Texas is bigger than nearly every state in the U.S. (all except for Alaska), and it’s most often divided into seven regions, each of which has its own distinct geographic features and terrain. It’s little wonder, then, that a round-up of the best hikes in Texas would include landscapes as varied as thick pine forests, mountainous desert, coastal plains, and even a thousand feet-deep canyon. For a sampling of the best natural beauty in the Lone Star State, each of these hikes offers something truly special.
South Rim Trail, Big Bend National Park
The crown jewel of Big Bend National Park, the South Rim Trail, boasts one of the best views in Texas if not the entire American national park system. It’s a steep, strenuous climb from the Chisos Basin floor to the ridge that overlooks the park, but your sweaty efforts will be well worth it. On a clear day, you’ll be rewarded with a panorama of silvery-blue mountain peaks and lunar-like vistas stretching well into Mexico. At 14.5 miles, the South Rim will take you the better part of a day to hike, so be sure to start early or make plans to camp at one of the backcountry sites along the rim.
Lone Star Hiking Trail, Sam Houston National Forest
If you’re in the mood to log some mileage, make plans to trek the Lone Star Hiking Trail in the Sam Houston National Forest, the longest continuous trail in Texas. There are very few places in the state that offer the chance to do a thru-hike (an end-to-end backpacking route), so the 128-mile Lone Star trail is a true treat. Covering dense pine forests and swampy woodlands, the trail itself isn’t too challenging, although you do have to be extra-careful about packing in enough water since water sources are scarce.
Lighthouse Trail, Palo Duro Canyon State Park
Rich in history and dramatic scenery, Palo Duro Canyon State Park is somewhat of a hidden-gem park, despite the fact that it’s the second-largest canyon in the country. The park’s isolated location is a big part of that, though that isolation is also part of the appeal—in the off-season, if you’re hiking in the early morning, you’re likely to have the trails all to yourself. Of the park’s many unique, million-year-old geological features, the 310-foot-tall Lighthouse is the most popular, and you can reach it via a 6-mile trail that affords stunning views of the colorful, eroded cliff faces along the way.
Turkey Creek Trail, Big Thicket National Preserve
About 250 miles east of Austin, the Big Thicket National Preserve is home to 112,000 acres of rich biological diversity. Here, you’ll find towering clumps of cypress trees, swampy bayous and forest land, and thousands of species of plants, including, interestingly, four types of carnivorous plants: sundews, bladderworts, butterworts, and pitcher plants. To fully experience all that this area has to offer, spend the day hiking the 15-mile Turkey Creek Trail, with a necessary detour onto the Pitcher Plant Trail, where you can spot the aforementioned plant meat-eaters. Enjoy the spooky solitude of the preserve by night; it’s best to split this hike up into two days.
Mount Livermore, Davis Mountains Preserve
Situated in the scenic Davis Mountains, in West Texas, Mount Livermore is the tallest of these peaks, sitting more than 8,000 feet up in the clouds. Dubbed “Baldy Peak,” it’s best accessible via the Limpia Chute Trail, which extends across a forest of Texas madrone, oak, juniper, and ponderosa pine before arriving at the foot of the mountain. Do note that, while this trail is well-marked, it’s decidedly not for beginners; summiting the peak requires some non-technical scrambling along an exposed ridge. If you feel confident in your hiking abilities, though, Mount Livermore’s rewards are ample—the view of the Davis Mountains is sublime. Another important note: The Preserve is only open to the public on select days throughout the year, so plan your visit accordingly.
Rancherias Canyon Trail, Big Bend Ranch State Park
Hiking in Big Bend Ranch State Park is any outdoor lover’s dream come true. The park receives very few visitors, especially when compared to its showier neighbor, Big Bend National Park—this is desert solitude that’s noteworthy even for lonesome West Texas. The park’s centerpiece is the Rancherias Canyon Trail, a challenging three-day hike that cuts through the Chihuahuan Desert, dipping into several small canyons and cresting the ridge of the Bofecillos Mountains. The trail is loose and rocky in some parts, and not terribly well-marked, so proceed with caution (and a good map).
Lower West Lake Trail, Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge
Although the coast probably isn’t the first landscape that springs to mind when you picture Texas, the state is home to nearly 400 miles of coastline. Nestled along the Rio Grande and the Gulf, Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge is the biggest protected area of natural habitat left in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, and the Lower West Lake Trail is a lovely slice of unspoiled coastal beauty unlike anywhere else in Texas. Wildlife abounds here; be on the lookout for hundreds of bird species, as well as mountain lions and the endangered ocelot.
Guadalupe Peak, Guadalupe Mountains National Park
One of the country’s least-visited national parks, the highly remote Guadalupe Mountains National Park combines spectacular mountain wilderness and wide-open skies with rugged desert terrain. The highest point in Texas (at 8,749 feet), Guadalupe Peak, can be found here. As is to be expected, the trail is mighty steep, but it’s well-marked. Hikers must be extra-mindful of the weather when attempting this hike; there’s virtually no shade on the mountain, and the heat can get intense, so be sure to wear proper sun protection and pack plenty of water.
Upper Canyon Trail, Caprock Canyons State Park
Up in the High Plains of the Panhandle, Caprock Canyons State Park is a treasure chest of geologic marvels. There are 90 miles of trails to explore here, but the 7-mile Upper Canyon Trail offers incredible views of the ruby-red rock formations speckled with pink-and-cream strata and lush juniper. It’s the best hike in the park, though by no means the easiest—it’s a steep climb to the top of the exposed plateau, so be sure to bring along sufficient water and sunblock. On your way back, before you get to the trailhead, be sure to do the .3-mile detour to Fern Cave; this is the perfect spot to cool off and regroup before continuing your descent.
Enchanted Rock State Natural Area
There’s something unearthly about Enchanted Rock—a massive, bright pink granite dome jutting out of the earth, with sweeping views of the Hill Country as far as the eye can see. The 4-mile hike to the top is relatively easy, with minimal elevation gain, and the trail is very clearly marked. From there, the summit is so big that you could easily spend a few hours exploring all the mini boulder fields, caves, and open granite face. Pack a picnic and make a day out of it.