“Everything is bigger in Texas,” the saying goes. Unsurprisingly that old standard line is pretty accurate. The largest state in the lower 48 — second only to Alaska in the whole U.S. — its enormity extends far beyond simple geographical boundaries.
Perhaps a better way to refer to this expansive state in the American Southwest is “wide” instead of “big.” Because it is a massive land area, sure, but what makes it “Texas” is the breadth, depth, and diversity of its size physically, spiritually, and culturally.
From the shine of squeaky new cowboy boots strolling the stockyard district of Fort Worth to the tattoo shops and music venues proclaiming “Keep Austin Weird!” to the empty plains speckled by oil derricks of West Texas, the “Lonestar State” contains vast multitudes.
It comes as no surprise to learn that the history and natural beauty of such a large and diverse state is as long and fascinating as any other in the Union.
Texas’ massive State Park system preserves this rich history and ecological wonder.
Below are some can’t-miss spots when visiting the 28th state admitted to the U.S.:
Mustang Island State Park: Perhaps pristine sandy beaches and easy, rolling warm ocean tides don’t spring to mind immediately when thinking of the Lonestar State, but it has plenty of both. This popular beach spot near Corpus Christie, TX, is a favorite for those seeking fun in the sun and relaxation. With over five miles of coastline, there is room for everyone and every activity. In addition to relaxing on the beach, popular activities include surfing, camping, kayaking, and swimming. For the more adventurous at heart, the area offers the Paddling Trail, more than 20 miles of coastline-hugging trails that take paddlers into some of the most remote shallow-water fishing and birding spots on the Gulf of Mexico. This spot is a must-visit!
Monahans Sandhills State Park: An ecological treat of the opposite variety awaits travelers west near Odessa, TX. It is a literal “ocean of sand” constantly changing and shifting — sometimes as quickly as overnight — into massive dunes pushed and pulled by the wild West Texas wind. Visitors can explore the dunes and the wildlife that inhabits them or rent a “sand disc” to “surf” the giant dusty waves. They can also simply tumble down them in childlike bliss and wonder! Additionally, travelers are welcome to stop into the Dunagan Visitors Center and learn more about the park’s history, the region, and the people who inhabited it long ago.
Big Bend Ranch State Park: This site proudly proclaims, “Welcome to the Other Side of Nowhere,” and it certainly lives up to that motto. An incredibly rugged region of the state, Big Bend Ranch offers exhilarating outdoor adventure for the wild at heart. Visitors hike, bike, horseback ride, and explore via two-wheel and four-wheel all-terrain vehicles in this remote destination. However, one of its signature calling cards is the opportunity to stargaze under the great bowl of Texas night stars. It’s designated an “International Dark Sky Park,” meaning there is a ban on certain types and amounts of light pollution allowed during certain hours. The night skies here are as vivid and clear as any in the region and represent a major reason why people flock for miles around to take in this true gem.