Category Archives: Texas

San Antonio Missions National Historical Park

Overview

This park protects four historic Spanish missions around San Antonio, Texas, but does not include the famous Alamo (managed by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas).  Construction began in 1718 and by 1824 secularization was complete and land was distributed among the converted natives.  In 2015, these five missions along the San Antonio River were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Highlights

1720 Mission San José, 1755 Mission Concepción, 1731 Mission Espada, 1731 Mission San Juan Capistrano

Must-Do Activity

At the farthest south of the four missions (San Francisco de la Espada) there is also an interesting acequia system that includes an aqueduct, ditches, and a dam built in 1745, all of which are still used for irrigation purposes.  Mission San Juan Capistrano is covered in white stucco the way they all would have been historically.  Mission Concepción is the farthest north of the four missions and we thought it had the prettiest interior.

Best Trail

San Antonio’s famous River Walk Trail continues from the downtown area all the way south to Mission Espada, not to be confused with the signed Mission Trail driving route.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The beautifully preserved San José y San Miguel de Aguayo Mission dates back to 1720.  Today this large village complex is a popular location for wedding and graduation photos. 

Peak Season

Spring

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/saan/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved with designated NPS parking lots.

Camping

None

Explore More – What is the historic mission name for the Alamo?

Padre Island National Seashore

Overview

To experience the natural side of this semitropical region, make a trip to Padre Island National Seashore south of Corpus Christi, Texas.  Unlike touristy South Padre Island, this barrier island offers 65 miles of undeveloped beaches for exploration by foot and 4-wheel-drive vehicles. 

Highlights

Malaquite Beach, Grasslands Nature Trail, Bird Island Basin

Must-Do Activity

This wild island attracts a lot of wildlife, like white-tailed deer, a variety of shorebirds, and, unfortunately, Portuguese man-o-wars.  Keep an eye out for sea turtle patrols that drive up and down the beach all day seeking females laying eggs, including the endangered Kemp’s ridley.  Head further north for more bird watching, as Aransas National Wildlife Refuge typically sees a few overwintering whooping cranes, an extremely rare species.

Best Trail

Take a walk on a boardwalk through the sand dunes on Grasslands Nature Trail to find white-tailed deer and maybe even a crested caracara.  Also look for caracaras along the roadside since they will eat carrion.

Instagram-worthy Photo

On the bay side of the barrier island, you can camp and watch kitesurfers at Bird Island Basin where herons and egrets are a common sight.  We also saw white pelicans in the spring.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/pais/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$20 per vehicle or America The Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

Roads are paved to Malaquite Beach visitor center and from there you can drive most of the beaches with a 4-wheel-drive vehicle. 

Camping

Primitive camping is allowed on the beaches, but there is also a nice campground with water and showers near Malaquite Beach visitor center.  If you cannot find a campsite at Padre Island National Seashore, try up north at Mustang Island State Park.

Explore More – Currents in the Gulf of Mexico bring significant amounts of floating trash to the shoreline; how can you help during your visit?

Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument

Overview

Quarrying in this part of the panhandle of Texas dates back 13,000 years to the last Ice Age.  The flint found here was especially good for making spear points and was traded across the continent over the centuries.  However, the harsh climate meant few humans lived here until recently, except between AD1200 and 1450.  Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument is jointly managed with Lake Meredith National Recreation Area by the National Park Service (NPS).

Highlights

Flint knapping demonstrations, 10-minute film, ranger-guided tour of quarries

Must-Do Activity

Outside the NPS visitor center, dedicated park rangers frequently demonstrate the art of knapping points from flint blanks (not from within park boundaries) and other primitive survival skills. 

Best Trail

We recommend you take the free ranger-guided tour (offered twice daily) up to the quarries to get the full experience.  It is a bit of a climb, but is the only way access the sites.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The flint here not only holds a great edge, it is also beautifully colored.  The rangers will be happy to let you take rock samples home from knapping demonstrations (since the flint is not from within park boundaries).

