The Most Beautiful Places to Visit in Texas
The stars at night are big and bright…
We hate to brag (actually, that’s a total lie), but Texas is extremely pretty, y’all. It’s also extremely large, making it damn near impossible to fully explore lest your day job allows you to remote “work” from your vanlife. No worries, we’ve sifted out the most awe-inspiring locales in the Lone Star State for you. Build yourself an epic bucket list and check them off one by one, from wetlands dripping with Spanish moss and fern-covered grottos to Cretaceous-period caverns and the nation’s second-largest granite dome.
We don’t even know why you’d visit Colorado State Bend Park without taking the three-mile round trip hike to this hidden treasure. Complete the first half of the trek and you’ll be treated to a misty chill, complete with a breathtaking 60-foot waterfall cascading into a fern-coated grotto and some new Instagram followers once you “story” it all. Day passes and camping can be reserved in advance online or by calling 512-389-8900.
While the thrill of diving into this seriously sexy artesian spring with attached 140-foot-deep limestone cavern will be on hold until it opens back up next spring, the surrounding park remains open for hiking and viewing. And let’s be honest, you weren’t taking on the nearly mile long chartered cave anyway (it’s believed to be the longest underwater cave in Texas, and only experienced cave divers are permitted to go down). All are welcome to explore the nature preserve and take a guided tour this fall, with no reservations required. Aquatic restoration lasts from roughly October 1 – April 30 of each year, so check back in the spring for swimming opportunities.
Caverns Of Sonora
Just west of the small city of Sonora (which, FYI, is about halfway between San Antonio and Big Bend), lies this massive cave carved itself into Cretaceous-period limestone about 1.5 to 5 million years ago. It boasts one of the heaviest collections of calcite crystal formations, especially spiraling 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. Tickets and tours are available 364 days a year (sorry, no spelunking on Christmas Day) starting at $20.
Fort Worth Botanic Garden
Botanical gardens are local reminders that you don’t have to travel far to bask in nature. This 120-acre creation—which we recently named one of the most gorgeous botanical gardens in America alongside the Dallas Arboretum—flaunts 22 diverse displays alongside an array of gorgeous exhibits, from the zen Japanese Garden and romantic Rose Gardens to the Texas Native Forest Boardwalk. Visitors can purchase regular admission tickets or skip the line by snagging tickets online, with prices ranging from $6 for kids to $12 for grownups; and if you’re looking to dig into the science behind the 2,500 species of plants onsite, schedule a tour via BRIT campus, the garden’s nearby learning center.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Nestled between Carlsbad and El Paso, this 135-square-mile park—commonly advertised as the “Top of Texas”—is a beloved treasure for hikers. Step inside this cavernous paradise to explore numerous trails cascading throughout it while marveling at the mountain’s striking architecture, which narrates the story of an underwater world that once existed there 260 million years ago. And as we delve deeper into the fall season, fiery yellow and amber leaves will take center stage. Highly elevated trees, such as fir and pine, respond well to cooler temperatures, so witnessing these lush giants in their autumnal bloom promises to boggle the senses. The park experiences seasonal visitor surges in the spring (March - May) and fall (September - December), so be prepared for full parking lots and secure the required advanced reservations for developed campsites.
Not a big fan of heights? Hear us out on this one. With a name like Mt. Bonnell, you might envision this destination as a heighty slab of terrain painted with rocky slopes and soaring trees—but rest assured that the term “mount,” in this case, is a bit misleading. (This is “Hill Country” after all.) Settled inside of Covert Park, this popular hiking path has been dazzling Austinites with splendid views of the city’s ever-changing skyline since the 1850s. Standing at about 775 feet above sea level, visitors can trek up the trail to the peak to catch the dazzling sunset or share a hearty picnic with friends. Even better, the top is perched east of Lake Austin, providing prime leaf-peeping opportunities. Both parking and entry is free—just be sure to check the Austin parks website for details before you go, and don’t forget your SPF.
