Hiking in Texas state parks offers a refreshing look at nature and great exercise. Even beginning hikers can explore the parks’ accessible trails and enjoy the colors of fall as many of the beautiful deciduous tree leaves change to yellow, red, orange, and purple.
The Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife website offers many details. It’s also easy to drive to a park and visit the park headquarters or visitors center where friendly staff can direct hikers to a good starting place and answer any questions.
State parks have well-marked hiking trails for visitors hiking up to three or four miles. Shorter trails are available for people new to hiking or with disabilities or small children. From the detailed park and trail maps provided, novices can choose smaller portions of the longer trails to keep the distance manageable.
Points of interest are marked along the trails and on trail maps, such as scenic overlooks and observation blinds, wildflower fields, beaver dams, particularly old or unique trees, waterfalls, and good fishing spots. The trail in Lake Tawakoni State Park marks the spot where one of the largest spider webs ever recorded was located.
Placards along the hiking trails identify trees and flowers, and maps identify different species of birds, fish, and other wildlife found in each park.
An easy starting trail for beginners is the Lakeview Loop at Lake Bob Sandlin State Park. This 0.6 mile loop has parking near the trail entrance and takes the hiker around fairly easy terrain with pretty views of the lake. There is a wildlife viewing station on the loop for birdwatching and a wooden blind to observe birds and other animals that visit a small pond beside the trail.
Rather than stay on the short loop, more adventurous hikers or those wanting to cover more ground can take a fork in the trail to continue on a much longer hiking and mountain biking trail.
Some state parks offer accommodations and trails for horseback riding. Cooper Lake State Park’s South Sulphur Unit has the 10.5 mile Buggy Whip Equestrian Trail which crosses nearly 600 acres of shaded forest and thick vegetation. The trail goes down hillsides and through creek gulches and has some challenging parts. At the trail’s edge is an equestrian camping area where horses and their humans can camp.
There are regular hiking trails at Cooper Lake State Park too, including a short one-fifth mile circular trail surrounding a wooden amphitheater where hikers can rest while youngsters or outgoing hikers can put on a show.
Another state park with great trails is Caddo Lake State Park. Along with traditional hiking trails, this park also has a more heavily wooded Caddo Forest Trail, one-quarter mile of which is ADA accessible.
The most unique trails in this area are paddling trails. Visitors can explore the twists and turns of Caddo Lake by paddling in a canoe rented in the park, in their own canoe or kayak, or by sitting back and enjoying a guided boat tour. The tall bald cypress trees with Spanish moss draping off them line the water trails, leaving a maze of open waterways that are laid out like city streets. There are even signs in the waters marking the trails to help people find their way through.
Alligators live in Caddo Lake State Park and the surrounding areas, so review the park’s alligator safety tips before visiting.
Texas state parks also offer virtual tours with Interactive Trails Maps. To access, download the trails data in a Keyhole Markup Language Zipped file — or KMZ — and open them with Geographic Information Systems (GIS) compatible software such as Google Earth, ESRI ArcGIS, or a similar app with mapping capabilities. With these, one can click on a trail segment for information on that trail.
Dogs are allowed on hiking trails in most state parks with six foot or shorter leashes. Check before going for specific park restrictions on pets on trails or primitive areas.
In addition to hiking, state parks offer fishing, swimming, picnicking, boating, paddleboarding, water-skiing, biking, nature study, playgrounds, stargazing, geocaching, and more. Many have pavilions, cabins, and shelters that can be rented for family or group events.
Park and trail maps are handed out to park visitors upon check-in and can also be found online. For more information and a complete list of parks in the Upper East Side of Texas on tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks.