Category Archives: Texas

Amistad National Recreation Area

Overview

Amistad translates as “friendship” from Spanish, which is fitting given that this reservoir is shared by the U.S. and Mexico.  Marinas and boat ramps provide access to the lake for watersports, like fishing and waterskiing.  The 254-foot tall dam across the Rio Grande was built in 1968 and serves as a customs station in Del Rio, Texas.  The National Park Service (NPS) runs a free museum nearby.

Highlights

Panther Cave pictographs, Seminole Canyon State Park, watersports

Must-Do Activity

Amistad National Recreation Area is also famous for its 4,000-year-old pictographs, which can most easily be accessed on guided tours of Seminole Canyon State Park, 45 miles outside Del Rio, Texas on Highway 90.  Admission is charged for the museum and tour, but provides the only way to see the colorful artwork in Fate Bell Shelter.  Viewing fossils in the limestone was an added bonus on the tour.

Best Trail

The pictographs in Panther Cave can be seen from afar by hiking a trail in the state park or up-close by boating to the dock and climbing a steep stairway. 

Instagram-worthy Photo

If you are unable to hike down into the canyon, the Seminole Canyon State Park museum has a replica of the rock art.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

Boating passes start at $4 for a 1-day pass, $8 per person to tour Seminole Canyon State Park

Road Conditions

All major roads paved

Camping

Two NPS campgrounds are available at Governors Landing and San Pedro and there is a campground at Seminole Canyon State Park.

Related Sites

Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument (Texas)

Waco Mammoth National Monument (Texas)

Canyonlands National Park (Utah)

Explore More – How many miles of the Rio Grande do the park’s boundaries encompass?

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park

Overview

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park is composed of two separate sites located 14 miles apart in Johnson City and Stonewall, Texas.  Museums here highlight the significant legislation that passed during his presidency from 1963-1969, including the pivotal Civil Rights Act, and, for nature lovers, the Wilderness Act.  Additions to the National Park Service (NPS) system during his presidency were extensive, including five sites in his home state of Texas (see Related Sites below).

Highlights

Johnson Settlement, films, Texas White House, Johnson Family Cemetery

Must-Do Activity

The 36th President of the United States is typically referred to as LBJ.  Birders know an “LBJ” as an acronym for those hard to identify “little brown jobs” that flit away before you can focus them in your binoculars.  Fittingly, President LBJ’s wife was named Lady Bird, and together they did much to preserve our public lands for native plants and animals.  Around the boyhood home where LBJ grew up in Johnson City, there are plenty of birds to watch, as well as longhorn cattle.  A driving tour through the Stonewall property (14 miles west) requires a permit from the LBJ State Park and Historic Site.  Once you get that, tickets for a guided tour of the Texas White House are available at the NPS visitor center located inside the Airplane Hangar.

Best Trail

A walking tour through Johnson City includes stops at Withers and Spauldings General Store, LBJ’s boyhood home, and barns and cabins that date back to the 1800s within the Johnson Settlement.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Longhorn cattle can be seen at the Johnson Settlement in Johnson City, Texas.  Hereford cattle are still raised at the working ranch in Stonewall.

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Hours

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

Fees

None except for the Texas White House tour ($3 per person or free with the America the Beautiful pass)

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

East of Johnson City, Pedernales Falls State Park has a campground, as does Lady Bird Johnson Municipal Park in Fredericksburg, Texas.

Related Sites

Guadalupe Mountains National Park (Texas)

Padre Island National Seashore (Texas)

Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument (Texas)

Explore More – Which resort in Florida (later owned by a future U.S. President) was designated a National Historic Site under the Johnson administration (then eventually sold and disbanded)?

Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park

Overview

The first battle of the Mexican-American War took place on May 9, 1846 north of the Rio Grande near present-day Brownsville, Texas.  General Zachary Taylor and a young Ulysses S. Grant (both future presidents) led U.S. troops during this engagement.  Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park was established in 1991 across 3,400 acres, and in 2011 an additional 38 acres were added in the heart of Brownsville to commemorate the Resaca de la Palma Battlefield.  Plus, a few earthen mounds remain of Fort Texas (later renamed Fort Brown) near a golf course on the campus of the University of Texas at Brownsville.

