Texas is the second largest state in the United States of America in both size and population. The state is 268,596 square miles and has a population of 29.1 million people It is known as the “Lone Star State”, a reminder that it was once an independent republic and of its struggles to gain freedom from Mexico. The state is filled with diverse landscape. There are many different climate, soil and ecological regions. There are plains, prairie and steppe regions. There are rolling hills, rising mountains, caverns, rivers and lakes. Texas has a lot of history, and there are many places in the state that leave behind legacies. When exploring the state on a day trip, there are multiple places that are appealing.
20. Dinosaur Valley State Park
Dinosaur Valley State Park is located near Fort Worth and is a fun day trip if the conditions are right. There are actual fossilized dinosaur footprints visible in the bed of the Paluxy River. You can see them up close. It’s best to call first to see if conditions are right with good visibility in the water bed to see the prints. Aside from viewing actual dinosaur footprints, there is nearby Glen Rose State Park. There are 20 miles of trails to hike or mountain bike. You can picnic, swim and fish. In the nearby South Primitive Area, there is a 100 acre horseback riding area.
19. National WASP World War II Museum
An interesting piece of Texas World War II history is the National WASP World War II Museum. It is located in Sweetwater, Texas which is 236 miles southeast of Amarillo and 181 miles west of Fort Worth. The museum is located on Avenger Field, the base where female pilots were trained to serve in World War II. WASP stands for “Women Air Force Service Pilots.”. In 1943 the women’s flying training detachment program was moved to Avenger Field in Sweetwater. Women who were licensed pilots who trained to serve oversees. The museum has many displays that represent this important part of US history that can be observed.
History buffs will find interest in a day trip to the eastern Texas city of Nacodoches near Shreveport, Louisiana. Nacodoches claims to be “The Oldest Town in Texas”. There is evidence of a settlement in the area as far back as 10,000 years. The land was home to the Nacodoches and Caddo Indian tribes for many years. During the 1700’s, the land was settled by the Spanish and later the French. The future President of the Republic of Texas, Sam Houston lived there for four years before the 1836 Texas Revolution. In 1859, Texas’ first oil well opened in Nacodoches. The historic district of the city has historic sites and museums to explore as well as shops and restaurants.
17. Mineral Wells Fossil Park
Mineral Wells Fossil Park is located near Mineral Wells in north central Texas. A visit to the park is a thrill to amateur and professional fossil hunters. Admission is free, and visitors are allowed to view and collect fossils that are 300 million years old. The fossils became apparent when 20 years of erosion of a borrow pit revealed them. Fossils that can be found include sea lilies, ancient plants, clams, oysters, urchins, corals, arthropods and even primitive sharks. It’s also worth the trip to stop in the city of Mineral Springs which has a lot of military history.
16. Sam Rayburn Reservoir
For the avid boater or fisherman, Sam Rayburn Reservoir is a great spot to visit. The reservoir is in eastern Texas 70 miles north of Beaumont. Construction of the reservoir began in 1956 and was completed inn 1965. The purpose was to build a dam at the Angelina River to prevent flooding and to provide hydroelectric power. Originally called the McGee Bend Dam and Reservoir, the name was changed in honor of the deceased Sam Rayburn, the Speaker for the US House. Game fish are abundant including channel catfish, bluegill and largemouth bass.
15. Dripping Springs
Dripping Springs is a beautiful town located in Texas’ central hill country close to Austin. Dripping Springs has beautiful rolling hills with a river meandering through. Downtown has quaint boutiques, restaurants, and coffee and brew pubs. Hamilton Pool Preserve covers 200 acres including a waterfall that drops 50 feet from the limestone cliffs. You can climb limestone cliffs at Reimer’s Ranch. The Tuscan Hill Country Olive Country has 15 acres of olive trees and offers tastings. For those interested in breweries, wineries and distilleries, visit Bells Springs Winery, Twisted X Brewing Company or Treaty Oak Distillery.
