Best Hiking in Texas: Natural Must-Dos

Updated December 6, 2022 | Infoplease Staff
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  Texas is the second largest state in the United States, and the largest in the continental U.S. There are 80 state parks and two national parks in Texas, and hiking is one of the best ways to see some of the best parts of this magnificent part of the world.

 Are you ready to get out there? No matter what your fitness level, we’ve got some spectacular choices for you in our roundup of the best hiking trails in Texas.

Best Hikes in Texas: Easy

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If you’re looking for somewhere for the kids to run off their energy, or if you just want to take in the scenery without breaking a sweat, try these.

Palmetto State Park, San Antonio

Length: 0.1 to 1.3 miles     Elevation: 292 feet     Estimated Time: Less than an hour

Palmetto State Park is a great place for young hikers to get their start. There are several trails to choose from, the longest of which is just over a mile, and many are wide, flat, and paved with gravel. You’ll see greenery, swamps, and wetlands, so be sure to bring your insect repellent.

For bird spotting, try the Oxbow Lake Trail (0.7 miles) or the San Marcos River Trail (1.3 miles). The Palmetto Interpretive Trail (0.3 miles) offers an opportunity to learn about the ecosystems in the area. And if you want to cool down, the river offers tubing, swimming, and canoeing.

Rio Grande Trail, Mission

Length: 1.8 miles     Elevation: 121 feet     Estimated Time: 25 minutes

The Rio Grande Trail, located along the Texas-Mexico border, is another amazing place to spot birds. The Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park is part of the World Birding Center and hosts 360 different bird species, as well as butterflies, javelina, and bobcats.

The 1.8-mile Rio Grande Trail is wheelchair accessible. The area is also open to bikes, and there’s a tram tour. People of all ages will enjoy the two-story hawk observation tower (also wheelchair-accessible), which also boasts views across the border to Mexico.

Santa Elena Canyon Trail, Big Bend National Park

Length: 1.6 miles round trip     Elevation: 80 feet     Estimated Time: About an hour

This easy, pretty dirt trail in Big Bend National Park crosses Terralingua Creek and rises toward a gorgeous viewpoint at the top of a stone staircase. From there, the trail travels down through boulders, where it ends at the junction of a canyon wall and the Rio Grande river.

Check the weather before heading out; rain and mud can make this trail impassible.

Best Hikes in Texas: Moderate

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Families with older kids and hikers looking for a morning or afternoon out may enjoy these scenic and slightly more challenging hikes.

Seminole State Park, Comstock

Length: 0.1 miles to 4.9 miles     Elevation: Various     Estimated Time: Up to 3.5 hours

Seminole State Park has around ten miles of trails, ranging from an easy 0.1-mile birding trail to the challenging 4.9-mile Canyon Rim Trail, which traverses the rim of Seminole Canyon and the Rio Grande corridor and has some spectacular scenic overlooks.

Archaeology lovers can opt for a 90-minute guided hike to the Fate Bell site to see some amazing Native American pictographs. That hike is strenuous, so take that into consideration before booking.

Lighthouse Trail, Palo Duro Canyon

Length: 2.8 miles     Elevation: 522 feet     Estimated Time: 2.25 hours

Palo Duro Canyon State Park is located in northwest Texas, in the Texas panhandle. The Lighthouse Trail leads to the iconic Lighthouse Rock rock formation. It’s not a long route, but it can be challenging. Hikers are advised to bring plenty of water and sun protection.

Trail runners looking for a real challenge might try the Givens, Spicer, Lowry trail, which is rated “difficult,” and is named for three trail runners who helped to build this park’s trails system.

Gorman Falls Trail, Colorado Bend State Park

Length: 1.5 miles     Elevation: 344 feet     Estimated Time: 1.5 hours

The Gorman Falls Trail is one of the most popular in the Colorado Bend State Park. It’s short, but the conditions—rocky, steep, slippery, and exposed—can make it a bit of a challenge. Your reward at the end of the challenge, however, is the spectacular Gorman Falls.

