The Best Fall Road Trips From Dallas Right Now
From right here in Texas to natural wonders in neighboring states.
Road trips in a state as big as Texas can consume an entire day—or you can find a spectacular change of scenery about as quickly as driving roundtrip from downtown Dallas to IKEA in Frisco. As the holiday season approaches, even the non-WFH people will have time to spare to get the hell out of Big D for an afternoon, a few days or a full week. And with Wi-Fi readily available at most parks, you don’t even need to wait for vacation days to be Zooming with a real waterfall backdrop and nobody will need to know your secret. Otherwise, disconnect from everything but your GPS and discover some natural beauty from lakes and forests to underground caverns and otherworldly sand dunes.
Note: Due to capacity limitations and other Covid-19-related changes, advance reservations for most activities and accommodations are strongly recommended.
Distance from Dallas : 89 miles, 1.5-hour drive
One of the largest lakes in the country created by the US Army Corps of Engineers, this massive outdoor water feature straddles Texas and Oklahoma for 139 square miles with beaches aplenty, fishing, horseback riding, lakefront hiking trails, and boat rentals of all types if you prefer to be on the water this time of year instead of in it. Among the many accommodations available, you can rest your head in a tiny home , a lakefront cabin , or a sprawling resort with a full-service spa.
Distance from Dallas : 141 miles, 2.5-hour drive
Set aside the strange thoughts of a mystical land run by marsupials and focus on the majestic vistas of cliffs jutting out of the water amid tree-lined hills. Canoeing, golfing, hiking, biking, and fishing can all keep you active, or simply kick back for some unplugged relaxation time in a tent with a campfire and marshmallows at the ready.
Distance from Dallas : 171 miles, 2.5-hour drive
Fun fact: All the lakes in Texas are man-made—except for this one. A tranquil-yet-mysterious vibe comes courtesy of cypress trees covered in Spanish moss towering over the alligator-welcoming waterways, offering hints of Louisiana (which is just an additional 30 minutes away if you want to do a little gambling in Shreveport). The historic cabins on the lake, especially the romantic two-person units, make for an ideal way to de-stress.
Distance from Dallas : 183 miles, 2.5-hour drive
Mention the name Huntsville to any Texan and the image of the state prison probably pops to mind first, but there’s an entirely better reason to “do time” in the region. Both Lake Conroe and Lake Livingston fall into the state park territory, offering miles of trails, screened shelters , and more than 160 campsites .
Distance from Dallas : 184 miles, 3-hour drive
The moment you drive into the Ouachita National Forest, you’ll feel worlds away from Dallas in what’s easily the most dramatic landscape change in the shortest distance. Towering pines that provide much-needed shade in the summer offer a picture-perfect holiday gathering backdrop. Beavers Bend State Park on the shores of the crystal clear waters of Broken Bow Lake offer a variety of activities, from boat rentals and fishing to the 16-mile David Boren Hiking Trail . Make the most of your stay with a luxury cabin rental that includes an outdoor jacuzzi.
Distance from Dallas : 200 miles, 3.5-hour drive
Explore a whole other side of Texas—the underground side—in this glorious labyrinth of caves that offer a 68-degree setting year-round. Take a guided walking tour 130 feet below the surface and learn the fascinating history of what took place in these dark spaces while bats sleep overhead. Or tap into your inner Bear Grylls for the adrenaline-pumping wild cave tour, which is limited to 12 participants eager to crawl through tight, wet spaces and see things few people ever do. Book a room at the Canyon of the Eagles Resort or a cabin at Log Country Cove and explore the many additional adventures awaiting in Burnet County .
Distance from Dallas: 207 miles, 3.5-hour drive
The music scene in Austin isn’t limited to bands playing in bars—there’s a natural symphony awaiting at the limestone waterfalls of free-flowing Onion Creek. Only 13 miles from the state capitol, you can make McKinney Falls a side excursion or the main reason to visit for hours of hiking, biking, and fishing. Pitch a tent at one of 81 campsites or pamper yourself at the secluded yet luxurious Sage Hill Inn & Spa a 24-mile drive southwest.
Distance from Dallas : 250 miles, 4-hour drive
One of the unique things to do at this state park is to walk out into the river on limestone slabs during the usually peaceful journey of the Pedernales River. Canoeing, kayaking, and tubing get you right in the water to float or paddle away your worries. Nearby, climb onto a horse with Texas Trail Rides and explore the area from a different perspective. Camping options include sites with water and electricity (perfect if you’ve rented an RV for your road trip) and truly primitive camping areas that you have to hike to reach.
Distance from Dallas : 600 miles, 9.5-hour drive
For those who enjoy seeing white powder as far as the eye can see, but prefer that it isn’t snow, White Sands National Monument should be on everyone’s bucket list. Glittery white sand dunes composed of granulated gypsum create the world’s largest gypsum dunefield, adding up to a whopping 275 square miles. Sled down the hills, go on a hike, or plan a picnic that will definitely require sunglasses. If camping doesn’t appeal, never fear. White Sands is a perfect day trip from both a vacation home base in either Ruidoso or the quaint village of Cloudcroft, each only about an hour’s drive.
Distance from Dallas: 566 miles, 8.5-hour drive
If Marfa’s a doable distance, why not add one extra hour to your drive time to be enveloped in the cool pine-scented mountains of the Lincoln National Forest, packed with rugged trails and scenic lakes. The area was already crowned with several inches of snow in October, which could prove fortuitous for a great time on the slopes at Ski Apache or the less-demanding hills of Ruidoso Winter Park, a great place to tube at breakneck speeds. You traveled a great distance, so plan to stay awhile at the well-appointed Inn of the Mountain Gods Resort & Casino or rent a property from Condotel, a local resource for everything from affordable, pet-friendly cabins to luxurious hot tub retreats.
Distance from Dallas : 520 miles, 7.5-hour drive
Even though Halloween’s over, you don’t have to abandon that creepy feeling when you go hunting (or waiting) for the ghostly Marfa Lights , one of the world’s most interesting unexplained phenomena. During daylight hours, putt and putter around Texas’ highest golf course , or go for a weightless glider ride high above the Marfa Plateau with just you and a pilot. The town offers many unique West Texas-style hotels , but few can compare to the offerings of El Cosmico, a property consisting of 15 safari tents, 10 renovated vintage trailers, three Sioux-style tepees, two Mongolian-style yurts, the funky Cosmic Kasita as well as places to set up your own tent accommodations.
Distance from Dallas : 360 miles, 5.5-hour drive
You read that headline correctly, it’s forests with an “s”. You’ll be rewarded for your drive here with not one, but two national forests, and a variety of vintage 1930s-era cabins. Highlights include Arkansas’ tallest mountain, Mount Magazine in the massive 1.2-million-acre Ozark National Forest and great places to picnic and watch wildlife in the considerably smaller 22,600-acre St. Francis National Forest. If you’ve got the need for speed (or really bumpy rides), the forests offer more than 1,000 miles of designated off-highway vehicle (OHV) trails.
Distance from Dallas : 325 miles, 6-hour drive
Since the 1930s, visitors have flocked to this enclave on the edge of the Ozark National Forest, despite its slightly creepy moniker. Head to Lake Devil for canoeing or pedal boating and immerse yourself in the Lee Creek Valley by booking overnight stays in full-service cabins with kitchens and indoor plumbing (bonus!) or find a happy medium between rustic and comfort with camper cabins that have beds, heat, and four walls, but require a short trek to a group bathhouse.
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Steven Lindsey is a Thrillist contributor.