Texans love their parks of all shapes and sizes from Big Bend Ranch State Park along the Rio Grande, which covers 311,000 acres of amazing terrain, to Old Tunnel State Park in Fredericksburg, which is just 16 acres and home to more than 3 million Mexican free-tailed bats.
While Texas state parks are more popular than ever – an estimated 10 million visitors streamed to the 89 state parks, natural areas, and historic sites around the state last year during the 100th anniversary of the state park system – there are also national parks in Texas including the massive Big Bend National Park, adjacent to the Big Bend Ranch State Park, that spans 801,163 acres of spectacular scenery along the Chisos Mountains and Chihuahuan Desert.
“As the largest expanse of public land in Texas, Big Bend is a hiker's paradise with more than 200 miles of trails offering everything from short, sweet day hikes to multi-week epics. Horseback riding is also popular, as are float trips down the Rio Grande. The park offers three developed campsites, backcountry camping permits, and accommodation at the Chisos Mountain Lodge in the heart of the park,” reports the Guardian.
Visit Big Bend and Guadalupe Mountains National Parks for Free in 2024 on These Days
The National Park Service announced in December 2023 that national parks across the country, including Big Bend National Park and Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas, would be free to enter during special days in 2024.
“National parks are places that awaken senses, inspire curiosity, encourage reflection, and foster joy,” National Park Service Director Chuck Sams said. “The entrance fee-free days expand opportunities for people to visit their national parks and experience the beauty and history of our country.”
The entrance fee-free days for 2024 are:
- January 15 – Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
- April 20 – First Day of National Park Week
- June 19 – Juneteenth
- August 4 – Great American Outdoors Day
- September 28 – National Public Lands Day
- November 11 – Veterans Day
The cost to enter parks with entrance fees, reports My San Antonio, typically ranges from $10 to $35, according to the release. The funds support visitor services such as ranger programs and enhancing accessibility. The entrance fee waiver for fee-free days does not cover amenity or user fees for activities such as camping, boat launches, transportation, or special tours, according to NPS.
National Park Service Managed Units in Texas
My San Antonio says that the National Park Service manages 14 units in Texas, including two national parks: the Guadalupe Mountains and Big Bend. Other protected landscapes are Padre Island, the Big Thicket, a section of the Rio Grande, Lake Amistad, and Lake Meredith; the remainder of the preserves contain historical sites.
Here’s a closer look at each:
- Alibates Flint Quarries (National Monument), Fritch: The first national monument in Texas, the Alibates Flint Quarrie was well-known by mammoth hunters as a place to find the best stone for making tools. Alibates Flint is located in a 10-square-mile area around the monument, but most are concentrated on 60 acres on top of a mesa on the monument. To do: Museum exhibits, ranger-guided quarry tours (resume in April 2024 by reservation only), award-winning film about the monument, Jr. Ranger program and activities, self-guided Mesquite Trail, self-guided Alibates Gardens, and certified Monarch Butterfly Waystation.
- Amistad (National Recreation Area), Del Rio: Amistad National Recreation Area consists of the US portion of the International Amistad Reservoir. The reservoir was created by the Amistad Dam in 1969 and is located at the confluence of the Rio Grande, the Devils River, and the Pecos River. The area is best known for excellent water-based recreation, camping, hiking, 4,000-year-old rock art viewing, and its rich cultural history. Amistad is also home to a wide variety of plant and animal life above and below the water. More to do: Swimming, boating, fishing, picnic by the lake, birdwatching, nature photography, scuba diving, and hunting.
- Big Bend (National Park), The big bend of the Rio Grande: Explore one of the last remaining wild corners of the United States in this beautiful park that stretches from an elevation of less than 1,800 feet along the Rio Grande to nearly 8,000 feet in the Chisos Mountains. Big Bend includes massive canyons, a vast desert expanse, forested mountains, and an ever-changing river. To do: Scenic drives, day hikes, river trips, exploring the backcountry, night skies and stargazing, bicycling, and birdwatching. Big Bend's busy season is generally November through April, and the park camping and lodging is often full during 3-day holiday weekends, Thanksgiving week, the Christmas holiday season, and mid-January through mid-April. Reservations for camping and lodging are required.
- Big Thicket (National Preserve), Beaumont: Big Thicket National Preserve protects 113,114 acres of land and water spread over seven counties in southeast Texas. While public roads connect the units of the preserve, few roads lead into it; the best way to explore and experience this area is by foot or by boat. Approximately 40 miles of hiking trails and countless miles of creeks, bayous, and the Neches River wind through the Big Thicket. Most people come to walk, birdwatch, canoe, and kayak.
- Blackwell School (National Historic Site), Marfa: Built in 1909, the Blackwell School served as a segregated school for the Hispanic population of Marfa, Texas, during the era of de facto segregation from 1889-1965.