The park has numerous trails of different lengths and challenge levels.

East Trail, Lost Maples State Natural Area

Length: 4.4 miles     Elevation: 561 feet     Estimated Time: 3 hours

This loop trail in Lost Maples State Natural Area near San Antonio is rated moderate to strenuous, depending on who you talk to. The East Trail travels along the sycamore and cypress-bordered Sabinal River, then angles upward to rocky slopes.

There are some steep bits and the end, so be prepared. If you like the East Trail, try the West Trail through Mystic Canyon next.

Eagle Point Trail, Caprock Canyons State Park

Length: 2 miles     Elevation: 300 feet     Estimated Time: 1.5 hours

Located in the Caprock Canyons State Park in the Texas panhandle, Eagle Point Trail is one for scenery lovers. This trail traverses plains and canyons to a natural bridge that goes under the trail. You’ll see lots of red rock, too.

Violet Crown Trail, Austin

Length: 30 miles     Elevation: n/a     Estimated Time: Depends

Located in the heart of Texas Hill Country, the Barton Creek Greenbelt is one of the largest urban parks in the United States. The Violet Crown Trail is a 30-mile trail that traverses the Greenbelt. You don’t have to do the entire thing; the trail can be split into segments that go along the creek, through parks and retail areas, and more.

This urban trail has been under construction since 2014. Many segments are complete, and there are others still to come. For a unique urban hiking experience, give this one a try.

Best Hikes in Texas: Challenging

Man overlooking canyons
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Hikers, backpackers, and trail runners looking to test their mettle should check these out.

Emory Peak Trail, Big Bend National Park

Length: 10.5 miles     Elevation: 2500     Estimated Time: More than half a day

Big Bend National Park has some excellent opportunities for backcountry action in the Chisos Mountains. There are river, mountain, and desert day hikes of different lengths and difficulty levels. One of our favorites is the Emory Peak Trail.

It’s the length that makes this trail a challenge. The journey itself is fun and filled with amazing mountain vistas. The last part is a bit steep, though, and there’s a 25-foot scramble up an exposed rock face at the end.

If you’re looking for a day-long hike that’s challenging and fun, this could be a good one.

Guadalupe Peak Trail, East Texas

Length: 8.5 miles     Elevation: 3,000     Estimated Time: 6-10 hours

Guadalupe Peak, located in Guadalupe Mountains National Park, is the highest peak in Texas. With an elevation gain of 3,000 feet, this strenuous trail takes hikers through several different ecosystems, including the Chihuahuan Desert and high-elevation forests on their way to the peak.

Haynes Ridge Overlook Trail, Caprock Canyons State Park

Length: 2.3 miles     Elevation: 600 feet     Estimated Time: 2.5 hours

Located in the Texan panhandle, the Caprock Canyons State Park offers over 90 miles of trails of different lengths and challenge levels. The Haynes Ridge Overlook Trail is short—just 2.3 miles and 600 feet of ascent—but the challenge is definitely there.

With rocky terrain, amazing views, and bison, this could be a really fun one. All of the hikes at Caprock are short but rated moderate and above, so if you’re really keen, you could do more than one.

Crystal Cave Trail, Garner State Park

Length: 0.6 miles     Elevation: 600 feet     Estimated Time: 45 minutes

Garner State Park is full of short-but-challenging trails like this one, which leads to the eponymous Crystal Cave. It’s steep and rocky in places, but the cave is definitely worth it. And if you liked this one, try the Old Baldy Trail next!

Man standing over desert
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The Best Places to Hike in Texas: A Shortlist

Texas is full of amazing scenery and boundless opportunities for outdoor adventure. Which adventure will you tackle first? Additionally, if you want to know more about the surrounding natural areas of the Lone Star State, explore the Chihuahuan Desert or the Highest Peaks in Texas!

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