Seven Spectacular Hikes in the Lonestar State

Pedernales Falls State Park | ©istockphoto/amadeustxFrom high deserts to the hill coun­try, wet­lands and bay­ous to riv­er bot­toms, these sev­en trails high­light the geo­graph­i­cal diver­si­ty, nat­ur­al beau­ty, and stun­ning scenery of Texas.

Twin Falls Nature Trail
Fam­i­lies love this acces­si­ble half-mile hike to a scenic over­look of the Twin Falls, locat­ed in a lush, tran­quil cor­ner of the five thou­sand acres Ped­er­nales Falls State Park. Of course, they also love the near­by Ped­er­nales Falls for which the park is named, and who can blame them? Here, the Ped­er­nales Riv­er drops gen­tly over some three thou­sand feet of ancient lime­stone stairs, cre­at­ing a breath­tak­ing series of nat­ur­al pools amidst a wood­ed won­der­land of cypress, elm, ash, and even pecan trees.

Sky­line Dri­ve Trail
4.5 miles of some of the best views of the Davis Moun­tains State Park? Yes, please! The light­ly-traf­ficked Sky­line Trail climbs up ridge­lines and down into val­leys to pro­vide stun­ning views of the Davis Moun­tains, whose fan­tas­tic for­ma­tions were birthed by vol­canic activ­i­ty in the region some thir­ty mil­lion years ago. The Limpia and Keesey creeks have drainages here, pro­vid­ing an essen­tial water source for the amaz­ing vari­ety of plants in the park, such as col­or­ful wild­flow­ers in wet­ter years. Those plants, in turn, cre­ate a cov­er for a tru­ly wild assort­ment of ani­mals, from the ever-present javeli­nas (wild boar) to the park’s elu­sive moun­tain lions.

Rancherias Loop
Locat­ed in beau­ti­ful Big Bend Ranch State Park, the Rancherias Loop is twen­ty prim­i­tive miles of stren­u­ous back­pack­ing through chal­leng­ing canyons and across high desert mesas. Be pre­pared for a bit of scree slope scram­bling and rock-hop­ping, and pack your best water fil­ter: while you’re unlike­ly to encounter oth­er humans on this trail, the two reli­able springs along the route are fre­quent­ed morn­ing and night by herds of wild bur­ros (don­keys); they’re just one species of among near­ly fifty dif­fer­ent mam­mals that make their home in the park.

Lone Star Hik­ing Trail
They say everything’s big­ger in Texas, and the Lone Star State has got the hik­ing trail to prove it: at 129 miles, this is the longest (and only!) long-dis­tance Nation­al Recre­ation Trail in the whole state. And while it’s gained some pop­u­lar­i­ty over the years, due in no small part to its ded­i­cat­ed hik­ing club, it remains a rel­a­tive unknown com­pared to its larg­er, longer thru-hike cousins. If you’re will­ing to take the road sig­nif­i­cant­ly less trav­eled, to brave the board­walks of the Big Thick­et and pos­si­bly an alli­ga­tor or two down in the bay­ou, this is your trail. Peak
Hik­ers hop­ing to get high in Texas will want to leave Austin for the trail to Guadalupe Peak. Also known as Sig­nal Peak, the state’s high­est nat­ur­al point sits a pret­ty 8751 feet above sea lev­el and offers incom­pa­ra­ble, sweep­ing views of the Chi­huahuan Desert and glacial­ly white salt flats to the tena­cious few who com­plete the stren­u­ous 8.4‑mile out-and-back sum­mit trail. With over three thou­sand feet of ele­va­tion gain through rocky, dif­fi­cult ter­rain and per­ilous­ly near 1500-foot cliffs, high winds at the peak that can gust at upwards of eighty miles per hour, and the unre­lent­ing sun only bro­ken by spon­ta­neous after­noon thun­der­show­ers, this trail isn’t for the faint of heart.

For­est Trail, Mar­tin Dies, Jr State Park
This easy one-mil­er through the heart of the East Texas Piney­woods is a wel­come depar­ture from the high desert coun­try. Perched on the north­ern edge of the Big Thick­et, the state park the For­est Trail calls home is ver­dant with a vari­ety of trees, woody vines, and shrubs: long—and short­leaf pine, loblol­ly pine, sev­er­al vari­eties of oak, cypress, sweet­gum, maple, hol­ly, and myr­tle, to name just a few. Com­bine this trail with the two-mile Slough Trail, which fea­tures six­teen bridges over the marsh and alli­ga­tor-inhab­it­ed wet­lands, to up the chal­lenge and length­ens the adventure.

South Llano Pad­dling Trail
If you’d be hap­pi­er in the water than near it, try a pad­dling trail! Texas is rid­dled with them, and six of the best miles of kayak­ing, canoe­ing, or stand-up pad­dle­board­ing can be found along the spring-fed South Llano Riv­er. Its easy eddies, rif­fles, and stretch­es of light rapid runs through rock gar­dens cre­ate a relax­ing and enjoy­able jour­ney through a gor­geous ripar­i­an wood­land and pecan bot­tom team­ing with wildlife.