Sometimes it is not possible to trek across the country in search of a good camping and hiking experience. Often though, there are some spectacular finds not far from our major cities! Such is the case for those that live near the metroplex of Dallas, Texas! Within a short drive, you can find these 8 best state parks near Dallas for amazing camping and hiking experiences!
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Table of Contents
The 8 Best State Parks Near Dallas Texas
Get ready to take a road trip around some of north Texas’s premier state parks, the perfect place to take a vacation or staycation for some camping and hiking near Dallas!
- Cedar Hill State Park
- Dinosaur Valley State Park
- Lake Mineral Wells State Park
- Possum Kingdom State Park
- Palo Pinto Mountains State Park (opening 2023)
- Cleburne State Park
- Fort Richardson State Park
- Ray Roberts Lake State Park
Helpful Tips for Visiting the Best State Parks Near Dallas:
- All Texas state park lodging and day passes can be reserved online HERE
- Plan in Advance! For the more popular parks (all the ones near Dallas), day passes need to be reserved weeks in advance, and campsites need to be reserved months in advance
- All 8 of these state parks are located within 3 hours drive of Dallas
- Consider getting a Texas State Parks pass and visit as many parks as you can!
Map of the Best State Parks Near Dallas Texas
Map of the 8 best state parks near Dallas Texas
#1: Cedar Hill State Park
If you are looking to start getting your inspiration for the best camping and hiking near Dallas, there’s no better place to start than this suburban state park. Out of all the best state parks near Dallas, Cedar Hill State Park is an oasis about as centrally located to the Dallas metroplex as you can get. Though surrounded by busy highways and bustling neighborhoods, this state park offers visitors a chance to escape from the hustle, just minutes from downtown Dallas. Guests can camp, hike, bike, swim, boat, and fish in this park that resides on the edge of the sprawling Joe Pool Lake.
There are over 350 campsites with utilities and restroom access at Cedar Hill State Park, starting at $25 nightly, as well as a handful of primitive, hike in sites from $10 a night. Developed campsites are reservable online. Many of these shady sites overlook Joe Pool Lake. In fact, Cedar Hill State Park offers one of the largest availability of campsites in all these state parks near Dallas.
***HINT– if you find yourself looking for a last minute spot and other campsites have filled up, your best bet at snagging a campsite will probably be Cedar Hill State Park!
Perhaps the best trail in this park to either hike or bike is the DORBA trail, a multi-use trail that spans over 1,000 acres of Cedar Hill State Park. All three sections of the DORBA together total 23 miles. Several smaller, more intimate trails are also available here, such as the 1 mile Plum Valley Trail through limestone escarpments, or the 0.6 mile Duck Pond trail for an easy stroll to a secluded watering hole. You can check out a complete park trail map HERE.
Both swimming and fishing are popular here, with expansive gravel beaches and a lake primed for hooking bass, crappie, and catfish. Those drawn to the water will find several piers available to fish from, boat ramps, and even a pond for younger children to enjoy fishing from. As an added bonus, a fishing license is not required for fishing at Cedar Hill, or any of the other state parks in this area.
Finally, those interested in a small glimpse of earlier Texas life can conduct a 0.5 mile long self guided tour at Penn Farm Agricultural Center, an early farm from the 1800’s, still intact within the state park borders. If you visit in the spring, the pastures surrounding the center just might be full with blooming wildflowers!
#2: Dinosaur Valley State Park
Dinosaur Valley State Park resides to the west of the Dallas metroplex, and is famous for its rich fossil history, including the chance for visitors to glimpse the remnants of dinosaur tracks along the riverbeds of the Paluxy River. In fact, during the drought of summer 2022, the water levels were so low that new dinosaur tracks were discovered in some of the park’s dried up riverbeds!
The park website and Facebook page provide up to date information on optimal track viewing, as well as alerts to when trails are closed and tracks are not view-able due to factors such as excessive rain or flooding. Visitors can also download fossil maps, to help pinpoint locations throughout the park.
In addition to fossil hunting, visitors can camp, hike, bike, ride, fish, and swim in this state park. There are group camp sites available for $60 a night, sites with water for $25, and both hike in and walk in sites for $15. Reserve a campsite online, and spend the night here in Dinosaur Valley, waking up to surroundings that are scattered with primitive tracks!
Throughout the park, there are multiple viewing sights, including the Main Track Site, the Blue Hole, and the Ballroom Track Site. Access some great trails to get to these fossil sites, such as the one mile long Limestone Ledge Trail, which crosses the Paluxy River and leads to the Main Track Site. Or the 1.9 mile long Paluxy River Trail, which winds along the limestone edges of the river, and is also home to resident tracks.
There are a variety of other hiking and biking trails available here, such as the Cedar Brake Outer Loop, which traverses 7.5 miles around the circumference of the park, or the Denio Trail, a 1.6 mile trail which runs along Denio Creek, and is home to endangered Golden-Cheeked Warblers. Check out a complete park trail map HERE.
For riding, guests can enjoy the 100 acre primitive area, which allows horses access to river water. Or take a guided horse drawn wagon ride provided by the Eagle Eye Ranch Carriage Company.
#3: Lake Mineral Wells State Park
This state park is located just to the west of the Dallas area metroplex, making it a great option for hiking and camping near Dallas, and one that resides on another beautiful lake setting. There are camping, hiking, fishing, boating, and rock climbing opportunities here at Lake Mineral Wells State Park.
Camping in this state park includes just over 100 developed and primitive campsites, equestrian campsites, and screened in shelters, ranging from $10 to $36 a night. Sites are reservable online.
There are many varied and multi-faceted trails in Lake Mineral Wells. You can view a complete park trail map HERE. The Red Waterfront Trail is a 1.2 mile hike that passes through some of the park’s eastern cliffsides until reaching Penitentiary Hollow Overlook. I would HIGHLY recommend visiting these two places together, as they are literally just a few feet apart. Continue walking just a few seconds from the end of the Red Waterfront Trail to the entrance to Penitentiary Hollow. You will come to the Overlook first, but you can continue on down the stairs to actually explore down in the Hollow. My favorite place in the entire park!
The Blue Waterfront Trail is slightly longer at 1.5 miles, and runs along the lake’s western border. The 2.3 mile Cross Timbers Black Trail passes through a wetland area of the park that previously was used as a training grounds for Fort Wolters. Hikers are still able to see some remainders of old fort remnants as they hike. The Cross Timbers Green Trail is a 1.5 mile hike through more open grasslands. The 1.3 mile long Cross Timbers Orange Trail passes along a creek and often provides opportunities for observing wildlife tracks.
This large lake is home to six piers from which to fish for bass, crappie, and catfish, and a fishing license is not required. Lake Mineral Wells also houses a boat ramp for boaters, as well as boat, canoe, kayak, and paddle board rentals.
One of the most unique aspects of this state park is the rock climbing at Penitentiary Hollow. Climbers must be at least 17 years old, pay a climbing fee, and sign a liability waiver in order to climb here. There are many different climbing routes available, including “The Refrigerator”, “Scrambled Egg Boulder”, and “Main Canyon”.
#4: Possum Kingdom State Park
This state park near Dallas, located northwest by approximately one hour, is heralded as one of the best spots in north Texas to enjoy not only some stellar hiking and camping near Dallas, but some idyllic lake life. The 300 miles of shoreline along Possum Kingdom Lake is rich in water sporting opportunities, while also providing other outdoor options including camping and hiking.
Possum Kingdom State Park caters to those who love the water, with scuba diving and snorkeling, swimming, boating, and fishing. There is a boat ramp, a fishing pier, and a fish cleaning station, as well as canoe, wakeboard, kneeboard, water ski, and tube rentals. There is also a fishing supply store located within the park borders.
When not in the water, stay in a cabin, developed campsite, or primitive campsite, from $10 to $135. You can reserve any of these lodgings online. Or hike on one of Possum Kingdom’s rustic trails, such as the 1.37 miles long Lakeview Trail, or the shorter Longhorn Trail or Chaparral Ridge Trail. Though all of this park’s trails are on the shorter side, they are all moderately challenging, and still provide stunning views of this regions pastures and woodlands. As an extra bonus, the trails are also surprisingly shady, which is great for the warmer months in Texas! You can view a map of all the park trails HERE.
#5: Palo Pinto Mountains State Park
Wildflowers galore is all I can say about Palo Pinto Mountains State Park! It is a gloriously secluded, secret spot on the edge of Texas Hill Country, where the subtle rolling hills and emerging cliffs along the shoreline of Tucker Lake create an ideal spot for those looking to add a little challenge to their hiking or trail running. This park’s potential lies in its ability to become a premier spot for hiking near Dallas, due to the elevation changes and varied terrain.
Texas’s newest state park, slated to open in 2024, has so far only been accessible through special events, such as the 5k race I attended here, but once fully open to the public, this state park is going to shine! Palo Pinto Mountains State Park resides just west of the Dallas area metroplex. Though this park is close enough for an easy day trip from Dallas, it also has roots in some unique small town history in the immediate surrounding area, such as the ghost town at nearby Thurber.
Now just a speck of a town, Thurber used to be the largest city between Fort Worth and El Paso. The spine-tingling history of this past industrial center involves the base for not one but two controversial religious cults, the ghostly apparitions of a female carnival worker, and the reported hauntings of the local Smokestack Restaurant, still in operation today.
Aside from the curiosities of Thurber, the borders within Palo Pinto Mountains State Park house camping, hiking, and fishing opportunities, all of which will be open to the public upon the park’s completion in 2023. The grandeur of this small state park stems from Tucker Lake and Palo Pinto Creek, which helped to shape the canyons and rolling hills of this region.
The future of this park includes reservable campsites with rv, full hook up, primitive, and walk in sites, as well an extensive network of over 30 miles of planned multi use trails for hiking, biking, and riding. Plans also include a hopeful stargazing area, to take advantage of the prime viewing location of the night sky in this pristine, untouched region of Texas.
