Article Summary: National Parks Near Austin
National Parks near Austin. There’s so much more to the Lone Star State than its state capitol. In this article, More Than Just Parks goes deep in the heart of Texas.
Austin is known as the Live Music Capital of the World and boasts more live music venues than any other city (per capita) in the country.
You can bet that there’s no shortage of great music venues to explore and that’s one of my favorite things about living in Austin — there’s always a good time to be had!
But there’s also some great national park sites within a day’s drive.
So, What Is A National Park?
We get asked that question a lot because there’s a difference between a “national park” and a “national park site.” To help you understand that difference you might want to check out our article titled: What Is A National Park Really?
If you’re planning a trip to the Lone Star State then one book that I highly recommend is: Texas Bucket List Adventure Guide: Explore 100 Offbeat Destinations You Must Visit!
Now let’s go ahead with 7 reasons why you’ll want to hop in your car and make a day’s drive from Austin to one of these truly amazing places.
Table Of Contents: National Parks Near Austin
National Parks Near Austin
- Best National Parks Near Austin
- More National Parks Near Austin
- National Parks Near Austin FAQ
- Meet The Parks Brothers
- Map Of National Parks Near Austin
- We Hope You’ll Follow Our Journey
Best National Parks Near Austin
1. Amistad National Recreation Area
Distance From Austin: Three hours and 45 minutes (237 miles) via I-35 S, US-90 W & US-90.
More Than Just Parks is all about discovering and sharing incredible places for you to go camping, hiking, wilderness watching and much much more. At the Amistad National Recreation Area, outside Del Rio in Val Verde County, Texas, you can do all of these things and much much more.
Amistad National Recreation Area covers over 66,000 acres and includes the impoundment of the Rio Grande River, creating a large man-made lake that provides opportunities for boating, fishing, swimming, and water sports.
The recreation area also includes rugged canyons, rolling hills, and pristine deserts, providing opportunities for hiking, camping, and wildlife viewing.
It’s An Area Rich In Cultural & Historical Resources
The recreation area is rich in cultural and historical resources, with evidence of human occupation in the region dating back over 12,000 years. The area is named for the Spanish word “amistad,” meaning “friendship,” and reflects the historic relationship between the indigenous people, Spanish settlers, and later, Mexican and Texan settlers.
In addition to its recreational and cultural resources, Amistad National Recreation Area also provides important habitat for a wide range of wildlife, including over 300 species of birds, as well as threatened and endangered species such as the ocelot and the pronghorn antelope.
The recreation area is also an important stopover for migratory birds, providing habitat for nesting, resting, and feeding during their long journeys.
Amistad National Recreation Area is a unique and valuable resource, and provides a window into the rich natural and cultural heritage of the Rio Grande River Basin.
By conserving and protecting this important area, the recreation area helps to ensure the survival of a wide range of species, and provides opportunities for visitors to experience and enjoy the beauty and diversity of the region.
2. Big Bend National Park
Distance From Austin: Six hours and 25 minutes (437 miles) via I-10 W.
It’s a full day’s drive from Austin to Big Bend National Park, but well worth the trip. This magnificent park, which is often referred to as Texas “gift to the nation,” is famous for its natural resources and recreational opportunities. It’s also rich in cultural history.
Big Bend National Park is a vast wilderness that encompasses over 800,000 acres of land and is one of the largest national parks in the country.
The park is known for its diverse landscape, which includes rugged mountain ranges, sprawling deserts, and scenic canyons, as well as the Rio Grande, which forms its southern boundary. It’s a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, offering opportunities for hiking, camping, backpacking, rock climbing, and river trips.
Check Out The Chisos Mountains
One of the main attractions of Big Bend National Park is the Chisos Mountains, which rise abruptly from the surrounding desert floor and provide a stunning backdrop for visitors. The park is also home to a variety of unique plant and animal species, including black bears, mountain lions, and numerous bird species.
In addition to its natural beauty, Big Bend National Park has a rich cultural history, with evidence of human habitation dating back over 10,000 years. The park is home to several ancient Native American rock art sites and the ruins of early homesteads, stagecoach stops, and military outposts.
Whether you’re looking for an adventure in the great outdoors or simply want to escape to a peaceful and scenic destination, Big Bend National Park has something to offer everyone.
3. Big Thicket National Preserve
Distance From Austin: Three hours and 38 minutes (233 miles) US-290 E.
Big Thicket National Preserve covers over 100,000 acres of land and is one of the most biologically diverse regions in the country.
