As our state gradually reopens from coronavirus restrictions, nature-loving Texans have a new way to stay active: state parks were included in Texas’s Phase 1 reopening plan. And while you won’t be able to camp yet, walking and hiking trails are open, and picnics by the lakes and bird watching are allowed. We know very well Texas is home to an abundance of beautiful state parks for you and your family to go out and enjoy — 89, in fact— while still physical distancing responsibly. Here are some of our favorites that are easily accessible to Empire homeowners.
Brazos River State Park
Only about 30 minutes south of Sugar Land, Brazos Bend State Park lets visitors walk on the wild side. The park is best known as a habitat for alligators and it’s very possible to see one resting in the sunshine (just don’t get too close!) There are 13 miles of equestrian trails, a half-mile of fully paved trails that tours a wetland area, and other hike-and-bike trails that circle lakes and explore the area’s hardwood forest. The nature center offers exhibits on the park’s three ecosystems. Also at the park is the George Observatory, part of the Houston Museum of Natural Science.
Galveston Island State Park
While the beach side of this island state park is closed until 2022 for renovations, there is still plenty to do on the side that faces Galveston Bay. One of the most popular activities is exploring the bay by boat on a paddling trail. Navigate through seagrass beds, float past areas of natural high marsh and paddle along the bayou. In all, there are more than 10 miles of paddling trails to explore. Just note that you do have to bring your own boat.
Guadalupe River State Park
A Central Texas summer is not complete without a float down the Guadalupe River. The Guadalupe River State Park, just north of State Highway 46 near San Antonio, offers four miles of river frontage. Grab an innertube and let your cares drift away as you float on the river. Or skip the innertube and bring your horse, instead, to trot along the equestrian trails. There are 13 miles of hike-and-bike trails total, with one of the most popular being the Painted Bunting Trail as hikers attempt to find the colorful bird.
Huntsville State Park
Located just north of Houston in the Pineywoods of East Texas is Huntsville State Park. This grand state park offers a full scope of outdoor fun — fishing, boating, biking, swimming and hiking. Visitors can rent paddleboats, canoes and kayaks, as well as explore more than 21 miles of trails, spy a variety of birds at the bird blind and learn more about the park’s wildlife at the nature center.
Inks Lake State Park
Just about an hour northwest of Austin, Inks Lake State Park is defined by the pristine waters of the 800-acre Inks Lake. Bring your boat for fishing, skiing or just motoring around. No boat? No problem: you can rent paddle boats, canoes and kayaks. But while fun on the water is a primary draw, the park’s trail system should not be overlooked. Miles of trails wind through wooded areas, plus you can hike down to the Devil’s Waterhole to swim and — if you’re bold enough — jump off a cliff into the water. There is even a 1.5-mile trail that is ADA accessible.
Longhorn Cavern State Park
The true wonder of nature can be found at Longhorn Cavern State Park, located about an hour west of Round Rock. Take a walking tour of Longhorn Caverns, which was largely formed by an underground river, or dust off your spelunking gear for a wild cave tour. Explore more of the park by walking its trails and visiting buildings constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps who did much of the work to develop the park, or climb up the CCC Observation Tower for a stunning Hill Country view.
McKinney Falls State Park
Within the city limits of Austin, McKinney Falls State Park is known for its rugged beauty, as the park is home to upper and lower falls that form pools for swimming and fishing. You can also hike and bike miles of surfaced and natural trails, including the Rock Shelter Trail — an easy, aptly named path that leads to an enormous, naturally formed shelter.
Palmetto State Park
About 30 miles southeast of San Marcos is a small state park that’ll make you feel like you’ve been transported to the tropics: Palmetto State Park. Dotted with dwarf palmettos, the park is a botanical find with a wide variety of vegetation as well as a flowing river, Oxbow Lake, an artesian well and swamps. Two- and three-person kayaks as well as stand-up paddleboards are available to rent. Hike or bike around the lake or explore one of the loops that takes you into the woods.
As Texas continues to gradually open up, please remember to continue practicing social distancing even when outdoors. Protect your health and that of others by following state and local order related to the pandemic, which includes gatherings of no more than five people (except for families living in the same household) and a minimum six-foot distance between others. Stay updated by checking the Texas State Parks Alert Map regularly for the latest status of parks.
All images courtesy of Texas Parks and Wildlife.