#6: Cleburne State Park
Just over 30 miles southwest of the DFW metroplex lies secluded Cleburne State Park, with its plethora of hiking and outdoor opportunities, easily landing a spot on the list of best state parks near Dallas. On the outskirts of Cleburne State Park’s resident lake, Cedar Lake, guests can enjoy camping, swimming, fishing, boating, and kayaking, as well as thirteen miles of multi use paths through the park.
Cedar Lake is equipped with piers and boat ramps for water access. All campsites are water and electric, and visitors can also reserve a cabin or screened in shelter. Lodging costs range from $16 to $32 a night, and are reservable online.
There are several trails in Cleburne State Park that are primed for angling opportunities. All under a half mile in length, the Crappie Cove, Perch Point, Sandy Flats, and Bluecat Bottoms Fishing Trails are all located along the banks of Cedar Lake, and are ideal for fishing in that they provide plenty of shady alcoves along the shoreline for resident fish to congregate.
For hiking, the standout trail in Cleburne State Park is the 0.66 mile long Spillway Trail, which provides stunning views of the three tiered spillway carved by the Civilian Conservation Corps out of the native limestone. Hikers and bikers alike enjoy the challenging 3.4 mile long Limestone Ridge with Inner Loop Trails. This hike highlights the raw beauty of Cleburne State Park’s limestone cliffs. Much like Possum Kingdom’s trails, Cleburne’s trails are also largely and welcomingly shady, a definite bonus in a state with warmer months! Check out all of Cleburne State Park’s trails HERE.
#7: Fort Richardson State Park
Though smaller and less known, this western state park has a rich history in early Texas life, spanning from the Civil War era. This previous fort still has intact remains of several restored buildings, including the hospital, officer’s quarters, morgue, commissary, guard house, and bakery. There are also replicas on site of military barracks at Fort Richardson State Park. These unique historical roots, together with the hiking and camping opportunities, make Fort Richardson State Park one of the best state parks near Dallas.
In addition to military buffs, this state park draws in outdoor lovers in the form of hikers, campers, bikers, riders, fishers, and swimmers. Quarry Lake is the resident lake at Fort Richardson State Park, with a fishing pier and swimming beach.
The best place to stretch your legs in this park is on the 9 mile long, multi-use Lost Creek Reservoir State Trailway. This point to point trail, open to hiking, biking, and equestrian riding, runs from the trailhead in Fort Richardson State Park, along Lost Creek and the banks of Lake Jacksboro, until it reaches Lost Creek Reservoir.
Along the way, visitors can enjoy water views, well shaded paths, and plenty of opportunities for native foliage and wildlife viewing. Due to its continuous proximity to bodies of water, there are multiple spots for swimming and wading along the way. This is a surfaced, flat, smooth trail, that makes it ideal for many uses and users. For a shorter hike, guests can complete the scenic half mile Rumbling Spring Trail, which leads to a natural spring. View all the park’s trails HERE.
Campsites here are reservable for between $10 and $25 nightly, and include developed full hook ups, partial hook ups, and primitive sites.
#8: Ray Roberts Lake State Park
Under an hour drive north from Dallas lies Ray Roberts Lake State Park. Though this state park is divided into a total of nine units, the two main developed units are the Johnson Branch Unit and the Isle Du Bois Unit. The Isle Du Bois Unit lies on the eastern side of Ray Roberts Lake, and the Johnson Unit lies on the northern edge. I am prone to the Isle Du Bois side, as I feel some of the secluded shoreline campsites make for some of the best camping near Dallas.
In the Isle Du Bois Unit, there are both developed campsites and primitive walk in sites, many of which are waterfront. There is also a marina, a boat launch, and a fishing pier. There is access to the Greenbelt Corridor here, as well as other trails such as the 4.5 mile Jordan Park Trail, and 3.5 mile Elm Fork Trail, both of which run parallel to the shoreline. The Greenbelt Corridor is a 20 mile multi use path that runs from the Ray Roberts Dam to Lake Lewisville, and can accommodate horse riders, hikers, and bikers.
The Johnson Unit also shares miles of shoreline, with more waterfront developed and primitive walk in campsites, as well as fishing opportunities. Visitors to this section of the park can venture onto the multi-use, 2.8 mile lone, DORBA trail, or take on the 2.6 mile long Dogwood Canyon Primitive Hiking Trail, which passes by several small coves of Ray Roberts Lake.
And there you have it, plenty of options for your DFW staycation, or a destination getaway, with the 8 best state parks near Dallas Texas!
***Interested in some of Texas’s other amazing state parks? Head west to discover canyons, mountains,sand dunes, rivers, forests, and more in these top West Texas state parks!
***Not only does Texas’s state parks shine, so does its TWO National Parks!
Read More: State parks aren’t only great for hiking, they are also great places for trail running! In fact, Texas state parks host quite a number of long distance trail running events across the state! If you are looking for some other notable active travel destinations in Texas, here are my favorite places to run a half marathon race in Texas!
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