State Parks to Visit in Texas this Summer

If you were to attempt to drive across the width of the state of Texas, it would take you approximately 14 to 16 total hours, thus allowing you many opportunities to survey one of the 88 total State Parks in the area. Luckily, Southern Living has compiled a trusted list to help parse down that directory to just nine “Best State Parks in Texas To Visit for a Lone Star Adventure,” an article by Kaitlyn Yarborough.

The state of Texas is so large that it is not only twice as large as Japan or Germany, but it’s also 10% larger than France. Because it is the second-largest state in America, averaging a length of approximately 790 miles and a width of 773 miles, there’s plenty of area for a variety of landscapes and a diversity of natural features across its total landmass. One of the most surprising facts about the state of Texas is that the Lone Star State “is so large that El Paso, Texas is closer to San Diego, California than it is to Houston, Texas. Similarly, Orange, Texas is closer to Jacksonville, Florida than it is to El Paso, Texas.” Because of this massive size, there are dozens of state parks ready to be explored throughout the state that occupies approximately 7% of the total land and water area of our country.

State Park attendance in the United States has reportedly “skyrocketed across the South in recent years,” according to Southern Living Magazine, so there’s never been quite a time like this upcoming summer season to survey what the great state of Texas has to offer, whether it be deserts found in Western Texas or the bayou-adjacent areas of Eastern Texas.

One of the featured State Parks on the list that had near-immediate name recognition among the trendy and well-traveled is Pedernales Falls State Park. As the entry notes, Texan singer-songwriter Willie Nelson once penned a ballad to the Pedernales River, a water feature to which this State Park owes its cascading waters. Located just 30 miles west of the “weird capital of the country,” Austin, this park is quite popular among visitors to the vibrant city with many of them driving over for an extended afternoon or weekend trip, and it’s for good reason!

What makes Pedernales Falls State Park is its collection of off-beat landscape features, namely its impressive system of massive cascading slabs of limestone that are leftover from prehistoric eras. What results is some of the most beautiful and unique scenery in all of the Texas Hill Country. The area is lush with several miles of trails that allow visitors many different pathways to survey the terrain and its various nooks and crannies that can be found among the boulders in the riverbeds and along the sandy shoreline of the Pedernales River.

As mentioned above, the landscape of Eastern Texas can sometimes resemble the more water-centric State Parks of Florida or Louisiana, especially when one visits a terrain that is wholly different from the other State Parks in the area. Caddo Lake State Park is just one of those parks that you have to actually visit in order to truly understand that it’s located in Texas. The collection of Texan bayous, sloughs, ponds, and bald-cypress trees that are draped with the iconically-southern Spanish moss all attribute to a bizarre experience to any visitors who have driven in from the Western perimeter of the state. Check out one of the campsites in the area to truly take in the variety of wildlife and water activities that can be experienced in one of the most unique parks in Texas.

Lastly, one stand-out among the State Parks featured on Southern Living’s list is indicative of the out-of-this-world scenery that is often attributed to the West Texas area. Located near the New Mexico border, Texas’s Monahans Sandhills State Park features acres upon acres of rolling sandhills that resemble an ocean- especially with the locals who like to surf along the top of the dunes on rentable sand discs. Similarly, the extraterrestrial-adjacent area also offers visitors an 800-acre equestrian area for some of the most desert-theme horseback riding that you can experience in the Lone Star State.

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Explore the Nature of Smyth County, Virginia

One of the most memorable and beautiful areas of the country lies in the curving mountain roads of Southwest Virginia. The destination that allows you to quite literally reach new heights and visit destinations straight out of a painting is Smyth County, Virginia, and with this guide to exploring the county from Southern Living, you’ll be set for an unforgettable return to nature.

As a reminder, no matter where you’re traveling to in these uncertain times, it’s always a responsible move and a good idea to check local travel advisories, city ordinances, and state mandates that may have been implemented due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Travel safely and rest assured that you’ve done your due diligence by referring to CDC travel guidelines.

