The 16 National Parks in Texas: A Complete Guide

From the wild west of the Chihuahuan Desert to the towering trees of the Piney Woods, there are some truly incredible national parks in Texas, and we’ve compiled this complete TX national parks guide to inspire to visit each one!

Now–technically speaking–Texas does only have two national “parks”: Big Bend National Park and Guadalupe Mountains National Park, both located in far west Texas.

However, the National Park Service manages a full 16 national park properties in the state, including national monuments, historic sites, national recreation areas, and even a national seashore! Each and every one of these properties is included on our complete list of Texas national parks.

Texas’ national parks make for both incredibly affordable and incredibly diverse vacations–and no matter where you’re located in the Lone Star State, there’s (at least) one park within a day’s drive of you!

rio grande river as seen in big bend national park tx

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National Parks in Texas

Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park is a bucket-list destination for many Texans and national park lovers.

It is no wonder why! This park is one of the largest and most remote national parks in the country with some really amazing views of the canyons formed by the Rio Grande. It’s also known for having multiple species of birds and wildlife located in its perimeters.

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Additionally, this is the only park to house an entire mountain range entirely within its borders. The Chisos Mountains are a great challenge for even the most avid of hikers.

There are great natural finds from different varieties of stones to preserved dinosaur fossils. There are more than 150 miles to investigate, and several scenic drives to check out.

View of Big Bend National Park from above with dramatic hills and rocky landscape, one of the best road trips from Austin

Guadalupe Mountains National Park

The Guadalupe Mountains have almost everything when it comes to natural scenery. Mountains and valleys, beautiful night skies, open desert land. It is really a great spot to stop and reconnect with nature.

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There are over 80 miles of hiking trails in Guadalupe Mountains National Park that will take you to some of the most beautiful lookout points, including, if you’re up for the challenge, the highest point in Texas. The remote location makes it feel like you’re the only one for miles.

In order to stay prepared ensure that you have enough food, water, and gas! There is no gas available for 35 miles on either side of the park so be sure to fill up in either Dell City or Whites City, depending on what direction you’re coming from!

view of el capitan as seen along one of the best hikes in guadalupe mountains national park texas

National Historic Parks & Sites in Texas

San Antonio Missions National Historical Park

One of the most iconic elements of San Antonio, no visit to Alamo City is complete without checking out at least some of the San Antonio Missions.

The Missions are the site of the Spanish Conquest, when a person entered a mission, they made a commitment to become Spanish and to accept a new religion and culture. While the history is bleak, the site has continued to preserve an important chapter in the development of American history.

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The sites are considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site and thereby have an inherent, international value that justifies their preservation.

This trail connects each of the five historic missions located in San Antonio: The Alamo, Mission Concepcion, Mission San Jose, Mission San Juan, and Mission Espada (the Alamo technically isn’t part of the national park, but it is part of the UNESCO site).

The missions split roughly 2.5 miles apart and are in a straight line from one another.

mission san jose from the outside on a sunny day, one of the best reasons to visit texas

Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park

The US-Mexican War had grave impacts on this region and this park at the site of the first fateful battle is dedicated to preserving that history.

There is a soldier database for the war that is located here which can help you discover the soldiers and sailors that fought during this time. Since 1846, the impressions made on this land have never been forgotten.

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The hikes throughout the park lead you through many paths that soldiers once took on their way into battle.

The visitor’s center has some more interactive exhibits and a bookstore dedicated to the area’s history.

cannon at sunrise on palo alto battlefield, one of texas national parks

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park

Located in the beloved Texas Hill Country, the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park chronicles the childhood home and legacy of LBJ, set on the ranch he loved.

Visitor favorites include the Texas White House, where LBJ often worked as president, and the small “Air Force One and a Half” jet also used during his presidency.

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There is a quick 1.2-mile trail that covers some historic cabins and creeks. You can go swimming in the pool during the summers or check out the wildflowers in the spring. The land is open and free with bison pastures and roaming cattle.

The LBJ ranch has some self-guided tours which encompass the birthplace of LBJ, the school he attended as a boy, and the cemetery where he is buried. This is a great spot for people who have an interest in US history!

ranger storm in front of air force one and a half at lbj ranch, one of the best national parks in texas

Fort Davis National Historic Site

Set dramatically against the Davis Mountains, Fort Davis is one of the famed historic spots in Texas’ military history. Even in commercial history, it served as a protector from bandits and robbers during travel.

During the gold rush, it became a crucial pitstop for voyagers headed west. There is a visitor’s center with tons of information but you can also explore by doing a self-guided tour. There are hiking trails available as well if you want to branch out on your own.

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The site has a few days a year where there is no admission fee, so it’s a great inexpensive excursion for the whole family!

Pets are also allowed here provided that they’re on a leash.

buildings of fort davis set against a rock formation, one of the best national parks in texas

National Recreation Areas in Texas

Lake Meredith National Recreation Area

A lot of the Texas Panhandle is known for being particularly dry. However, there is a huge lake that provides a respite from the otherwise arid horizon, and Lake Meredith also happens to be one of the national parks in Texas.

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There are some great trails for hiking along the river where you can stop and observe local wildlife. Additionally, you can camp on the shoreline if you would like. There are a ton of opportunities to set up your tent and also if you have an RV there are sites for that too.

There are campgrounds that are free on a first-come, first-served basis. You can stay up to 14 consecutive days, with access to fire rings and non-potable water. Additionally, there are other campgrounds with more amenities on site but some of them may require a fee.

lake meredith in the texas panhandle, a texas national park service property

Amistad National Recreation Area

At the very edge of Texas, in the town of Del Rio, there is a coastline that stretches far and wide with some of the best aquatic views in the nation.

