Texas National Parks Guide

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Texas is the largest state in the contiguous U.S. and the second-largest in the United States. With its immense size and being cut down the centre by the country’s east-west divide, it should be unsurprising that it offers diverse landscapes. From lush prairies and arid deserts to towering mountains, cascading waterfalls, surging rivers, and even beaches on the the Gulf Of Mexico coast, Texas has the whole spectrum of natural beauty on offer.

Although Texas as a whole is a fantastic destination to explore, nowhere does it as much justice as in its national parks. These are parts of the state so abundant in beauty spots or with such unique, iconic features that the government designates them protected areas.

While the national parks in Texas may not be among the country’s most famous, they are still some of the best places to enjoy the Texan landscape. Our complete guide to national parks in Texas will provide you with everything you need to know, from how many there are and where they are to how long to spend there and what to do when you arrive.

Texas National Parks

How Many National Parks Are In Texas?

texas national parks camping reflections in the river
The Rio Grande is a continental river on the border between Mexico and the USA that gives the Big Bend and the state of Texas their distinct shapes.

Despite its immense size, Texas only has two officially designated National Parks: Big Bend National Park and Guadalupe Mountains National Park.

However, there are also another 12 areas managed by The National Park Service, offering natural beauty spots on a smaller scale.

Can You Visit Both Texas National Parks In One Trip?

map of national parks in texas
Dried mud in Big Bend National Park/

Guadalupe Mountains National Park is roughly 280 miles (450 km) and five hours driving from Big Bend National Park.

Provided you have enough time to spend at both parks, the distance between them means it is more than feasible to visit both in a single trip.

Big Bend National Park

What Is The Most Visited National Park In Texas?

texas national parks map rock balanced precariously between two other boulders at dusk
Window Rock in the Grapevine Hills area of Big Bend National Park in Texas is an impressive sight.

Big Bend National Park covers 801,163.21 acres (32,4219 ha), making it the 14th largest national park in the USA.

With just over 581,000 annual visitors, it is also the 37th most visited national park in the country, while being founded on 12 June 1944 makes it the 27th oldest national park in the U.S.

Big Bend National Park is a stunning area of rugged landscapes filled with mountains, desert and wilderness areas.

It is also bordered on its southern side by the Rio Grande river, a large bend that gives the park its name and separates it from Mexico.
Where Is Big Bend National Park?

Big Bend National Park is in Texas’ southwest, bordering the Mexican states of Chihuahua and Coahuila.

El Paso, Texas, is the closest major city 330 miles (531 km) away and takes roughly 5.5 hours to reach by car.

You can enter the park via the Permission Gap Visitor Centre, Main Park Road, Alpine, 79830 (off of U.S. Highway Route 385) or the Big Bend Visitor Information, Texas State Route 118, Study Butte-Terlingua, 79852.

How Long To Spend At Big Bend National Park?

state and national parks in texas Yucca and cacti against the backdrop of the mountain landscape
Yucca and cacti are seen throughout the landscape of Big Bend National Park in Texas.

Most sources recommend three days as the ideal time to spend in Big Bend National Park, while two full days are the absolute minimum.

With the park being so far from the nearest airport or major city, make the most of your time when you arrive.

In two days, you can drive the whole way through the park, see all of its most famous points, and perhaps even go for a hike or two to take in its iconic scenery on foot.

However, three days is much better for those wanting a comprehensive visit to the park.

As Big Bend has three distinct areas – Chisos Basin, Rio Grande, and Ross Maxwell – three days gives you the chance to spend an entire day in each area.

This will enable you to fully appreciate how each of the three areas differs from the others, see all they offer and take long hikes into the park’s more natural, unexplored regions.

When Is The Best Time To Visit Big Bend National Park?

national state parks in texas desert landscape in the mountains in Texas
The desert in Big Bend National Park in Texas is an ethereal landscape of cacti and desert plants.

In May and September, the beginning and end of summer are the best periods to visit Big Bend National Park.

