21 Unique State Parks in Texas to Visit

The word unique is undoubtedly common in Texas since part of the culture and lore of the state stand on how different we are from other parts of the country. And when it comes to the whopping 89 state parks in Texas, that means we have a little bit of everything!

From mountain ranges to natural swimming pools to forests to beaches, the best state parks in Texas cover a wide variety of climates and topographies, while offering a huge variety of fun things to do.

We designed this list of unique Texas state parks to show off the incredibly diverse beauty of the Lone Star State.

If you’re looking for a fun Texas road trip or hike this weekend, head to one of the best state parks in Texas!

group of bison in caprock canyons state park texas

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Want to Narrow Your Texas State Parks Search?

As the second-largest state in the USA, you can easily drive a full day before reaching some of these unique state parks!

If you’d like to narrow your search by geography, check out our guides to the best Texas state parks in the East, West, North, and Central parts of the Lone Star State.

You can also search by metro area, by using our guides to the best state parks near Dallas, Houston, Austin, San Antonio, and Amarillo.

Kate Storm sitting on a ledge overlooking palo duro canyon near amarillo texas

The Best State Parks in Texas

Caddo Lake State Park

Caddo Lake State Park is known as the only natural made lake in the state. While there is some debate about this, the true uniqueness of Caddo Lake is the story of how it was formed. 

It turns out back around the 12th century; a few trees began to create a natural dam along the Red and Atchafalaya Rivers on the Louisiana and Texas borders. Of course, at that time, those state names were words to be formed in the future. 

These first few trees clogging the rivers, built upon themselves over the years, and created what is known in local history as “The Great Raft.”

The Ultimate Guide to Caddo Lake State Park, Texas

By the 1830’s the raft was at least 160 miles long and had created a massive reservoir which became Caddo Lake. The raft and the lake are one reason the Caddo Tribe flushed over hundreds of years in the area. 

The 19th century saw the destruction of the raft as steamboats needed navigable waters to travel downriver, but the Caddo Lake we see today is descended from the area’s once-great lake.

Today, Caddo Lake State Park carries on a microcosm of this once grand time in Texas history and creates one of Texas’s most unique state parks. 

bald cypress trees in caddo lake, one of the best state parks in texas

Balmorhea State Park

Over 600 miles west of Caddo Lake, in the desert of West Texas, sits the fantastic Balmorhea State Park. 

What makes this TX state park special is the presence of the San Solomon Springs, which have served humans in the area for at least 11,000 years. 

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High in the Chihuahuan desert, this oasis has long served for the survival of animals and humans, allowing for cattle ranchers to move into the area. 

During the depression years, the state, with the federal CCC program’s help, created the wonderful natural spring swimming pool of today.

Come for a visit and instantly recognize why this place is unique to the area it serves. 

underwater photo of staircase with fish swimming next to it at balmorhea state park, one of the best places to visit in west texas

Palmetto State Park

There are many characteristics creating uniqueness, and one of these is the presence of something that doesn’t belong.

Texas has its share of swamp and low-lying areas surrounded by bayous, but almost all appear in deep East Texas. 

Palmetto State Park is a place that decided to be just like its cousins to the east but chose to live on its own terms. 

Found along the San Marcos River and east of New Braunfels, Palmetto is named after the dwarf palm trees that cover this select area. 

The park conjures a time when dinosaurs roamed the state, and it definitely adds a unique visit to the area it serves. 

boardwalk framed by trees dripping spanish moss in palmetto state park texas

Palo Duro Canyon State Park

The Grand Canyon gets much attention in the U.S., and rightfully so.

Millions of years ago, however, Texas said, “I see you, now watch this,” creating its own version. 

As the second-largest canyon in the country, Palo Duro Canyon makes up one of the best Texas state parks to visit. 

11 Best Things to Do in Palo Duro Canyon, Texas (+ Travel Tips)

While the Texas Panhandle is technically part of the plains, it does have its share of canyons, and Palo Duro is the granddaddy of them all. 

Come and enjoy a breathtaking Texas take on what a canyon should be. 

Be sure to hike to the lighthouse formation while you’re there–it’s one of the most incredible views in Texas.

lighthouse formation in palo duro canyon on a sunny day

Galveston Island State Park

It doesn’t have the clearest waters in the state, nor does it even have the whitest sand in the state. But what Galveston State Park lacks in what many consider the great attributes of a beach it makes up for in its special character. 

Don’t get us wrong; the park is a nice Gulf Coast beach; it’s just that many people try to compare these beaches with those of Destin or Cancun, and that’s not a fair comparison. 