The name Amistad comes from the Spanish word for “friendship”. It represents the friendship between the US and Mexico. This is one of the most epic spots to go swimming, fishing, or boating.

The terrain in Del Rio is very desert-like and that makes it a really beautiful spot to capture photos. This area is right in the middle of the route that Monarch butterflies take when migrating south, it is a great opportunity to capture a once in a lifetime shot!

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Texas’ National Seashore

Padre Island National Seashore

Padre Island is home to the longest stretch of an undeveloped barrier island in the world. It separates the Gulf of Mexico and Laguna Madre.

During the season for sea turtles, you can see public releases of hatchlings or you can go hunting for seashells on the beach. The water activities are endless!

You can go swimming or fishing, if you’re adventurous grab a kayak or a canoe and head out in the open water. This area is internationally recognized for windsurfing as well. Think of it as a beach vacation without the flight!

Purple flowers blooming on sand dunes on padre island, one of the prettiest islands in texas

National Monuments in Texas

Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument

As you can probably judge from the name, this area is rich in a stone called Flint. This stone was used to create hunting tools and was especially useful for mammoth hunters around 13,000 years ago.

The Alibates Flint is unique to this area, and it helped develop the Texas Panhandle over time. The visitors center has great educational resources expressed through museum exhibits and a movie!

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The Flint Quarries are historically preserved as one of the First National Monuments in Texas. There are also beautiful trails and gardens curated by the park service staff.

If you are new to the area or to hiking they have a ranger-led hike available. The best part is that admission to the quarries is free!

overview of alibates flint quarries national monument

Waco Mammoth National Monument

While Waco is now known as the hotspot for DIY-ers this area was once known for Columbian Mammoths.

These gargantuan animals used to weigh over 10 tons and stand around 14 feet tall. Their fossils were uncovered in Waco, and the subsequent specimens are now known as the first and only recorded evidence of a nursery herd.

The fossils were unearthed in 1978, and have since then discoveries have been continuous. The remains continue to be preserved for public viewing and for further scientific research.

You can also hike the trails within the park areas to learn more about wildlife and foliage that existed during the Ice Age. The Dig Shelter which stores the specimens requires a ticket, but at only $5 a person, it makes for a super inexpensive outing!

fossils from a mammoth at waco mammoth national monument texas

National Historic Trails in Texas

El Camino Real de los Tejas National Historic Trail

El Camino Real de los Tejas translates from Spanish to mean “The Royal Road of the Tejas (Indians)”. This historic trail has been around for over 150 years and has seen a multitude of different historical events.

Whether it was mass migration to nearby Louisiana or the Spanish efforts of missionizing Native American tribes, this trail has seen it all. It is now split into four sections: The South Texas Region, The San Antonio-Goliad Region, Brazos Region, and East Texas-Caddo Region. These regions span from the border of Mexico all the way over to Louisiana.

There are several great viewing spots that are located on the trail’s website such as Drexel Rio Grande Overlook, San Pedro Springs, and Fort Boggy State Park. There is so much to view, you’ll never get bored!

prehistoric spring in texas park

El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro

In contrast to El Camino Real de los Tejas, this trail heads in the opposite direction toward New Mexico. El Camino Real De Tierra Adentro translates from Spanish to “The Royal Road of the Interior Land”.

This trail starts out deep in the highlands of Mexico and stretches up all the way past Santa Fe. This trail is much older at over 300 years, and over that time some really great stops have developed along the way.

In New Mexico, there are highlights such as the Fort Marcy Ruins to the Fort Selden Historic Site.

In Texas, the San Elizario Historic District as well as a couple of the famed Missions are along the path. Each stop has preserved a stitch in the fabric of American history.

front facade of Socorro Mission, one of the best attractions in el paso texas

More of Texas’ National Park Service Destinations

Chamizal National Memorial

Chamizal National Memorial is an urban national park located in El Paso, Texas. The memorial commemorates the resolution of a 100-year-old land dispute between the United States and Mexico.

One of the biggest visuals of this resolution is the Nuestra Hacienda mural. This land is a beacon for hope and representation of the beauty in this ongoing friendship between the two countries. It holds so much history for both communities.

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The cultural center is a great place to learn more about the conflict and its subsequent resolution.

It is also home to the Franklin G. Smith Gallery which highlights visual and performing arts that share insight into both cultures.

mural of 3 men at the chazimal national memorial, one of the best el paso attractions

Big Thicket National Preserve

Big Thicket National Preserve brings out some of the most nostalgic elements from around the country and places them in one place. From the bayous of the southeast to cypress-lined forestry, Big Thicket National Preserve is a diverse and beautiful national park in Texas. It’s also home to some of the best hiking near Houston.

The park is recognized as a biosphere reserve protected by UNESCO. This means it’s often used as a place for research and education about biodiversity and sustainability. The variety of ecosystems make it a really unique place to go hiking, paddling, or camping.

There are 15 different units throughout the park focused on different wildlife or activity!

Boardwalk among pine trees in Big Thicket National Preserve, home to some of the best hiking near houston tx

Rio Grande Wild + Scenic River

The Rio Grande has been the wild and flowing border of Texas for decades. This is perhaps one of the most universally known border points in the US. Its impact on Mexican-American relations has been deep and unyielding for the length of its existence.

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The canyons and cliffs of this area make it one of the best places to see from the water. It envelopes you in awesome beauty and will transport you to another time when water was a more utilized form of transport.

You can spend days here and never fully grasp the power of it all, and that’s what makes it such a great destination to keep returning to. You will always see it a little differently than the last visit.

Map of the National Parks in Texas

3 photos of texas nps properties: san antonio, padre beach, big bend. black and red text on a white background reads " the 16 texas national parks and why to visit"

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