Your travel bucket list is filled to the brim with all the exotic, far-off wonders of the world. (Ours is, too.) So, you will be forgiven for overlooking Mother Nature’s bit of Texas magic that’s practically right in your own backyard.
But, now, there are no more excuses for not taking the Lone Star State seriously for its landscapes.
This list gives you front-row access to the au-naturel marvels that will take you on an adventure through hills and valleys, sand and surf, and even a few subterranean slices of fantasy — without ever leaving Texas borders.
You'll probably not believe most of these places even exist — until you go there, that is. Let the Texas wanderlust settle in.
Where: 2585 Park Road 6026, Johnson City
Weaving around huge slabs of limestone, the Pedernales River makes for an interesting water feature with hiking trails all around, too.
Where: 400 Pine Canyon Dr., Salt Flat
With mountains, canyons, desert, and dunes, this place just outside of El Paso is what natural dreams are made of. The world's most extensive Permian fossil reef is at this park — and so are the four highest peaks in Texas.
You may feel like you’re on another planet (or in the prettiest sandbox ever) upon embarking on these 3,840 acres of rolling sand dunes — some even towering multiple stories into the sky. 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: 6500 Great Trinity Forest Way, Dallas
Tree-huggers will be praising this place that’s thought to be the largest urban bottomland hardwood forest in the United States. The Trinity River Audobon Center is a great access point to the 6,000 acres of forest beyond.
Where: Port Aransas
This welcoming sanctuary in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico is an au naturel oasis that’s just a short ferry ride away from Fisherman’s Wharf in Port Aransas. It’s privately owned, meaning it’s largely uninhabited and undisturbed, with 21 miles of quiet golden sands to wander, seashells galore, and the soothing sound of the surf.
Where: 1711 PR 4468, Sonora
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 meets the Chihuahuan Desert — about halfway between San Antonio and Big Bend National Park.
Where: 3505 W 35th St., Austin
The real peacocks that roam the grounds make this park immediately enchanting.
Where: 37221 F.M. 187, Vanderpool
If fall colors (and forest bathing) are your happy place, Lost Maples in Central Texas is just the thing. It has a certain dream-like quality with steep canyon walls, the crystal-clear Sabinal River, and a special stand of its namesake Uvalde bigtooth maples. It’s a wilderness wonder you won’t soon forget.
Where: 24300 Hamilton Pool Rd., Dripping Springs
This little piece of paradise is just a short drive from Austin, but it will make you think you’re not in Texas at all anymore. The tucked-away grotto reveals a 45-foot-tall waterfall that pours into a beautiful body of water beneath.
Where: Padre Island
First off, this is the largest stretch of undeveloped barrier island in the world. That’s pretty impressive. What’s more, it is one of the few hypersaline lagoons in the world and is also home to more than 380 bird species while serving as a nesting ground for the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle. So, if you think Texas can hold its own on the beach scene, this idyllic place just outside of Corpus Christi stands ready to change your mind.
Where: 1699 Mt. Sharp Rd., Wimberley
As the second largest fully submerged cave in Texas, this artesian spring maintains a crisp 68 degrees year-round. So, it’s ideal for chilling out (or jumping in) amidst a tree-lined haven that doesn’t quite seem like real life.
Where: 100 Congress Ave., Austin
The bridge is man-made; the bats, not so much. With 1.5 million and counting, it’s the largest urban bat colony in North America. They emerge nightly, from about March to October, blanketing the sky in the most unbelievable fashion.
Where: 245 Park Road 2, Karnack
You could easily pretend you’re in a fairytale here. This is the only natural lake in Texas, and it’s also home to one of the largest bald cypress forests in the world (26,810 acres, to be exact). The trees are draped in Spanish moss and create a watery wonderland with bayous, sloughs, and ponds.
Where: 3800 Mount Bonnell Rd., Austin
Climbing to the top of this 775-foot-tall limestone outcrop overlooking the Colorado River is worth it. The views are breathtaking.
Where: 11450 Park Road 5, Canyon
As the second largest canyon in the United States, Palo Duro is a sight to behold just south of Amarillo. Measuring 120 miles long and 20 miles wide, the “Grand Canyon of Texas” impresses with its rocky terrain that’s a layer cake of colors from geologic changes over the years. The hoodoos are particularly impressive here — they’re the formations with a larger rock balanced atop a smaller base.