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Galveston State Park offers plenty of fun in hiking, birdwatching, camping, fishing, kayaking, and swimming. Its best attribute is the island it resides on and the history surrounding it. 

Galveston was once known as a haven for legendary pirates like Jean Lafitte, a hub of immigration into the southern states, and later home to one of the country’s largest gambling cities before the birth of Las Vegas.

Much of this history can still be seen on the island in the form of the Strand area and other must-see historical places to visit, making it a unique state park to spend time with. 

Marsh in Galveston Island National Park with a white bird resting on the water

Bastrop State Park

As with Palmetto State Park, the area of Bastrop, Texas, has something that just doesn’t quite fit the way things are supposed to be.

When driving through East Texas, the great trees of the Piney Woods are as thick as hay grass on the prairie.

There is a certain point traveling west when the pine trees stop and give way to hardwoods and open spaces. That is, until you reach the area of Bastrop State Park.

One has to wonder if the pines of Bastrop didn’t get the message on how nature works and decided to stay anyway. 

The beautiful state park of Bastrop and its shortleaf pines are certainly unique in central Texas. 

cabin in the woods in bastrop state park, one of the best state parks near austin tx

Monahans Sandhills State Park

What if you could enjoy the sands of the great Sahara or Kalahari without traveling across the world to do it? Luckily for Texans, Monahans State Park offers the adventure of playing in the sands without an expensive ticket overseas. 

Monahans offers miles of sand dunes that rise from the desert floor. People come from all over to roll and slide down the tall dunes as if they were skiing at a snow resort. 

For one of the most unique desert experiences in the country, Monahans is truly one of the most unique Texas state parks to visit.

sand dunes at monahans sandhills state park, oneo f the best west texas state parks

Garner State Park

Just because it’s one of the most popular state parks in Texas doesn’t mean it can’t also be unique!

Garner State Park has the luxury of being one of the most visited parks in Texas, which says something about how people view it. 

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Garner has two unique things going for it, the Edwards Plateau and its uplift that caused sheer walls and great views, and the Frio River that runs through the center of the park. 

These natural wonders directly affect just how much fun you’ll have at Garner State Park. 

view of frio river in garner state park, one of the best places to visit in texas

Dinosaur Valley State Park 

We couldn’t have put together a list of unique state parks in Texas without including Dinosaur Valley State Park.

What is more special than camping on top of millions of years worth of giant bones?

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Well, standing in the center of actual dinosaur footprints!

Don’t worry; the park also has all of the usual state park activities like hiking and camping to round out a full day of dinosaur hunting. 

fossilized dinosaur tracks in dinosaur valley state park, one of the fun road trips from ft worth tx

Hueco Tanks State Park and Historic Site

There is something to be said of staring at ancient art on even older rock walls. 

Thanks to Hueco Tanks State Park and Historic Site, anyone can take a peek at Texas history through the lens of rock paintings from the first peoples.

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This ancient graffiti has lasted for hundreds of years and is kept preserved by the park. 

After enjoying the artwork of long ago people, be sure to take your try at rock climbing elsewhere in this Texas state park that is home to some of the best hiking near El Paso.

hiking in el paso tx at hueco tanks state park

Caprock Canyons State Park

This state park has a lot going for it. As a canyon park, it offers scenery right up there with Palo Duro Canyon. 

It also has a lake to cool off in the summer heat, and its 90 miles of trails are much less traveled than its more well-known cousin. 

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What makes this park truly unique is the herd of wild buffalo that roam it.

Spend your day viewing these magnificent animals as they make their comeback in the Lone Star State. 

caprock canyons, one of the texas state parks near amarillo texas, at sunset

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area

Okay, so Enchanted Rock is technically not a state park in Texas but it is owned by the state system and provides a unique Texas experience. 

Rising 1800 ft above sea level and around 405 ft. above the surrounding ground, this outcrop of rock in the Texas Hill Country is a climb that has to be taken on by every Texan at least once in their existence. 

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The views from the summit are spectacular, and the climb provides several hours of fun.

Take a picnic to enjoy lunch once you’ve reached the top. 

view of enchanted rock hiking looking up

Seminole Canyon State Park & Historic Site

Big Bend isn’t the only attraction in South West Texas.

Seminole Canyon State Park & Historic site runs along the outskirts of Big Bend Ranch State Park

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What makes this park unique is the presence of Fate Bell Shelter, one of the oldest ancient cave dwellings in the Americas. 

