Best Places to Camp in Texas

Camping in the lone star state offers more opportunities than the avid camper could possibly wish for. In this state you’ll find an incredible range of ecosystems, from mountains to desert gorges, you can go fishing for bass in monumental lakes, or help protect endangered sea turtle species along the Padre Island seashore. And one thing that makes camping here very Texan, is that everything is supersized. Feel humbled by the magnitude of nature, as you adventure around these jaw-dropping rock formations, or wake up from your primitive camping spot surrounded by mountain vistas. 

If you’re planning a getaway to Texas, we’d recommend coming for a couple of weeks at a time, and really making the most of the natural habitats while you’re here. To help you make up your mind on the best places to visit, even if you’re a Texas local wanting to explore your magnificent state further, we’ve done the hard work for you. Read through our guide for the best places to camp in Texas, to find out the best spots in all the different terrains the state has to offer. 

 

Your next camping adventure awaits in Texas.

 

1. Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park is one of Texas’ most breathtaking parks. Big Bend National Park is in southwest Texas and includes the entire Chisos mountain range and a large swath of the Chihuahuan Desert. There are many different activities to do here, to explore the unique and stunning landscape. For example, head off on the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive which leads to the ruins of Sam Nail Ranch, now home to desert wildlife. Or adventure around The Santa Elena Canyon, carved by the Rio Grande, and tackle the steep limestone cliffs on your hike. 

If you’re not satisfied by the ancient rocks here and want to see something ancient created by humans, you can head down to Langford Hot Springs, near the Mexican border, which has pictographs and the foundations of an old bathhouse. This incredible archeology is combined with a park claiming the most diversity of species in the country. The Rio Grande cuts through the 800,000-acre park, providing rafting and swimming opportunities, where you can observe some of the hundreds of species of birds flying past you. Examine dinosaur tracks, hike, bike, horseback ride, or just enjoy the scenic views. Unlike many camping sites, there is much to do at night as well, with live music and saloons in the area’s ghost towns. Big Bend is so large, the geography features differ from one end to the other; check out the video at the end of the article to get a more complete picture of the magnify of this place.

 

2. Inks Lake State Park

Inks Lake State Park sits an hour away from Austin in the Texas Hill Country, next to Inks Lake on the Colorado River. The lake’s water level is pretty consistent year-round, meaning its a great spot to kayak, canoe, swim, boat, or even scuba dive when the weather is nice, which as we know is pretty often in this state. The landscape of the park is hilly, with many cedar, live oak, prickly pear cacti, and yuccas. Head here to explore this arid and beautiful landscape, and head on a hike that will really get your burning those calories. There are 9 miles of hiking trails through shady forests and across rocky hills, making this a perfect location for a hiking vacation

Inks Lake State Park is a fantastic place to head to for a camping vacation, because there’s so much to do here, that you and your group will never get bored. Campers can rent equipment for many of the aforementioned activities, as well as fishing equipment to catch bass, catfish, and sunfish. And a great benefit is that inTexas, you do not need a fishing license to fish from a pier or the shore in a state park. So you can hire your kit here, and angle away without a care in the world. There are 200 campsites and 22 cabins to choose from, as well as playgrounds, trails, and a general store.

 

3. Possum Kingdom State Park

Possum Kingdom State Park offers one of the most relaxing camping experiences in the state. The clear water provides opportunities to snorkel, water ski, scuba dive, boat, swim, or have a shoreline picnic. Most of the activities in this State Par revolve around the water, and around the 300 miles of shoreline to be exact. There are also lots of little coves you can explore, and swim around in with any younger members of your group. They’re sure to find it a magical experience. There are a few different options in this park for accommodation. Firstly, as an alternative to sleeping in a tent, the onsite air-conditioned cabins can be key to fully enjoying camping during the hot Texas summer. Or, you can bring a portable air conditioner with you, and opt for one of the water and electricity sites, water only sites, or primitive walk-in sites. 

Again, at Possum Kingdom State Park, Texas’ laws about fishing licenses mean you can cast off without a care in the world. In this State Park, you’ll have ample opportunities to fish for largemouth, striped and white bass, channel and blue catfish, and white crappie. The park has a boat launch, fishing pier, and fish cleaning station. Kids can participate in the educational Junior Ranger program and complete exploration activities to earn their badge. You can head to Possum Kingdom State Park Store and Marina, which rents canoes, boat slips, wakeboards, kneeboards, water skis, and tubes. They also sell some grocery, camping and fishing supplies.

