Texas is huge! So huge, that it might even be its own country, hands down. Something that I love about Texas, is that you can discover beautiful scenic routes without even looking for them. You’d be surprised how many times I have walked a new way down my favorite hiking spot, and run into a place or a view I haven’t seen before, even if I have done the trail 5 times. From large rustic swimming holes to epic summit views, The Lone State has some pretty great wonders that are hidden up its sleeve.
So, whether you’re looking for a scenic workout out, or trying to distress from a long hard week at work, here are some of the best scenic hiking trails that I definitely recommend. Because let’s face it, who doesn’t love the wonders of mother nature.
1. Big Bend: The South Rim Loop
The best advice I could give anyone about this hike is to take a lot of water, start early in the morning, and be prepared to take your breath away. The South Rim trail straddles the boundary and can either be a day hike trail or a backpack trail. It runs a total of 12.6 miles and let me tell you, covering it all is quite exhausting. There are several camping areas along the way, but we recommend tackling the trail in one to watch the sunrise and sundown. The start of the trail is easy, full of gentle hills, but don’t be fooled. A few miles in, and it’s a heavy hike, alright. The point “4way” marks a major trial juncture.
If the 12 miles is too much for you, don’t worry, you can always shave off a few miles from the hike by taking a shortcut back to the start. There are signs marked “Turn Right” soon after the waypoint, that will take you to Boot Spring Canyon. The good part about this trail is that there are several points to rest and enjoy the wonderful scenery while peering over the edge of the cliff. The best thing about this place? Due to the insanely low-level of light pollution, you might have a clear view of planets, stars, and the Milky Way band!
2. Lighthouse Trail: Palo Duro Canyon State Park
The hike near Amarillo, Texas is a classic favorite and is sometimes described as Big Bend’s cousin trail. It’s a long trail measuring 6 miles round trip, with some iconic views of the 310 ft.-high “Lighthouse” rock formation. These rocks are incredible, and you might even catch some brave climbers attempting their way up the steep pathway. Since this is the most popular trail in the park, it is recommended to hike it in the morning, when the temperature is lower and there are fewer people on the trail.
Why? Well, as anyone living in the Southern state knows, Texas is Texas and the temperature might even rise up to 110, on a good day. In order to reach the lighthouse, you have to enter the Palo Duro Canyon State Park, drive down Park Road 5 until you reach the Lighthouse Trailhead parking lot. The trail up to the lighthouse is relatively flat, but once you wrap around Capitol Peak, you can begin to gain some elevation. Don’t forget your water!
3. Barton Creek Greenbelt: Austin
Now, I am totally not being biased here because I live in Austin, BUT, this is definitely one of my top three hikes. Barton Creek is arguably Austin’s most popular greenbelt and is an oasis for the outdoor enthusiast who is interesting in mountain biking hiking or kayaking. Located in south-central Austin, the trial is a total of 12.69 miles, with the main trial spanning 7 miles.
The belt is actually minutes from downtown Austin and city life, so it’s crazy to think how these places came about. People can also enjoy the trails full of beautiful limestone bluff for rock climbing, raising up to 300ft after just a third of a mile. The trail connects with other little trails that lead to some amazing ‘homemade’ swimming holes and creeks that appear depending on the amount of rain. It’s truly an Austin natural gem.
4. Guadalupe Peak: Culberson County
Welcome to the highest natural point in Texas! The trail sits on the New Mexican border and rises out of the desert. The trail is a total of 8.5 miles round trip and has an elevation gain of over 3000ft. The trail is tricky, but there are a lot of switchbacks that help you gain that 3000ft in a blink of an eye. The catch? Well, the first 1.5 miles are the toughest due to it being really really steep, but once you get past that, it gets a little bit leveled.
But, not easy, after the first mile you will start going up the north face shop, where you can find a forest of Pinion Pine, Douglas Fir, and South-Western White Pine. This is where you might want to stop for some shade and take a break since it’s the only place that is covered. You’re in Texas, what did you expect? As you continue to climb you will then get an amazing view of El Capital to the South, which is worth it! These mountains spring up out of the desert and the high points for miles. Adventure here we come!
5. Pedernales Falls State Park: Johnson City
Pedernales Falls State Park is located 10 miles east of Johnson City and sits on the Pedernales River. Many of the fun activities one can participate in are swimming, boating, and fishing. There are also numerous picnic areas and campsites, which some do require a hike of two miles or more. The park has a total of 19.9 miles of hiking and mountain bike trails, 10 miles of equestrian trails and 14 miles of backpacking trails. Park experts do advise people to be on the lookout if you decide to swim since the water can rise from a placid stream to a raging torrent in a few minutes. Flash flooding is common in the Texas Hill Country so you might want to stay alert.
6. Del Rio Rock Paintings: Seminole Canyon State Park
Are you a fan of history? This is the hike for you! Located 40 miles west of El Rio, Texas, Seminole Canyon State Park offers several hiking tours to see the rare rock paintings left by prehistoric people over 7000 years ago in the Lower Pecos River region. The Fate Bell Shelter tour usually take an hour, and lets you see some of the oldest Native American pictographs of North America. The 10 miles trail also have a camping site, mountain bike hikes, and study history and nature tours. A few of the paintings one can see are septic animal figures in simplified fashion, including mountain lions, rabbits, turtles, deer and birds. There are also paining of humans, painted with rectangular bodies, some without head and some with animal heads including birds or deer. Creepy stuff!
7. Clarity Tunnel Trail: Caprock Canyons Trailway
Now, if you want scary, you might want to plan your trip ASAP! The abandoned 1920’s railroad tunnel was opened for hiking and is filled with Mexican Free-tailed bats. I know, one of the strangest things I’ve heard, but hey, it’s worth a shot. The ‘rail turned tail’ is part of the 64-mile long Caprock Canyon Trailway in the Panhandle, and takes a week to hike if you decide to do it in one go. Kidding, but if you’re not up for a week-long hiking trip, you can check out the tunnel without hiking it all the way. Usually, from June to September, on can take a guided tour to watch the bats fly out at dusk, or you can take your own day hiking trip west about 4.5 miles from Monk’s Crossing parking lot at mile marker 289. The hike from Monk’s Crossing is a 9-mile round trip with a trail through the tunnel lasting ⅛ mile. Don’t’ forget to be mindful of the bats above your head when entering the tunnel! Perfect for Halloween, huh?
8. West Peak: Spring Branch Trailhead
Take in the view at the Texas Hill Country valley! West Peak is situated in the beautiful Hill Country State Natural Area, located near the Lost Maples and Garner State Park. The scenic overlook gives an unparalleled view of the Valley, and it is definitely worth the hike if you are around the area. The hike has several benches along the loop trail to relax and take in some of the beautiful Texas Scenery. It’s’ a bit challenging going up the rail since it has your typical Texas Hill Country rock terrain and steep elevation, but it’s definitely worth it when you are high up. Since the trail is the most direct way from the visitation center of the best vista in the park, there is more traffic than usual, so expect to see runners, equestrians, and hikers on the trail!
This article was originally published on September 12, 2018.