TEXAS IS BIG AND HOT, which means there’s loads of room for great outdoor activities — and you’re going to need to cool down. Here are favorite state parks and swimming holes along with other recommendations.
Pedernales Falls State Park
Pedernales Falls State Park is an hour from Austin. Head out on the Falls Trail for a great overlook. Take the stairs down to the falls and work your way to the bottom. There are decent swimming areas throughout the park but for another great cool-down option, stop by Hamilton Pool on your way back to Austin. Or go to Pieous for pizza and pastrami.
Garner State Park
The most scenic and relaxing river to float in Texas just may be the Frio River in Garner State Park. The river is icy cold all year round, so go in the summer. Stop by a rental spot near the river and grab some tubes and a cooler of beer After your day of floating, check out The Laurel Tree in Utopia for gourmet French lunch or dinner. The House Pasture Cattle Co in nearby Concan is great for an evening of dancing and live music.
Enchanted Rock State Park
The hike up Enchanted Rock is a short and steady grind. The views of Texas Hill Country at the top of this huge boulder are worth it. There are plenty of camping spots or you can stay in the nearby German town of Fredericksburg. If you stop in Fredericksburg, visit the local wineries (Becker Vineyards is my favorite) and grab dinner at The Auslander for German food and beer.
Big Bend State Park
Big Bend National and State Parks lie a little north of the border between Mexico and Texas. Hike Closed Canyon Trail in the state park or the Lost Mine Trail in the national park. Camp up in the mountains at Chisos Basin for cool nights and clear, starry skies. In hipsterfied Marfa, two hours north, you’ll find art galleries, dive bars, and gourmet restaurants. Stay at El Cosmico and spend the night in a trailer, teepee, or yurt.
Palo Duro Canyon State Park
Palo Duro Canyon State Park is a massive, red rock expanse in the Panhandle near Amarillo. Hike the popular Lighthouse Trail, or attempt the much harder but equally gorgeous Rock Garden Trail. You can ride horseback on some of the trails. It’s worthwhile to spend the night either by camping on the canyon floor or in a cabin on the rim. Since there is so little pollution, the stars seem close enough to reach. Next morning, stop in Amarillo at the Big Texan for their 72oz steak challenge or Tyler’s for barbecue brisket and ribs.
Colorado Bend State Park
The highlight of Colorado Bend State Park is 60-foot Gorman Falls. Take the Gorman Falls Trail near the park entrance for an easy 3-mile round-trip trek down to the falls. You make your way down the last 100-feet or so holding on to a railing but it’s doable. The falls seem to be alive with water and lush greenery. On your way back to town, go slightly out of the way to Bluebonnet Cafe in Marble Falls for pie. From 3-5 PM you can enjoy Pie Happy Hour. The fudge pie is ridiculously scrumptious.