Best Hiking Trails in Texas
Vast and filled with an impressive diversity of landscapes, the erstwhile republic and current second-largest state in the United States by area, Texas is prairie and hill country, canyons and bigtooth maples, the land of cowboys, federales, and oil derricks. Nevermind the popular conception of flat, desolate expanses with tumbleweeds and prairie dogs. The variety of environments in Texas contain just as wide a variety of hiking trails and miles of trails for mountain biking. Wildflowers such as the winecup and the bluebonnet flourish in the grassland areas of Texas while natural features like the Gorman Falls two hours northwest of Austin add opportunities for repose to the many miles of hiking trails.
Notoriously proud people, Texans have a lot to brag about with a whopping 14 national parks and 80 state parks in their home state. Hikers can enjoy a simple day hike or any of a number of other outdoor activities like mountain biking and equestrian sports. Many Texas parks feature a nature center that can inform visitors about local flora and fauna. There are also some nature preserves that offer miles of hiking but also have some fascinating wildlife. Whether you do it for fitness reasons or as part of a backpacking journey, you won’t regret hitting the trailheads in the Lone Star state. Check out the best hiking trails in Texas and go see how many miles you can hike through the majestic prairies and canyons.
Lost Maples State Natural Area
Located near the town of Vanderpool, about three hours away from Austin and about 2 hours from San Antonio, the Lost Maples State Natural Area has many miles of hiking trails. The two we’ve chosen offer the best views, landscapes, and a rigorous enough trail that hikers won’t feel bored or underwhelmed on their trek.
The Lost Maples East Trail Loop is a four-and-a-half-mile trail that’s difficult enough to give hikers a good scramble but not so much that they will come away from the loop trail completely exhausted. All the best Texas hill country has to offer is on view along this short hiking trail. Wildflowers and waterfalls cover the space between the eponymous big tooth maples. The hill country surrounding this hiking trail is breathtaking, especially in the autumn when the big tooth maples start to change colors.
Bird watching and mountain biking are both favorite activities on this loop trail. Don’t miss Monkey Rock along this trail, a humorous natural rock formation that’s weathered into a likeness of a chimpanzee. They could rename this hiking trail the Can Creek Canyon Trail, after the canyon you’ll find here. There are also other elaborately carved cliffs, including “The Grotto” with its ferns and springs, as well as the Sabinal River. Bear in mind that there is a small fee to enter this park, but it’s well worth the price of admission, especially if you decide to try a bit of camping and hike both the East and West loop trail as a rigorous day hike or over the course of two days.
Longer than its eastern counterpart in the Lost Maples State Natural Area, the Lost Maples West Trail loop is a 7-mile trail is beloved for its red and yellow fall foliage, owed mainly to its “lost” biota of Uvalde bigtooth maples, and for its birdwatching, as this loop trail features the black-capped vireo and golden-cheeked warbler. Hikers inspired by fitness interests to do some miles of hiking along this nature trail might be interested in joining the annual volksmarch that occurs along the Lost Maples West loop trail.
One thing hikers will want to remember when they hit this trail is that the bigtooth maples look especially beautiful in the autumn months when their leaves change color. This trail is also a canyon trail, meandering along the south rim of the same canyon as the East loop trail in the Lost Maples area. Watch out along the edge of the canyon, because it can be very slippery. It’s very shady which is good news for hikers concerned about prolonged exposure underneath that harsh Lone Star sun.
About a two-hour drive from El Paso, near the state line with New Mexico, enterprising hikers can find the Guadalupe Mountains National Park, so-named after the wonderfully green and eminently hike-able Guadalupe Mountain. There are many miles of trails within this national park, but we’ve picked out the best of the best.
This 3.6-mile trail is a great way to take in the Texas hill country. The Guadalupe peak is visible for most of the hike, but the real standout feature of this hiking trail is one of the coolest hidden gems of the hill country, a natural formation called Devil’s Hall. There’s a healthy mixture of greenery and red rock along this trail, so hikers won’t be lulled into autopilot by the scenery. Plenty of outdoor activities can be paired with hiking on this nature trail, such as mountain biking or horseriding for the more equestrian outdoor enthusiasts. The wildflowers on view along this Guadalupe Peak trail are charming and multi-colored, but they grow low to the ground so make sure to keep your eyes open for them!