The preserve is named after the “Big Thicket,” a dense thicket of forest, wetlands, and prairies that provide habitat for a wide variety of plant and animal species.
The Big Thicket is home to a unique mixture of species from both the eastern and western parts of the United States, including many rare and endangered species. Some of the notable plant species found in the preserve include carnivorous pitcher plants, giant cane, and the purple pitcher plant.
A Valuable Habitat For Wildlife
The Big Thicket also provides a valuable habitat for wildlife, including numerous species of birds, such as the red-cockaded woodpecker, and mammals, like the American black bear and the Texas pine snake. The preserve is also a popular destination for outdoor recreation, with opportunities for hiking, birdwatching, fishing, and canoeing.
In addition to its biological diversity, the Big Thicket has a rich cultural history, with evidence of human habitation dating back thousands of years. The preserve is home to several historic sites, including cemeteries, churches, and homesteads, as well as the locations of important events in the state’s history, such as the “Wild Horse Desert” and the “Steamboat Era.”
More National Parks Near Austin
4. Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Distance From Austin: Seven hours and 33 minutes (485 miles) via I-10 W.
It’s a long car drive from Austin, but it’s a magnificent national park and it’s definitely worth the trip.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park covers over 80,000 acres of land and is known for its stunning scenic beauty and unique geological features.
The park is home to the highest peak in Texas, Guadalupe Peak, which rises to an elevation of 8,751 feet and provides panoramic views of the surrounding landscape. The park is also known for its impressive fossilized reef system, which was once part of an ancient sea and is now preserved in the form of towering cliffs and canyons.
The Park Is Home To A Diverse Array Of Plant & Animal Life
In addition to its geological wonders, Guadalupe Mountains National Park is home to a diverse array of plant and animal species, including many species that are unique to the area. Some of the notable species found in the park include black bears, pronghorns, and various bird species, such as the peregrine falcon.
The park offers numerous opportunities for outdoor recreation, including hiking, backpacking, camping, rock climbing, and scenic drives. The park is also home to several historic sites, including the ruins of an old mining town, as well as the remnants of a Butterfield Overland Mail stagecoach station.
Whether you’re an avid hiker, a nature lover, or simply someone looking for a beautiful and peaceful escape, Guadalupe Mountains National Park has something to offer everyone. With its unique combination of scenic beauty, geological wonders, and rich cultural history, it is truly one of the crown jewels of the national park system.
5. Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park
Distance From Austin: One hour and 5 minutes (60 miles) via US-290 W.
The Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park is located in the Texas Hill Country near Johnson City, Texas, and is dedicated to preserving the legacy of 36th President of the United States, Lyndon B. Johnson.
The park consists of several sites related to Johnson’s life and career, including his birthplace, boyhood home, and ranch, as well as the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library and Museum in Austin, Texas.
Lyndon B. Johnson was born in 1908 in a small farmhouse near Johnson City, Texas, and grew up in the area. He went on to have a long and influential career in politics, first as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, then as a U.S. Senator, and finally as Vice President under John F. Kennedy.
He Became America’s 36th President
After Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, Johnson became the 36th President of the United States and served two full terms.
During his presidency, Johnson is best known for his efforts to promote civil rights and social justice, as well as his leadership during the Vietnam War. He also implemented several key pieces of legislation, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Medicare Act of 1965.
The Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park was established in 1969, just a few years after Johnson left office, and has since been dedicated to preserving and interpreting the sites related to his life and legacy.
The park offers visitors the opportunity to learn about Johnson’s life and achievements through guided tours, exhibits, and educational programs.
Things To Do At The Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park
Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park tells the story of our 36th President beginning with his ancestors until his final resting place on his beloved LBJ Ranch. This entire “circle of life” gives the visitor a unique perspective into one of America’s most noteworthy citizens by providing the most complete picture of an American president.
Things to see in the park include the Visitor Center, President Johnson’s Boyhood Home, Sam Johnson Sr.’s Cabin, and the Texas White House.
As a retired history teacher who’s fascinating with the life and times of America’s 36th President, I would recommend what I (and a lot of other folks) consider to be the best biographical series written on LBJ.
The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power; Means of Ascent; Master of the Senate; The Passage of Power by Robert Caro is a four volume collection which won the coveted Pulitzer Prize.
6. Padre Island National Seashore
Distance From Austin: Three hours and 30 minutes (245 miles) via I-35 S & I-37 S.
Padre Island National Seashore is a protected area located on Padre Island, a long, narrow barrier island along the coast of Texas, United States. The seashore extends for over 70 miles along the Gulf of Mexico and is the longest undeveloped stretch of barrier island in the world.
