Texas is big: 268,820 square miles big, specifically. And within that Lone Star State vastness, there are deserts, forests, award-winning museums, space centers (Hi, Houston), and cities with incredible food and eclectic music (Hi, Austin).
Choosing the state's most beautiful scenescapes was difficult—and we've no doubt missed some—but these are the can't-miss, must-visit sites every first- (or third-) time visitor to Texas should see.
1. Big Bend National Park
Known for its hiking, camping, sunsets (and sunrises), Big Bend consists of 801,163 acres of river canyons, desert, mountains, and much, much more—think more than 1,200 species of plants, more than 450 species of birds, some 56 species of reptiles, and more than 70 species of mammals. It is the largest protected area of Chihuahuan Desert topography and ecology in the country.
2. Monahans Sandhills State Park
This sprawling park is made up of 3,840 acres of sand dunes that grow and change shape each year depending on the wind. Visitors to the park usually rent a disk to surf down the dunes, which reach up to 70 feet high.
3. Willow City Bluebonnets
Find the best fields of the official flower of the Lone Star State in Willow City, two hours west of Austin. The Willow City Loop is in bloom during bluebonnet season, from March through late May.
4. Texas State Capitol
This downtown Austin building is far more famous for its architecture, construction, and grounds than for what it actually houses: the offices and chambers of the Texas Legislature and the Office of the Governor. Completed in 1888, the marble and granite structure was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1970 and recognized as a National Historic Landmark in 1986.
5. Hamilton Pool Preserve
Thank Mother Nature for this natural pool just west of Austin, which was formed thousands of years ago when an underground river collapsed because of erosion. The quarter-mile trek downhill to the preserve can be tricky at times, but a swim in jade-green waters—and a shower from the 50-foot waterfall—is well worth the (literal) hike.
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