This Is How We (Hike) Texas
No matter where you go in Texas, you’ll find trails for every kind of hiker
Meandering through the towering trees of the Pineywoods and zigzagging beneath the sandstone spires of the panhandle’s canyonlands, the miles and miles of hiking trails in Texas unwind in seemingly endless variety. “People don’t realize how much is really here,” says Pierce Ingram, an Austin-based photographer and co-founder of Hiking Texas, a website dedicated to the trails of his home state. “You’ve got mountains, you’ve got canyons, you’ve got rivers and streams, you’ve got the tall pines.” Whether you’re looking for a quick hike close to one of the state’s bustling cities, or you want days of trekking through the wilderness, there’s a trail in Texas for you.
Wander Through Canyons in the Panhandle
Even if you’ve never been to the Texas panhandle, you can probably conjure an image of this vast, sparse country. But that’s only part of the picture. “You’re driving along. It’s really flat. Then, all of a sudden, the bottom just drops out, and it’s just a whole different environment,” says Donald Beard, superintendent at Caprock Canyons State Park and Trailway.
Here, streams split the red sandstone into a system of deep canyons—and you can explore it all on some 90 miles of trails. Start with Haynes Ridge Overlook Trail for expansive views and, if you’re feeling ambitious, add on portions of the North Prong Trail, where you’ll see iconic hoodoos and natural springs. For a closer look at the steep canyon walls, take the Wild Horse trail down below the horizon into the Little Red River valley. The 64-mile-long trailway follows an abandoned rail line over bridges and through what was one of the last active railroad tunnels in Texas, where Mexican free-tailed bats spend their summers. Catch a glimpse of the Texas State Bison Herd, which roams freely through the park, and take a dip in Lake Theo.
You can camp in the park or along the trailway, but you can also day-trip in from Lubbock, about two hours away. The trendy Cotton Court Hotel on Broadway offers outdoor fire pits, comfy beds, and nearby restaurants. Grab a Doc Chilton beer (a brewer’s take on the locally famous cocktail) and a bite to eat at The Brewery LBK, just down the street from the hotel.
Summit a Legit Mountain near El Paso
For those looking to bag peaks, Texas has those, too. Just 100 miles east of El Paso, Guadalupe Mountains National Park is home to the four highest peaks in Texas, as well as miles of milder 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 only for those prepared for many strenuous hours of hiking. Looking for something a little less…committing? Pinery Trail is a quick, kid-friendly option nearby. McKittrick Canyon, in the northeastern section of the park, is among the best places in the state to take in the Texas fall colors. “It can be as good as anywhere else in the country,” says Ingram of Hiking Texas. If you’re prepared for a long hike, McKittrick Ridge offers the best view of the canyon, densely packed with clusters of maple, walnut, and oak.
Reserve a campsite in the park and take in the glittering night sky or find accommodations in nearby El Paso (check out the newly renovated historic Plaza Hotel Pioneer Park). On your way into town, stop off at Hueco Tanks State Park and Historic Site for a bit 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.
Go Off the Grid at Big Bend
Big Bend National Park, which stretches for 118 miles along the Mexican border, is far from everywhere but full of everything an adventurer could want. Its sky islands support species like the Mexican jay, which can only be found in the Southwest. The über-dark night sky offers world-class stargazing. Did we mention the hot springs?
Begin your exploration on the 14-mile South Rim Loop, which climbs out of Chisos Basin and opens up 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 you can book in advance. Stay an extra night on the trail so you can spend one day climbing up to Emory Peak (7,825 feet), the highest point in the park. Looking for a milder option with similarly excellent views? Check out Lost Mine or Window Trail, where you might see a black bear ambling along Oak Creek. Or ditch the mountains for the water: the Santa Elena Canyon Trail, just a stone’s throw from Mexico, offers stunning views from above and below the massive canyon walls surrounding the Rio Grande.
At night, stars pack the sky above the park, where you can reserve a variety of campsites—or book a room at the Chisos Mountains Lodge. Within driving distance of the park, The Gage Hotel in Marathon and the Willow House in Terlingua both offer laid-back but luxurious accommodations. While in Marathon, grab an Emory Peak ESB, a British-style pub ale, named after your latest summit, that happens to pair perfectly with the barbecue at the Brick Vault Barbecue and Brewery.
Explore Texas’s Most Enchanted Rock
Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, in central Texas, is an otherworldly destination for the whole family. The pink granite dome looming over the center of the state offers panoramic views of the hill country. Divots in the dome’s surface collect rainwater to create vernal 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 view is well worth the effort. For a slightly longer, less traveled hike, circumnavigate the rock on the Loop Trail, and climb up Echo Canyon between the main attraction and the neighboring peak, Little Rock.
After working up an appetite on the rocks, fuel up on brisket at Cooper’s Barbecue in Llano (be sure to leave room for cobbler, though). You can book a campsite in the state natural area, which grows even more enchanted when the day-trippers filter out. Don’t feel like roughing it? Reserve a cabin at nearby Contigo Ranch, where old hill-country craftsmanship meets a contemporary aesthetic.
Get Lost in the Pineywoods
About an hour and half north of Houston, behind a dark green curtain of pines, Huntsville State Park provides hikers with miles of trails through hardwood forest and wetlands. “We’ll have people come up and realize just how nice these trails are and how they can just disappear into the woods,” says interpretive ranger John Herron. Three wetland streams flow into Lake Raven, 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 Lake Raven, is likely the most popular long hike in the park. The Prairie Branch loop (1.5 miles) is a gentler option that travels through an array of wetland and forest scenery. At the northern edge of the park, a shortcut leads to the Lone Star Hiking Trail, dubbed the longest continuous footpath in Texas, which offers nearly 100 miles of Pineywoods hiking. After working up a sweat on the trails, cool off in a CCC-built lake, where you can also rent a paddle boat and fish.
On the way in, don’t miss the giant statue of Sam Houston in nearby Huntsville. If you’re coming from the Houston area, stop off for Viet-Cajun crawfish in the suburbs north of the metropolis (Cajun Crawfish No. 1 offers some of the best). For fine dining and accommodations near 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 seclusion 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 & everywhere in between, your next adventure awaits. No matter what experience you’re after, we can’t wait to see you soon. Plan your next Texas getaway at traveltexas.com. Let’s Texas.