Big Bend National Park1 of 8
This park has three main and diverse ecosystems: the Chihuanhuan desert, the riparian zone around the Rio Grande, and the Chisos Mountains. Each area offers opportunities for exploration, hiking and site seeing. These are also some of the best places in the country for bird watching.
This is a remote destination and summers get very hot, so plan accordingly, bring lots of water and make a reservation ahead of time. There are several camping options available in the park. The Chisos Basin Campground offers reprieve from the desert heat, but the Rio Grande Village Campground puts you right next to the river.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park2 of 8
This park is the only other national park in Texas. It's a little easier to get to than Big Bend, as it's just off of Interstate 180 on the way out of Texas towards New Mexico. There are two campgrounds in the park, Pine Springs and Dog Canyon, both operating on a first-come, first-served basis.
Guadalupe Mountain has the highest peak in the state (Guadalupe Peak at 8,750 feet), and features madrone trees, which have incredibly smooth bark with a deep red hue, and fossilized coral from the Permian Era in the exposed rock faces.
Enchanted Rock Natural Area3 of 8
Located north of Fredericksburg and less than two hours away from Austin, Enchanted Rock is a pink, 425-foot granite dome that is nearly a billion years old. It's one of the largest rock formations in the country, and it's an exceptional hiking area. If you take the Summit Trail, you can rise above the surrounding area to get a great panoramic view.
The Travis Lake Region4 of 8
Travis Lake, located less than an hour away from Austin, is a great getaway from the city. It can provide an escape from central Texas's summer heat and offers swimming, boating, fishing and other diverse recreational activities. With lukewarm water, night swimming is a popular activity in the lake.
There are several parks around the lake with camping options, including Hippie Hollow, the only legal clothing-optional park in Texas. Shaffer Bend Recreation Area and Muleshoe Bend Recreation Area, both of which sit along the Colorado River, also have campsites available.
Matagorda Bay Nature Park5 of 8
If you're looking for a break from the barren landscape of the western part of the state, head to this 1,600-acre park at the mouth of the Colorado River. Enjoy the serenity of the beach, coastal marshes and rolling dunes. Recreation includes swimming, shell collecting and top-notch bird watching. This park is found on the Gulf of Mexico near the town of Bay City.
Sam Houston National Forest6 of 8
One of four national forests in Texas, this area resides just 50 miles north of Houston. Hiking is popular in this region, as you can trek through the dense forest filled with wildlife such as deer, woodpeckers, screech owls and wood ducks.
A portion of the Lone Star Hiking Trail (128 miles in total) runs through this forest, which is well-marked and has three recreation areas along the way. A recommended camping area is the Double Lake Recreation Area, which gets you to the heart of the forest and offers hiking, picnicking, swimming and fishing.
Benbrook Lake7 of 8
Just outside of Fort Worth, this lake provides another chance to get away when city living becomes too much or the summer heat is unbearable. Recreational activities include boating, swimming, hiking, fishing, and even hunting for fossilized sea life. Wildlife includes deer, red-shouldered hawks, barred owls and woodpeckers. There are many camping areas around the lake—Bear Creek is one of the most popular.