 

A bed of rocks in a creek.

Explore the bubbling water at McKinney Falls.

 

4. McKinney Falls State Park

McKinney Falls State Park is only 13 miles from Austin, within the city limits, so makes for an easy weekend or day trip for city dwellers, or if you’re traveling into Texas for a longer camping trip around the state. This is a stunning park, where you can listen to the smooth waters of Onion Creek flowing over limestone ledges, and splashing into pools, where you could give your weary feet a rest from hiking. The trails lead through gorgeous, peaceful Hill Country woods. And why not combine your camping trip with a visit to the zany city of Austin? It’s almost impossible to get bored in this city, which proudly claims to be one of the weirdest in the world. Find out for yourself… 

If you’re looking for other activities as well as hiking then this park has got you covered. Here you can also stay at one of the 81 campsites, all with water and electric hookups, or rent one of their 6 quaint little cabins. You can also go fishing or swimming in Onion or Williamson creeks. The 2.8-mile Onion Creek Hike and Bike Trail are also great for strollers and road bikes, due to its hard surface. There are also some great wildlife viewing opportunities: painted bunting and other songbirds, raccoons, armadillos, and deer. 

Our top pick of hiking trail in McKinney Falls State Park is the Rock Shelter Trail. This is an easy, 0.7-mile trail, which is great for family groups and all skill levels. It’s also a great, easy hike to take your dog on, but they must be kept on a leash. Take a quick loop through a breathtaking natural rock formation, under overhangs of limestone cliffs, and seep in the history: here Native Americans have used the spot as a shelter for thousands of years. This is also the perfect hike to view and enjoy the stunning creeks below, as you adventure over cute little wooden bridges, and through the lovely Hill Country woodlands.

 

5. Sam Houston National Forest

The Sam Houston National Forest is one of the four National Parks in Texas and spans over 160,000 acres of protected land 50 miles north of Houston. It contains the winding, 128-mile Lone Star Hiking Trail, which is perfect if you want to plan a camping trip around a long and challenging hike. One unique thing about visiting the Sam Houston National Forest is the incredible history that lies within.

Evidence has been uncovered of human occupation here dating back 12,000 years. More recently, the basins of the San Jacinto and Trinity Rivers were home to Atakapan-speaking groups known as the Bidai, Patiri, Deadose, and Akokisa. These native peoples saw the forest as their home up until their extinction in the 1800s. But scattered throughout the forest are a number of archaeological sites that will really blow your socks off, and teach you something new about the original inhabitants of the forest. 

Primitive camping is allowed here, except during deer hunting season, and multiple campgrounds have electric and water hookups available. Because primitive camping is permitted, a great idea would be to follow the Lone Star Hiking Trail, and see how far you get along these miles of trails. This means you don’t have to plan your hiking and camping adventure as stringently, as you can just set up camp when you start to get tired for the evening. Due to this park’s massive size, campers can enjoy a wide variety of camping activities such as horseback riding, wading, boating, bicycling, wildlife watching and hunting, and canoeing.

 

6. Colorado Bend State Park

We would recommend Colorado Bend State Park for adventurers who love to explore and learn everything about the great outdoors. There are many activities here that will encourage all of your group to get their hands dirty and find out more about nature. Marvel at the beauty of Gorman Falls, cool off in Spicewood Springs, fish or paddle the river, take a cave tour, and test your limits on 35 miles of hike and bike trails. The Colorado River running through can provide kayaking opportunities, too. However, you might need to plan this in advance and make sure to do all your research: the water level fluctuates often due to drought or flooding. Multiple ranger-guided tours are available, such as the Gorman Falls tour and cave tours

With a vacation consisting of venturing into caves, mountain biking, primitive camping, and birdwatching, you’re sure to want to relax and have a breather at your campsite after a long day of adventures. And to make the experience even more adventurous, the camping facilities are sparse. If you’re with fussy campers and want all the amenities in the great outdoors, we wouldn’t recommend this spot. Here there are a few options: drive-up sites, walk-in tent sites or primitive hike-in sites. There are some composting toilets, but no hookups for RV camping. Camping here is for those who want a real back-to-nature experience, and don’t mind roughing it a bit to fully immerse themselves in nature.

