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Everything’s bigger in Texas, at least that’s how the saying goes. So, what do you do when you’re day-to-day urban routine starts to get, well, a little dry? What if you ventured out of your city or suburb and took a headfirst dive into the big open country that fills those spaces between the cities that dot the Lone Star State? Camping Texas is the ultimate way to experience the state in its most natural form — that is, out and away from the cities and in the state parks, canyons, and open planes. This is where you’ll find that breath of fresh air you need so badly.
We’ve put together a guide to do a couple things. First, we want to share some of our favorite camping locations across the state. Second, we want to give you a few key camping Texas tips that will ensure that you bring the right gear and don’t make any of the rookie mistakes that other campers make when they explore a new place. With that in mind, here’s our expert guide to camping Texas.
Texas’ Best Camping Locations
Colorado Bend State Park
Naturally, camping in Texas can bring some hot temperatures. Luckily, Colorado Bend State Park throws a wrench in Mother Nature’s plans to cook you alive. Dotted with swimming holes and cool (in both ways) caves to explore, the park is much more than just hiking trails.
The park’s main attraction is Gorman Falls, a beautiful waterfall that plunges 65 feet down a rock face and adds an exclamation point to the Colorado River. The park is located an hour and a half west of Austin. It’s just far enough to feel like an escape but still close enough to avoid the road trip feeling.
Padre Island National Seashore
This is usually reserved for California camping, but thanks to Padre Island there are excellent Texas campsites that let you go from sleeping bag to ocean swimming in about 30 seconds. From fishing to kayaking to simply catching rays, Padre Island has no shortage of activities for the ocean-loving camper. And at night, there’s something magical about roasting mallows over an open fire with the sound of the crashing waves in the background. Oh, and those same waves probably beat your alarm clock back home.
Although it is an island, you can still make your way out to the campsite by car thanks to the Queen Isabella Bridge.
Palo Duro Canyon State Park
Maybe beach camping isn’t your thing. Well then, we recommend that you cross Texas and make your way into the beautiful Palo Duro Canyon State Park. Palo Duro has a classic southwestern feel to it with its scrub brush, striking canyons and all colors of red rock faces.
The hiking here is excellent and while we recommend that you spend plenty of time on foot, we also suggest that to match the vibe of the park, you spend at least one day on horseback covering the park and its trails.
Palo Duro is about a half hour from Amarillo for those not familiar with the geography of the area. If you can’t get enough red rock, you can also head an hour and a half southeast to Caprock Canyons State Park for more exploring.
Big Thicket National Preserve
For another drastic change in scenery, head to southeast Texas to explore Big Thicket National Preserve. While we would contest that “thicket” is an understatement, the “big” part certainly helps. Big Thicket is a massive expanse of forest and waterways perfect for campers looking to mix a little hiking and canoeing while enjoying the shade of the forest.
The preserve stretches across seven counties, so you’ll have plenty of room to explore and pick an ideal camping location.
Davis Mountain State Park
Davis Mountain State Park is for the hiker and the horseback rider. Located deep in West Texas, not far from the Mexican border, the park is simple, beautiful and an excellent escape from urban hustle and bustle. With an old Texas vibe, the park offers an opportunity to go back in time in a sense.
Horses are the preferred mode of transportation, but if you’re not into that there are plenty of trails perfect for those looking to make it on their own two feet. While the trails will fill your days, we encourage you to take a stargazing tour at night. With no nearby cities giving off a glow, the stars are especially bright.
Big Bend State Park
Another park right along the border, Big Bend is for the experienced camper really looking to get out there and find a view. Some trail hikes ascend as high as 8,000 feet and we can guarantee that from that height you’ll find some of the best views in the state. The views alone make Big Bend a must-visit.
The wildlife in the park also has quite the reputation. Be on the lookout for bears, mountain lions and a wide variety of bird species. You can even check out dinosaurs fossils kept at one of the park’s visitor centers.
Lost Maples State Park
Just under two hours northwest of San Antonio lies Lost Maples State Park, a sharp departure from the desert campgrounds on this list. The park looks more like a New England state park than anything out of Texas. Hiking and fishing are the go-to activities and pretty much everything is family-friendly as the terrain isn’t as intense as some of the other parks.
The time to go is definitely in fall. The maples in their fall colors make quite the sight, so make sure your phone has plenty of memory for more photos.
Inks Lake State Park
We talked about the Texas heat and yes, it’s famous for a reason. Thankfully Ink Lake exists to break up the summer warmth and give the family a camping option that won’t leave everyone suffering in the sun. The park lies along the Colorado River and there are plenty of excellent swimming spots along the river.
Located about an hour and a half northwest of Austin, it’s easy an easy trip from the city.
Texas Camping Essentials
Lightweight Backpack Tent
You don’t want a heavy tent weighing you down on the trail. Also, while temperatures drop at night in the desert areas you don’t need anything too heavy duty.
Camelbaks and Water Bags
The heat is best fought by good hydration. Pack plenty of water in ways that are easy to carry. Leave all the bottles at home and opt for the Camelbak and water bags.
This is critical especially in the tougher terrain of the desert. A cut on the hand shouldn’t ruin your camping trip. Make sure you have the tools to patch it up.
Animal Guide Book
Best to know what type of snake might be making its way through the campsite. It might be harmless, it might be a western diamondback rattlesnake. A handy book can also be helpful when you’re identifying animals on the run. It adds another level of excitement (and safety) to the trip.