A road trip across Texas, the second largest state in America, certainly ranks highly among the most liberating experiences available to humankind. From the ruddy outcrops of the Panhandle Plains and huge canyons and desert landscapes of Big Bend to the rolling hills and swampy stills of Piney Woods – Texas terrains are in equal parts vast, changeable and fascinating to experience.
Views and you cruise
Head to Copper Breaks State Park in Hardeman County for one of the South’s most scenic drives. Park at one of the 24 campsites and head out on a hike or bike adventure along the 10 miles of hiking tracks and horseback trails open to the public. There are also plenty of waterborne activities – from swimming and fishing to kayaking and rafting – to enjoy on Copper Breaks Lake and Big Pond.
For something a little more mysterious and similarly beautiful, hop back in the car and make for Enchanted Rock in the Llano Uplift north of Fredericksburg. This is a stunning adventure playground wrapped up in the folklore of 11,000 years – which makes for an unforgettable outdoor adventure. The stand-out pink granite mountain is shrouded in the legends of the Tonkawa Indian tribes, early European settlers and Anglo-Texans, and a trip to this millennia-old monolith is a humbling experience.
Aside from the existential majesty of the place, there are also more tangible things to get excited about. The amazing rock-climbing routes for instance, caving or wildlife watching. Keep an eye out for white-tailed deer, armadillos, bobcats, raccoons, black rock squirrels, and cotton rats.
Desert trails and mountain tracks
Near the cities of Amarillo and Canyon, 120 miles long and dubbed “The Grand Canyon of Texas”, Palo Duro Canyon State Park rises from the heart of the Texas Panhandle and offers road tripping explorers a true taste of wild Texan adventure. Thrills here come in all shapes and sizes; from moderate hikes and rugged biking excursions along the Capitol Peak Trail, to a quarter-mile zip line across the canyon.
If you’ve still got some adventuring left in you, set out for the most remote but arguably most beautiful of the Texan national parks, Big Bend. Tempting as it will be to remain behind the wheel for stunning drives such as the Ross Maxwell route – consider also camping for a night or two. With 150 miles of desert and mountainous routes to traverse, this place is a hiker’s dream come true. Warm up with the Lost Mine Trail in the Chisos Basin area, a moderate five-mile round route through forest and mountain terrains with rewarding views.
Sleep under the stars
As night falls, these incredible landscapes take on a new guise. Miles from any urban activity or light pollution, the skies above them turn from blistering blue to a rusty orange and finally to a deep charcoal blanket dotted with innumerable twinkling pin pricks. Big Bend may have sensational hiking routes, but it’s best known for these starry skies. In fact, it’s among the top 10 best places in the world for stargazing and is ranked a gold-tier designation by The International Dark Sky Association.
Finally, keep to the off-the-beaten-track theme with a trip to Matagorda Island. An hour north of Corpus Christi on the Gulf Coast, the island has 38 miles of primitive shores and bayside marshes, all of which are only accessible by ferry or private boat. The island has no electricity or cars, making it perfect for star gazers. Camp here for a one or two nights and fall asleep beneath some of the most remarkable night skies you’re likely to see in your life.
Or head to Mustang Island, a state park with more than five miles of coastline. Here you can swim, surf, camp, picnic, fish, birdwatch (especially during spring and fall migrations), kayak the Mustang Island State Paddling Trail (great for shallow water fishing and spotting coastal birds) and go geocaching, dialling up (or down) the adventure according to preference.
For more unforgettable travel ideas from road trips to nights out and great places to stay, visit Travel Texas