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12 Awesome & Unique Things to Do in Texas in 2017

By James Waterson

It's a new year, which is the perfect time to plan all the amazing adventures you'll have here in the Lone Star State. As luck would have it, Texas is full of all sorts of unforgettable adventures that you just can’t miss out on. So if you’re considering your next road trip, check out these 12 one-of-a-kind adventures that should be on your Texas travel bucket list.

Located in the high mountains of West Texas, Davis Mountains State Park offers natural beauty and a wealth of hiking and biking trails.
Davis Mountains State Park

1) Escape to the Tranquil Trails of Davis Mountains State Park

Cruise on the stunning winding roads high in the mountains of West Texas and you’ll reach Davis Mountains State Park, one of the most beautiful places in the Lone Star State. Stark mountains and gently sloping grass-covered valleys reside beneath the gorgeous wide-open skies Texas is known for, providing breathtaking views and plenty of photo opportunities. See it all from the remote hiking and mountain biking trails ranging from easy to challenging, such as Indian Lodge Trail and the Skyline Drive Trail. Explore all of the park’s trails and you’ll be treated to picturesque views of the Davis Mountains, high desert grasslands, and rugged plateaus. Stick around after the sun sets and you’ll also enjoy a remarkable view of the stars.

City: Fort Davis
Big Bend Country
Photo Credit: Chase Fountain, TPWD ©2012

A view of the summit in the Enchanted Rock State Natural Area near Fredericksburg, Texas.
Enchanted Rock State Natural Area

2) Conquer the Summit at Enchanted Rock

Texas is full of remarkable natural areas, but few are as distinct as Enchanted Rock. The massive granite mound is an inescapable sight as you cruise up to Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, beckoning you to ascend to its lofty heights. And that’s exactly what you should do. Step on to the Summit Trail and start your journey to the top, which begins on a sandy trail over a small creek. At about two-tenths of a mile in, the path turns into pure granite boulders that you’ll ascend until you reach the mound’s steep slope. It won’t take long for the climb to leave you breathless (and a bit sweaty), which is the perfect excuse to stop and appreciate the view of miles of tree-covered hills and winding roads. Reach the top for a full 360-degree view and check out the vernal pools that are home to microhabitats with unique plants and animals.

Once you’re done admiring the view, find your way back to the trailhead. After all, your day in Enchanted Rock is just getting started.

City: Fredericksburg
Region: Hill Country
Photo Credit: Chase Fountain, TPWD ©2015

NLand Surf Park is one of the first surf parks in North America, and it's located in Austin!
NLand Surf Park

3) Go Surfing … in Austin!

Have you always dreamed of catching the perfect wave but aren’t able to hit the sandy beaches of the Texas Gulf Coast? Then grab your gear and head to the world’s least likely surfing destination: Austin. That’s right; the capital of Texas is home to the aptly named NLand Surf Park, the first of its kind in North America. With its three riding areas and the variety of waves provided therein, the park is an ideal place to go if you’re an experienced surfer or if you’ve never been on a board before. The park even offers group coaching and clinics for all levels of surfers, all in a controlled environment. When you’re done, tuck into the farm-fresh, locally sourced foods served at the on-site diner, Blue Prairie.

Whether you’re a seasoned pro itching to ride the waves or a curious traveler wanting to try something new, NLand Surf Park has something for everyone.

City: Austin        
Region: Hill Country
Photo Credit: NLand Surf Park

The Devil's River kayaking and paddling trail is a nearly 50-mile excursion through one of the most remote regions in Texas.
Devil's River

4) Kayak or Canoe Devil’s River

The enticing clear blue water of Devil’s River that flows between the rugged limestone cliffs of southwest Texas sets the stage for one of the most remarkable, and challenging, paddling trips in the Lone Star State. If you’re looking to get away from it all in one of the most remote regions of the state, this should be at the top of your list. Feel like an early explorer of Texas as you paddle down the nearly 50-mile river. Set up camp on the river bank once the sun sets, then continue on your journey the next morning.