Where: 6211 Park Road 4 South, Burnet
Who knew there was this deep, dark secret underneath the Texas ground. It’s almost hard to believe the undulating drama that unfolds in this dreamy haven was created by the dissolving and cutting action of an ancient river.
Where: 6031 Colorado Park Rd., Bend
Chasing waterfalls is magical, and this 70-foot-tall spring-fed one is pretty special. Located deep within Colorado Bend State Park in the Texas Hill Country — about two hours northwest of Austin — water dances over dramatic travertine formations and lush vegetation here; it’s the reward after the one-hour hike.
Where: Multiple access points
A wondrous union of rock and water, the geologic marvel that is Big Bend National Park covers about 801,163 acres in southwestern Texas, bordering Mexico. Here, rivers carve through ancient limestone canyons, the Chisos Mountains take a magnificent stand, and cacti flirt with the weather-beaten desert landscape. Follow the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive for a front-row seat to it all. Then, camp out to see the Milky Way, as the night skies are pitch black offering up a magical landscape of stars and constellations just for you.
Where: 2201 Barton Springs Rd., Austin
It’s like the best pool Mother Nature could possibly provide. The three acres of water are fed from an underground spring, so it’s always a chill 68 to 70 degrees.
Where: Big Bend National Park
The drama is so real here — and so are the Insta-worthy moments. Located deep within Big Bend National Park, the canyon is a study in contrasts between the rough, jagged rock formations and the cliff walls that soar 1,500 feet above the glossy, smooth river below. The best way to really see every nook and cranny is by a raft or canoe.
Where: 21715 Dolan Creek Rd., Del Rio
It’s a bit devilish to get here, but that’s all part of its charms. You’ll be plenty glad you made the trek, as this remote tributary of the Rio Grande River is beautifully angelic with its pristine, Caribbean-blue waters punctuated by the stunning Dolan Falls.
Where: 16710 Ranch Rd. 965, Fredericksburg
By day or night, this pink granite dome is, well, enchanting. After all, its mystical name says it all — the place was believed to have a spell cast on it by a Spanish conquistador. The rock itself is the largest of its kind in the United States, which is pretty cool, too.
Where: 7171 Mountain Creek Parkway, Dallas
This place is pretty — but, it’s probably not unbelievably pretty in the whole scheme of Texas things. That said, it is more nature than you probably thought possible in Dallas. And, at an elevation of 633 feet, the views (and sunsets) are pretty sublime. You’d almost think you’re in the Texas Hill Country. The natural habitat of 600 acres features about nine miles of trails, native trees, grasses and wildflowers, butterfly gardens, picnic areas, and wildlife.
Where: 649 Pinedale Rd., Huntsville
Iceland has its Blue Lagoon — and so does Texas. Seventy miles north of Houston, two limestone quarries are filled with warm, blue-green spring water shaded by pine trees, creating nothing short of a surreal scene. The spot especially caters to scuba divers, as there’s a training facility and full gear shop onsite. And, the capped daily admission ensures a hidden-gem-like experience.
Where: 325 Kreutzberg Rd., Boerne
What’s in a name? It doesn’t matter here, as this living cavern 80 feet below the Texas Hill Country ground speaks for itself. It’s brimming with stalactites and stalagmites that dynamically punctuate all other sorts of spectacular formations — and, to add to the beauty, musical performances are hosted in the cave’s Throne Room, where the acoustics are just as surreal as the surroundings. As for its peculiar “name,” a state-wide contest was held in 1939 to name the cave. When a young boy suggested that it "was too beautiful to have a name,” it just stuck.
Where: 3755 S. Capital of Texas Hwy., Austin
An urban oasis, the Barton Creek Greenbelt is 13-ish miles of hiking trails and swimming stops with photogenic places like the Twin Falls, Gus Fruh, Campbell’s Hole, and Sculpture Falls. It is definitely a walk (or swim) to remember.
Where: 234 RR 1050, Concan
The chill Frio River is the main calling card of this natural area, with its clear, crisp, spring-fed waters that are ideal for floating or swimming. Thirteen miles of hiking trails are also up for grabs with ever-changing scenery including high limestone bluffs, towering cypress trees, and big boulders.