Millions of people travel throughout Texas each and every year. Some of these travelers are Texans touring various parts of the state, while others are from out of state and are looking to experience what Texas has to offer. The problem for both sets of travelers is the fact Texas is so large, it is impossible to sample even a small portion of the Texas travel experience in a single visit to the Lone Star State.
For most purposes, Texas is divided into seven regions – Panhandle Plains, Big Bend Country, Hill Country, Prairies and Lakes, Piney Woods, Gulf Coast, and South Texas Plains. Each of these regions is distinct geographically and features its own unique set of natural and manmade attractions. In each of these distinct regions, visitors will find a variety of state parks, roadside attractions, historical sites, museums, theme parks, natural attractions, wildlife and more.
The Panhandle Plains – readily identified as the rectangular region at the tip top of Texas – is sandwiched between the states of Oklahoma and New Mexico. The most recognizable cities and towns in the Panhandle Plains are Amarillo, Big Spring, Brownwood, and Canyon. From a traveler’s standpoint, the best-known thing in the Texas Panhandle is Historic Route 66, which runs right through Amarillo. Not only is the Panhandle Plains region home to one of the nation’s most iconic stretches of highway, but also boasts some of the country’s most unique roadside attractions, such as the famous Cadillac Ranch and Stonehenge II.
Another national icon, the Big Texan Steakhouse, is also located in the Panhandle Plains – in fact, this famous restaurant is situated right alongside Route 66. One of Texas’ most famous natural attractions – Palo Duro Canyon – is also located in the Panhandle Plains.
Just the below and to the west of the Panhandle Plains is the Big Bend Region of West Texas. This remote stretch of Texas offers some of the state’s most scenic landscapes. Named after the Big Bend of the Rio Grande River, the region features a national wildlife refuge and state park by the same name. Big Bend National Park is one of the most famous national parks in the country and has been designated as an International Biosphere Reserve due to its many unique natural resources, plants, and wildlife.
El Paso is really the only major city located in the Big Bend Region. The remaining settlements are mostly small towns, many of which are located a great distance from any other township. Due largely to the remoteness of each town in the Big Bend Region, most of these towns have developed their own unique charm. Towns such as Alpine, Del Rio, and Ft Stockton are popular stops among visitors to the Big Bend Region. However, the region’s most popular town hands down is Marfa – home to the Mysterious Marfa Lights.
These unexplained illuminations have been seen almost nightly since the 1800s and still draw thousands of visitors each year.
Bordering the Big Bend Region to the east is one of Texas’ most popular regions – the scenic Texas Hill Country. Featuring cities such as Austin, New Braunfels, Fredericksburg, San Marcos and Wimberley, the Hill Country is a great combination of natural attractions, historical sites, and modern attractions. The city of Austin is a vacation unto itself with a number of great events and attractions. But, the surrounding Hill Country Region has plenty to offer as well. With a number of natural attractions, such as Enchanted Rock, the Highland Lakes, Longhorn Caverns, Natural Bridge Caverns, the Guadalupe River, and more, as well as a number of great shops and restaurants found in each of the smaller Hill Country cities and towns, many visitors to the region choose to use Austin as a “base” and take a number of day trips throughout their Hill Country Vacation.
Next to the Hill Country, again moving east, is the sprawling Prairies and Lakes Region. This region basically stretches from Brenham, which is located in the popular tourist stop of Washington County, north to the Oklahoma border. Major cities in the Prairies and Lakes Region include Dallas, Ft Worth, College Station, Grapevine, and Waco. As the name implies, the region is home to a number of lakes – dozens in fact. Many of these lakes are located near the region’s cities, allowing visitors to combine both outdoor adventure and city amenities within their vacation plans.
The Prairies and Lakes Region is also home to a number of popular state parks, such as Dinosaur Valley State Park (which is home to actual fossilized dinosaur prints). The Ft Worth Stockyards are another major attraction found in the region, as are several of Dallas’ museums, shops, and restaurants – not to mention the Dallas Cowboys, which also call the Prairies and Lakes Region home.
The easternmost region in Texas is the Piney Woods Region. The Piney Woods are one of the most unique natural regions in the state and are situated between I-45 and the Louisiana border. Conroe and Huntsville are the only “major” towns in the region, although there are a number of unique and interesting small towns for visitors to stop in, including Jefferson, Palestine, and Tyler. And, Texas’ oldest town – Nacogdoches – is located in the Piney Woods Region. The Texas State Railroad, an 1890s-era train which runs between Rusk and Palestine gives visitors a one-of-a-kind tour of East Texas.
This trip is especially popular when the region’s numerous Dogwood trees are in bloom. The Big Thicket National Preserve and Caddo Lake are two of the state’s most treasured natural resources. The region is also home to a number of festivals and events – especially flower festivals such as the Tyler Rose Festival. One of the state’s most popular holiday light trails, the Jefferson Holiday Trail of Lights, also draws a number of visitors to the Piney Woods Region each year.
Of course, probably the most popular region among visitors to Texas is the Gulf Coast Region. Stretching from the Mexican border to Louisiana, the Texas Gulf Coast encompasses hundreds of miles of shoreline and features everything from major cities to tiny villages, modern attractions to isolated stretches of seashore. For practical purposes, the Texas Gulf Coast is usually divided into three sections – Upper, Middle and Lower Coast. The Lower Coast features South Padre Island, Port Isabel and Port Mansfield.
The Middle Coast – or Coastal Bend – is home to popular tourist towns such as Corpus Christi, Port Aransas, and Rockport. Galveston, Freeport, and Matagorda are among the popular stops along the Upper Coast. Each of these sections of coast features slightly different beaches and bays, but each area affords beachgoers plenty of opportunities to enjoy sand, surf, and sun along the shores of the Gulf of Mexico. Fishing, windsurfing, kiteboarding, surfing, swimming, sailing and other outdoor activities are popular up and down the coast.
There are also a variety of great annual festivals and events held throughout the Gulf Coast Region. And, modern attractions such as the Galveston Pleasure Pier, Texas State Aquarium, Schlitterbahn Water Park and the Kemah Boardwalk draw plenty of visitors are well.
Not to be overlooked, the South Texas Plains are sandwiched between the Gulf Coast Region and the Rio Grande River. Without a doubt, the primary draw for visitors to South Texas – and arguably to the Lone Star State itself – is the city of San Antonio. Filled with numerous attractions of all descriptions, San Antonio is Texas’ most popular vacation destination. However, there is much more to the South Texas Plains than just San Antonio. The Rio Grande Valley, which is comprised of Texas’ four southernmost counties, is a popular vacation destination, especially from visitors from the north known as Winter Texans.
Cities such as Brownsville, Harlingen, and McAllen are popular places for visitors to the RGV. The area is also a mecca for birders throughout the year, but especially during the winter months.
But regardless of where you find yourself while visiting Texas, rest assured, you will find plenty to see and do in every corner of the Lone Star State.