Starting at Baker’s Crossing and ending at Rough Canyon Marina in Lake Amistad near Del Rio, this trip is suitable only for experienced paddlers. Given the length of the journey, you can expect to spend about three days out on the water. Make sure to check out Texas Parks and Wildlife’s tips for preparing for the journey so you have everything you need. Then hit the water for one of the most unforgettable excursions in the Lone Star State.

City: Del Rio
Region: South Texas Plains
Photo Credit: Texas Parks & Wildlife

Guadalupe Peak, the highest point in Texas.
The View from Guadalupe Peak

5) Hike to the Top of Texas

For all the many adventures you can have in the Lone Star State, nothing compares to ascending to the top of Guadalupe Peak in Guadalupe Mountains National Park. At 8,751 feet above sea level, it’s the highest natural point in Texas from where you can gaze down at West Texas’ mountains and desert. While taking in the unbelievable view is an experience in itself, the hike to the peak is an adventure all its own.

The 8.5-mile round-trip hike transports you up 3,000 feet on steep narrow paths and switchbacks through deserts and high elevation forests, with the vistas getting even more stunning the farther you go. Your journey will probably take about six to eight hours, so get an early start, wear comfortable hiking shoes and clothes, and bring plenty of water, food, and sunscreen. Reach the peak and you’ll be at the very top of Texas. Kick back, savor the view (and a few photos), and sign your name in the Guadalupe Peak register.

Unbelievably, this is only one of many trails in Guadalupe Mountains National Park, so make sure to leave plenty of time to explore the rest of this natural wonder.

City: Salt Flat
Big Bend Country            

Gruene Hall in New Braunfels, Texas' oldest continuously operating dance hall, is today a live music venue that welcomes top talent.
Gruene Hall

6) Honky Tonk in the Oldest Dance Hall in Texas

Don your cowboy hat and leather boots and saunter on over to Gruene Hall in New Braunfels, the oldest continually operating dance hall in Texas. The throw-back venue, with its white-panel façade, wide-open dance floor, and small stage remain largely unchanged from when it was first built in 1878. Admire the advertising signs from the 1930’s and 1940’s before swinging your hips to the tunes of local up-and-coming bands and well-established musicians. Even the likes of George Strait, Hal Ketchum, Lyle Lovett, and Willie Nelson have performed here in the past.

Can’t wait to dance the night away in a Texas icon? Check out the venue’s website to view a list of upcoming shows.

City: New Braunfels
Hill Country

A pair of red-crowned parrots

7) Find Wild Parrots in Brownsville

Wait, there are wild parrots in Texas? You bet. As a matter of fact, you can find them in Brownsville and various other parts of the lush Rio Grande Valley. One of the best places to find parrots in Brownsville is in Oliveira Park, where a flock of hundreds of colorful (and noisy) red-crowned and yellow-headed parrots congregate. Bring your camera or binoculars and find a good spot in the morning or closer to sunset for the best chance to observe these birds.

Brownsville’s parrots aren’t the only unusual bird you can find in the Rio Grande Valley. More than 500 species of tropical birds reside in the region, making it one of the most significant birding destinations in the country. For the best chance of seeing them all, visit the parks and nature areas that make up the World Birding Center.

City: Brownsville
Region: South Texas Plains
Photo Credit: Earl Nottingham/Texas Parks & Wildlife Dept.

St. Mary's Catholic Church is one of nearly two dozen painted churches in Texas.
St. Mary's Catholic Church in High Hill

8) Discover the Painted Churches of Texas

There’s going to church, and then there’s visiting the Painted Churches of Texas. Although they may look like your standard 19th-century Gothic-Revival churches, these sanctuaries represent the unique art and history of Central Texas. Step through the front doors and your eyes will be treated to vibrant murals, polished marble columns, and inscriptions written in Czech or German, the immigrants who built these churches.

Some of these spectacular structures include the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Serbin, St. Mary’s Catholic Church in High Hill, and Saints Cyril and Methodius Church in Dubina. Texas’ more than 20 painted churches are close enough to each other that you could make a road trip out of visiting them all, an ideal journey if you want to discover a unique side of the state’s history and culture.

Want to see them for yourself? Check out this map.

