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Epic Texas

From mountain biking and climbing to swimming and kiteboarding, there’s a lifetime of adventure in the Lone Star State

Apr 1, 2015
Outside Magazine
  • Big Bend National Park features 150 miles of trails.  Photo: Texas Tourism

  • Photo: Texas Tourism

  • Photo: Texas Tourism

It’s no secret that Texas is crammed with a nation’s worth of adventure. Packed with beauty and excitement, fun and southern hospitality, the Lone Star State is a haven for any outdoor pursuit—be it biking or boating, bouldering or surfing—for families and intrepid explorers alike. A whole other country waiting to be discovered, it’s the place that will answer your need for the life outside, through and through. It’s true: whatever you love, it lives in Texas. 

Kiteboard the Gulf Coast

The Gulf Coast’s steady winds and consistent surf make Texas the perfect destination for a wind-powered adrenaline rush. Just rent a kiteboard and head to Corpus Christi, where beginner kiteboarders can hit hot spots like Wildcat Park, in Portland. The sandy, knee-to-waist-high shallows and flat water near the sandbar-protected shore make for easy learning, and because it’s the windiest spot on Corpus Christi Bay, you won’t wait long for a ride. The deeper waters at Cove Park’s Oleander Point offer more chop for intermediate kiters, who can launch from the bluffs or the gravel beach below and skim 100 yards of sandy-bottomed waves. Still hungry? Head three hours downshore to South Padre Island, a kiter’s mecca of can’t-miss spots like Jetties, best for waves and jumping, or the highly popular North Flats.  

Hike Big Bend National Park 

  Photo: Texas Tourism

No stretch of Texas landscape conveys its vastness like Big Bend, a rugged gem that sports 100-mile vistas spanning the hills, mesas, arroyos, and canyons of the Chihuahuan Desert. Take it all in on more than 150 miles of trails through desert, over mountains, and along rivers on day jaunts or multi-day treks in the backcountry. Day hikers can take an afternoon hike along the 4.8-mile Lost Mine Trail, through juniper, oak, and pine forest, to sunset views of the Sierra del Carmen range, in Mexico. Head deeper into the wilderness on the steep 30-mile Outer Mountain Loop for three days in the scenic Chisos Mountains, studded with maples, cypress, and oak and surrounded by the sharp beauty of the wild desert below. Or find true solitude on the remote Mesa de Anguila, a 24-mile ramble over primitive desert trails, and glimpse the hidden Santa Elena Canyon of the Rio Grande.

Kayak Caddo Lake

  Photo: Texas Tourism

The largest natural lake in Texas, near Uncertain, at the eastern end of the state, Caddo is teeming with dozens of fish species, water lilies, and hundreds of birds, from barred owls to wood storks. But the 28,000-acre national wildlife refuge’s most noted feature is the intricate maze of bayous thickly sprouted with ancient bald cypresses looming up from the water. Rent a kayak and explore the towering columns hung with Spanish moss up close, navigating the mysterious alleys and shadowy byways, where you’ll spot paddlefish, peregrine falcons, snapping turtles, and alligators basking on the wetland shores. Marked water trails like 7.6-mile Carter’s Chute, from the Caddo Lake Wildlife Management Area, and the 8.8-mile Hell’s Half Acre, from the Mill Pond launch, help you tackle this watery labyrinth, and combining trails is easy with overnights at primitive campsites along the way.

Climb Hueco Tanks State Park

America’s bouldering mecca, Hueco Tanks offers unparalleled, varied climbing at all grades on fractured boulders and basins, called huecos, remnants of cooled molten rock that wind and water sculpted into the crags now dominating this desert oasis 30 miles east of El Paso. The land, much of which is sacred to Native Americans, teems with thousands of ancient rock paintings and modern bouldering routes. Make for North Mountain to access the only unguided climbing in the park, where you’ll need a reservation to scale exhilarating problems like the beginner-friendly Melon Patch or the fierce overhang of Nobody Here Gets Out Alive. Or hire a guide to climb in the golden light of East and West Mountains and East Spur, where you’ll test your mettle on Hueco favorites like The Fin, an arête high on East Mountain with big exposure, and Snakecharmer, a fun shinny up the side of a cave entrance in the Dragon’s Den. 

Dip into Hill Country Swimming Holes

  Photo: Texas Tourism

Best way to cool off on a summer day? Take to the Hill Country of central Texas and get wet. Rugged, forested hills are peppered with aquifers that feed pure, cool spring water into hundreds of the country’s best swimming hole hideaways, from the well-known to hidden places all your own. Don’t miss Hamilton Pool, in Dripping Springs, where a 50-foot waterfall plunges into a jade pool surrounded by a steep box canyon and domed with a limestone grotto. Explore further on post-swim, staff-guided hikes through the historic 232-acre preserve. In Garner State Park, hike the 11 miles of trails or summit Old Baldy for exquisite views, then cool down in the pristine waters of the Frio River by snorkel, paddle, or tube along three miles of stone cliffs and giant cypresses. Close to Austin’s Zilker Park, keep it weird and cool at Barton Springs, a popular, frigid hole locals call the “soul of Austin,” where you can leap from diving boards, lounge on the grass, or swim with turtles and endangered salamanders.

Mountain Bike Palo Duro Canyon State Park

  Photo: Texas Tourism

Hundreds of miles of mountain biking trails snake across the state, so you won’t get bored on two wheels. For some of the best singletrack, pedal through the panhandle’s Palo Duro Canyon on 26 miles of wild riding over dirt, sand, and rock as you wend up switchbacks and along steep drop-offs. Five trailheads weave paths through the park, the most scenic of which are the moderate six-mile Givens, Spicer, Lowry Trail and the three-mile Capitol Peak loop, lined with sage, prickly pear, and yucca, with options to catch air and bomb quick descents steeped in spectacular views of peaks and cliffs. Dozens of campsites and cabins along the canyon rim and floor mean you can stay past daylight. Good thing: the canyon’s rugged beauty glows with red rock, hoodoos, and banded ridges that turn fiery in the amber light of the setting sun.

Bayous of Texas Sweepstakes

You could win a Texas adventure for two to the Caddo Lake Area! Spend four exciting days exploring the only naturally-formed large lake in Texas. You'll stay at the charming LaFitte's Landing and enjoy a range of activities, including canoeing, fishing with a top guide, and hiking the the spectacular Caddo Lake State Park.  Click here for more details. 

For more epic ideas of what to do on your next adventure in Texas visit TravelTex.com.