 

A cave photo.

Texas is full of caves rich for exploring.

 

7. Palo Duro Canyon State Park

Palo Duro Canyon State Park is sometimes known as the “Grand Canyon of Texas”. Google some pictures of it, and you’ll see why. Its erosion-formed red rocks, and dramatic canyon are reminiscent of one of the natural wonders of the world. It was formed by millions of years of water erosion by the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River and the West Texas wind. With a descent of some 800 feet to the canyon floor, Palo Duro Canyon State Park offers fantastic scenic views, that will get you snap happy. 

There are also historical sites and markers, to help you understand the landscape around you, picnic tables, public restrooms and showers, miles and miles of hiking and biking trails, and horseback riding. The juniper and mesquite trees in the area led to the naming of Palo Duro, or “hardwood,” by Spanish explorers. The canyon is 120 miles long, and campers can stay along the perimeter in cabins or a range of primitive hike-in, developed, or equestrian camping sites. There’s an option here available for everyone, from one-night tent camping stays, to areas to park your large motor home. 

 

8. Davis Mountains State Park

Head off into the mountains of West Texas for your next relaxing camping trip. Trek through Davis Mountains State Park on foot or by car, bike, horseback, and study the beautiful nature around you. Why not download one of these useful hiking apps, so you can identify all of the unique flora and fauna you come across? Or download an app so you can recognize constellations in the glittering night sky. This State Park is famous for its starry, starry nights. And they accommodate for it: a choice of primitive campsites and developed campsites offer prime stargazing around the campfire. 

Davis Mountains State Park boasts the “best little bird blind in Texas”. This enclosed bird blind with watering and feeding stations is the perfect place to watch out for birds, in what The American Bird Conservancy has recognized as a Globally Important Bird Area. The park is home to over 260 species of birds and provides refuge to several species of concern. For example, you might be able to sight Montezuma quail on a hike, or the common black-hawk, Bell’s vireo, and black-headed grosbeak are among the western birds visitors may see. From the bird blind, you’ll be likely to see scrub jays, white-winged doves, and acorn woodpeckers.

 

9. Padre Island National Seashore

If the other options were just too rocky for you, and you’re looking for an escape to the sea, then look no further than Padre Island National Seashore. The 70 miles of coastline is the longest stretch of an undeveloped barrier island in the world, protecting the coastline, dunes, prairies, and wind tidal flats teeming with life, and creating a haven for coast-dwelling creatures like sea birds and sea turtles. It separates the Gulf of Mexico from the Laguna Madre. If you’re going camping for wildlife viewing, then this natural area is a great option for you. It is a safe nesting ground for the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle and a haven for over 380 bird species. Remember to take your binoculars, and a birding guide, so you can spot some of the many birds in this National Seashore. 

There are many things to see and do here, including going paddling, kayaking or out on paddle boats on the Laguna Madre and swimming holes, or attend a ranger program to find out how they protect this unique habitat. This camping area offers a special experience for conservation enthusiasts: the opportunity to help or watch rangers rescue and release rehabilitated sea turtles and hatchlings, the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, which are endangered.

 

A white star on a wooden wall.

Get ready for your camping adventure, because everything is supersized in Texas.

 

Final Verdict: 

For hikers, backpackers and all outdoors enthusiasts out there, Texas is one of the most spellbinding places to go camping. There’s nothing like waking up surrounded by russet-colored rocks, carved by thousands of years of erosion, or heading off to witness turtle hatchlings being released into the sea after your in-camp breakfast. This state offers so many fun outdoor activities that you’ll be spoilt for choice: from rock climbing to bird watching, kayaking to ranger’s talks, there are so many ways to immerse yourself in and find out about, the unique set of habitats and history encapsulated in this state. We hope you’re adventurous and find the best places to camp in Texas for you. 

 

Bonus tip: Check out all the amazing geological features of Big Bend National Park in this video! 

 

 

Riley Draper

Riley Draper

Riley Draper is a writer and entrepreneur from Chattanooga, Tennessee. As a world traveler, he has been to more than fifty countries and hiked some of the most elusive trails in the world. He is the co-founder of WeCounsel Solutions and has published work in both national and global outlets, including the Times Free Press, Patch, and Healthcare Global. When he's not writing, he's probably on a hiking trip or climbing in the mountains.