These periods offer the opportunity to explore the park during the warmer parts of the year while avoiding the extreme highs of summer, which can be too much to bear for many visitors.

These months also make up the period when precipitation in the park is at its best.

It won’t be so wet that you risk getting caught in a thunderstorm or getting drenched, as you can in the peak summer months, while there will still be enough rain to ensure the park’s beautiful waterfalls are flowing freely.

What To Do In Big Bend National Park

national parks in texas map red rocks thrusting up towards the sky
The stunning Red Mountains is a stone desert where cactii and other succulents grow in Big Bend National Park in Texas.

There’s a long and diverse list of things to do in Big Bend National Park, including kayaking or rafting on the Rio Grande River.

Hike in the Chisos Mountains, enjoy a spot of birdwatching near the water’s edge or experience the thrill of camping in a remote area in the Chisos Basin.

There are several hot springs throughout the park, most prominently in the Hot Springs Historic District.

Here visitors can enjoy the largest hot spring in the park and the remains of a bathhouse, house and dugout shelter.

Hiking the various trails throughout the park is another common pastime, as is viewing the park by taking a scenic drive across it.

Wildlife Of Big Bend National Park

how many national parks are in texas bluie sky, grey lava and desert landscape
An impressive mountain of volcanic lava in Big Bend National Park in Texas.

Big Bend National Park has an extensive range of wildlife, with a varied offering of flora and fauna, many species only found in remote desert regions such as this.

This is accredited to the diverse range of climates, temperatures, elevations, and landscapes present in the park.

Over 1,200 different types of plants have been identified in the park, including more than 60 species of cacti like the claret cup, pitahaya and prickly pear.

During the springtime, the park is also abundant in different species of wildflowers, including desert marigolds, desert willows, desert rock nettles, and pink and white bluebonnets.

national parks texas map large thorny purple cactii
Opuntia macrocentra or Purple Prickly Pear cactus is one of the things you’ll see in Big Bend National Park.

Other iconic plants common in the park include candelilla, agave lechuguillas, ocotillos and yuccas.

Moving on to the creatures living in Big Bend, the park is home to at least 600 different species of vertebrates, of which around 450 are birds and roughly 3,600 different types of insects.

While many can be seen around the clock, the park’s wildlife truly comes alive after the sun goes down.

You may encounter bats, black-tailed jackrabbits, Mexican black bears, collared peccaries, cougars, coyotes, golden eagles, greater roadrunners, grey foxes javelinas, kangaroo rats, mule deer, and white-tailed deer.

Guadalupe Mountains National Park

national parks near dallas texas
Cactii and other desert plants on a cone-shaped hill in Guadalupe National Park in Texas.

Guadalupe Mountains National Park covers 86,367.1 acres (34,951 ha) and even though this Texas national park is the 22nd-smallest in the USA, it protects a significant landscape that includes the world’s most extensive Permian fossil reef.

Its landscape is dominated by its eponymous mountains, the four highest peaks in Texas, and the canyons and cave systems beneath them.

Founded on 15 October 1966, it is the 32nd-oldest national park in the country, while its footfall of roughly 243,000 annual visitors ranks as the seventh least visited national park in the lower 48 states and 15th least in the nation as a whole.

Where Is Guadalupe Mountains National Park?

list of national parks in texas car on the road during a red sunset and thunderclouds in the background
You can drive to Guadalupe National Park from Texas and New Mexico.

The national park is in the Guadalupe Mountain Range on Texas’s northwestern border with New Mexico.

The closest major city is El Paso, 113 miles (182 km) and 1 hour 45 minutes away by car.

You can enter Guadalupe Mountains National Park from several park roads near the Guadalupe Mountains National Park Sign, U.S. Highway Route 62, Pine Springs, 79847.

How Long To Spend At Guadalupe Mountains National Park?

texas national parks information sign and rockface behind it
The main visitor centre is the Pine Springs Visitor Center.

