From waterfalls, sparkly caves, surfable sand dunes and an extravagant Hindu temple, Texas boast some unexpectedly beautiful sights and hidden gems. Here, Every Corner lists the top 13 places to add to your Lone Star State bucket list, including Gorman Falls, Rockport Beach, Palo Duro Canyon, and Bayou Bend Gardens.
Hamilton Pool—23 mi. (37km) west of Austin
Hamilton Pool Preserve, just outside of Austin, is created by Hamilton Creek spilling over the top of a limestone rock formation, creating a delicate waterfall. This spot is so popular with visitors, you have to make a reservation ahead of time, if you want the opportunity to take a dip in the warm months, though you can choose to wait in a non-guaranteed entry line that will cost you about 45 minutes of your time, on average. As locals will tell you: it’s more than worth the wait.
Santa Elena Canyon—121 mi. (195km) south of Marfa
Santa Elena Canyon calls Big Bend National Park home, and is just a mere pin drop in the massive 1,252 mi.² (3,250km²) park. This canyon is one of the most popular choices in the area for those wishing to take a leisurely kayak, canoe, or raft downstream. The tall cliffs reach up to 1,000 ft. (305m), creating a stark contrast with the low rapids, and you can camp along your way as well.
Bayou Bend Gardens in Houston
The Bayou Bend Gardens have been a labor of clipping and manicured love since Miss Ima Hogg chose the area for her gardens back in 1925. The formal gardens she grew were meant to be places to sit, enjoy nature, and converse, rather than flora and fauna to gaze at from a distance. The gardens are planted during the formal Country Place era of the late 19th century, and are still as impeccable as ever today.
BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir—20 mi. (32km) SW of Houston
You can simply call this stunning temple in Stafford, Texas ‘the Mandir’ for short. It was built for Houston-area Hindus as a place of worship and prayer, and was built according to the guidelines outlined in the Shilpa Shastras. This collection of architectural guidelines has been a part of Indian religion and history for thousands of years, though this particular site is extravangantly beautiful.
Rockport Beach—32 mi. (51km) north of Corpus Christi
While South Padre Island gains most of the notoriety as Texas’s premier beach, Rockport Beach is just up the coast and boasts pristine sandy beaches with gorgeous blue-wave shorelines. A simple $5 parking fee will get you set for the day, and there are pavilions to have a picnic lunch and a walking path for further exploration, should you want to do more than lay in the sun.
Palo Duro Canyon—32 mi. (51km) south of Amarillo
Palo Duro Canyon is second in size in the U.S. only to the Grand Canyon, and with way less foot traffic. The park sits in the Texas Panhandle, and hosts a wide arrange of activities for the outdoor enthusiast, such as wild and RV camping, hiking and biking trails, and shaded picnic areas.
Gorman Falls—100 mi. (161km) northwest of Austin
Gorman Falls resides in Colorado Bend State Park, one of Texas’s most beautiful and popular state parks. You can explore the falls on a guided 1.5 mi. (2.4km) hike, or go rogue on a solo, rugged three-mile (4.8km) hike to reach the same destination. The nearby lake offers opportunities for boating, kayaking, and swimming, or stay on land exploring the park’s 35 mi. (56km) of multi-use trails.
Texas State Capitol in Austin
You can see this legislative structure far before you reach downtown Austin, as it sits atop the end of Congress Avenue. This version of Texas’s Capitol building was constructed after the 1853 version was deemed too small for the mighty state, and features immaculate attention to detail from the star-studded rotunda to every chair in the House of Representatives. Get the full rundown on this historic building with a brief history of the Texas State Capitol.
Caddo Lake—60 mi. (97km) south of Texarkana
East Texas has a distinct ecology, and it’s where you’ll find most of Texas’s “swamplands”, which are much more magnificent than you may have presupposed. The area is filled with bare cypress trees covered with Spanish moss, providing a natural playground of bayous and waterways to explore via kayak or canoe.
Caverns of Sonora—190 mi. (306km) northwest of San Antonio
You have to go the extra mile—underground—to find this hidden Texas gem. The Caverns of Sonora are a great pit stop on your way to West Texas, about halfway between Big Bend and San Antonio. These caves are made up of acres of limestone, and you can pan for sparkling gems, hike, or even camp during your stop too.
Willow City Loop—80 mi. (129km) west of Austin
The Texas Hill Country is your destination for a Sunday drive any time of the year, but especially during the spring when the Texas wildflowers are blooming in every field. The rolling hills offer expansive views of Central Texas, and small towns along the way boast delicious restaurants, homely bed and breakfasts, and plenty of wineries and breweries to keep you busy. Want to catch as many famous Texas bluebonnets as you can, before they disappear? Check out the best spots for viewing them this spring.
El Capitan—113 mi. (182km) east of El Paso
Didn’t think you could see snow in Texas? In Guadalupe Mountains National Park on the Texas-New Mexico border sits the El Capitan peak, which is dry and barren much of the year but gets a white coat of snow and clouds once in a while. El Capitan is the eighth highest peak in Texas and a journey to the top offers a sweet reward for hikers in terms of miles upon miles of desert beauty from above.
Monahans Sandhills—140 mi. (225km) northeast of Marfa
Bring your boogie board or rent a toboggan onsite to ride a different kind of wave at Monahans Sandhills in West Texas. Besides the dunes, you can ride a horse anywhere in the 800-acre equestrian area (324 hectares) or check out the nearby Odessa Meteor Crater.