- Butterfield Overland (National Historic Trail), across the state: This historic trail commemorates an overland mail route used by stagecoaches in the 1850s and runs 3,000 miles and through seven states including Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. Despite the name, the Butterfield Overland NHT is not a continuous traditional trail from end to end but consists of many trail traces, structures, landmarks, and markers left on the landscape to remind us that the trail still lives on.
- Chamizal (National Memorial), El Paso: Chamizal National Memorial is located near downtown El Paso, right on the Mexican border across from Ciudad Juarez. It encompasses about 55 acres and includes walking and bike trails, picnic areas, restrooms, an amphitheater, a parking lot, administrative offices, and a cultural center. Chamizal National Memorial is uncommon among more than 400 other national parks, both as an urban park and because of its full performance theater, which seats almost 500 people. This indoor theater and an outdoor amphitheater are stages for sharing the park’s history and borderland culture during various major events and other programs throughout the year
- El Camino Real de los Tejas (National Historic Trail), various locations: Trail sites are located across 2,580 miles and 5 states (in the U.S.) and thousands of miles in Mexico. El Camino Real de los Tejas National Historic Trail is administered by the National Park Service as a component of the National Trails System. The National Park Service administers the trail in partnership with El Camino Real de los Tejas Trail Association, American Indian tribes, state, county, and municipal governmental agencies, private landowners, nonprofit heritage conservation groups, and many others. Trail sites are in private, municipal, tribal, federal, or state ownership.
- El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro (National Historic Trail), various locations: El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro National Historic Trail runs through the heart of the Rio Grande Valley. The Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service administer the trail together to foster trail preservation and public use. These agencies work in close partnership with El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro Trail Association, American Indian tribes, state, county, and municipal governmental agencies, private landowners, nonprofit heritage conservation groups, and many others. Trail sites are located across 400 miles, two states, and two countries.
- Fort Davis (National Historic Site), Fort Davis: Fort Davis is one of the best surviving examples of an Indian Wars' frontier military post in the Southwest. From 1854 to 1891, Fort Davis was strategically located to protect emigrants, mail coaches, and freight wagons on the Trans-Pecos portion of the San Antonio-El Paso Road and the Chihuahua Trail. There is a visitor center and museum as well as trails with connect with Davis Mountains State Park.
- Guadalupe Mountains (National Park), Salt Flat: Guadalupe Mountains National Park protects the world's most extensive Permian fossil reef, the four highest peaks in Texas, an environmentally diverse collection of flora and fauna. To do: Hiking the trails, scenic drives, backpacking, horseback riding, camping, and fall colors. The 86,367-acre park includes the highest point in Texas (Guadalupe Peak at 8,751 feet).
- Lake Meredith (National Recreation Area), Fritch: Lake Meredith is in the Panhandle of Texas in an area famous for windswept and dry plains. It is a man-made lake created by an impoundment of the Canadian River. The lake is the largest body of water within a 200-mile radius and provides water to more than three-quarters of a million nearby residents. Lake Meredith is beautiful during all four seasons of the year. Spring wildflowers make a stunning appearance in the Canadian River Valley. Summertime temperatures are perfect for water sports, picnicking, and fishing. The fall and winter seasons are relatively mild and perfect for outdoor activities such as hiking, birdwatching, and camping.
- Lyndon B. Johnson (National Historic Park), Johnson City: Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park tells the story of our 36th President beginning with his ancestors until his final resting place on his beloved LBJ Ranch. The park has two visitor areas 14 miles apart. To do: Visit LJB’s boyhood home, walk on a trail, or take a self-guided driving tour of the ranch.
- Padre Island (National Seashore), Corpus Christi: Padre Island National Seashore is a national park that includes about 66 miles of undeveloped beaches and natural habitat. The national seashore is located on [North] Padre Island near the city of Corpus Christi, Texas.
- Palo Alto Battlefield (National Historic Park), Brownsville: Visit the site of the first battle that precipitated the Mexican-American War in 1846. The historic site portrays the battle and the war, and its causes and consequences, from the perspectives of both the United States and Mexico.
- Rio Grande (Wild & Scenic River), Southwest Texas: The National Park Service at the Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River preserves and protects free-flowing and natural and scenic conditions of the river and its immediate environment for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations. Float trips include Boquillas Canyon, Lower Canyons, Mariscal Canyon, and Hot Springs Canyon.
- San Antonio Missions (National Historic Park), San Antonio: This is the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in Texas. This park has four distinct visitor areas, each between 2-3 miles from the previous one. Starting 3 miles south of downtown San Antonio is Mission Concepción. Another 2½ miles is Mission San José, the location of the park's Visitor Center. Three miles beyond Mission San José is Mission San Juan and a Spanish colonial demonstration farm. The last and farthest south is Mission Espada.
- Waco Mammoth (National Monument), Waco: Waco Mammoth National Monument sits within 100 acres of wooded parkland along the Bosque River. The discovery of these fossils of a herd of Columbian Mammoths dating back 65,000 years ago in 1978 has been called a once-in-a-lifetime event.