Highlights

Museum, film, cannons, interpretive trail

Must-Do Activity

The 1846 battle was primarily an artillery conflict, so there are many cannons at Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park today showing how close the battle lines were.  This skirmish and a subsequent fight at Resaca de la Palma pushed Mexican troops back across the Rio Grande for the remainder of the two-year long war.  History buffs will also be interested in the Civil War history of this region, including the final battle of the war fought May 12-13, 1865 at Palmito Ranch.  Information about all of these sites can be found at the small yet nice visitor center that opened here in 2003. 

Best Trail

A half-mile paved interpretive trail leads through the battlefield from the visitor center.  While here you can also learn about Harris’s hawks, horned lizards, javelinas, and other remarkable species that live in the area and the surrounding Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge.

Instagram-worthy Photo

If you make it to this remote southern corner of the United States, make it a point to take a guided tram tour through Resaca de la Palma State Park.  The park is a great place to see bird species found nowhere else in the country, like the great kiskadee (pictured) and rose-throated becard.

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Hours

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

Fees

None for the NPS site, but there is an admission fee at Resaca de la Palma State Park.

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

There are several private campgrounds around Brownsville, Texas.

Related Sites

Chamizal National Memorial (Texas)

Big Bend National Park (Texas)

Amistad National Recreation Area (Texas)

Explore More – Who was the president that campaigned on the platform of extending the U.S. border to the Pacific Ocean and subsequently annexed Texas in 1845 (fomenting the Mexican-American War)?

Big Thicket National Preserve

Overview

When most people think of Texas they do not think of the bayou, but since 1974 this unique ecosystem and eight others were preserved in several units in the southeastern portion of the state.  The Big Thicket once covered 3.5-million acres, however, now only 112,000 acres is protected by the National Park Service (NPS) in 15 remnant sections.  Here you can also discover longleaf pine savannah, saltwater estuaries, and wetlands harboring carnivorous plants.  Understandably, the region is noted for its high biodiversity, highlighted by 85 tree species, 20 orchids, and wildlife as dissimilar as alligators and roadrunners.

Highlights

Kirby Nature Trail, Pine Island Bayou, Cooks Lake Paddling Trail, Neches River, birding

Must-Do Activity

We recommend you start by learning about the nine different ecosystems within the preserve at the NPS visitor center located eight miles north of Kountze, Texas.  The best way to get to know Big Thicket National Preserve is on the water.  Motorboats are allowed in most units, but paddling is preferred for exploring the shallow bayous.  Lined with baldcypress trees, Pine Island Bayou is best explored by kayak or canoe, as is the Cooks Lake Paddling Trail (a five mile loop).  It is also possible to float the park’s 80 miles of the Neches River depending upon the amount of water released from B.A. Steinhagan Lake.

Best Trail

There are 40 miles of hiking trails, but it may be best to start with the Kirby Nature Trail near the NPS visitor center in Kountze, Texas.  Also located in the Turkey Creek Unit, the short Pitcher Plant Trail is best in the spring when the carnivorous plants bloom in the wet savanna.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Inside the NPS visitor center located eight miles north of Kountze, Texas, you can pose with a giant-sized pitcher plant model.

Peak Season

Fall and spring to avoid peak mosquito season.

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

The main access roads are paved, but some boat launches may be dirt.

Camping

The NPS offers free backcountry permits, but the nearest campgrounds are at Village Creek State Park and B.A. Steinhagan Lake (managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers).

Related Sites

Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve (Louisiana)

Big Cypress National Preserve (Florida)

Everglades National Park (Florida)

Explore More – In addition to pitcher plants, how many other carnivorous plant species are found in Big Thicket National Preserve?

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?

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