Lesser known, however, might be the diverse geographical features of all that land. To say you’re camping in Texas could mean you’re pitching a tent among the rolling mountain ranges of the Big Bend region – or the sandy Gulf Coast beaches of Padre Island National Seashore, the longest undeveloped barrier island in the world. It could invoke images of hushed bayous, glistening lakes, a cool green prairie – or a night spent under a twinkling blanket of stars in the desert. No matter where you land in the Lone Star State, you'll probably find the best weather come spring and fall, when the extreme temps of summer have died down and the sunshine-filled days beg to be explored outdoors.
With hip, bohemian-minded Austin at its heart, there is so much to love about Texas’ centrally located Hill Country. Like its name suggests, the region is formed by gently rolling green hills peppered with fresh springs, hidden caves and steep canyons.
Swimming holes and barbecue abound in this area, and a near-perfect double dip of these two on a summer afternoon might begin at the breathtaking Hamilton Pool Preserve, with its clear blue-green waters, dramatic 50-foot waterfall, and lush forest surrounds. Afterward, towel off and head to nearby Salt Lick BBQ in Driftwood, Texas – considered some of the best BBQ in Texas, if not the country.
Central Texas gets awfully hot, so no one will blame you if you decide to just find a cool blue lake and drop anchor for the day. Canyon Lake, fed from the Guadalupe River, is a dreamy spot to take a dip, rent a boat for the day, explore one of its hiking trails, or just pack a picnic and catch the light bouncing off the water.
Tucked into Southwest Texas, the Big Bend region is home to wide plateaus, desert mountains and the much-loved Big Bend National Park. Pick from over 200 miles of hiking trails, or take a spin along the 350-mile road network. Mountain climbing is big here, as well as rafting in the Rio Grande River, which winds its way through the 800,000-acre park.
While away an afternoon in one of the area’s history-filled ghost towns, like Terlingua or Lajitas, where you can grab dinner and a cold one at a saloon with live music. In quirky Marfa, you can check out a renowned contemporary art scene and try to crack the mystery of the Marfa Ghost Lights, mysterious orbs of light that have lit up the town’s night sky for more than 135 years.
North Texas, part of the Southern Plains that extend down from Nebraska, belonged to Comanche warriors in the in 19th century – but they weren’t the fiercest to roam these plains. At Dinosaur Valley State Park, a wild 1,500-acre park along the Paluxy River, you can take a dip and hunt for million-year-old dinosaur tracks in the limestone riverbed.
Affectionately known as the “Grand Canyon of Texas”, Palo Duro Canyon State Park offers a little taste of that beautiful red rock those neighboring states hold so dear. Horseback riding is big here, with over 1,500 acres of land allotted to the sport; as is hiking through the million-year-old caprock formations that form the area. Cool your heels with a cold Blue Bell milkshake at Blue Sky Texas, one of the state’s most beloved burger joints.