Texas Living

Roundup: The Best Hiking Trails in Texas

By Peter Simek 12.21.22

There’s no shortage of great hiking trails in Texas. From the challenging, steep climbs of Big Bend National Park to meandering forest trails in East Texas, Texas offers excellent options for hikers of all skill levels and ambitions. In fact, the toughest thing to figure out in Texas is when to hike. In summer, some trails can become dangerously hot. The western deserts can be a challenge without a lot of available water. And during spring rains, some trails can be washed out as riverbanks overflow.

So let us introduce you to one of our favorite times of the year to explore the great Texas outdoors: winter. During the winter, the hottest parts of the state are temperate and cool. Dustings of snow can make hikes in the panhandle or parts of North Texas feel like magical wonderlands. While other parts of the country shut down their outdoors in the winter, in Texas, our landscapes come alive. 

hiking trails in Texas

The Best Hiking Trails in Texas

Hiking Trail Bucket List: With 268,597 square miles of landscape to explore, your hiking bucket list is likely long, but here are some must-add trails that show off Texas in all its splendor. You might have been to Big Bend National Park, but don’t miss Santa Elena Canyon and backpack for a weekend in the Davy Crockett National Forest. From scenic mountaintops and deserts to canyons and even underground caverns, you won’t want to miss this list.

Texas’ Longest Wilderness Footpath: One of the longest hiking trails in Texas is the 96-mile Lone Star Hiking Trail. The trail winds through Sam Houston National Forest and carves through dense vegetation, soggy bogs, creeks, streams, and lakes. During winter, hikers won’t suffer from the summer humidity. After January, the trail clears out and hikers can enjoy one of the most tranquil, solitary walks in the state.

6 Best Walking Trails: Take a walk on the wild side and trek through six of Texas’ best walking trails. Most of these are less than three miles round trip, but they sure do pack in the beauty. Overlook Trail at Bastrop State Park is an enchanting trail blanketed with pine needles, and the 40-Acre Lake Trail at Brazos Bend State Park is a walk full of wildlife sightings. If you’re looking for something more substantial, head to Austin to walk the Barton Creek Greenbelt Trail, which spans nearly 14 miles.

5 Best Rock Climbs: Don’t look down! These rock climbs are not for the faint of heart, but they sure are exhilarating. If you’re a daredevil yourself, pack your climbing gear, bring someone for supervision, and head out to one of these top five spots. Hueco Tanks State Park and Historic site is known for its tough climbs, and Rogers Park’s best-kept climbing secret is its boulders.

hiking trails in Texas

Texas Hiking Destinations

National Forests: Want to walk in a winter wonderland? Look no further. These national forests are the perfect destinations to immerse yourself in nature and hike in quiet contemplation. If you’re one for birdwatching, you must visit Sabine National Forest, where songbirds, hawks, and shorebirds fly among the grand cypress trees.

Mountain Ranges: When you think of summiting mountains, you probably don’t think of Texas. But don’t discount our hidden mountain ranges. From the Guadalupe Mountains, which cross the border to New Mexico, to the Davis Mountains, the Chisos Mountains, and the Chinati Mountains, there’s more to Texas topology than you might realize.

Nature Preserves: For a peaceful hike through true Texas terrain, head to these protected nature reserves. Explore 4,000 acres of the Balcones Canyonlands’ natural ecosystem, hike through the oak and juniper forestland, and keep an eye out for two endangered migratory songbirds, the golden-cheeked warbler and the black-capped vireo. For a taste of what it must have been like for the first frontiersmen, head to Clymer Meadow Preserve in Celeste. Here visitors can explore the prairies that once stretched from Texas into Canada.

hiking trails in Texas

Texas Parks Guides

State Parks: Texas is full of opportunities to explore the great outdoors thanks to several national parks that are located across the Lone Star State. From North to South, East to West, and everywhere in between (Central), these comprehensive lists make sure you know all the best state parks near you.

National Parks: Did you know Texas has 16 National Park Service sites? From preserves, historic sites, and two National Historic trails there is no shortage of opportunities to embrace adventure and enjoy all the natural wonders Texas has to offer. Not only will visitors learn to appreciate the diverse landscape, but they may learn some history of how our great state came to be.

Backpacking Big Bend: Big Bend National Park is one of the least visited parks of the national park system, but it’s the largest and offers the ultimate backpacking loop. While it’s difficult to get to, this three-day trek is well worth it as you hike through the forests of the Chisos Basin and out to the desert that requires a thirst for adventure.

hiking trails in Texas

Wildlife Watching

Wildlife Sanctuaries: In addition to hiking trails, Texas is home to many beautiful wildlife refuges, some of which come alive during the winter. Explore one of Texas’ most remote and biologically diverse natural landscapes of the Davis Mountains Preserve or experience the thrilling sight of millions of Mexican free-tailed bats swarming at the Eckert James River Bat Cave Preserve. If you prefer a more tranquil experience, head to the National Butterfly Center where several hundred species of butterfly can be found.

Kids’ Guide to Spotting Wildlife: From spotting animal tracks to knowing what kind of Texas animals live in which landscape, this children’s guide to spotting wildlife will make sure your next family adventure is full of fun for the whole family. Check out this guide so you’ll never mistake a Bobcat, Javelina, or Pronghorn again, as well as how to maintain safety if you cross paths.

Field Guide to Texas Birds: Whether you travel for rare sightings or prefer to bird watch from the comfort of your backyard, this field guide to Texas birds has everything you need to know about spotting some of the more common birds and the best bird-watching destinations.

hiking trails in Texas

Hiking Safety

Hiking in Texas is never a mere walk in the park. With weather conditions that can change quickly and drastically, challenges with water, and plenty of dangerous terrain, it is crucial to take the necessary steps to stay safe before any hike — especially in the winter.

A few tips to highlight that are particularly important in winter:

  • Know the weather: Winter weather can be fickle. Make sure you’re inadvertently heading out into a pending winter blizzard.
  • Pack the right gear: Even if it feels temperate at home, changes in elevations or open spaces can create temperatures that can make hiking uncomfortable — or even dangerous— without proper gear.
  • Leave a plan: Let others know where you are going, when you are leaving, and when you plan to return. If you get stuck, someone will know to search for you.

To ensure safety on your next hike, here’s our complete guide to hiking safely in Texas.

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