Nothing says the outdoors like the rugged, gritty outdoor attractions in west Texas! West Texas may get a bad, undeserved rap for being flat and empty, but there are many outdoor adventures to be had here, in canyons, plateaus, plains, sand dunes, and mountains! Yes, there are true mountains in Texas, and that is just one of the many draws for outdoor lovers in west Texas! West Texas is a fascinating mix of environments and ecosystems, which is good news for its intrepid explorers because that means more exhilarating things to see in west Texas and experience for yourself! Discover this secret haven of adventurous west Texas attractions, in this guide to the best outdoor things to do in west Texas!
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Table of Contents
The Best Outdoor Things to Do in West Texas
Lets start with west Texas’s best state parks that house some of the best west Texas attractions for the active traveler, before getting into the two National Park attractions in west Texas.
West Texas State Parks
- Franklin Mountains State Park
- Davis Mountains State Park
- Seminole Canyon State Park
- Caprock Canyon State Park
- Palo Duro Canyon State Park
- Hueco Tanks State Park
- Big Bend Ranch State Park
- Monahans Sandhills State Park
West Texas National Parks
- Big Bend National Park
- Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Franklin Mountains State Park
Looking for mountains? And a little rugged seclusion? A great place to start this list of west Texas attractions is Franklin Mountains State Park, in the far corner of the state, just outside of El Paso.
This under-rated state park is brimming with adventurous west Texas attractions, including hiking and mountain biking. This was one of my first experiences with true mountains in Texas, and I found this park to be endearing for all it has to offer! In a way, Franklin Mountains State Park was the spot that inspired me to pursue the discovery of all the other outdoor things to see in west Texas!
The ample trails in Franklin Mountains State Park take full advantage of the mountainous terrain, as well as a few characteristic little quirks and surprises, like the trail to an old B-36 plane crash on the 1000 Steps Trail, or the hike to the only and now abandoned tin mines in the U.S. (yes, you can explore inside them) on the El Paso Tin Mines Trail (one of my favorite Texas state park hikes), or the ominous caves on the short Aztec Caves Trail! The amount of diversity here is guaranteed to surprise you!
A personal camping favorite of mine, the campsites in this state park are all set with impressive backdrops of the Franklin Mountains, with many sites given ample space from neighbors for a truly unfiltered camping experience.
It is silent here at night, save for the sounds of the West Texas wind, with an unobstructed view of the dark night sky, and impressive sunsets over the mountain ridges. You don’t just camp by the mountains here, you are surrounded and become enveloped by them!
Davis Mountains State Park
If one mountainous state park wasn’t enough, then take a brief jaunt over to Davis Mountains State Park, another underrated state park filled with enticing trails and high desert isolation. Like Franklin Mountains State Park, this state park embraces the mountains that gave it its name and hype up their benefits to the fullest! And as an added bonus, it resides in one of the cutest old west towns in Texas, straight out of the early frontier days – Fort Davis!
Davis Mountains State Park blends together its historical roots with its mountain surroundings beautifully. There is history to be found along many of its paths. Stone overlooks built by the CCC, the historic Fort Davis National Historic Site, the Indian Lodge, and Skyline Drive are just a few remnants of the early Davis Mountains life.
Some of the must do trails include the Limpia Creek Trail, which starts off flat then climbs to include a 700 foot ascent with unmissable views, the short Headquarters Trail which is brimming with local flora and fauna, an old lava flow, and views of Kelsey Canyon, and the historic trail to the Fort Davis Historical Site. There is also the old CCC trail built in the 1930’s, which now serves as a multi use trail for hiking and mountain biking, with a perfect backdrop of the Davis Mountains.
Davis Mountains State Park has some unique offerings in its lodging department as well. It is a prime destination for those looking for a little challenge to their primitive hiking experience. The hike in to the primitive sites at Davis Mountains State Park is 4 miles, which is a hefty but challenging length compared to many primitive campsites in Texas. Guaranteed seclusion is your reward! There is also the historic Indian Lodge, a small, quaint, adobe style lodge built by the CCC, that comes with beautiful panoramic views.
Seminole Canyon State Park
Let’s get ready to switch gears – from mountains to canyons! Seminole Canyon State Park basically revolves around its namesake canyon, and you can easily spend a whole day here hiking Seminole Canyon, overlooking the Rio Grande River that cuts through this gorge. It is a full day worth of canyoning adventure and a humble example of West Texas attractions! And much like Davis Mountains State Park, there is a also a rich history on display here at Seminole Canyon State Park, and it is one of the main draws in addition to the resident canyon!
Insider Tip: Note that you can only hike in Seminole Canyon with a guide, but all other trails in the park are accessible without a guide. Be sure to visit the park’s website for additional information on hiking in Seminole Canyon to prepare for your visit.
