It's easy to find the fantasy in far-off escapes to distant islands and dazzling countries. But, sometimes we overlook the beauty that's right in our own backyard — so to speak.
Texas is home to a number of treasures that are so breathtaking, you'd never think you'd find them in the Lone Star State. But, it's time to start seeing and believing.
These 20 surreal thrills are the real deal. You don't even technically have to hop a plane to venture to these fairytale destinations within a road trip's length.
With 3,840 acres of rolling sand dunes, this place in West Texas is one giant and beautiful sandbox to explore. The undulating waves of sand are consistently changing due to weather patterns and wind, so there’s always an intriguing ripple effect to further mesmerize you. Where the earth meets the sky even looks deceptively like the ocean.
A subterranean crystal kingdom awaits at this natural landmark that was called the “most indescribably beautiful cave in the world” by the founder of the National Speleological Society, which promotes the exploration and conservation of caves. The enchanting calcite crystal formations are located 155 feet below the ground, where the Texas Hill Country intersects the Chihuahuan Desert — about halfway between San Antonio and Big Bend National Park.
An oasis in the heart of Texas Hill Country, Lost Maples is just as dreamy as it sounds with its steep canyon walls, crystal-clear Sabinal River, and a special stand of the namesake Uvalde bigtooth maples that take the notion of forest bathing to new heights. It’s a wilderness wonder you won’t soon forget.
This little piece of paradise will make you think you’re not in Texas anymore — but, it's just a mere 20 miles or so west of Austin. The tucked-away grotto reveals a 45-foot-tall waterfall that pours into a beautiful body of water beneath.
No, it’s not a mirage. Those really are 10 hyper-colorful, graffiti Cadillacs dunked in the Texas Panhandle sand. The quirky roadside art stop was built as a public sculpture and you’re encouraged to bring a can of Krylon and leave your mark on this surreal auto scape, too.
The largest stretch of barrier island in the world, the Padre Island National Seashore in Corpus Christi is also home to more than 380 bird species and serves as a nesting ground for the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle. In fact, watching a sea turtle hatchling release is one of the most fantastic things to see, but the wide expanse of idyllic beach with the sunsets to match is pretty surreal, too — especially for Texas.
You can jump deep into this artesian spring — 140 feet deep, that is. It’s the second largest fully submerged cave in Texas and maintains a crisp 68 degrees year-round, so it’s ideal for chilling out amidst a tree-lined haven that doesn’t quite seem like real life. It’s also only about an hour outside of Austin, in Wimberley.
Something you really have to see to believe, the Marfa Lights phenomenon way out west in Marfa won’t exactly be captured on camera that well. However, the accounts of the strange, unexplained lights that dance across the horizon date back to the 19th century. Sometimes red, sometimes blue, sometimes white … the mystery glows keep everyone guessing and usually appear randomly throughout the night — no matter the season or the weather.
Shrouded in bald cypress trees draped in Spanish moss, this area that borders Texas and Louisiana is a maze of bayous, sloughs, and ponds — and it seems like something from a fairytale, especially since it’s home to one of the largest cypress forests in the world. Paddle through the watery wonderland on a boat tour and be transported to another world.
It’s the “Grand Canyon of Texas,” so you know the second largest canyon in the United States is going to be a sight to behold. Measuring 120 miles long and 20 miles wide, the Texas Panhandle destination amazes with rocky terrain that’s a layer cake of colors from the geologic changes over the years. The hoodoos are particularly impressive here — they are the rock formations with a larger rock balanced atop a smaller base.
A deep, dark secret underneath the Texas ground, this cavern was created by the dissolving and cutting action of an ancient river. It’s almost hard to believe the undulating drama that unfolds in this underground haven that's only 90 minutes northwest of Austin in Burnet.
Waterfalls have an inherent enchantment, and this 70-foot-high one located deep within the Texas Hill Country's Colorado Bend State Park is no different. Water dances over dramatic travertine formations and lush vegetation — it’s the reward after the hike.
A wondrous union of rock and water, Big Bend covers about 801,163 acres in Far West Texas. Rivers carve through ancient limestone canyons; the Chisos Mountains take a magnificent stand; and cactus flirt with the weather-beaten desert landscape. Prepare to see the Milky Way, too, as the night skies are pitch black, offering up the magic of stars and constellations just for you.
Call it your own field of dreams, this iconic 13-mile loop just outside of Fredericksburg includes picturesque vistas with blankets of wildflowers and lush rolling meadows in the Texas Hill Country. The best time for the ocean of bluebonnets is between March through May, but it’s a scenic drive no matter what time of year you go.
A dramatic sight deep within Big Bend National Park, the canyon is a study in contrasts between the rough, jagged rock formations that soar 1,500 feet above the glossy, mirror-like river below. The best way to really see every nook and cranny is by a raft or canoe.
Part of the fantasy of this wondrous waterway is how difficult it is to get there. You’ll be plenty glad you made the journey, though, as this remote tributary of the Rio Grande River is more angelic than devilish in appearance with its pristine, Caribbean-blue waters punctuated by the additional charm of the Dolan Falls. It’s an idyllic escape in the southwestern part of the state.
The mystical name of this destination says it all. It just sounds breathtaking — and, spoiler alert, it kind of is. Only about 18 miles north of Fredericksburg, the giant pink granite dome was believed to have a spell cast on it by a Spanish conquistador, hence its name. But, the rock itself is the largest of its kind in the United States, which is pretty cool. Where even more enchantment comes in is at night, where the view of the night sky is phenomenal for stargazing.
Who knew Texas had its own “Blue Lagoon” that’s nearly as dreamlike as Iceland’s. Two limestone quarries are filled with warm, blue-green spring water shaded by pine trees, creating nothing short of a surreal scene that's just 90 minutes north of Houston in Huntsville. The spot especially caters to scuba divers, as there’s a training facility and full gear shop onsite. But, a capped daily admission ensures a serene experience at the main beach, with Nude and Off-Nude beaches for the “clothing optional” types.
Walking in the footprints of ancient dinosaurs is nearly unreal here. But, it is so real. The prints are in the bed of the Paluxy River at this park in Glen Rose, which is fittingly known as the “Dinosaur Capital of Texas.”
Beauty often lies beneath the surface, and that was never more true than with this living cavern that’s 80 feet below the Texas Hill Country ground. Stalactites and stalagmites dynamically punctuate all other sorts of spectacular formations. What’s even more special are the musical performances in the cave’s Throne Room, where the acoustics are just as surreal as the surroundings. If you’re wondering about its peculiar no-name status, a state-wide contest was held in 1939 to name the cave. When a young boy suggested the cave "was too beautiful to have a name,” it stuck as the winning entry.