We truly are lucky to live in Texas. Finding areas of natural beauty in the state is like going on a completely tame, domesticated goose chase -- it's super easy. But despite that, there are still a few straight-up gorgeous gems that seem to slip through the cracks of statewide fame, an error we hope to remedy right here, right now. If you've already checked off everything from our comprehensive Houston bucket list, perhaps it's time you go exploring. And what better place to start than these incredibly alluring places in Texas you probably didn't know existed.
Check out the Horrifying Hotel that Inspired 'The Shining!'
East Texas With Spanish moss casing thick cypress trees and a sprawling labyrinth of lush bayous and wetlands, this lake is just begging to be kayaked. Created by the gigantic log jam dubbed “The Great Raft” -- which began backlogging the Red and Atchafalaya Rivers as far back as 1100-1200 AD -- it’s one of the only naturally formed lakes in Texas.
Sonora Just west of the small city of Sonora (which, FYI, is about halfway between San Antonio and Big Bend), this massive cave carved itself into Cretaceous-period limestone about 1-1.5 million years ago. It boasts one of the heaviest collections of calcite crystal formations, most especially helictites, in the world. Make sure to check out the “butterfly,” where two fishtail helictites share the same attachment point, and the "snake pit," where the formations are so densely packed, you’ll soon be Indiana Jonesing to get out.
Bend We don’t even know why you’d visit Colorado State Bend Park without hiking the 1.5-mile trail to this hidden treasure. Afterward, you’ll be treated to a misty chill and a breathtaking 60-foot waterfall cascading into a fern-coated grotto.
Rio Grande With over 800K acres, Big Bend National Park is one of the largest national parks in the US. It’s also one of the most desolate, with only 300-350K visitors annually. You may be tempted to hit the Chimneys and Marufo Vega Trails first, but you should really make your way over to the winding valley that separates the US and Mexico. Flowing with the waters of the Rio Grande River and lined by towering 1,000-foot cliffs, the canyon’s water can get as shallow as 2 feet at points, allowing you to both hoof it and paddle it.
Rio Grande With all of those acres to cover, we had to bring you two spots in Big Bend. This lush desert oasis, complete with an Instagram-baiting waterfall that can reach up to 80 feet, is hidden off the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive at the base of the Chisos Mountains. The secret spot is not on many travel guides, but you can thank the internet for directions.
Fredericksburg We’re sure you’ve seen some Texas bluebonnets. But the best place to view them is this hidden scenic loop outside of Fredericksburg. Take the girlfriend or boyfriend and bring some Hill Country wine and cheese for triple bonus points.
Huntsville You don’t have to drive all the way to South Padre to get blue waters. Just 75 miles north of Downtown Houston, you’ll come upon this clear blue spring-fed lagoon. Hit it to learn to scuba dive or just to swim in pretty water.
Canyon If we were a hype man, we’d be hyping this incredibly underrated canyon hard. It’s the second-largest canyon in the United States -- but it's only visited by around 300,000 people per year (by comparison, the Grand Canyon gets over 5 million). Dubbed “The Grand Canyon of Texas,” the sunken valleys show off a seemingly endless array of green and sunset-colored terra cotta that deserve at least a few more props.
El Paso A little over 30 miles north of El Paso, you can this 860.3-acre park named for the “huecos” -- large natural rock basins -- that encompass it. Rumor has it the place was a spiritual haven for ancient Native Americans who used the basin’s pooled water to survive in the arid land. Their thousand-year-old pictographs can be found all over the monstrous boulders. Just remember to look, not touch.
Boerne Just 3 miles south of Boerne, you’ll find this limestone cave that formed all the way back in the Lower Cretaceous period. It was once Texas’ only cavern with an interior waterfall, though droughts have limited the flow in recent years. Luckily, people are smart, so they figured out a way to keep the water cascading through man-made pipes. Visit the cool, 64-degree cavern on guided tours year-round.
Bandera County Anyone who’s anyone has been floating the Guadalupe, but this less-crowded 116-mile-long river -- starting in northwest Bandera County and ending just southeast of San Antonio -- is equally as enjoyable. Lined with cedar, live oak, and limestone bluffs, the spring-fed rapids make it a kayaker’s dream. Don’t miss Chamblee Falls on the North Prong, where a 10-foot waterfall and baby 4-foot waterfall provide some pretty blissful scenery.
Burnet Forget Lake Travis. Inks Lake, only slightly farther from Austin, is just as amazing. Case in point: this picturesque inlet just off the lake, which is the perfect place to plop yourself into a float tied with another float to house your cooler. Best day ever? You bet.
Spicewood Skip the overcrowded jungle that is Barton Springs. This Spicewood watering hole is where you want to be. The 115-acre, family-owned property has 32 springs on site, plus a waterfall, grotto, man-made spring-fed pool, and au naturel pool that flows into Lake Travis. Cliff jump, Tarzan yourself off the rope swing, or lay out on the rocks like a salamander. But whatever you do, bring beer.
Vanderpool Know that co-worker that’s always complaining about how the leaves in Texas never change color? Go ahead and tell him he’s dead wrong. Lost Maples cover over 2,000 rust, gold and green-hued acres in Bandera and Real counties. Visit and you’ll find tons of pristine hiking trails lined with steep limestones, glistening streams, and verdant grasslands. The prime time to hit it is from mid-October through mid-November, when foliage is peaking.
Wimberley Ever seek the thrill of diving head first into a seriously sexy looking artesian spring with a seriously dangerous looking limestone cave below it? Well, you’re in luck; Jacob’s Well has a charted cave system nearly 140 feet deep and almost a mile long (it’s believed to be the longest underwater cave in Texas). Only experienced cave divers are permitted to go down, because as we stated, this thing’s pretty hazardous. But fear not -- regular folk still cliff jump into 12-foot swimming hole and hang by the water.
Brownsville While everybody knows South Padre is quite the eye candy, it’s also known for a, well, rowdy crowd. Just detached from the island, though, there is a glimmer of isolation: this 8-mile, untouched strip of sand. The desolate beach in the Deep Texas South feels a million miles away from it all, making it exactly where you want to camp, fish, snorkel, and straight up chill in natural beauty without the noise of the modern world.
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