Texas Living

The Ultimate Texas State Park Guide: North Texas Edition

By Peter Simek 4.29.22

The northern region of Texas’ parks system is as varied as it is stunning. It includes many human-made lakes and reservoirs that are popular weekend recreation spots for many of Texas’ city dwellers. Whether you are looking to strap on water skis or hiking boots, these North Texas state parks will have plenty to offer.

Photo courtesy of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

1. Cleburne State Park, Cleburne

Given the size and grandeur of so many of Texas’ parks, it’s easy to overlook this little park centered around a spring-fed lake. But the wilderness getaway that lies only 30 minutes southwest of Fort Worth provides the perfect setting for a quick escape. With a popular campground, lakeside beach, hiking and biking trails, and ample picnic facilities, Cleburne is ideal for families with young children looking to get outside.

  • Best time to go: Spring
  • Popular activities: Swimming, fishing, hiking, and biking
  • Wildlife spotting: White-tailed deer, bobcats, cottontail rabbits, and coyotes
  • Don’t miss: More bluebonnets in spring than you’ve ever seen
Photo courtesy of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

2. Dinosaur Valley State Park, Glen Rose

Located in Brazos River country on the banks of the tributary Paluxy River is home to the discovery of one of the most significant paleontological finds of its time: incredibly preserved fossilized dinosaur footprints in the limestone riverbed. Today, visitors can hike and swim in the river and walk in the footsteps of the giant creatures that roamed this part of the world millions of years ago.

  • Best time to go: Spring or fall
  • Popular activities: Hiking, mountain biking, fishing, swimming, and paddling
  • Most unique draw: Hunting for dinosaurs! (Or their tracks, at least.)
  • Don’t miss: The smartphone app-guided tour of ancient dinosaur highways in the area
Photo courtesy of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

3. Fort Richardson State Park & Historic Site, Jacksboro

Fort Richardson tells an important story about the history of Texas. Founded after the Civil War, it was one of a series of forts installed to advance white settlement into the state while fighting Indigenous tribes along the edge of the frontier. Today, visitors swing by to visit Quarry Lake.

  • Best time to go: Spring through fall
  • Popular activities: Camping, hiking, biking, and fishing
  • Most unique draw: Hiking, biking, or riding the 9-mile Lost Creek Reservoir Trailway and seeing North Texas scenery along the way
  • Don’t miss: Free tours of the remaining original buildings from the 19th-century fort itself
Photo courtesy of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

4. Lake Arrowhead State Park, Wichita Falls

Originally built as a water source for Wichita Falls, this 16,200-acre lake is a popular recreation spot for residents of the town, which lies about 15 miles to the north. Fishing is the main draw, but there are plenty of other activities to enjoy, including a challenging disc golf course.

  • Best time to go: Spring or fall
  • Popular activities: Fishing, paddling, hiking, birdwatching, and horseback riding
  • Wildlife spotting: Rare birds, including bald eagles, belted kingfishers, and long-eared owls
  • Don’t miss: Migrating monarch butterflies in spring and fall
Photo courtesy of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

5. Lake Whitney State Park, Whitney

Located about an hour south of Fort Worth and an hour northwest of Waco, Lake Whitney is a popular draw for couples and families looking for an accessible place to reconnect with the natural world. Good fishing, wildlife, and the park’s estimated 200 species of birds attract visitors. A 2,000-foot runway that allows access for small aircraft has also made the park a hub for miniature model aircraft clubs.

  • Best time to go: Summer or warm days in spring
  • Popular activities: Fishing, camping, hiking, and biking
  • Biggest challenge: The annual youth fishing tournament each summer
  • Don’t miss: Nature spotting in the Washita Prairie (don’t forget your binoculars!)
Photo courtesy of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

6. Possum Kingdom State Park, Caddo

Formed by the damming of the Brazos River, this stunning lake, situated within the rolling river valley, features some of the clearest, bluest water of any freshwater reservoir in the Southwest. That has made it popular for aquatic sports of all kinds, including scuba diving and snorkeling. One of its most striking features is Hell’s Gate, which is formed by two tall, thin cliffs that offer entry into southern cove in the lake.

  • Best time to go: Summer
  • Popular activities: Swimming, paddling, fishing, scuba diving, and snorkeling
  • Most unique draw: More than 300 miles of shoreline on crystal-blue water
  • Don’t miss: Fourth of July fireworks at Hell’s Gate
Photo courtesy of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

7. Purtis Creek State Park, Eustace

One of Texas’ best-kept fishing secrets, this small lake about an hour southeast of Dallas was created specifically for fishing. It is well-stocked with largemouth bass for catch-and-release only, so anglers of all skill levels are sure to nab something. Alternatively, save a fish and take a canoe ride up Purtis Creek and into the thick Piney Woods.

  • Best time to go: Spring or fall
  • Popular activities: Fishing, boating, and camping
  • Most unique draw: Nighttime fishing for catfish and crappie
  • Don’t miss: Hiking the Beaver Slide Nature Path and seeing the dam
Photo courtesy of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

The Dallas-Fort Worth Lakes

The tremendous growth of the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area over the past 50 years has led to the establishment of several human-made lakes that provide both a reliable water supply to the region and new recreational opportunities. These lakes are popular weekend spots for picnickers, bike riders, campers, anglers, and boaters. They include:

  • Cedar Hill State Park on Joe Pool Lake, Cedar Hill
  • Eisenhower State Park on Lake Texoma, Denison
  • Lake Mineral Wells, Mineral Wells
  • Ray Roberts Lake, Pilot Point
  • Lake Tawakoni, Wills Point, known as the “Gateway to East Texas” — explore East Texas’ state parks here.

State parks in North Texas are just the tip of the iceberg. See what parks you can visit in West Texas, too.

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