The nation’s national parks offer amazing opportunities to explore the natural world. Instead of hitting the beach or a theme park on your next vacation, you may enjoy getting outside, being active and experiencing amazing scenery in distinctive settings. If you’re in or around Dallas, how about a road trip to some of the coolest national parks that the United States has to offer? Although some of these spots are quite a drive from Dallas, getting there is always half the fun.
Best national parks near Dallas
Big Thicket National Preserve
257 miles (3 hours 58 minutes) from Dallas
Big Thicket is a heavily forested area in southeast Texas that is a national rural preserve, which is similar to a national park in that its resources are protected. The area has something to offer for everyone, whether you’re into adventure looking for hiking trails and campsites or you’re just looking to relax and take in the scenery with some bird-watching. Big Thicket is extremely large, stretching across seven counties in Texas.
Hot Springs National Park
295 miles (4 hours 20 min) from Dallas
Even though Hot Springs is the smallest of all the national parks, it’s a great place to visit. Located outside the city of Hot Springs, this national park includes ancient thermal springs, bathhouses, forested hikes and mountain views all in the middle of town. It offers 26 miles of hiking trails in the park, along with Gulpha Gorge Campground where you can camp, swim and picnic. Something that sets this park apart from others is that it has nine historical bathhouses dating back to the 1800s.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park
477 miles (7 hours 12 minutes) from Dallas
Carlsbad Caverns National Park is in the Chihuahuan Desert of southern New Mexico. It is one of the best-preserved cave complexes in the world and features more than 100 caves. Carlsbad is also home to more than 300,000 Mexican bats, which fly out of the caverns each evening. Be prepared with warm clothing when visiting the caverns, as they remain 56 degrees Fahrenheit at all times.
Carlsbad Caverns is open year-round and costs $15 to enter, with children ages 15 and under allowed in for free. There are no lodging options in the park, so make note of that when planning your visit.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park
509 miles (7 hours 39 minutes) from Dallas
Guadalupe Mountains National Park is located east of El Paso near Salt Flat, Texas. It’s home to the highest point in Texas and offers spectacular views, diverse wildlife and interesting foliage. The Guadalupe Mountains have less light pollution than almost anywhere around, making it great for stargazing at night. There are very few roads located in the park, which means you have to walk a bit to get to the most famous sights and viewpoints. The park is a wonderful place to hike, as it has more than 80 miles of trails. It also offers 10 backcountry campsites for backpackers.
Big Bend National Park
535 miles (7 hours 44 minutes) from Dallas
Big Bend National Park in southwest Texas encompasses the Chisos Mountain Range. The park is about 300 miles from the city of El Paso and is the fifth-largest national park in the US. The area, which also includes part of the Chihuahuan Desert, is known for its many recreational activities, including hiking, camping, fishing, horseback riding and rock climbing. Entrance to the park is $30 and valid for seven days. Home to birds, amphibians, reptiles and 75 different kinds of mammals, this is a great place to explore nature and stargaze at night.
White Sands National Park
598 miles (9 hours 29 minutes) from Dallas
White Sands National Park is located in New Mexico and is home to the world’s largest gypsum dune field. A fun way to enjoy the park is to go dune sledding. You can purchase snow saucers at the visitor center or bring your own from home and take off, making this a great activity for the kids.
The entrance fee to the park is $25 per vehicle, making it a great place to take the whole family to explore. Be prepared, the park gets extremely hot in the summer, as any desert does, and has been known to get up to 110 degrees Fahrenheit. The park is open every day at 7 a.m., except for Christmas Day. Take note that there are no campgrounds in the park.
Tips for traveling to National Parks
When it comes to traveling around the country to visit U.S. national parks, you’ll need to be prepared, as parks can be located in remote locations without reliable cell phone service or easy access to stores. Plan your road trip in advance, make any necessary reservations and be sure to pack everything you’ll need — especially if you’re camping.
Some things you should prepare for:
- Bring a map of the park and a list of all the trails
- Call ahead and make reservations at campsites, if applicable
- Bring sunscreen, bug spray and a first aid kit
- A flashlight or headlamp are key for the nighttime
- Pack non-perishable snacks and water
- Don’t forget your camera