Peak Season

Spring and fall, as it can be very hot in the summer.

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/alfl/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Paved to the National Monument and many good dirt roads surround Lake Meredith National Recreation Area.

Camping

Free primitive camping is available around Lake Meredith where there are many dirt roads to explore, as well as developed campgrounds (fee).

Explore More – What is the origin of the interesting name “Alibates?”

Guadalupe Mountains National Park

Overview

Since there are no campgrounds at Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico, many people stay at Guadalupe Mountains National Park just across the state border.  The park contains the highest point in Texas at 8,749 feet, so snow is not unheard of here.  One night when we stayed there in December, we awoke to an inch of snow.  It always looks like it just snowed at the Salt Basin Dunes.

Highlights

McKittrick Canyon, Pinery Station, Guadalupe Peak, Salt Basin Dunes, Dog Canyon

Must-Do Activity

The Chihuahuan Desert is home to many unique plant species,so start with the Pinery Trail behind the visitor center and learn to spot the differences between lechuguilla, sotol, yucca, and the many species of cacti. 

Best Trail

Guadalupe Peak is the highest point in Texas at 8,749 feet and the steep trail to its summit from Pine Springs Campground crosses through several ecosystems providing wonderful views of El Capitan and the surrounding landscape.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Autumn is a great time to visit to catch the vibrant red leaves of bigtooth maple trees.  Find them by hiking from Pine Springs Campground on Devil’s Hall Trail or further north through McKittrick Canyon to secluded Pratt Cabin, built in the 1920s. 

Peak Season

Summer, though wildfires can shut down large portions of the park.

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/gumo/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$5 per person or America The Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

Roads are paved, including the 60 mile drive to Dog Canyon at the north end of the park, except the last 7.5 miles to Salt Basin Dunes (good dirt road) and Williams Ranch (4×4 road).

Camping

Pine Springs Campground and remote Dog Canyon Campground both have running water, but no RV hookups. Free backcountry permits provide camping opportunities at designated sites, though trails tend to be very steep and strenuous.


This design we created to celebrate Guadalupe Mountains National Park is available on a variety of products at Cafe Press and Amazon.

Explore More – Why are the peaks of the Guadalupe Mountains full of marine fossils?

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Big Bend National Park

Overview

The park is named for a curve in the Rio Grande which forms the international border with Mexico.  This corner of Texas is not easy to get to, so when you do decide to visit plan on staying for at least a few days.  The weather can be very pleasant in the winter months.

Bend

Highlights

Chisos Basin, Hot Springs, Balanced Rock, Santa Elena Canyon Overlook

Must-Do Activity

Located down a short dirt road from Rio Grande Village Campground, a quick walk takes you to a riverside hot springs, a great spot to relax after a day of hiking in the dry Texas desert.  While soaking there, you are literally a stone’s throw from another country.

Best Trail

From Chisos Basin it is a short two mile canyon hike to The Window for a gunsight view to the west.  This trail is especially popular at sunset.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The most popular back road is Grapevine Hills Road which accesses the short Balanced Rock Trail and passes a couple of the most accessible of the 70 primitive backcountry car campsites (which require a permit from a visitor center).

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Peak Season

Spring and fall, but we have had good weather during visits in December and early March.

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/bibe/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$30 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

We found that many of the dirt roads are passable with a mini-van, but some are four-wheel-drive only, so check with a ranger first.

Camping

There are many choices of campgrounds and backcountry campsites (permit required) throughout the park, but we recommend the Chisos Basin for its roadrunners and nightly ranger programs.

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The trail to Balanced Rock is also beautiful, especially in the golden hours.

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Hot springs on the Rio Grande (with Mexico in the background)
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View looking west through The Window.

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The ruins of Mariscal Mine make for a neat place to explore.
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This design we created to celebrate Big Bend National Park is available on a variety of products at Cafe Press and Amazon.

Explore More – What rare migrant bird do birders annually “flock” to see in this park?

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WONDON WAS HERE …TWICE

 

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