14. Fort Griffin State Historical Park
Fort Griffin State Historical Park is located in Albany in western Texas. The US Calvary established a Fort there in 1867 under Lt. Col. S.D. Sturgis. The purpose of the Fort was to protect settlers from raids by the Comanche and Kiowa Indian tribes. The Fort was initially named Camp Wilson but was changed to Fort Griffin in honor of the former Civil War Union General Charles Griffin. The Fort was used as a starting point for wagon trains traveling west and later for a stopping point for cattle drives. Ranchers began to settle there in 1874. Ruins of some of the 90 log house buildings remain and can be toured.
13. Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch
Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch is an easy drive from the San Antonio area in central Texas. The ranch stretches over 450 acres of property. Wildlife are protected in the environment, and visitors can get up close to the animals. There is a variety of wildlife including zebras and giraffes. You can grab a bite to eat at the Safari Camp Grill. People of all ages can enjoy this fun trip. There is also a nearby cavern to explore. Tours of the cave include a Lantern tour and a Hidden Passage tour. There is also rappelling and climbing opportunities.
12. Monahans Sandhills State Park
For those who love an adventure, Monahans Sandhills State Park is located in western Texas just outside of the city of Monahans. Although it’s not the desert, there are massive sand dunes in this semi arid ecosystem. They spread out on 3,840 acres. Some sand dunes are up to 70 feet high. Visitors may chose to hike up and down the sand hills or rent a sand board or a sand disk to ride over the dunes. Toboggans are available to rent as well. Visitors can enjoy a picnic, camping or birdwatching in the park. There are nearby horseback riding trails too. Other nearby attractions include Balmorhea and Big Spring State Parks, the Million Barrel Museum and the Odessa meteor crater.
11. Six Flags Fiesta Texas
An amusement park is always a fun time for the whole family including die-hard thrill riders, those who like the easier rides and young children. Six Flags Fiesta Texas has something for anyone. Located in San Antonio, Six Flags Fiesta has tons of thrill rides and family rides. There’s also a water park and live entertainment. There are a lot of shops and places to eat. Currently, Six Flags Fiesta Texas is hosting its Fright Fest with scary Halloween attractions. This year there are 10 additional haunted houses, scare zones and shows.
10. Cavanaugh Flight Museum
A perfect day trip for a aviation buff who lives near Dallas is a visit to the Cavanaugh Flight Museum. The museum is located in Addison, just north of Dallas. The museum displays many aircraft from World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and some civilian aircraft. Visitors are free to go on self guided tours throughout the property. Cavanaugh Flight Museum opened in 1993 with donations of businessman Jim Cavanaugh’s personal collection. Cavanaugh began his collection in 1980 with the purchase of a half share of a 1939 Piper J-3 Cub.
9. Jacob’s Well
The artesian springs of Jacob’s Well sits on 81 acres of natural area. This is located in Wimberley in south central Texas. The springs release thousands of gallons of water a day. Their source is the Trinity Aquifier. The 12 foot mouth is used to swim. The cave beneath extends 30 feet. At it’s deepest, Jacob’s Well is 140 feet. The water temperature is almost constantly 68° F. The location is historic. It was home to the Coahuiltecans Native American’s for two centuries before the land was surveyed in 1847. It is interesting to learn about the artesian springs, and there are guided tours that discuss this as well as the history of the land and local wildlife and vegetation.
When you enter the small town of Dublin, Texas, you’re greeted by a sign with a shamrock welcoming you to the “Irish Capital of Texas”. Dublin is located 1 hour east of Abilene, 2 hours northwest of Austin and 2 hours south of Dallas and Fort Worth. It’s a fun town to visit for a day trip. The town’s Irish heritage can be seen throughout. Dublin’s biggest claim to fame is that it was the home of a bottle works plant for 120 years. Dr. Pepper was bottled there until 2012. The small plant is still a working bottle works. You can tour the plant and bottle your own soda. There is a museum annex to explore. Of course a stop at Old Doc’s Soda Shop where you can taste different types of soda is a must.