Hikers may be able to see some of the Texas wildlife if they’re lucky, perhaps even mountain goats. This isn’t the most difficult of hiking trails, and in fact, most hikers may want to traverse the whole thing because the round-trip hike will last a little longer. Amongst this Texas nature, hikers will definitely be enticed to stay out on the trail longer.
Hikers looking for a more challenging hike in the Guadalupe Mountains National Park will want to check out this 8-mile trail. As you can probably tell from the name, this trail will take you to the highest point of the Guadalupe peak. It’s not for the faint of heart, as it is quite strenuous, but experienced hikers should be able to complete the round-trip hike in 6 to 8 hours. The view of the surrounding deserts and forest from the Guadalupe peak are well worth the exertion needed to conquer this hike. Wildflowers grow in between the pinion pine, southwestern white pine, and Douglas firs along this hiking trail.
Mountain biking and camping are common activities along this trail, especially for hikers exploring the surrounding hill country area in greater detail. Look out for the false summit about a mile down the trail from the real one, there is more hiking after that point but the campground is also located there. They sometimes jokingly refer to this Guadalupe peak trail as a hike to the top of Texas, since Guadalupe peak is the highest point for miles around.
Half an hour away from Amarillo, the Palo Duro Canyon State Park offers some of the nicest canyon trails in Texas. You can tell from their charming names a little of the Lone Star character of these trails, including more mesquite or desert features than some of the hiking trails we’ve looked at so far.
Hikers along the Lighthouse Trail may begin scanning the red rock landscape for a building with a light, which would look out of place this far away from any sea. Don’t be fooled, though. The ‘lighthouse’ is actually a rock formation that you’ll find along the trail. Beyond that landmark, the surrounding area is mostly rocks and low shrubbery. Hiking, equestrian activity, mountain biking, and running are all popular along this trail. Make sure to wear sunscreen if you need it because there is very little shade from that Lone Star sun along the Lighthouse Trail.
Palo Duro Canyon is a fantastic area to hike around. The wildlife is what you’d expect in the Texas desert, like prairie dogs and lizards. There are a few snakes but don’t worry too much about them. Pal Duro Canyon has a few advantages over other Texas parks, including a campground and a nearby RV park. Hikers looking for more than a day hike can check out the other trails and camp easily in Palo Duro Canyon State Park.
This 5-mile trail is shorter than the previous Palo Duro Canyon trail but every bit as nice a hike. The Rock Garden Trail climbs from a field of boulders at the bottom of Palo Duro Canyon to the Rylander Fortress Cliff Trail along the canyon’s south rim. It’s a good workout and offers great views of the surrounding area, which is more desert than the hill country offered in previous trails in this guide. The Rock Garden Trail is more difficult in terms of straight climbing than the Lighthouse Trail, but it’s still easy enough that you can chat with your fellow hikers along the way.
Wildflowers grow with the shrubbery and the terrain here is more entertaining than the Lighthouse Trail. The round-trip on this trail is completely enjoyable, although the trail markers could be clearer. Make sure to bring some kind of navigation equipment, such as GPS or a map, to make sure you can stick to the trail.
Two hours from both Austin and San Antonio, this state park adds a little mysticism to Texas outdoors activity. The Enchanted Rock is a pink granite mountain that archaeological evidence indicates has supported human inhabitants for over 10,000 years. It frequently tops lists of the best place the go camping in Texas, which will excite any hikers looking to turn their day hike into longer-term hiking trips.
This five-mile trail is a loop trail, which means no backtracking for hikers and the round-trip distance of 10 miles is easily accomplished in a day hike. It circles most of the Enchanted Rock State Natural Area and gives a good perspective on the Enchanted Rock itself. There’s about a mile of the trail that sometimes floods with rain, but there is always a back-up walkaround path so you won’t show up to the area and not be able to complete your planned hike. There is a small fee to enter the park and hike but it is well worth it to see the largest pink granite mountain in the United States.