Just as with Hueco Tanks, these caves offer a glimpse into the past with their primitive Native American Pictographs.

seminole canyon near comstock texas as seen from above with an overhanging rock visible on the left side of the photo

Lost Maples State Natural Area

One of the best experiences you can have is to travel to the Northeast US Coast and witness the turning of the trees in fall. 

Why travel so far, though, when you can witness the same beauty at Lost Maples State Natural Area?

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Here hundreds of maple trees display their spectacular color changes at the beginning of autumn each year–and as a bonus to travelers who like to fit in as much fall foliage each year as possible, autumn comes a bit later to Texas.

You can generally find the fall foliage in Lost Maples at its best in early November–and the hiking is great at that time of year as well!

Take a drive to Lost Maples to witness the magic of nature. 

bright red foliage in lost maples, one of the fun things to do in vanderpool texas

Guadalupe River State Park

Guadalupe River State Park is one of the most beautiful state parks in Texas.

While it offers the usual swimming, kayaking, and camping, this clear river state park is also the best place to catch Texas’s official fish.

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The Guadalupe bass is only found in the great state of Texas, which makes this park unique in itself. 

Give yourself a chance to catch this freshwater delight when visiting the Guadalupe River State Park. 

Guadalupe River State Park with cypress trees in the background and the river in the foreground. This park is home to some of the best camping near san antonio tx

Longhorn Cavern State Park

Another federal project by the CCC, Longhorn Cavern State Park was built around one of the most beautiful caves in Texas

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While other state parks let you camp under the stars or fish in a stream, Longhorn State Park gives you a chance to see what the underbelly of Texas looks like. 

When you decide to get back out into the sun, exit the cavern for a hike on the park’s trails, visit the historic buildings, or take time to have a picnic. 

Interior of a cave in Longhorn Cavern State Park, one of the best day trips from Austin Texas

Pedernales Falls State Park

The beauty of Pedernales Falls State Park is usually under described, and that includes here. It is one of those places you just have to see to appreciate. 

The park’s large limestone slab system’s uniqueness is made even more magnificent by the thousands of gallons of water pouring over and through it. 

Located only 30 minutes outside of Austin, these falls make a great day or weekend getaway.

Go any time of year, but a dip into its cool waters is always appreciated under the Texas summer sun. 

pedernales falls as seen from above, one of the best texas hill country state parks

Resaca de la Palma State Park

If border rivers and bird watching are your passion, this less-visited park in South Texas is for you. 

With 1200 acres located along the Rio Grande, this avian paradise provides hours of witnessing nature’s wonderful flying creatures, plus a myriad of other wildlife. 

Don’t worry if you forget to bring your own binoculars, the park rents them out along with bicycles to get you around the park. 

view of palm trees across the water on a cloudy day at resca island, one of the best state parks in tx

Big Bend Ranch State Park

Big Bend National Park’s cousin is one of the most beautiful state parks in Texas, and absolutely worth the (long) drive to Big Bend Country.

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While you’re there, be sure to drive El Camino del Rio, considered one of the most scenic drives in Texas, hike Closed Canyon, one of the only accessible slot canyons in Texas, and go for a swim in the Rio Grande itself.

Consider also paying a visit to nearby Fort Leaton while you’re there!

view of rio grande in a canyon at big bend ranch state park, one of the best texas state parks in west tx

Mission Tejas State Park

Mission Tejas State Park is one of the least visited parks in the state, even though it’s one of the best to stay in.  

This state park doesn’t have a wild river or sheer rock mountains to climb, which is probably why many adventurers with families seek other locations. What the park does offer is, it’s the site of the first Spanish Mission in the state. 

Built alongside the Camino Royal, the ancient superhighway of its day between Nacogdoches and San Antonio, the park still uses this roadway as part of its trail system through the towering pines. 

A replica of the original mission stands inside the park today, and rumor has it; the original mission bell is buried within the park after it was hidden when the mission was abandoned. 

Mission Tejas State Park is one of the quietest parks you find in the state, which alone makes it a great visit when you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life. 

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Fort Richardson State Park

If history is your thing, it doesn’t get much better than a visit to Fort Richardson State Park. 

Once home to mounted and foot soldiers protecting North Texas’s plains, today the area is a state park remembering that history long ago. 

Several of the original buildings still stand today to tour with the family.

When finished with your historical tour, take to the lake for kayaking, swimming, fishing to fill out your weekend stay at this unique Texas state park. 

2 photos of state parks in texas: palo duro lighthouse and frio river in garner state park. black and pink text on a white background reads "21 unique texas state parks"

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