7. Enchanted Rock Natural Area
Enchanted Rock Natural Area is a 1,640 acre park located in central Texas 17 miles north of Fredricksburg and 24 miles south of Llano. The main feature of the park is the 425 foot pink granite dome, the “Enchanted Rock”. Archeologists have found that prehistoric men and women settled there and left depressions in the rock where they ground their food into it. Native Americans lived in the area for centuries before it was colonized by the Spanish in the eighteenth century. German immigrants and American’s settled in the area during the nineteenth century. The mountain has many myths and legends attached to it. Enchanted Rock is a great place to visit and get in touch with nature. There are 11 trails and places to camp and picnic. Big Sandy Creek runs through the park and is a great place to take a dip in the water.
6. New Braunfels
New Braunfels is a town located in central Texas between San Antonio and Austin. A visit to the town makes for a nice day trip. Along the tree lined streets are unique shops, galleries, cafés, restaurants and pubs. For history buffs, there is a museum and walking tours available. In the town there is a theater with live music performances and the Gruene (Green) which is the oldest dance hall in the state of Texas. New Braunfels hosts several fairs and festivals throughout the year. Just outside the town is Landa Park which has nature trails and a miniature train. For those planning to visit for more than a day, there are campgrounds and cabins. There are also several nearby vineyards.
5. Caverns of Sonora
The Caverns of Sonora are located just west of the village of Sonora in Texas’ central hill country. They are easily accessible,located halfway between San Antonio and Big Bend National Park. The caves are unique because of their calcite crystal formations which began forming 100 million years ago. In one area, the crystals are so thick, it’s called the “snake pit”. Unlike most caves, the temperature at the Caverns of Sonora is a steady 72° F. The caves were discovered by ranch hands in 1900. A 2 mile trail was developed in the 1950’s. Prior to that the caverns were known as the “secret caves”. Because of damage to the caves, efforts to protect them were made. The caverns were open to the public in 1960 with guided tours, and no one can trespass on the site.
4. Fort Worth Stockyards
If you’re near Fort Worth, it’s well worth it to visit the historic district of the city. This is where cowboys moved cattle through to the western states during the nineteenth century. In fact, Fort Worth was called “cowtown”. When the railroad came through in 1876, it was used to ship cattle. The Livestock Exchange Building was so lucrative that it became known as the “Wall Street of the West”. Twice a day you can witness a real cattle drive. There is also entertainment including re-enacted gunfights and a rodeo. Enjoy a walk through the town which feels like walking into the Old West. Along the brick walkways, there are unique shops Stop to eat at restaurants including Star Café, Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que and Hunter Brother’s H3 Ranch steakhouse.
3. San Antonio River Walk
When exploring San Antonio, of course a visit to The Alamo is a must and the King William Historic District, but don’t miss the River Walk. San Antonio’s River Walk is a below street level tree lined walk that meanders for miles along the San Antonio River. If you’re interested in guided tours, there are several boat cruise options. Otherwise, enjoy the shops, cafés and restaurants. There are always events and concerts especially on the weekends. The River Walk is a relaxing way to enjoy the city.
The town of Fredricksburg is located in central Texas’ hill country, not far from both Austin and San Antonio. The small town was founded in 1846 by German immigrants. Downtown, there are museums, art galleries, elegant shops and dining. The town is home to some breweries where you can enjoy a pint of German and craft beer. There is always live entertainment and several festivals throughout the year. Festivals include the Hill Country Film Festival, the Food and Wine Festival, and of course Oktoberfest. Take a trip outside the town to visit local wineries or picnic in the hills. There is also nearby horse racing.
1. Galveston Island
A visit to Galveston Island is great for a day trip or for a weekend. Galveston Island is a 27 mile long barrier island located off the southeastern coast of Texas on the Gulf of Mexico. It’s just 50 miles from Houston. The island has been a popular vacation destination since the nineteenth century. You can enjoy the miles of sandy beaches. Downtown is filled with quaint places to eat and shop as well as antique stores and art galleries. Head to the pier for amusement rides and make a stop at Lolli and Pop’s Candy Shop. For history buffs there is the Texas Seaport Museum. Kids will enjoy Moody Gardens which has a 3D theater, aquarium and tropical rainforest. There’s always live entertainment along the waterfront. Galveston Island has lots to offer for all ages.