In no particular order, here’s a list of Texas natural wonders so gorgeous you’ll take one look and fall head-over-cowboy-boot-heels in love with the state.
Palo Duro Canyon, Canyon
The second largest canyon in the country is located in the Texas Panhandle. Dubbed the Grand Canyon of Texas, Palo Duro Canyon measures some 120 miles long, 20 miles wide and 800 feet deep. It’s stunning features are one million years in the making. The park offers visitors rare sights, remote trails, majestic horseback rides, gorgeous camping grounds and more. Highlights include The Civilian Conservation Corps Trail, Old West Stables and The Lighthouse Trail.
If you prefer your scenic views served up with a side of musical theatre, snag tickets to TEXAS, a one-of-a-kind musical presented outdoors each summer in the Pioneer Amphitheatre, located at the base of the Palo Duro Canyon. Deemed the Official Play of the State of Texas and billed a “Musical Romance of Texas Panhandle History,” the show is set against an authentic tapestry of history and chronicles the fictional tale of Calvin Armstrong, a young homesteader determined to carve out a place for himself amid the rugged landscape of the Texas Panhandle in the 1880s. The musical, choc-full of dancing and singing, elaborate sets, dazzling special effects, and some good ol’ flag waving, culminates in a fireworks extravaganza. Oh, and did we mention there’s a pre-show barbecue?
Palo Duro Canyon State Park is located at 1450 State Hwy Park Rd 5, Canyon, TX 79015. For more information, visit tpwd.texas.gov or call (806) 488-2227.
Hamilton Pool Preserve, Dripping Springs
Just a short distance from the Pedernales River, the aquamarine Hamilton Pool is arguably the most stunning swimming hole in the state. Here, waters from Hamilton Creek cascade fifty feet from a semicircular rock overhang into the natural pool below.
Hamilton Pool and its surrounding areas were designated a preserve by the Travis County Commissioner's Court in 1990.
What to know before you go: The waters are frigid, sometimes dipping as low as 50 degrees. Swimming at the preserve’s show stopping natural pool isn’t a guarantee. Swimming status is determined by bacteria levels and recent rainfall and swimming is not permitted when bacteria levels are too high. Also, skip the flip flops and opt for some closed-toe shoes: The hiking trail from the parking lot to the pool is a quarter mile and is steep and rugged with uneven steps. Pro tip: Pack some snacks and loads of water. There are no concessions on site. With no lifeguard on site, it’s swim at your own risk. However, life jackets are available on a first come first serve basis.
Fun facts: 1) In 1980, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department cited Hamilton Pool as the most significant natural area in rural Travis County. 2) Avid birders, this one’s for you - Hamilton Pool Preserve serves as home to endangered Golden-Cheeked Warblers.
Hamilton Pool Preserve is located at 24300 Hamilton Road, Dripping Springs, TX 78620. For more information, visit traviscountytx.gov or call 512-264-2740.
Natural Bridge Caverns, San Antonio
Located west of New Braunfels, deep in the heart of the Texas Hill Country, Natural Bridge Caverns is the largest commercial cave in the state and a registered United States National Natural Landmark.
The cavern was discovered in March 1960 and opened for public tours in 1964. It’s chambers are colossal, some ceilings as high as 100 feet. The room known as the Castle of the White Giants contains the largest formations in the cavern, including a flowstone formation called the Bomb Burst and the cavern’s tallest column dubbed The Watchtower. The Hall of the Mountain King, the largest room, is over 100 feet wide and 350 feet in length.
Several different tours are offered. Get up early enough and you can take the popular Lantern Tour, the first tour of the day. On this tour, visitors traverse the cave’s passages illuminated only by the light of handheld lanterns, just like the original cave’s discoverers did decades ago. Other tours include the Discovery Tour, Hidden Passages Tour and the Adventure Tour.
The cavern’s perpetual 70-degree temperature is a delight. It’s near-constant 99 percent humidity, however, is a smidge less than. Pro tip: Bring shoes with decent traction. The floors are sometimes slippery.
Finished your tour and craving even more adventure? Head back above ground and participate in the Canopy Challenge, a high ropes course, zip line over the Texas Hill Country or mine for minerals and fossils.
Natural Bridge Caverns is located at 26495 Natural Bridge Caverns Rd., in San Antonio. For more information, visit naturalbridgecaverns.com.
Enchanted Rock, Fredericksburg
Located eighteen miles north of Fredericksburg, the massive, 425-foot dome beckons tens of thousands of visitors to the Enchanted Rock State Natural Area each year.
Enchanted Rock State Natural Area opened for public tours in 1987 and is both a National Natural Landmark and in the National Register of Historic Places as an Archeological District. The park offers 11 miles worth of hiking trails but the Summit Trail, a .6-mile path leading straight to the top of the park’s namesake dome, is undeniably its most well traveled. While dwarfed in comparison to Enchanted Rock, smaller domes on site, most notably Little Dome and Turkey Peak, also offer stunning views.
Enchanted Rock State Natural Area is located at 16710 Ranch Rd 965, Fredericksburg, TX 78624. For more information, visit tpwd.texas.gov or call (830) 685-3636.
Jacob’s Well, Wimberly
Beat the heat this summer at Jacob’s Well, a spring fed by the Trinity Aquifer. The aquifer is about 140 feet below the water’s surface, and the well opens up into the state’s second biggest underwater cave system (The main cavern is 4,341 feet long and the secondary cavern, which branches off the main cavern, is 1,314 feet long). It’s a tad intimidating for some. Others have no problem jumping in.
Jacob’s well is open seasonally from May 1 through September 30. The water stays a constant 68 degrees.
Pro tip: Skip the sandals and opt for closed-toe shoes: There’s a 15-minute hike from the nearest parking lot to the swimming spot and the area surrounding the Well can be steep and slippery. Also, bring plenty of water and pack some snacks. There are no concessions on site. And finally, swim at your own risk – there is no lifeguard on duty.
According to Hays county, the well got it’s name in the early 1850′s when William C. Winters, an early settler of Wimberley, hiked up Cypress Creek searching for its source and found an overflowing spring. It is said that Mr. Winters exclaimed “like unto a well in Bible times.” Thus it was named ‘Jacob’s Well’.
Free guided morning tours are available by request on the 2nd and 4th Saturday of every month, excluding summer months.
Jacob’s Well is located at 1699 Mt. Sharp Road, Wimberley, TX 78676. For more information, visit hayscountytx.com or call (512) 214-4593.
Cave Without a Name, Boerne
North of San Antonio in Boerne, Texas, wind your way down 126 steps, approximately 80 feet, into the 66-degree netherworld known as The Cave Without a Name. Venture through a world of frozen waterfalls and crystal clear pools. Open for public tours since 1939, the Cave without a Name boasts six sizable chambers.
If you take a tour, keep your eyes peeled for Texas-sized cave bacon, a collection of stalagmites resembling the nativity scene, and, in the winter months, some slumbering bats.
A National Natural Landmark, the cavern is a frequent site of underground musical performances.
Cave Without a Name is located at 325 Kreutzberg Road in Boerne. For more information, visit cavewithoutaname.com.
Don’t get caught off guard. Before venturing off, familiarize yourself with adjusted hours and follow guidelines around social distancing and other COVID-19 safety measures required by the destinations you visit.