By far the must do hike is the Seminole Canyon Trail via the Rio Grande. The canyon and Rio Grande River views are absolutely breathtaking as this mighty river carves its way through this impressive West Texas gorge. Along this almost 8 mile trail, you can also see distinctive pictographs carved into the cliff walls. Plenty of overlooks are a bonus, and you will literally be hiking right above the Rio Grande River!
Caprock Canyon State Park
The red rock in Caprock Canyon State Park and its resident canyon easily rivals what you would find in Utah or northern Arizona! This humble state park puts on a true visual show, making it a local favorite and secret gem for West Texaners, and visitors alike! There are both short and lengthy day hikes here, on trails roamed and inhabited by local bison. You may be surprised that this state park packs in almost 100 miles worth of trails, with hikes that range from 1 mile to 15 miles in length, and from easy, flat plateau hikes to steep ascents and descents inside the canyon!
You can hike the short Eagle Point Trail to witness its resident cave and natural bridge, or take part in multiple longer hikes along Caprock Canyon’s rims, like the Haynes Ridge Trail, which not only offers impressive views, but surprising finds like the Fern Cave, or other challenging canyon rim hikes like the Upper North Prong, Upper South Prong, and Caprock Canyon Rim Trails, all worthy and challenging day hikes that will expose you to the experience of not only weaving through some of the canyon floors, but climbing to their most impressive overlooks at the top! This place is a beacon of West Texas outdoors at its most impressive! There’s a good reason the locals may not want you to find out about Caprock Canyon!
Camping amongst the red rock is special enough, but Caprock even offers an additional incentive, in that no matter where you choose to camp in Caprock, it is one of the few places you can say you may wake up to views of bison out your front “door”!
Palo Duro Canyon State Park
If Seminole Canyon and Caprock Canyon impressed you, then you are in for a real treat because they are not even the king of canyons in the realm of West Texas outdoors! Although it may be an impossibly hard argument to make as to which canyon is “better”, there is no argument to be had as to which is the largest – Palo Duro Canyon in Palo Duro Canyon State Park!
And that is because Palo Duro Canyon is in fact the second largest canyon in the United States, second only to the Grand Canyon. Hence the reason it is referred to as the “Grand Canyon of Texas” by locals. As you can imagine, that means there is a ton of striking landscape and trails to explore here.
One of the iconic landmarks and most cherished highlights of this state park is the hike to the Lighthouse, an intriguing red rock formation that overlooks expansive stretches of the park from a lofty perspective, that can only be accessed by completing this day hike. Make sure to bring plenty of water in a reliable water transportation system, as the hiking in Palo Duro is exposed and sunny!
- I prefer this Platypus model water hydration bladder, because it carries a sufficient 3 liters, and has a wide mouthed opening that makes cleaning and drying super easy!
Hueco Tanks State Park
This state park stands on its own in terms of what it offers, but it is a true rarity in the realm of outdoor things to do in West Texas! Having gotten its name from the natural water basin “huecos” carved into its rocky terrain, Hueco Tanks State Park is a renowned destination not just in Texas, but in the entire country, for rock climbing!
With sections for both novice and experienced alike, it is a one of a kind spot for a very particular brand of outdoor adventure and active traveler! But there is no better place for this activity in the entire state than right here in this humble state park in West Texas!
In addition to rock climbing, there are also hiking trails, pictograph and petroglyph viewing, and a small handful of campsites in Hueco Tanks State Park, making it a very well rounded outdoor opportunity for active travels in West Texas!
Insider Tip: Hueco Tanks State Park has guided and self guided areas and climbs. Familiarize yourself more on the park’s website before you visit.
Big Bend Ranch State Park
If you are looking for a combination of red rock, valleys, canyons, and mountains, you can find it all in Big Bend Ranch State Park. Texas’s largest state park and a member of the International Dark Sky parks won’t disappoint.
Big Bend Ranch State Park’s relatively close proximity to Big Bend National Park means that it shares a lot in common with its big sister, including paddling opportunities on the Rio Grande, and rugged mountain hiking, biking, and camping, and that is not a bad thing for those looking for more outdoor things to see in West Texas!
There are a whopping 238 miles of multi use trails in Big Bend Ranch State Park, and just a few of the highlights include two short trails, the Ojito Adentro Trail and the Cinco Tinajas Trail, which offer multi-faceted views of the characteristic desert life, resident wildlife, and deep canyon rock pools.
The Closed Canyon Trail is another shorter option for exploring one of Big Bend Ranch State Park’s slot canyons, alongside the neighboring Rio Grande River. There is a little boulder scrambling, as well as the potential for some slippery rock floors, so be sure to tackle this hike with a little additional traction, like these HOKA One One trail runners that I love to day hike in!
For a chance to witness some hoodoos, opt for the Big Bend Hoodoos Trail, which incorporates the Rio Grande River along with these unique rock formations. The Puerto Chilicote Trail is a favorite trailhead for accessing views of Bofecillos Highlands and Fresno Canyon. The Lajitas Mesa Trail is a more moderate day hike at 8 miles in length, with a decent amount of elevation gain for those looking for a extra challenge, and expansive high desert views.