Regions: Hill Country and Prairies and Lakes
Photo Credit: Carol M. Highsmith/Wikimedia Commons

A knight riding horseback prepares for a jousting performance at the Texas Renaissance Festival in Todd Mission.
Texas Renaissance Festival

9) Get Thee to a Renaissance Festival

Jousting medieval knights adorned with shining armor, bellowing bagpipers donning knee-length kilts, and throngs of lords and ladies browsing shops stocked with a range of curiosities. This sounds like a scene from the distant past, but in this case it describes any of the five renaissance festivals held here in the Lone Star State. Each is almost a self-enclosed world where in one moment you can be shopping for homemade soaps and oils and in the next learn the finer points of sword fighting. As you can imagine, there’s also plenty of great food to try and beer, wine, and mead with which you can fill your goblet.

If you’re in the Houston area, then the Texas Renaissance Festival is for you. Located just northwest of town, this fair is the nation’s largest and most acclaimed renaissance-themed park. There’s also the Scarborough Renaissance Festival in Waxahachie, as well as the Middlefaire Renaissance & Medieval Festival in Hillsboro, Four Winds Renaissance Faire in Troup, and Sherwood Forest Faire near Bastrop. These festivals are held at different times of the year, so make sure to check each event’s website to see when it is being held.

City: Various
Gulf Coast, Prairies and Lakes, and Piney Woods
Photo Credit: James Waterson/Tour Texas

A field of blooming bluebonnets signifies the coming of spring in Texas.
A Field of Blooming Bluebonnets

10) Marvel at the Blooming Bluebonnets

There may be no more enduring symbol of spring in Texas than the majestic bluebonnet. Once April rolls around, the rolling hills of Central Texas all the way to the rocky cliffs of Big Bend are blanketed with these beautiful flowers. This abundance means that, if the conditions are right, you can find them alongside just about any major highway or farm-to-market road in the state, turning a road trip into a photography adventure. If you’re a resident of the Hill Country or the lower half of the Prairies and Lakes region, near cities like Brenham and Bryan College Station, then you’re likely to see bushels of them wherever you go. Live elsewhere? Then consider this one of many great excuses to travel to this part of the Lone Star State.

City: Along Most Texas Highways
Region: All
Photo Credit:
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/flickr

The Chapel at the Presidio La Bahia

11) Step Inside the Historic Presidio La Bahia

While the Alamo is an iconic part of Texas history, Presidio La Bahia deserves just as notable of a place in Lone Star lore. Built in 1749 to protect the Spanish missions in South Texas, the fort was the site of the Goliad Massacre, one of the most infamous events of the Texas Revolution. Today, it’s imposing gray stone walls and eye-catching chapel provide a remarkable glimpse of what the fort looked like during its heyday. Check out the exhibits of artifacts in the museum, located within the old officers’ quarters, gaze over the wall, and explore the same grounds that the fort’s Texian defenders once patrolled.

For the ultimate experience, visit Presidio la Bahia during one of its living history days, when costumed reenactors bring to life the fort’s fascinating past.

City: Goliad
Texas Gulf Coast
Photo Credit: Ken Lund/flickr

Caverns of Sonora

12) Descend into the Caverns of Sonora

Stepping into the Caverns of Sonora is akin to traveling to another world. This subterranean wonder land features pink stalactites and stalagmites (many of which are still forming) and crystal-clear water. Located under the intersection of the Texas Hill Country and the Chihuahuan Desert, this limestone cave is considered one of the most beautiful in the world.

Fortunately, there are a variety of ways you can experience this Texas wonder. Go on the Crystal Palace tour to see highly decorated cave passages 155 feet below the surface, or bring your camera for the Photography Tour. If you’re feeling adventurous, book a spot on the Discovery Challenge Tour. During this four-hour underground adventure, you’ll navigate a maze of off trail passageways, rappel, and explore like a real caver. No matter what experience you choose, you’ll get a first-hand look at one of Lone Star State’s most incredible places.

City: Sonora
Region: Hill Country

Click here to find out more about the many great destinations, attractions, and events in Texas.

About the Author: James Waterson is the head writer and content specialist for Tour Texas. When he isn’t writing about the many great places in the state of Texas, he’s planning his next epic adventure in the Lone Star State.

Intro Photo Credit: Earl Nottingham/Texas Parks & Wildlife Dept.

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