Hit the road, Jack.
Anyone that has ever road tripped out of state understands the sheer size of Texas. And with its enormousness, there’s plenty to see and do in the Lonestar State. From state parks and small towns, to luscious vineyards, to some strange little oddities along the way, here’s some exploration inspiration for my fellow Texan wanderlusts.
1. Big Bend
As the largest expanse of roadless public lands in the state, Big Bend is the mecca for Texas wanderlust. The National Park is home to over 150 miles of canyons, dessert, and scenic mountain trails. Its rugged landscape perfectly representative of the Chihuahuan Desert ecosystem is populated with a wonderful variety of plants, cactus, and diverse wildlife. It was also named the second best place to stargaze in the country due to the virtual absence of light pollution in the area. While no reservation is required, officials encourage checking the website beforehand to be updated on various trail closures. At this moment, the Chisos Basin and Trails, as well as the Hot Springs are presently closed. But visitors can still embark on a multitude of hikes, as well a river rafting adventure – whatever floats your boat!
Good news, Dallas, Marfa is not just for hipsters anymore. The Far West Texas town is the desert home to a population sub 2,000 people. Yet, it is a place of legend. Quaint, charming, mysterious, whatever you want to call it, Marfa is a place you’ll have to see for yourself. Dotted with art galleries, museums, and local boutiques – not to mention its minimalist badlands-style architecture, the walkable town makes for an idyllic stroll. Plus, its location on the ridge of Texas mountains makes Marfa an ample setting to watch a sunset. When staying over night, don’t sleep on El Cosmico, a bohemian-style hotel fit with available trailers, teepees, yurts, and other nomadic lodgings to complete the experience!
Oh yeah. And those mysterious lights that occur at night, that’s a normal thing. No one really knows what they are. If UFOS, thus far they’ve been benign.
If the wineries, shopping, delicious German eateries, surrounding camp grounds, and adorably quaint downtown Main Street weren’t reason enough to visit the German town of Fredericksburg, add wildflowers and bluebonnets to the list. The town’s Lyndon B. Johnson State Park and Historical Site is populated with longhorns roaming in pastures of wildflowers – plus acres of bluebonnets, Indian paintbrushes, and yellow poppies growing at Wildseed Farms,
4. Hamilton Pool
Hamilton Pool was formed thousands of years ago after the collapse of an underground river, resulting in a sunken cave underneath a cascading waterfall. While swimming is still off limits, visitors can still access the surrounding trails and beach of the breathtaking oasis. Please note that reservations are required before entry, so be sure to books yours before trekking off to this wonderful Texas gem!
5. Caverns of Sonora
Buried underground halfway between San Antonio and Big Bends is a network of majestic caves that lead to another dimension. Its limestone caverns are adorned with a stunning myriad of jewel-like crystal formations. National Speleological (study of caves) Society Founder, Bill Stephenson, had this to say of the Caverns of Sonora: “This is the most indescribably beautiful cave in the world, its beauty cannot be exaggerated, not even by a Texan.” You can book a tour of the Crystal Palace here.
6. Saint Francis Wolf Sanctuary
Yeah, Dancing With Wolves is cool, but at this Wolf Sanctuary outside Houston you can roast ‘smores and camp overnight with them. In an effort to further public education on this canine species, Saint Francis offers guided tours on-and-off site. At their “Howl Night” event, following a tour of the sanctuary, Saint Francis invites guests to cook ‘smores around a campfire next to their furry friends.
7. Monahans Sandhills State Park
The surf in Texas is better than you think, that is, if you’re riding sand dunes rather than waves. In West Texas, a short drive past Odessa, awaits an ocean of sand, or as officials describe it: “A Texas-sized sandbox for kids of all ages.” Unlike other Texas national parks, there are no marked trails at Monahans, in which visitors are free to explore at will in true wanderlust fashion. Plan a picnic, set up camp, and/or rent sand disks at the Sandhills Picnic Pavilion to surf the dunes at this one-of-a-kind Texas destination.
8. Jacob’s Well
One of Texas’s most beloved natural swimming holes, Jacob’s Well, is a picturesque artesian spring courtesy of the Trinity Aquifer. Home to over 81 acres of wonderful natural landscape, the area makes for swell trekking experience. Its prominent allure is undoubtedly its submerged cave that plunges 30 feet below down from the surface. Hiking the area is free year-round, beginning May 1, visitors can take a dip in the well’s cool springs with reservation for a small fee.
9. Munster’s Mansion
Ghouls, goblins, and other unearthly creatures are invited to hang their head – er, hat – at Waxahachie’s Munster Mansion, a colossal replica of the house featured in ’60s cult-classic sitcom, The Munsters. From the cobwebs shrouding a Victorian-era piano, to the trapdoor in the staircase, to the secret room behind the bookshelf, to the coffin on wheels parked out front, the McKee’s mansion is a must-visit for horror fans. Tours of the mansion start at $120 for groups of four, with each additional guest to the group costing $30 a head.
10. Palo Duro Canyon
Dubbed “The Grand Canyon of Texas,” the rugged landscape of the Palo Duro Canyon in the northern panhandle spans 120 miles long, reaching depths of 820 feet with peaks as high as 1,000 feet. It’s the second largest canyon in the United States and offers a plethora of natural beauty to behold. Iconic painter, Georgia O’ Keeffe once wrote of Palo Duro: “It is a burning, seething cauldron, filled with dramatic light and color.” The canyon offers over 30 miles of hiking, biking, and horse-back trails, as well as camping and glamping options for the experience of your choosing!