Camping at Big Bend Ranch State Park may include some of the most rugged camping opportunities in the state, as proven by the fact that some campsites actually require 4 wheel drive and/or high clearance vehicles. There are both developed and primitive campsites, with some located in the heart of Big Bend Ranch State Park, and some located in the Rio Grande River area, allowing overnighters to choose from several unique environments they want to witness when camping.
Monahans Sandhills State Park
I bet you had no idea that you could find sand dunes in West Texas! This whimsical, magical state park is composed of miles of rolling white sand dunes, that will immediately pull out your inner child’s imagination (which is why it lands a spot on my list of the (top 15″freshest” Spring Break destinations for active travel families).
You can camp, hike, or horse ride here, but perhaps the most fun activity is sand sledding on the dunes! Fun for children and adults alike, and don’t knock it til you try it! Bring your own sled, or rent one from the Visitor’s Center for a few dollars and hours of entertainment!
There is also camping at Monahans Sandhills State Park, for a truly unique experience and an unforgettable sunrise and sunset over the ivory dunes!
Now let’s talk about two impressive West Texas attractions: its National Parks! Yes, there are actually two National Parks in West Texas: Big Bend National Park, and Guadalupe Mountains National Park!
Big Bend National Park
This is the National Park that most Texas natives and non natives alike are most likely to be familiar with. Big Bend National Park is home to mountains, deserts, plains, plateaus, hot springs, and canyons, all which can be hiked, camped, and paddled across!
If you want to try out your novice or experienced paddling skills, you can day trip or overnight on a Rio Grande kayaking excursion as just one option!
Looking to explore a iconic canyon landmark? Take the day hike into the towering Santa Elena Canyon! Looking for some challenging mountain hikes? Summit the highest point in the park at Emory Peak, or check out the stunning panoramic views on the steep uphill climb at the Lost Mine Trail!
- Just don’t forget a good pair of hiking boots with trusty ankle support for this trail!
Big Bend’s canyon and valley hikes are pretty impressive too! Bordered by mountain ranges, the aptly named Window Trail traverses one of Big Bend’s valleys before arriving at a narrow canyon gorge and picturesque dropoff at the “window” formation! There are so many more trails and areas to explore in this National Park, and this is just a small taste of what Big Bend has to offer!
To truly soak in the experience at Big Bend, top it off with a night or two of secluded, starlight camping! There are 4 developed campsites in Big Bend National Park, but my personal favorite is the Chisos Basin Campground, which gives the surprising allusion of camping at a much higher elevation mountain site! It is also immediately adjacent to the Window Trail trailhead, another personal favorite of mine, and the orange glow off the surrounding mountains in the evenings and mornings just cannot be beat!
Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Guadalupe Mountains National Park may not be as well known as its sibling Big Bend, but it has just as many irresistible outdoor draws for those looking for some adventurous things to do in West Texas!
Guadalupe has its own lush canyons, rugged mountain range, and challenging hikes, including the hike to the highest point in Texas at Guadalupe Peak, and unique formations and landmarks! And the camping experience here is unbeatable in terms of seclusion and dark skies!
If you look up best fall hikes in Texas, the hike in McKittrick Canyon is bound to show up on every list! And for good reason! This surprisingly intricate and lushly vegetated trail weaves along the floor of Guadalupe, and contains a unique hidden ecosystem at the bottom of the park! In fall, the vibrant colors easily rival that of the Northeast!
No matter which season you go, McKittrick Canyon’s environment, flora and fauna, and unique landmarks, including old frontier cabins like the Pratt Cabin, are worth it! And be sure to check out the Devil’s Hall Trail, another canyonesque trail that terminates in the namesake “hallway” formation!
But perhaps the most impressive hike is to the state high point at Guadalupe Peak. This 8 mile day hike traverses the Chihuahuan desert, ponderosa forests, and barren, rocky cliffsides, before arriving at the summit of the top of Texas!
This exhilarating hike proves once and for all that there are formidable mountains to climb in Texas! Just don’t forget a reliable day pack, like this womens Camelback model I used to hike one of the toughest day hikes out there, the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim!
Once you have your day pack, make sure to load it with all the 10 hiking essentials for this one, and reputable trekking poles like these Black Diamonds are bonuses on this hike!
Guadalupe Mountains National Park offers two distinct campgrounds, both embodying different characteristics of the region: the Dog Canyon Campground and the Pine Springs Campground. Just know that all campsites are first come first serve, and are not reservable, so be sure to have a backup lodging plan just in case!
Nearby Carlsbad, New Mexico, is a ideal backup option, and it doesn’t hurt that you can tag on a side trip to the renowned Carlsbad Caverns National Park, or one of the other 8 best outdoor adventures to be had in this southwestern town!
So next time you find yourself wondering just what adventures are to be found in West Texas attractions, just know that there are too many to count! Take a trip to one of all of them, and you will find a new appreciation for all the outdoor things to do in West Texas!
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