There are many legends about the Enchanted Rock, including one that ghost fires can be seen at the top of the rock at night, and another that anyone who spends the night on the rock becomes invisible. Make sure you keep a close eye on your fellow hikers if you plan to do any camping!
Don’t be put off by the short length of this 1.8-mile trail. It’s the undisputed star of the hiking trails in Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, offering 360° views from the top of the Enchanted Rock. If you want to investigate the rumored ghost-fires, this is the trail to take to the summit. The round-trip distance of under 4 miles is easily done, as the trail is basically just a steady incline all the way up. It can be very crowded on the weekends, as it is the main attraction of the area. Make sure to wear a hat or wear sun protection of some kind, as there isn’t any shade on the rock and the Texas sun can be quite unforgiving in the summer.
Listen out for rattlesnakes as well, although the heavy foot traffic will most likely keep them well away from your hiking group. It’s kid-friendly and excellent for bird watching and seeing wildlife and wildflowers. This is an absolute gem of the Lone Star State that many outside of Texas are not aware of, so it’s a must-see, especially if you’re in Texas for the hiking trails.
Big Bend National Park
Located about 4.5 hours from El Paso, the Big Bend National Park is worth making the trip all the way across Texas to see where the park straddles the United States border with Mexico. The river in this national park is so breathtaking it almost seems other-worldly. The Rio Grande River that forms the border with Mexico flows through this park and is visible from the hiking trails. Big Bend National Park is the perfect place to see the southwestern-style flair in the personality of Texas.
The Santa Elena Canyon Trail is the main attraction of Big Bend National Park, much as the Enchanted Rock Summit Trail was for the Enchanted Rock State Natural Area. Its 1.5-mile length is comparable to the Enchanted Rock Summit Trail, and some of the rock formations in the landscape may call it to mind for the hiker fortunate enough to have seen both locations. Bird watching, hiking, mountain biking, and wildflower picking are all popular activities in the park and on this trail.
Lush vegetation grows in between the 1,500-foot cliffs and the Rio Grande courses its way quietly along in an area of this trail that is the perfect spot to take lunch before hikers turn around to complete the second half of the round-trip hike. One danger is that during times of high precipitation, Terlingua Creek can flood and render the Santa Elena Canyon Trail impassable. However, hikers who plan ahead with the weather will love the hike on this canyon trail.
13. The Window Trail
This 5.4-mile trail is great for hikers who want something a little more challenging than the Santa Elena Canyon Trail. It isn’t too rough going on the Window Trail, but it is at least long enough to grant hikers a full afternoon of entertainment on a day hike. The rolling hills and vertical rock of the surrounding area make this hike great for pensive hikers who like miles of hiking in natural conditions that bring the stature of the hiker to light. The end of the Window Trail is a pouroff with spectacular views of the Chihuahua Desert. Be mindful when hiking here, though, because flash floods can make the pouroff extremely dangerous.
The ledge of this canyon trail is very slippery so hikers should remain mindful during the course of their hike here. Bring waterproof boots for the creek crossing, which shouldn’t give experienced hikers too much trouble otherwise. Start out early in the morning to avoid the Lone Star sun in the summer months. Keep an eye out for dangerous snake dens in rocky areas and also for the beautiful agave havardiana blooms along the way.
There is a charm in Texas that simply cannot be found anywhere else in the United States. Most of that charm stems from the varied, wonderful, and occasionally potentially magical natural landscape. The flora is worth the trip alone, from agave blooms to bigtooth maples and wildflowers that will leave a lasting impression on attentive hikers. Loop trails abound in the multitude of national and state parks in Texas. Bike trails, nature centers, and equestrian trails are all par for the course in Texas.
One of the only things truly dangerous about a day hike in Texas is the severe sun in summer and the occasional snake. Hikers should also be wary that a day hike in Texas can turn into a permanent residency if they aren’t careful because they may never want to leave the completely unique culture and landscape found all over the Lone Star State.
Bonus tip: Curious about that Lone Star magic? Check out this video from Texas Parks & Wildlife to see the Enchanted Rock State Natural Area!