A Guide to National Parks in Texas

From the Texas Panhandle to the Mexico border, rugged desert and scenic areas packed with history await discovery: here’s your guide to national parks in Texas.
Written by Kathryn Mae Kurlychek
Reviewed by Kathleen Flear
Updated on May 31, 2022
From the red rock canyons of Big Bend and Guadalupe Mountains to the sprawling prairie of the historic Palo Alto Battlefield, these are the five national park sites in
you won’t want to miss. 
Planning a road trip from
and looking for scenic stops along the way? Or maybe you’re just interested in discovering the natural hidden gems buried in Texas’s backyard? These five national park sites in Texas await discovery and promise unforgettable memories for all who visit. 
Ready to discover your next adventure in the Lone Star State?
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) is here to guide you through the top five national park sites in Texas: Big Bend, Guadalupe Mountains, Lyndon B. Johnson, the Palo Alto Battlefield, and the San Antonio Missions. 
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Big Bend National Park

Location: 1 Panther Junction, Big Bend National Park
Hours of operation: Daily, 24-hours year-round
Admission price: $12 per individual; $30 per vehicle

What makes Big Bend special

From the red rock faces of the Chisos to the clear night skies of the Chihuahuan Desert, Big Bend National Park encompasses over 800,000 acres of magnificent desert habitat in Western Texas. 
  • The Chisos Mountains are visible for miles, with their highest point—Emory Peak—standing over 7,000 feet above sea level. 
  • Part of the Rio Grande cuts through Big Bend and runs through the Santa Elena Canyon, an 8-mile limestone canyon that runs along the Texas-Mexico border.

What to do at Big Bend

From its high mountains to deep gorges—all teeming with birds and wildlife—experiencing the natural wonders of Western Texas is just around the bend. 
  • Hiking (no pets): Whether you’re hoping to experience stunning mountain overlooks, grand desert views, or wind your way along the riverbank of the Rio Grande, Big Bend’s
    extensive trail system
    offers visitors of all experience levels opportunities to explore the park on foot! 
  • Scenic drive: There are several
    scenic drives
    available throughout the park, from paved-road routes to primitive road excursions! 
  • Stargazing: Astrology lovers rejoice! Big Bend boasts the least light pollution of any other national park in the lower 48, making it a stargazer’s paradise. Use the
    night sky quality map
    to pick your optimal stargazing location!
  • Camping: With four campsites located throughout the park—plus backcountry camping access (
    permit required
    )—visitors are welcome to stay 24 hours a day. 

When to visit Big Bend 

Despite the impressive Chisos Mountains, Big Bend is considered a desert park—which means its climate can often feel extreme. We recommend visiting between February and April, when temperatures are more moderate—between the low 50s and mid-70s—not to mention the park is in bloom. If you fall in love with Big Bend on your visit, consider purchasing an annual park pass—it’s only $55!

Guadalupe Mountains National Park

Location: Salt Flat, TX
Hours of operation: Daily, 24-hours year-round
Admission price: $10 per person

What makes Guadalupe Mountains National Park special

Not far from the Texas-
New Mexico
border you’ll find the Guadalupe Mountains, a crest of Permian rock with the four highest peaks in all of Texas, contained within some 76,000 acres of federally protected parkland. 
  • The 3,200-feet deep McKittrick Canyon lies to the east of the mountains, and the trail that runs through it is considered one of the toughest treks in Texas (but the view payoffs make it worthwhile). 
  • The desert park would be incomplete without the Salt Basin Dunes, a 2,000-acre stretch of white sand dunes stretching beyond the shadow of the Guadalupes. 

What to do at Guadalupe Mountains National Park

From the summit of Guadalupe Peak to the base of McKittrick Canyon, explore the highs and lows of the Guadalupe Mountains in these ways: 
  • Hiking and backpacking: Whether you’re looking for a
    day hike in the desert
    or an
    overnight excursion
    to the park’s tallest peaks, there’s an extensive trail system waiting to be discovered. 
  • Camping: There are three campsites throughout the park for visitors to crash at—Dog Canyon, Pine Springs, and the Frijole Ranch. Be sure to
    make a reservation
    so your sleeping spot is secured. 
  • Scenic drives: You can access many neat park places
    by vehicle
    , with picturesque routes that can take as little as an hour or as long as six to drive! 

When to visit Guadalupe Mountains National Park

With a primarily desert-like climate, Guadalupe Mountains National Park is prone to extreme temperature fluctuations. For the most moderate and predictable weather, plan your visit between November and April. At this time of year, the park sees comfortable temperatures around 50 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. 
May through October experience more extreme temperatures, with highs topping out at 100 and lows in the 40s. Remember, higher elevations experience even colder temperatures! 
If you can’t help but fall in love with the Guadalupe Mountains, consider purchasing an annual park pass for just $35.
Pro Tip Backpackers in the Guadalupes will need to obtain a permit from the parkbefore setting out on the trail! 

