Courtesy of Travel Texas
Did you know that Texas has 90 mountains reaching altitudes of a mile or more, or that approximately ten percent of Texas is covered in forest, including four national and five state forests? Although famous for vast cattle ranches and oil booms, Texas’ natural wonders inspire travelers when they visit the state. Hiking scenic canyons and dense forests, exploring mysterious caverns or relaxing on undisturbed beaches are just some of the natural wonders to be enjoyed. People have been exploring and admiring these family-friendly and awe-inspiring sites for hundreds and even thousands of years.
Visitors who want to explore Texas “down under” must see Natural Bridge Caverns, named to the National Register of Historic Places by the U.S. Department of Interior, recognizing sites that have an important role in preserving cultural history. Located 13 miles north of San Antonio and named one of America’s “10 great places to get nature on film,” this cave is one of the world’s premiere show caves and largest natural attractions. Visitors can view more than 10,000 different formations in underground chambers with either a guided tour or a self-guided tour on tape. Other award-winning state caverns include The Cave Without a Name and Cascade Caverns in Boerne, as well as Longhorn Caverns and Sonora Caverns.
In terms of Texas parks, Big Bend National Park ranges in elevation from less than 2,000 feet along the Rio Grande River to nearly 8,000 feet in the Chisos Mountains, encouraging visitors to explore its massive canyons, rock formations and vast desert expanses. “El Despoblado,” as the Spaniards called it, offers biking, boating, camping, hiking, fishing, swimming and opportunities for magnificent photographs. After exploring Big Bend National Park, visitors can go next door to Big Bend Ranch State Park, with 17 miles of trails and 30 miles of gravel road perfect for hiking, horseback riding, 4X4 driving and bicycling.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park, located in the Guadalupe Mountains of West Texas, contains the highest point in Texas, the 8,749-foot Guadalupe Peak. Visitors can see the ruins of an old stagecoach station, and camp at nearby Pine Springs Campground. The 135-square mile park also contains McKittrick Canyon, which in the fall months, comes alive with a blaze of colorful bigtooth maple trees.
South of Amarillo, the colorful slopes of Palo Duro Canyon State Park encompass more than 20,000 acres. Famed as the country’s second-largest canyon, it was formed primarily by water erosion from the Red River almost one million years ago. The canyon was dubbed “Palo Duro” (Spanish for “hardwood”) by early Spanish explorers in reference to the abundant mesquite and juniper trees, and offers hiking, horseback riding, cowboy cookouts, magnificent photo opportunities and outdoor theater events such as the renowned musical drama “TEXAS!”
Visitors are sure to soak up plenty of sun on the South Padre Island National Seashore, the world’s longest remaining undeveloped stretch of barrier island. Encompassing more than 130,000 acres, Padre Island is famous for its fishing, camping and windsurfing. The Bird Island Basin area on the Laguna Madre is one of the nation’s top spots for windsurfing with its steady wind, warm water and shallow depths. Visitors can also relax by the ocean or snorkel and scuba dive right off the coast.
Tarzan would have had a ball in the 97,000-acre Big Thicket National Preserve, which boasts 85 different tree species, nearly 1,000 flowering plants and brings together the eastern hardwood forests, the Gulf coastal plains and the Midwest prairies. A wonderful place for hiking, camping or canoeing, travelers who prefer the milder months can enjoy bird watching, as The Big Thicket is on the Central and Mississippi migratory flyways. The state’s national forests include the Angelina National Forest, Davy Crockett National Forest, Sabine National Forest and Sam Houston National Forest. The five state forests include Fairchild State Forest, Jones State Forest, Kirby State Forest, Masterson State Forest and Siecke State Forest.
For more information about natural wonders and outdoor activities throughout the state of Texas, visit www.TravelTex.com.