Smyth County is filled to the brim with natural wonders around every corner due to it being in such close proximity to State Parks and National Recreation Areas. So, if you’d like to experience the most of these beautiful environments along with someone knowledgeable of how to safely navigate the area, you should consider booking a local guide for the weekend. For instance, if you reserve a hike with White Blaze Outdoors, not only will your hike be all the more elevated because you get to explore the expansive views and tumbling creeks of the Appalachian Trail, but you’ll be shown literal off-the-beaten paths by your knowledgeable nature guide.

Two of the most popular tourist destinations in Smyth County are the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, Hungry Mother State Park, and Grayson Highlands State Park. When travelers find themselves in Smyth County, they’re typically drawn to the centermost valley located within the boundaries of Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, as it’s the meeting spot of three converging forks of the Holston River. Once inside Mount Rogers NRA, you’ll be able to walk a portion of the Virginia Creeper Trail, a rail-to-recreation trail that runs between Abingdon and Whitetop, Virginia.

On the other hand, if you find yourself at Hungry Mother State Park, you’ll find yourself within a seemingly boundless enclosure of over 100 acres begging to be explored. Known locally as being one of the crown jewels of the Virginia park system, Hungry Mother State Park is filled with activities for families of all ages, offering plenty of fishing, boating, swimming, and more. Similarly, Grayson Highlands State Park, which is located near Virginia’s highest peaks: Mount Rogers and Whitetop Mountain, is a celebrated State Park that offers hiking trails, scenic views of alpine-like mountain peaks of over 5,000 feet, and waterfalls and overlooks that allow you to see Virginia in all its natural splendor.

Survey a wide array of unique experiences and a rich tapestry of historical events at Smyth County’s Museum of the Middle Appalachians in Saltville, VA. Stop in for an afternoon and discover what types of one-of-a-kind geology had attracted the earliest human settlers and wildlife. Oh, and that includes the single most complete Mastodon remains on display in the United States of America. Afterward, feel free to check out the natural salt marsh that made Saltville such an attraction during the Civil War or simply look over the expansive, beautiful city at the Lilypad, a casual picnic overlook.

The best part about all of the nature sites, parks, and experiences to be had in Smyth County, is that there are plenty of accommodation options that allow you to be mere steps away from the forests, trails, and mountainsides that will surely tire you out. Consider reserving a stay at a historic Inn such as the refined, redbrick General Francis Marion Hotel or the charming Collins House Bed and Breakfast Though, you might prefer to literally “bunk in nature” by booking a stay in one of the unforgettably cozy log cabins inside of Hungry Mother State Park. No matter where you stay, you’ll be sure to return ever ytime you hear the Virginia air beckon you back to the mountains.

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Louisiana State Parks Rebuild Following Hurricane Ida

In their continuing coverage of the commercial, regional, and environmental aftermath left in the wake of 2021’s Hurricane Ida, this recent article from The Advocate outlines that because some of Louisiana’s state parks had received monumental damages from the Fall 2021 storm, they are being altered in their rebuilding.

One such state park is Tickfaw State Park, which is located in an isolated pocket of Livingston Parish and encompasses approximately 1,200 acres (most of which are undeveloped). It was reported that prior to August 29th, when Hurricane Ida made its historic landfall in Port Fourchon, Tickfaw State Park was so heavily set in an overarching shadow as a result of a tree canopy, that the sky was very rarely seen. Then the eyewall of Hurricane Idaknocked down an estimated 80% of the trees and buried them mostly in mud so that the 30-foot arm of a rescue excavator couldn’t reach them from the roads running through the swamp-filled state park.

Unfortunately, the damage observed at Tickfaw State Park is too similar to other parks in the state, which has caused the deputy assistant secretary at the Louisiana Office of State Parks, Clifford Melius, to wonder about both the longevity of these parks and the short-term solutions that may be possible. Melius commented saying, “This is going to be a major change to the ecosystem,” and he also wondered “do we repair the boardwalks when there’s no swamp to walk over?”

For decades, the Louisiana State Park system has been very regenerative, despite the annual state parks budget being regularly lowered in favor of Higher Education and Healthcare budgets receiving the attention whenever the state government faced annual deficits. According to the statistics acquired by The Advocate, “between the fiscal year 2008 and the fiscal year 2017, Louisiana reduced annual state general fund contributions by 34% from $29.7 million to $19.7 million.”