If you’re visiting Guadalupe Mountains National Park, try and allocate three days for your adventure or at least two days if you want to see everything the park has to offer.

You will want to make sure you have at least a full day to explore McKittrick Canyon and take in all its many sights, views, and trails.

Then you have the Pine Springs region, which is bursting with trails, historic attractions, and even a highly entertaining and informative visitor centre.

While you can squeeze the highlights of this region into a day, it will be a much more in-depth and enjoyable experience if you spread it over two.

When Is The Best Time To Visit Guadalupe Mountains National Park?

May and June are the prime windows to visit Guadalupe Mountains National Park.

Early May to the end of September is when the park experiences its warmest temperatures each year, however, late June to early October is also the wettest period in the park.

Visiting during our suggested window, particularly from mid-May to mid-June, allows you to enjoy the best of both worlds and experience the park at its very best.

What To Do In Guadalupe Mountains National Park

Two of the best things to do in Guadalupe Mountains National Park are hiking to the top of the Guadalupe Peak and visiting its historical attractions.

There’s a wide range of historic locations, such as Frijole Ranch, its museum, and the 1930s stone cabin in McKittrick Canyon, the Wallace E. Pratt House.

Other attractions include visiting the Hunter Line Shack, viewing the fossils and dig sites in a part of the park that was once beneath a tropical ocean, and exploring the various canyons, caves, peaks, salt flats, trails, and overlooks which are abundant throughout the park.

The Wildlife Of Guadalupe Mountains National Park

The wildlife of Guadalupe Mountains National Park is representative of the Chihuahuan Desert landscape surrounding it.

You will find plenty of common and rare animals and plants synonymous with the region.

Plantlife consists primarily of bigtooth maples, chinkapin oaks, creosote bushes, honey mesquite, junipers, pinyon pines and velvet ashes.

A range of grasslands and deciduous forests grow in the lower regions of the park.

Then, in the higher altitudes, which can reach up to 7,000 ft (2,100 m) above sea level, you will find more alpine landscapes with plants like alligator juniper, Arizona pine, ponderosa quaking aspen, rocky mountain Douglas fir and southwestern white pine.

Animals you will commonly find in the Guadalupe Mountains National Park ranges from bats to American black bears, badgers and bobcats.

Look up into the sky and among the trees for grosbeaks, chickadees, turkey vultures, wrens, woodpeckers, hummingbirds, great horned owls, greater roadrunners, peregrine falcons, sparrows and golden eagles.

Other wildlife to look out for include coyotes, elk, grey foxes, hog-nosed skunks, javelinas (a small hoofed animal from South America that looks like a wild pig), mountain lions, mule deer and striped skunks.

National Parks In Texas 

austin texas national parks sunset over the Rio Grande
Sunset is a lovely time to visit the Santa Elena Canyon and see the reflection of the rocks in the Rio Grande river. It’s one of the sights you’ll love when exploring the national parks of Texas.

The two national parks in Texas, Big Bend National Park and Guadalupe Mountains National Park, are among the least visited yet most stunning national parks in the entire country.

Located just a few hours’ drive apart, you can easily explore both in a single trip if you allot enough time.

You’ll need at least seven days to truly enjoy both parks, get between them, and get to and from the airport, but I’d suggest planning for nine days.

With iconic mountains, famous rivers, deserts, forests and wilderness areas, the parks offer a perfect example of the landscape of not just Texas but the entire southwestern United States.

The wildlife in these parks is equally as beautiful and extensive as well.

Our guide to national parks in Texas should have given you everything you need to plan your perfect trip, from when to take it and how long to set aside to what you will see while you are there.

Now, all that’s left is to start making arrangements so that you can go and see it all for yourself. 

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Steve Burden is an avid traveller and experienced writer. As a former pro wrestler, Steve used to travel frequently for work throughout the USA and Europe. Having spent the last decade travelling all over the world in search of new sights and experiences, he has turned his love for travel into a new career helping others decide on the best places to visit, as well as what to see when they get there.