With Spanish moss encasing a thick grove of cypress trees above a vast labyrinth of bayous and wetlands, this lake is one of the most overlooked jewels in the Lone Star State—especially during the fall. One of the only naturally formed lakes in Texas, it was created by a gigantic log jam dubbed “The Great Raft,” which began backlogging the Red and Atchafalaya Rivers as far back as 1100 to 1200 CE. The lake’s vast hoard of oak, maple, and sweetgum trees usually slip into autumn attire about mid-November, retiring their greenish hues for scarlets and reddish-browns. And with outdoorsy activities like kayaking and hiking topping the list of things to do at Caddo Lake, visitors are destined to swoon over this seasonal transition. The lake often reaches capacity, so reservations are highly recommended for both camping and day use. Reserve passes online or by calling the customer service center before you visit, and keep an eye on the park website for info about any upcoming closures.
Considering all the acreage it covers, Big Bend is more than worthy of scoring a place on this list. This desert oasis, complete with an Instagram-baiting waterfall reaching up to 80 feet, is hidden off the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive at the base of the Chisos Mountains. Though the waterfall is a sparkling sight year-round, it’s rumored to have a fuller flow during the spring and fall months, so be sure to hit up this elusive gem before the season ends and stay tuned to the park’s website for status and safety updates.
Enchanted Rock State Natural Area
The nation’s second-largest granite dome, this massive pink batholith is one of the choicest spots to catch those ultra-sexy, big and bright Texas stars. Enchanted Rock is also the only IDA-recognized Dark Sky Park in the state, which means the low light pollution here gives you an incredible view of the night sky. Speaking of view, the domed peak’s abyss of oak, honey mesquite, Texas hickory, and other trees are stunning throughout the fall. Travel along the Summit and Loop Trails to spot blossoming flecks of copper-colored and auburn leaves as autumn arrives, or wait a few more weeks to bask in the foliage while enjoying the breezy weather. Local Indigenous tribes believed the rock was haunted and imbued with magical powers, and legend has it anyone who stays overnight becomes invisible—you’ll have to camp out to see for yourself. Reserve your day pass or camping site in advance online.
Lost Maples State Natural Area
You know that coworker who's always complaining about how the leaves in Texas never change color? Go ahead and tell him he’s wrong. Standing tall as the only maple forest in Texas, Lost Maples spans more than 2,000 rust, gold, and green-hued acres throughout Bandera and Real counties. Pristine hiking trails lined with steep limestones, glistening streams, and verdant grasslands await, and after an afternoon of sight-seeing, trekkers can unwind around the fire with some hearty grub at the park’s campground near Sabinal River, complete with 30 spacious sites. Prime time runs from mid-October through mid-November, when foliage is peaking.
Anyone who’s anyone has floated the Guadalupe, but this less-crowded 116-mile-long river—starting in northwest Bandera County and ending just southeast of San Antonio—is equally, if not more, enjoyable. Lined with orange cedar, live oak, and limestone bluffs mirroring the spring-fed rapids, it’s long been a hotbed for kayakers and rafters come autumn. Don’t miss Chamblee Falls on the North Prong, where both a 10-foot and smaller four-foot waterfall provide some pretty blissful scenery. If it’s paddling and tubing season, try the Medina River Company for tube and kayak rentals, and check the river flow rate before you depart.
This tragically underrated canyon is the second-largest in the United States, but somehow only attracts around 300,000 people per year. By comparison, the Grand Canyon sees five to six million—which is why we actually consider this behemoth to be a better place to be awed by nature. Nicknamed The Grand Canyon of Texas, the formidable destination’s sunken valleys show off a seemingly endless string of green- and sunset-colored terra cotta that deserves its due props. Ready to visit? Day passes and camping access can be secured in advance online.
Santa Elena Canyon Trail
Stretching over 800,000 acres, Big Bend National Park is one of the largest national parks in the entire US—and it’s also one of the most desolate, with less than 400,000 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 current of the Rio Grande River and lined by towering 1,000-foot cliffs, the canyon’s water can get as shallow as two feet at points, allowing you to both hoof and paddle it, depending on your preference. Reservations aren’t currently needed to access the park in groups up to 12, but regular fees are collected at the entrances, advanced camping and lodging reservations are required, and visitors must wear a mask when exploring federal buildings. Pop over to the website to keep up with status and safety updates.