The seashore is renowned for its pristine beaches, rich wildlife, and diverse habitats, which include sand dunes, grasslands, and tidal flats. Padre Island is a critical nesting ground for the endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, and is one of the few places in the world where visitors can observe sea turtles nesting and hatching on the beach.
It’s A Popular Destination For Outdoor Recreation
In addition to its wildlife, Padre Island National Seashore is also a popular destination for outdoor recreation, with opportunities for camping, hiking, fishing, birdwatching, and beachcombing. The seashore is also home to several historic sites, including the remains of a Spanish shipwreck, as well as several structures built by early settlers on the island.
Visitors to Padre Island National Seashore can enjoy a unique and serene wilderness experience, surrounded by the beauty and diversity of the Gulf of Mexico coast. Whether you’re a nature lover, a beach enthusiast, or simply looking for a peaceful escape, Padre Island National Seashore has something to offer everyone.
7. Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park
Distance From Austin: Four hours and 51 minutes (345 miles) via I-37 S & US-77 S.
I spent almost 30 years teaching high school students about the history of America and the world. One of the topics we covered was the Mexican American War which became part of America’s Manifest Destiny. This war helped the United States to expand its territorial holdings from sea to shining sea.
This war helped the United States to expand its territorial holdings from sea to shining sea. If you want to learn more about this important chapter in American History then I recommend A Glorious Defeat: Mexico and Its War with the United States by Timothy Henderson.
It’s The Site Of The First Major Battle Of The Mexican-American War
Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park is the site of the first major battle of the U.S.-Mexican War. Visitors can experience a landscape almost as it existed on the day of the battle. The park enjoys the unique distinction of being the only National Park Service unit to interpret the U.S.-Mexican War. (Source: NPS)
I recommend that you begin your visit at the Visitor Center and pick up a park brochure and trail guide. From there you will discover outdoor adventures which include:
- Hiking the battlefield trail which is a half-mile walk. Along the way you will see a landscape very much like the one experienced by soldiers in 1846.
- From Palo Alto you can also explore the Brownsville Historical Trail which includes historic sites and attractions.
- Bird watching is highly recommended too. All you have to do is bring a pair of binoculars with you and keep a watchful eye out as you traverse the trail.
- Visit the Resaca de la Palma Battlefield which features a half-mile circular trail with interpretive waysides.
RELATED: 16 SURPRISING Texas National Parks
National Parks Near Austin FAQ
Mount Bonnell. Distance is short so it’s family-friendly (and dog-friendly, too!) Situated near the heart of the city, Mt. Bonnell is the highest point in Austin (775 feet).
The National Park Service conducted a second review of Palo Duro in 1938–39, considering it a candidate for a national monument, a status that often leads to becoming a national park. Again, the NPS liked what it saw, but it failed to gain the needed support; more than anything, the cost seemed prohibitive.
Why Trust Us About National Parks Near Austin?
We’re Jim Pattiz and Will Pattiz, collectively known as the Pattiz Brothers (and sometimes the Parks Brothers) and we absolutely LOVE the national parks.
You should probably know that we don’t just make this stuff up out of thin air. We’ve spent our entire adult lives exploring and filming America’s national parks and public lands.
We’ve worked with the National Park Service, the Department of Interior, USDA, and the U.S. Forest Service for years creating films on important places and issues. Our work has been featured in leading publications all over the world and even some people outside of our immediate family call us experts on the national parks.
Meet The Parks Brothers
Map Of National Parks Near Austin
List Of National Park Sites Near Austin
- Amistad National Recreation Area
- Big Bend National Park
- Big Thicket National Preserve
- Guadalupe Mountains National Park
- Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park
- Padre Island National Seashore
- Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park
To Learn More About The Lone Star State:
- Official Guide to Texas State Parks and Historic Sites: New Edition by Laurence Parent.
- Texas Bucket List Adventure Guide: Explore 100 Offbeat Destinations You Must Visit by John Mallon.
- Lone Star: A History Of Texas And The Texans by T.R. Fehrenbach.
- History of Texas: A Captivating Guide to Texas History, Starting from the Arrival of the Spanish Conquistadors in North America through the Texas Revolution to the Present by Captivating History.
We Hope You’ll Follow Our Journey
Our goal here at More Than Just Parks is to share the beauty of America’s national parks and public lands through stunning short films in an effort to get Americans and the world to see the true value in land conservation.
We hope you’ll follow our journey through the parks and help us to keep them the incredible places that they are. If you’re interested in joining the adventure then please sign up below!