stunning limestone cliffs rise to 1,400 feet, and you can encounter a few Class II-III rapids, depending on water levels.
Rocks and Ropes
Try your hand at outdoor rock climbing at Penitentiary Hollow in Mineral Wells State Park, located a couple of hours roughly due west of Dallas. This small maze of sandstone bluffs offers toproping, which has an anchor at the top of the climb. The rope goes from the belayer at the bottom, all the way up to the top, through the anchor, and back down to the climber. Toproping, a relatively easy technique, is popular with beginners. Make sure you go after a day or two of dry weather. Climbing on the wet rocks is prohibited.
Paddle Your Way Back in Time
Situated along the border of Texas and Louisiana and full of old cypress trees dripping with Spanish moss, Caddo Lake is like something from out of this world. Depending on the time of year you go, you can see snowy egrets and great blue herons, as well as lotus blossoms floating on the lake atop their bright green pads.
Shred the Gnar… Or Not
If you’re into mountain biking, get yourself to Pedernales Falls State Park near Johnson City in Blanco County. Fifteen new miles of mountain bike trails were created a couple of years ago that climb and turn, dip and dive. They skirt creeks and small pools, and offer access into wooded areas. If you prefer on-road cycling, Fredericksburg, located in the Texas Hill Country, is considered by many to be the cycling capital of Texas. The back roads of Gillespie County around Fredericksburg provide miles of scenic views for cyclists to enjoy. Visit MapMyride.com/us/fredericksburg-tx/ for maps of Fredericksburg cycling trails.
Several parks in Texas offer fossil hunting, including Dinosaur Valley State Park and Ladonia Fossil Park. If you’re up in the Dallas area, check out Post Oak Creek in Sherman, Texas, where you can find fossilized shells and shark’s teeth. Many who have been there agree that a good way to enter the creek is to park off Travis Street, just north of the bridge.
Wind and Water
With miles of shallow, calm water in the Lower Laguna Madre—a long, narrow saltwater bay—and strong winds coming off the Gulf of Mexico, South Padre Island is a windsurfer’s dream. Additionally, kiteboarders, surfers, and anglers all find plenty of reasons to spend time on this narrow bay between Port Isabel and South Padre Island.
Make a Splash, Naturally
There are plenty of swimming holes all over Texas. Balmorhea State Park lays claim to being the world’s largest spring fed pool. With clear water and a depth of up to 25 feet, it’s used for both swimming and scuba diving. The pass office closes before the pool does, so check the times before heading over. Hamilton Pool Preserve in Dripping Springs (roughly 30 miles from Austin) is described as an “ethereally beautiful and exotic place.” Here, Hamilton Creek spills over limestone outcroppings to create a 50-foot waterfall that splashes into a shaded, grotto-like pool. Pack a picnic and make a day of it. There’s no lifeguard on duty at either of these parks. Swim at your own risk.
By Annette Brooks