Despite this significant decrease in funding, recent years have shown that the Louisiana State Parks system has only grown in popularity. In fact, Louisiana’s 21 State Parks ended the 2021 Fiscal Year on June 30 with 1.5 million visitors, which is the highest number of recorded visitors in a Fiscal year- in recent memory. Additionally, 11 of the total 21 parks made a profit, which is quite the achievement when compared to the system’s owing of $1.5 million on June 30.

After Hurricane Ida, seven State Parks had to close because of severe damages they received, and thorough assessments are still being conducted by park officials, who estimate approximately $4 million in damages. This figure is determined to be roughly one-third of the parks departments’ funds dedicated to repairing and improving facilities.

Melius stated that he would like to see the parks reopened as quickly as possible, which might mean that he and his office will be “short-circuiting the long ponderous path of paperwork and congressional approvals that delays recovery for months.”

For instance, the state park in Fontainebleau, which is located near Mandeville, has sustained damages to their air conditioning facility, which would normally result in a bidding process to hire contractors. Instead, Melius took action and sent in his own staff to replace the air conditioning unit and reopen the park in just two-day at a cost of just $2,500 rather than the $10,000 cost and several weeks of delay that an “out of house team” would have called for.

Melius had said, “in-house saved us money and we didn’t have to wait on contractors to come in and do it,” because otherwise “during all that time I have to keep the park closed because I can’t air condition the buildings.” This improvement to how we assess and process the damages occurring in our state parks is just one way in which theLouisiana State Parks Department is reinvigorating its park system in the rebuilding stage.

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Louisiana State Park Stays

Louisiana’s wildlife gives its visitors and locals a great opportunity for adventure. However, in order to start that adventure you have to find a place to stay. Look no further than Louisiana’s own state parks. Usually around $3 dollars per person to enter, Louisiana State parks are more than just parks. They are an outlet for adventure.

Many of the cabins are large enough to sleep six to eight people; lower prices ranging from $120-$175 make these cabins a great option for families who want a little get away. Or just for those looking to experience Louisiana’s wildlife in a different way. Check out the different amenities for the different parks, some even offer wifi!

Check out the reservation website for Louisiana State Parks to book your trip.

We are here to give you some more details about a few of the options from Louisiana Travel’s list of Louisiana State parks that offer cabins.

Chicot, Ville Platte

In 1939, Chicot was added to the Louisiana State Park system. Three boathouses, boat rental facilities, and a boathouse. Fishing is highly encouraged due to the waters being filled with red-ear sunfish, largemouth bass and more. There are also trails that fill the park, one trail being 22 miles long.

There are multiple different landings that include different areas. The East includes a barbecue pavillon and a meeting room. The South includes a water playground, picnic areas, and cabins. The north includes a primitive group camping area, campsites, and lodges.

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Cypremort Point, Cypremort Point

Coming from the term “dead cypress”, Cypremort Point is located on Vermilion Bay and is a 185-acre park. It contains half a mile of beach that was man made. There are 6 cabins that are available to rent. Wildlife wont be hard to find due to the location of the park.

There is a 100 foot fishing pier that is available for guests to use. The boat launch is literally only a few miles off from the Gulf of Mexico. Redfish and flounder are common catches in the area. The beach also includes picnic sites which means pack your lunch and spend the day!

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North Toledo Bend, Zwolle

Located in the town of Zwolle, the North Toledo Bend State Park is one of the two state parks that can be found on the Toledo Bend Reservoir. This reservoir is one of the largest man-made reservoirs in the country. Paddle Boats and canoes can be rented at boat launch; feel free to bring your own! The park includes 67 campsites and 10 cabins. Two trails can also be found, one being 1.5 miles and the other being 4 miles.

The park also includes a visitors center that houses an olympic size swimming pool. There is also a group camp that is available. This included a full size cafeteria kitchen, serving line, and cooking implements. This group camp also has 5 dorms and it can sleep 50 people in each bunk.

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