5 Gorgeous Places to Visit in Texas You Probably Didn’t Know About

There are many well-known places and events that people think of when someone mentions Texas: the San Antonio Riverwalk, the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas, and the Space Center Houston, to name a few- one.

If you want to get out, enjoy the state’s natural beauty, and add a pin to your map that the average visitor to Texas won’t, check out these five gorgeous hidden outdoor gems in Texas. While these hidden gems don’t make the big and famous attractions any less spectacular, they do give you a taste of the great outdoors of Texas just waiting to be enjoyed.

Note: There is no particular order in this list, although Palo Duro and Caprock can be done as part of a single trip, as can Enchanted Rock and Lost Maples.

Palo Duro Canyon State Park’s Lighthouse Trail is one of the most popular trails.

Photo credit: Jill Robbins

1. Palo Duro Canyon

Palo Duro Canyon, located just outside of Amarillo, is the second largest canyon in the United States. Everyone’s heard of the Grand Canyon, and although Palo Duro is smaller and less popular, I think it’s just as spectacular.

Palo Duro Canyon is 120 miles long, 20 miles wide, and 800 feet deep. About half of the canyon is managed by Texas Parks and Wildlife, and the other half is private land. Palo Duro Canyon State Park offers hiking trails and horseback riding trails with views of majestic hoodoos rising from the ground. The park offers RV campsites with hookups and a variety of more austere backpacking campsites for those who really want to rough it. The park also has a limited number of cabins available, but these cabins are very rustic and it would be a stretch to call it glamping.

If glamping is what you want to do, Vrbo and Airbnb have plenty of options for luxury cabins nearby and overlooking the canyon. If you want to explore the private side of the canyon, you can take a jeep tour through Palo Duro Creek Ranch, also known among locals as Elkins Ranch. Tours aren’t exactly cheap – the 3 hour tour we took is currently $92 per person – but you’ll get a more personalized and less crowded experience.

The nearby college town of Canyon (home to West Texas A&M University) offers several lodging, dining, and entertainment options. And if you want to extend your trip or diversify, Amarillo has plenty of things to do.

Buffalo at Caprock Canyon

Caprock Canyon is home to the state bison herd.

Photo credit: Jill Robbins

2. Caprock Canyon State Park and Trail

Caprock Canyon State Park is 90 miles southeast of Palo Duro Canyon. This area marks the end of the plains and the beginning of the vibrant red cliffs of the Caprock Escarpment, providing visitors with stunning sunrises and sunsets that illuminate the wide open spaces of the canyon.

We stumbled upon the park on our way home from Palo Duro and spent a day exploring what I think is a real under the radar destination. Caprock Canyon State Park is located in the small town of Quitaque, which doesn’t have many amenities. The park is spectacular, however, and worth a detour from Palo Duro or Amarillo, if not a dedicated trip.

The park is home to the state bison herd, which roam freely in the park. These bison are descendants of the last free-ranging bison on the Texas Panhandle. Other wildlife in the park include coyotes, foxes, and over 150 species of birds.

There is a long list of things outdoor enthusiasts can do inside Caprock Canyons State Park. There are several hiking and horseback trails to explore, ranger-led programs, and no-wake swimming, fishing, and boating in Lake Theo. The park has campsites with RV hookups as well as primitive and equestrian campsites.

Lost Maples State Natural Area in Texas

Lost Maples State Natural Area

Photo Credit: Texas Parks and Wildlife

3. Lost Maples State Natural Area

While Texas is far from being a destination of choice for observing the leavesyou can still soak in the fall foliage as it is. Los Maples State Natural Arealocated in the Texas Hill Country, is where Texans flock to get their fall fix.

Located on the banks of the Sabinal River, this 2,100-acre area, managed by Texas Parks and Wildlife, puts on a show of vivid fall color. You will see Uvalde bigtooth maples, sycamores, bald cypresses and several varieties of oaks. What makes the view truly spectacular is the backdrop of limestone outcrops and the reflection of trees in the river.

Want to see the boldest fall colors? The natural area has a practice fall foliage tracker.

The Lost Maples State Natural Area has 10 miles of hiking trails of varying difficulty, RV campsites with power and water, primitive hiking spots, and stargazing opportunities. There aren’t many amenities in the general area, but Lost Maples is within day-trip distance of San Antonio and just 44 miles from Bandera, known as the “cowboy capital” of the Texas. Bandera offers a variety of accommodation, dining, and other entertainment options.

The Summit Trail in Enchanted Rock State Natural Area

The Summit Trail is the most popular and strenuous, but the peripheral trails are much less difficult.

Photo credit: Jill Robbins

4. Enchanted Rock State Natural Area

enchanted rock is a 452-foot-tall pink granite dome that towers over the Texas Hill Country outside of Fredericksburg.

Hiking is the most popular activity here, with the Summit Trail being the most popular. The climb is strenuous, but if you’re up for it, the view from the top is worth it. If you want an easier trail, there are trails around the perimeter that still offer a chance to enjoy beautiful scenery.

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area has 55 tent campsites, all of which are quite primitive. None of them have electricity and about three quarters of them have water. Check the park calendar for stargazing evenings and other ranger-led activities.

Enchanted Rock fills up very quickly and the rangers will limit admission when the parking lot is full. I recommend visiting on a weekday. If you are going away for the weekend or on vacation, try to arrive very early. It is not uncommon to see cars lined up on the freeway waiting to enter the parking area.

The charming German town of Fredericksburg is located 18 miles away. Visiting Enchanted Rock for the day is a doable add-on when visiting Fredericksburg. If you want to explore the great outdoors but wild camping isn’t your thing, there are plenty of accommodation options in the Fredericksburg/Hye/Johnson City area.

Davis Mountains State Park on the way to Fort Davis National Historic Site

Davis Mountains State Park on the way to Fort Davis National Historic Site

Photo credit: Jill Robbins

5. Fort Davis

Fort Davis is a small West Texas community that is often overshadowed by its more popular and artsy neighbor marfa. The city itself can be explored in less than a day — a milkshake at Fort Davis Drugstore Hotel is an absolute must-see – but there’s the rugged beauty of West Texas all around for anyone looking for outdoor adventure with an added dose of education.

As small as it is (fewer than 2,000 people live in Fort Davis), it has several choices of accommodation, including hotels and glamping. You can also use nearby Marfa or Alpine as a hub to explore Fort Davis and surrounding areas.

Explore Fort Davis National Historic Site, a historic military fort on the road from San Antonio to El Paso, active between 1861 and 1894. The buildings are incredibly well preserved and a self-guided tour will give you a glimpse of what life was like such as officers and their families, enlisted soldiers, and African-American troops known as Buffalo Soldiers. There is also a network of hiking trails on the cliff that overlooks the fort. The hike and full tour of the historic buildings and interpretive center will take approximately four hours.

Nearby Davis Mountains State Park offers the same rugged landscape and also allows overnight camping, as well as a lodge if you prefer shelter from the elements. The park has an extensive network of trails and structures built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s that are fun to explore and photograph.

There is also a trail system that connects Fort Davis National Historic Site to Davis Mountains State Park. The hike is about 4.5 miles each way, but the terrain is rough and there is no shade, so talk to a ranger before attempting this. If you want to take in the scenery but don’t want to hike, you can see a lot from your car. There are also several scenic vantage points to get out and take in the view.

Comments are closed.