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park

Johnson City
, TX
Hours of operation: Daily, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Admission price: Free

What makes Lyndon B. Johnson National Park special

Dedicated to recounting the life and work of former President Lyndon B. Johnson, this national historical park follows the true story of Johnson’s rise in politics and ultimate solidification in American history. The park is situated on a sprawling swath of south Texas brush country, promising stunning views and an experience steeped in local and national history.  
  • The lifelong home of Lyndon B. Johnson, the LBJ Ranch—also called the Texas White House—is open to visitor exploration by vehicle—and along the route, you can stop at sites like the President’s birthplace and his family cemetery.

What to do in Lyndon B. Johnson National Park

  • Visitor’s Center: From exhibits with historic collections of the former president’s work—including a tribute exhibit to “Mrs. Ladybird”—to short films and souvenirs, stop by the visitor’s center, open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. 
  • Johnson Settlement: This preserved log estate was established by the Johnson family as a cattle drive, and is accessible for self-guided tours via a short nature trail. 
  • Tours: For a more formal tour, visit the Boyhood Home of Lyndon B. Johnson, a residence frozen in time with authentic 1920s furniture and old Texas relics. 

When to visit Lyndon B. Johnson National Park

The best times to visit the Lyndon B. Johnson National Park is during the spring, fall, or winter—basically, any time of year other than summer. This is because southern Texas can experience extreme temperatures in the summer months, making visits less pleasant. Transitional months and the wintertime are cooler, with average daily temperatures between 65 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Palo Alto Battlefield

, TX
Hours of operation: Daily, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Admission price: Free

What makes Palo Alto Battlefield special

What looks today like little more than a wide, green stretch of field near the Mexican border was once the birthplace of a long and brutal struggle for the fate of Texas itself. Here at the Palo Alto Battlefield, U.S. and Mexican troops met with force in the first of many fights over the course of the two-year long U.S.-Mexican war. 
  • Despite its mainstream obscurity, the U.S.-Mexican War remains an integral part of national and state history—and the Palo Alto Battlefield preserves and highlights these fate-altering cultural events.

What to do at the Palo Alto Battlefield

Discover history around every corner on the trails of Palo Alto:
  • Hiking: Follow a
    half-mile trail
    along the namesake battlefield and admire the natural prairie landscape on your way—the trail will take you straight to a scenic overlook!
  • Historic sites: Doing a day trip?
    Tour key sites of conflict
    in the U.S.-Mexican war from your vehicle, from monuments and memorials to battlefields and lighthouses! 
  • Resaca de la Palma Battlefield: The site of the second-greatest conflict in the U.S.-Mexican War, visitors are welcome to walk along the edge of this historic battlefield. We recommend packing a lunch—there’s even a picnic area and gazebo along the way!

When to visit Palo Alto Battlefield

The battlefields are open year-round, but visitors should beware of the extreme climate in the summer! Tropical weather (including storms!) is common from August to October. 
For the most enjoyable visit, we recommend planning your trip for February, March, or April, when temperatures are more comfortable. If you’re visiting in April, pack an umbrella for safety—and no matter the season, be sure to wear comfortable shoes for walking! 

San Antonio Missions National Historical Park

San Antonio
, TX
Hours of operation: Daily, sunrise to sunset
Admission price: Free

What makes San Antonio Missions special

As the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in the state of Texas, the San Antonio Missions was once the backdrop for colonization, emigration, and transformation amongst Europeans and Spanish people in the early 1700s—or, perhaps more aptly—for Texans. 
  • The Missions—ancient cathedral-style buildings that housed communities—have occupied the grounds for nearly three centuries. Four separate missions are housed within the park—Concepción, San José, San Juan, and Espada—each more grand and beautiful than the last.

What to do at San Antonio Missions

Visitors must visit the missions to appreciate their cultural and historical significance—but that’s not the only thing you can do in the park! 
  • Hiking and Bicycling: A
    paved trail
    winds through the San Antonio Missions, running by each one—if you’re looking to experience all four back-to-back, hiking or biking along the trail is the best way to do it! 
  • Guided Ranger Tours: Enjoy
    guided ranger tours
    of the missions on select days, free of charge! Attending a guided ranger tour is the best way to learn about the park’s history and gain a greater appreciation of mission life. 
  • Nearby attractions: Continue your exploration of Texan history in nearby San Antonio, home of
    The Alamo
    —the first of five missions in the area.

When to visit San Antonio Missions

Summer in San Antonio can get uncomfortable—temperatures typically range from 75 degrees to 90 degrees Fahrenheit, but higher-than-average humidity levels can make the heat feel suffocating for those not accustomed to Texas weather.
Winters are cooler, with highs in the 60s and lows in the 40s. For the mildest conditions, however, you’ll want to plan your visit for spring or fall. During the transition seasons, average temperatures rarely exceed 80 degrees Fahrenheit, with nights typically in the 50s.

How to prepare to visit Texas’s national parks

Before you venture off the beaten path, make sure you and your vehicle are up to the trip with these helpful tips from
  • If you’re traversing Texas by car, it’s important to make sure you’re up-to-date on
    your car’s maintenance
    and that your vehicle meets the clearance requirements of the park. And, of course, don’t forget to fuel up! 
  • For longer journeys or full-fledged road trips, be sure to
    update your car insurance
  • If you’re planning on seeing more than one park (or making repeat visits) consider purchasing an
    America the Beautiful nationwide pass
    to save money on your visits! 
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