While Texas is known for its cowboy culture and mouthwatering barbecue, many don’t realize just how many gorgeous landscapes the state has to offer. A sprawling tribute to America the Beautiful, the Lone Star State is home to an array of natural marvels, where travelers are spoiled for choice in finding majestic mountains views, vast canyons and undisturbed beaches that are just begging to be explored and appreciated. From the picturesque Guadalupe Mountains to the great depths of Jacob’s Well, read on to discover the greatest natural wonders in Texas.
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Hamilton Pool Nature Preserve, Dripping Springs
Created thousands of years ago, this natural pool in the Texas Hill Country emerged when the surface of an underground river collapsed. Located just 23 miles west of Austin, Hamilton Pool draws visitors from around the world. A picturesque area to soak in the state’s natural beauty, its otherworldly green waters are only highlighted by the shade of the cave, limestone cliffs and cypress trees that surround it. An ideal swimming spot in summertime, visitors can find this gem in the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve and step under the waterfalls, have a picnic in the beach area or hike to the Pedernales River.
Padre Island National Seashore
While Padre Island National Seashore is known as a hotspot for spring breakers looking to unwind, the area has so much more to offer. The longest remaining undeveloped stretch of barrier island in the world according to the U.S National Park Service, here visitors can find an array of outdoor activities to indulge in. Boasting over 70 miles of pristine Texas coastline, visitors can find some of the most remote seashore area’s to explore. Perfect for a day of soaking in the sunshine, South Padre Island is a beautiful beach area where water sports, swimming and bird watching reign supreme.
Palo Duro Canyon
The perfect location for outdoor enthusiasts, Palo Duro Canyon is known as the “Grand Canyon of Texas.” With mesquite and juniper trees surrounding the natural cave formations, the canyon is the second-largest canyon in the United States and served as an inspiration to the famous American painter Georgia O’Keeffe. Avoid the crowds at the Grand Canyon and head here, as you’ll be able to soak in the spectacular views of this natural wonder and see the array of sunset-colored terra cotta that highlight the mesmerizing sunken valleys on your own. Hike your way through the trails to capture its stunning landscapes, or for those more athletically inclined, bikes offer a special way of experiencing the natural cave formations.
Big Bend National Park
Boasting more than 800,000 acres, Big Bend National Park is one of the largest national parks in the United States. Designated as an International Biosphere Reserve, visitors will find an array of outdoor adventures available, where backpacking, mountain biking, fishing, boating, hiking and nature watching are all popular recreational activities. Said to be one of the most sought after views in Texas, The Window is located off the winding 5.6-mile Window Trail, where hikers can capture views of Mexico and the surrounding Chisos Basin. An oasis for nature lovers, you’ll be hard-pressed to find more beautiful vistas and diverse wildlife in the state. Visitors will find pleasant areas to explore, such as the Chimneys and Marufo Vega Trails, and can walk along the Rio Grande River to see its towering 1,000-foot cliffs.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Considered the world’s premier example of a fossil reef from the Permian Era, the Guadalupe Mountains National Park offers visitors a subtle reminder that much of what is now Texas was once underwater. One of the most pristine wilderness areas in the United States, it is perfect for outdoor activities such as hiking, backpacking, bird watching and horseback riding. Those who want to camp overnight will also find the stargazing opportunities here to be top-notch. Home to the famous Guadalupe Peak, this 8,479-foot wonder is the highest point in Texas. The El Capitan Peak is another famous landmark, where pioneer wagon trails can still be seen there to this day, as they were used during the period of westward expansion.
The only natural lake in the state of Texas, Caddo Lake stretches across the east Texas border with Louisiana. Here nature lovers can soak in views of beautiful marshlands that are dotted with bald cypress trees that rise skyward out of its moss-covered waters, surrounded by bayous, sloughs, and ponds. The largest lake in the South, it is an internationally protected wetland that makes for a perfect backdrop on an outdoor excursion. Canoeing and kayaking are popular activities, as visitors can float through the waterways during the day and rest their head in one of the charming on-site cabins. The area also offers plentiful fishing opportunities, where over 70 species of fish are said to be native to the lake.
Colorado Bend State Park
One of the biggest outdoor attractions in the state, Colorado Bend State Park offers beautiful scenic vistas and an abundance of natural beauty. Even though the area is filled with picturesque landscapes, visitors who come here are often drawn to one thing, Gorman Falls. A 1.5-mile long hike through its rugged ranch country leads to this hidden treasure, where you’ll hike through a rocky descent and a treacherous stairway combined with slippery moss to reach the cascading waterfalls. An impressive 60-foot waterfall that cascades into a lush fern-coated grotto, the effort to reach this wonder is worth the trek.
Enchanted Rock State Natural Area
Located just outside of Llano in central Texas, Enchanted Rock State Natural Area has its own charm. An especially large aura of Native American lore, here visitors are enthralled by the enormous piece of pink granite rock, one of the largest natural rock formations in the United States. Standing at 425 feet above the ground, it was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1970. This massive dome of solid granite takes only a moderate rock to reach its summit, where visitors will be rewarded with breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding Hill Country. Rock climbing, hiking, and camping are all popular activities in the area.
A heart-pumping swimming oasis, Jacob’s Well is a perennial karstic spring in the Texas Hill Country that stems from Cypress Creek. Located northwest of Wimberley, the 12-foot diameter mouth of the spring makes for a popular place to cool off. Fed by the Trinity aquifer, the natural wonder is 30 feet deep before it curves beneath the surface, making it one of the longest underwater caves in the state. Thousands of gallons of water are pumped through the well per minute, making it a great place for swimming, but a dangerous activity for those who want to explore its deep caverns. A historic site, much fo the area is now protected land, as it was a gathering place for Native Americans and early settlers.
Natural Bridge Caverns
The biggest natural underground cave system in Texas, Natural Bridge Caverns is located just outside of San Antonio. Discovered in 1960 by four college students, it is a unique natural wonder that is a must-see. A massive cave carved itself into Cretaceous-period limestone and is said to be around 1-1.5 million years old. Currently one of the biggest collections of calcite crystal formations, visitors can explore this area for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Perfect for outdoor enthusiasts of all ages, the attraction offers educational activities for kids in addition to adventure tours that include rappelling through the primitive cavern.
Big Thicket National Preserve
Part of the Piney Woods region of Texas, Big Thicket National Preserve offers nature at its finest. A must-see for nature enthusiasts, the area has incredible bio-diversity where nine ecosystems converge to create a beautiful landscape of forest land. Visitors can come and marvel at its diverse range of natural features, and go hiking or camping through its diverse landscape filled with pine trees, cactus, swamps, and hills. Boasting nearly 100,000 acres, visitors are spoiled for choice in what some have referred to as “America’s Ark.”
Rio Grande River
Deserving of a mention on its own, the Rio Grande River is one of the biggest natural wonders in Texas. Offering a mix of spectacular river canyons and recreational opportunities, the primitive character of Rio Grande is only highlighted by the scenic experience it offers visitors. A free-flowing river that is perfect for outdoor activities, visitors who indulge in a trip down the river will find towering walls of limestone to be an impressive feat of nature. Those with an adventurous spirit will enjoy a paddle through some of the canyons of the Rio Grande, including the Mariscal Canyon, Boquillas Canyon, and The Lower Canyons.