10 Great Vacation Spots Within Driving Distance of Dallas

Pack some snacks and hit the road.

When you’re ready to leave town this fall, you have plenty of choices, from major cities to small towns and many places between. But first: how to get there. If sky-high flight prices have conspired to keep you grounded, don’t stay home, just slide behind the wheel and make it a road trip.

To help you get out of town for a week or a weekend, we’ve rounded up 10 vacation-worthy destinations you can reasonably drive to from Dallas, with a benevolent bias toward nature and food. Some are nearby, while others are farther afield. But all offer lots to do once you arrive. (Note that we’re skipping a few obvious spots like Fort Worth, Austin, Houston, and San Antonio because you don’t need us to point you their way.)

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Distance from Dallas: 206 miles, 3.25 hours
Most Dallas road trips involving the much-maligned I-35 head south to Austin and San Antonio, but point your car north, and you’ll hit Oklahoma City in just over three hours. It’s worth exploring this often-overlooked destination, as OKC’s growing population keeps giving visitors more to do. Check out its thriving neighborhoods, like Automobile Alley, which sports Deep Ellum vibes and a fun collection of restaurants, galleries, and shops. Downtown’s Scissortail Park is a 70-acre oasis, with lush landscaping, a farmers’ market, food trucks, a free concert series, and a lagoon where you can rent paddle boats. And don’t miss the museums. From the somber Oklahoma City National Memorial to the National Cowboy and Western History Museum and First Americans Museum, there’s always culture around the corner.

Jester King Brewery
Jester King Brewery

Wimberley, Texas

Distance from Dallas: 230 miles, 4 hours
There’s no shortage of towns worth visiting in the Texas Hill Country, including wine-soaked Fredericksburg and beer-heavy Dripping Springs. But don’t sleep on Wimberley. Located between Austin and San Antonio, this charming town provides easy access to the area’s many wineries, breweries, and distilleries, while giving you a quiet place to settle down each night. Adventurous travelers should check out Jacob’s Well, an artesian spring and submerged cavern that’s more than 4,000 feet long and reaches 140 feet at its deepest point.

Horseshoe Bay Resort, Horseshoe Bay, TX

Distance from Dallas: 215 miles, 3.5 hours
If you like nice hotels, resort-style pools, eating, drinking, golf, and/or spa treatments, you’ll do well here. Horseshoe Bay is a sprawling Hill Country destination that sits along Lake LBJ, and across its 7,000 acres it fits 400 guest rooms, four golf courses, and six restaurants, so you won’t get bored. Book a couple nights, or more, to get the full experience, and you can start your day with a round of golf, or get some vitamin D by the pool, before turning your attention to more pressing matters, like what to eat for lunch.

Palo Duro Canyon State Park - Texas Parks and Wildlife
Palo Duro Canyon State Park - Texas Parks and Wildlife

Palo Duro Canyon State Park, Canyon, Texas

Distance from Dallas: 380 miles, 6 hours
The Grand Canyon never gets old, but Palo Duro Canyon is the second biggest canyon in the country—and it’s a lot closer than its Arizona counterpart. This Panhandle treasure is rugged and scenic, with more than 30 miles of hiking, biking, and equestrian trails. It’s an easy day trip from Amarillo, but for the full effect, stay inside the park and camp for a couple nights. You can pitch your own, or book one of the luxury tents and cabins available via Palo Duro Glamping.

Big Bend National Park, Texas

Distance from Dallas: 535 miles, 8 hours
Set right against the Texas-Mexico border, Big Bend National Park stretches for 800,000 acres and encompasses cacti-strewn desert, imposing mountains, and the Rio Grande river. Choose your own adventure and explore the park’s 150 miles of hiking trails, or take a scenic drive along River Road. Whatever you choose to do, look up once the sun goes down—Big Bend has some of the country’s darkest skies, which makes it a prime spot for stargazing. And when you’re ready to head out, take a detour to Marfa on your way home to experience great food, art galleries, and the mysterious Marfa Lights in one of Texas’s most intriguing small towns.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

Distance from Dallas: 480 miles, 7.5 hours
Located just across the Texas-New Mexico border, Carlsbad Caverns National Park is a natural wonder that dates back more than 260 million years, when the area was covered by an inland sea. Today it’s a popular stop for amateur spelunkers who want to explore its 120 known caves or share space with a Brazilian free-tailed bat colony, whose population exceeds 400,000. Stroll through the labyrinths on your own with a trek to the Big Room, which is the largest single cave chamber in North America, or book a ranger-led tour and plunge deeper into the caves, with expert commentary on rock formations and the park’s history.

Walton Arts Center
Walton Arts Center

Northwest, Arkansas

Distance from Dallas: 330 miles, 5.5 hours
There’s a reason they call Arkansas the “Natural State.” It’s teeming with state parks, national forests, and hot springs, so there’s always an outdoor adventure just around the corner. If you like your nature with a dose of culture, head to Northwest Arkansas. Bentonville is known as the birthplace of Wal-Mart, but don’t hold that against it. The small town outpunches its weight class in multiple visitor-friendly categories, including food, art, and mountain biking trails. And Fayetteville is home to the Walton Arts Center, which draws touring Broadway shows and musicians, and the Ale Trail, which takes you to all the area’s breweries.

Sea Turtle, Inc
Sea Turtle, Inc

South Padre Island, Texas

Distance from Dallas: 550 miles, 8.5 hours
South Padre Island sports one of Texas’s best beaches, but don’t let its reputation as a spring break party spot keep you away (though you might want to avoid March, if that’s not your scene). Situated off the tip of Texas’s Gulf coast, South Padre Island is home to sandy beaches and gentle waves, and it’s equally appealing to adrenaline-seeking kitesurfers as it is to laid-back sunbathers. If you want to spend time on the water, book a fishing charter and drop a line into the ocean to catch your dinner. Or stay firmly on dry land, and visit the Sea Turtle Rescue Center before posting up at Wanna Wanna Beach Bar with one of its famous Piña Coladas.

Sante Fe, New Mexico

Distance from Dallas: 640 miles, 9.5 hours
For having a population of less than 90,000 people, New Mexico’s capital offers visitors an outsized amount of fun activities. Eat and drink your way around the centrally located Plaza and the Railyard, covering your plates in red and green chile sauce. Then browse the many art galleries featuring work from some of the American Southwest’s best artists. Don’t leave without swinging through Meow Wolf, a trippy, interactive art installation located inside an old bowling alley.

Flickr/stuseeger

Little Rock, Arkansas

Distance from Dallas: 320 miles, 4.5 hours
There are lots of reasons to drive to Little Rock. But here are three. 1) The gorgeous Pinnacle Mountain State Park has more than 2,300 acres to explore, plus 15 miles of hiking and biking trails. 2) It’s home to important historic and cultural sites, like Little Rock Central High School, which played a pivotal role in the state’s desegregation, and the William J. Clinton Presidential Library. 3) After a mountain stroll and an edifying dip into history, the local beer scene is ready to pour you pints at Flyway Brewing Company and Lost Forty Brewing.

Kevin Gray is a freelance writer and editor covering all things food, drinks, and travel. He’s written for The Dallas Morning NewsForbesLiquor.comMen’s Health, and Wine Enthusiast, and his extensive home bar is turning into a real Hoarders situation.