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5 Epic Texas Road Trip Destinations to Beat the Crowds

Besides boasting the second largest population in the country, Texas is also the second largest state. However, at nearly 260,000 square miles, there isn’t a ton of outdoor access in the Lone Star State. In fact, less than 5% of Texas is public land, putting the state’s outdoor recreation level on par with Ohio and Illinois.

However, there are some epic Texas road trip destinations that can help you get outside big cities like Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio and into the Texas wilderness.

5. Big Bend Ranch State Park

best outdoor destinations for Texas road trips
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Big Bend National Park is easily the most popular outdoor destination for Texans. The massive park combines deserts, mountains, and the Rio Grande. Its size almost makes up for the state’s lack of outdoor spaces. However, campgrounds fill up quickly, so you should head northwest to Big Bend Ranch State Park. The park is also massive and has nearly 240 miles of hiking trails. Visitors will find much smaller crowds but still some of the best views in the state’s far west corner.

4. Guadalupe Mountains National Park

driving to guadalupe mountains
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If you have your heart set on being in a national park, don’t miss Guadalupe Mountains National Park. The park sits on the border of New Mexico, not far from Carlsbad Caverns or White Sands National Parks. The park includes the highest peak in Texas and plenty of fun alpine desert hikes. Regarding crowds, Guadalupe is one of the least visited national parks in the entire NPS system.

3. Franklin Mountains State Park

driving to el paso
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As Big Bend and Guadalupe show, Texas has mountains. Franklin Mountains State Park is another prime example of that. This park sits entirely within the city limits of El Paso and is one of the largest urban parks in the nation. Visitors will find plenty of trails, rock climbing spots, and a unique range of animals like mule deer, ringtail cats, and mountain lions.

2. Palo Duro Canyon State Park

palo duro hikes
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The Texas Panhandle is a vast, flat land wedged between New Mexico and Oklahoma. It’s also a quick hop over to Colorado, and rocks get really interesting here. In fact, the area’s Palo Duro is the second-largest canyon in the United States. There’s also a towering rock formation called the Lighthouse. The structure resembles something you’re more likely to see in southern Utah. The distance from most Texas metro areas makes this destination a quiet escape.

1. Devils River State Natural Area

Devils River kayaking
(Source: Texas Parks & Wildlife)

On the opposite side of the state is the Devils River State Natural Area. A Texas road trip there will bring you to one of the state’s most “pristine” rivers. A natural spring feeds the Devils River and gives it flowing clear water. The far south location also brings together multiple ecosystems, including the Chihuahuan Desert that crosses the international border with Mexico. Visitors can enjoy the area by canoeing, fishing, and camping.

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