This is how we (hike) in Texas
Winding through the towering trees of the Pineywoods and zigzagging beneath the sandstone spiers of the panhandle canyonlands, the miles and miles of Texas hiking trails unfold in a seemingly endless variety. “People don’t realize how much stuff really is here,” says Pierce Ingram, Austin-based photographer and co-founder of Hiking Texas, a website dedicated to trails in his home state. “You have mountains, you have canyons, you have rivers and streams, you have tall pines. Whether you’re looking for a quick hike close to one of the state’s bustling cities or want days of hiking in the wilderness, there is a Texas trail for you.
Stroll through the canyons of the Panhandle
Even if you’ve never been to Texas, you can probably conjure up a picture of this vast and sparse country. But that’s only part of the picture. ” You drive. It’s really flat. Then all of a sudden the bottom drops and it’s just a whole different environment, ”says Donald Beard, superintendent of Caprock Canyons State Park and Trailway.
Here, the streams divide the red sandstone into a system of deep canyons and you can explore it all on some 90 miles of trails. Start at Haynes Ridge Overlook Trail for stunning views, and if you’re feeling ambitious add portions of the North Prong Trail, where you’ll see iconic fairy chimneys and natural springs. To get a closer look at the steep canyon walls, take the Wild Horse Trail that descends below the horizon into the valley of the Petite Rivière Rouge. The 64-mile-long trail follows abandoned railroad tracks over bridges and through what was one of the last active rail tunnels in Texas, where Mexican free-tailed bats spend their summers. Take a peek at the Texas State Bison Herd, which roam free in the park, and take a dip in Lake Theo.
You can camp in the park or along the trail, but you can also take a day trip from Lubbock, about two hours away. The trendy Cotton Court Hotel on Broadway offers outdoor fireplaces, comfy beds, and nearby dining. Grab a Doc Chilton beer (a brewing version of the famous local cocktail) and grab a bite at The Brewery LBK, just down the street from the hotel.
Legitimate mountain peak near El Paso
For those looking to reach new heights, Texas has them too. Just 100 miles east of El Paso, Guadalupe Mountains National Park is home to Texas’ four highest peaks, plus miles of gentler trails for the whole family.
The Guadalupe Peak Trail takes you to the top of Texas (8,751 feet). This 8.5 mile round trip hike with 3,000 feet of elevation gain is for those prepared for many grueling hours of hiking. Looking for something a little less… engaging? Pinery Trail is a quick, kid-friendly option nearby. McKittrick Canyon, in the northeastern part of the park, is one of the best places in the state to take in the fall colors of Texas. “It can be as good as anywhere else in the country,” says Ingram of Hiking Texas. If you’re up for a long hike, McKittrick Ridge offers the best view of the canyon, which is densely populated with clusters of maple, walnut and oak trees.
Book a campsite in the park and admire the sparkling night sky or find accommodation near El Paso (check out the recently renovated historic Plaza Hotel Pioneer Park). On the way to town, stop at Hueco Tanks State Park and Historic Site for a little more hiking, history, and what some say is the best bouldering in the world. While in El Paso, grab Chicos Tacos or a plate of enchiladas from the legendary L&J Cafe.
Get off the grid at Big Bend
Big Bend National Park, which stretches 118 miles along the Mexican border, is far from everywhere but is packed with everything an adventurer could wish for. Its sky islands are home to species like the Mexican jay, which can only be found in the southwest. The ultra-dark night sky offers world-class stargazing. Did we mention the hot springs?
Begin your exploration on the 14 mile South Rim Loop, which exits the Chiso Basin and opens to one of the most spectacular views in Texas. You don’t have to do it all in one day – there are designated campsites along the trail that you can book in advance. Stay an extra night on the trail so you can spend a day climbing to Emory Peak (7,825 feet), the highest point in the park. Looking for a smoother option with equally great views? Check out Lost Mine or Window Trail, where you might see a black bear walking along Oak Creek. Or ditch the mountains for the water: the Santa Elena Canyon Trail, just steps from Mexico, offers stunning views from above and below the massive canyon walls surrounding the Rio Grande.
At night, the stars fill the sky above the park, where you can book a variety of campsites or reserve a room at the Chiso Mountains Lodge. A short drive from the park, the Gage Hotel in Marathon and the Willow House in Terlingua both offer relaxed yet luxurious accommodation. While in Marathon, grab an Emory Peak ESB, a British-style pub beer named after your last peak, which pairs perfectly with the barbecue at the Brick Vault Barbecue and Brewery.
Explore the most enchanted rock in Texas
Enchanted Rock State Natural Area in central Texas is an otherworldly destination for the whole family. The pink granite dome that overlooks the center of the state offers panoramic views of the hills. Pits on the surface of the dome collect rainwater to create spring pools, which are home to fairy shrimp, tiny translucent freshwater crustaceans.
It’s a relatively steep scramble to get to the top of Enchanted Rock, but at less than two miles round trip it’s a summit accessible to a variety of hikers, and the views are well worth it. For a slightly longer, less traveled hike, circle the boulder on the Loop Trail and climb Echo Canyon between the main attraction and the nearby peak, Little Rock.
After you’ve worked up an appetite on the rocks, stock up on brisket at Cooper’s Barbecue in Llano (be sure to leave room for the cobbler, though). You can book a campsite in the state’s natural space, which becomes even more enchanted as day trippers filter through. Don’t you feel like pushing him around? Reserve a cabin at the nearby Contigo Ranch, where ancient hillside crafts meet a contemporary aesthetic.
Getting lost in the pine forests
About an hour and a half north of Houston, behind a curtain of dark green pine trees, Huntsville State Park offers hikers miles of trails through hardwood forests and wetlands. “We’ll have people come and realize how enjoyable these trails are and how they can just disappear into the woods,” says Interpretive Ranger John Herron. Three wetland streams flow into Raven Lake, the centerpiece of the park, where alligators splash in the water and shorebirds feed on crappie and largemouth bass.
The 6.8-mile Chinquapin Trail, which circles Raven Lake, is probably the most popular long hike in the park. The Prairie Branch Loop (1.5 mile) is a gentler option that traverses an array of wetland and forest landscapes. At the north end of the park, a shortcut leads to the Lone Star Hiking Trail, dubbed the longest continuous trail in Texas, which offers nearly 100 miles of hike in Pineywoods. After you sweat the trails, cool off in a CCC-built lake, where you can also rent a pedal boat and go fishing.
As you enter, don’t miss the giant statue of Sam Houston in nearby Huntsville. If you’re from the Houston area, stop for Viet-Cajun crayfish in the northern suburbs of the metropolis (Cajun No. 1 offers some of the best). For fine dining and accommodations close to the park, visit Hill House + Farm, where Executive Chef Chase Reid changes the menu daily to take advantage of fresh local ingredients. Not ready to leave the quiet solitude of the park? Book a cabin or campsite and wake up to more hiking in the morning.
Texas is more than a state, it’s a state of mind. From Big Bend to the Gulf Coast and everywhere in between, your next adventure awaits. Whatever experience you are looking for, we look forward to seeing you soon. Plan your next Texas getaway at traveltexas.com. Let’s go to Texas.