Best States for a Summer Road Trip

Summer is the perfect time to hit the open road: School’s out, the weather’s warm, and the possibilities are endless

Don’t you just love when you are driving and see those welcome signs into states? There’s nothing like a summer road trip to enjoy the outdoors with friends and family. Summer is the best time to hit the road and check some places off that bucket list. It’s your chance to feel that summer breeze, listen to good music, play fun road trip games, and watch road trip films. Sightsee across some of your favorite states both near and far!

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In their Summer Travel Survey 2022, The Vacationer determined that 42 percent plan to travel more than last summer with nearly 51 percent flying on a plane and 80 percent on road trips.

Deciding to take a trip is the easy part, though. Picking a destination and affording everything you want to pack into your itinerary is harder. Fuel prices might be one thing to worry about, for example. They’ve been increasing this year with the national gas average hovering around $5 per gallon now ($5.80 for diesel). On top of that, you’ll need to consider accommodations, activities, and dining. All of these certainly contribute to the more than $751 billion we spend on leisure travel each year.

Kemah Boardwalk, Kemah, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wallet Hub curated a list of the best and worst states to take a summer road trip this year. Of course, Texas made the list. I’m not surprised! Wallet Hub compared all 50 states and key factors to determine the most fun, scenic, and affordable states to visit on a road trip. After the pandemic and current inflation, road trips are still the best way to still experience an enjoyable vacation with your favorite people. So load up the RV and hit the road! It’s time to see what states fall into the top 15 best states for a summer road trip.

Whitehall, New York © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To determine the best road-trip destinations for travel this summer, WalletHub compared the 50 states across three key dimensions: Costs, Safety, and Activities.

They evaluated those dimensions using 32 relevant metrics. Each metric was graded on a 100-point scale with a score of 100 representing the most favorable conditions for summer road trips.

Cherohala Skyway, North Carolina

Metrics used to determine Costs include:

  • Average gas prices
  • Lowest price of camping
  • Cost of Living Index

Metrics used to determine Safety include:

  • Quality of roads
  • Quality of bridges
  • Traffic-related fatalities
  • Car thefts per 1,000 residents
  • Violent crimes per 1,000 residents

Metrics used to determine Activities include:

  • Share of the total area designated as parkland
  • National parks recreation visitors per capita
  • Zoos and botanical gardens per capita
  • Number of attractions
  • Access to scenic byways
  • Historic sites per capita
Rayne mural, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The financial website then determined each state’s weighted average across all metrics to calculate its overall score and used the resulting scores to rank-order their sample.

Taking the average gas prices metric, for example, Georgia came in with the lowest average prices followed by Missouri, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Mississippi. At the high end, California and Nevada came in with the highest prices followed by Washington and Oregon.

When the points were tallied, New York came in No. 1 with a score of 58.01 and Minnesota followed with 57.56.

Vanderbilt Estate, Hyde Park, New York © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. New York

Not only is there the city to enjoy but many places outside the Big Apple. Visit Niagara Falls, mountain views, The Catskills, historical spots, and more!

2. Minnesota

Hit the road to Minnesota. I know, maybe you did not know it would be No. 2! Take a scenic drive and view beautiful byways, waterfalls, and more.

Corpus Christi, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Texas

Texas is absolutely it! One of my favorite to explore in an RV! Head to Texas and you could spend days driving through the entire state all you want. Stop in Dallas, Houston, Austin, San Antonio, and more. From the beach, to the cities, to the country side you will never run out of things to do and places to eat.

Avery Island, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Louisiana

Go to Louisiana and it’s time to have fun! Visit the swamp on a swamp tour, factory tours, historical tours, Cajun Country, and much more.

5. Maine

Now, maybe you would have never guessed it? I surely did not. But head to Maine and experience national parks, cool loop highways, beaches, and more.

Holmes County, Ohio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Ohio

Oh, Ohio! Drive up North and visit Cedar Point Amusement Park, Put-In-Bay, Columbus Zoo, hiking trails, and more!

Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. North Carolina

You read that right! NC is in the No. 7 spot for best summer road trips. If you’ve toured the Tar Heel State, I am sure you know why. Drive through the mountains, on the beach, through the cities, eat good, hike, shop, relax, this state has it all!

Snake River at Twin Falls, Idaho © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Idaho

Hit the road in Idaho! Visit hiking trails, national recreation areas, and scenic byways while you’re there.

Mount Dora, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Florida

Hit the road and head to Florida. You might want to drive through the entire state but trust me; it will take you a while so you might as well pit stop while you’re there. Drop into Pensacola, Jacksonville, Orlando, Tampa area, Miami, Key West, and more!

10. Wyoming

If you drive to Wyoming for Yellowstone and Grand Teton, take some time to visit the Union Pass Monument, National Museum of Military Vehicles, Wild Horses, and more!

St. Marys, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Georgia

This is a good one, and another personal favorite! Visit the mountains, the lake, amusement parks, amazing shopping centers, state parks, great food, and more all throughout Georgia!

Mount St. Helens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

12. Washington

Drive across the country and visit Washington State this summer. You’ll see plenty of sites on the way, but once you are there enjoy views of Rainier National Park, Olympic National Park, Mount St. Helens, the Cascade Loop, San Juan Islands, and more!

Altavista, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. Virginia

You’re on your way to Virginia this summer! Visit national parks, beaches, Colonial National Parkway, and more!

14. Nebraska

Hit the road to Nebraska! Visit Sandhills Journey, Loup Rivers Byway, Lewis & Clark Byway, Heritage Highway, and more!

15. Iowa

Take a drive through or to Iowa and see some of your new favorite views. Visit Iowa Great Lakes, The Amana Colonies, and more!

Worth Pondering…

Journeys, like artists, are born and not made. A thousand differing circumstances contribute to them, few of them willed or determined by the will—whatever we may think.

—Lawrence Durrell

Road Trip from Austin to El Paso: 9 Stops along the Way

The drive from Austin to El Paso is rich with history, adventure, and natural beauty

Bookended by the capital city of Austin and the West Texas border town of El Paso, a drive through West Texas takes in not just two of Texas’s most distinctive cities but also a host of cool small towns rich with frontier history, sweeping vistas, and delicious barbecue and Tex-Mex cuisine.

The drive from Austin to El Paso clocks in at about nine hours and at first glance it can look a bit daunting and devoid of major towns. But rest assured that there are plenty of fascinating attractions to break up the drive.

Types of barb wire used in West Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Or, like us turn it into a multi-day journey. As with any road trip, it’s best to meander a bit, staying overnight for a few nights along the way and detouring from the main route now and then. In order to soak up the Texas hospitality and try plenty of regional cuisine along the way, I recommend taking 5 or 6 days on the road trip across West Texas.

Here are my seven favorite stops from Austin to El Paso.

Lady Bird Wildlife Center in Austin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Austin

From the world-famous barbecue to the non-stop live music to the quirky charm of South Congress Avenue, Austin is a fantastically fun place to start a Texas road trip.

Walk across the Congress Avenue Bridge just before sunset when the Mexican free-tailed bats that live under the bridge venture out to form dark clouds in the sky over Lady Bird Lake. It’s a sight to see and one that attracts hundreds of sightseers to the bridge each night.

Lady Bird Wildlife Center in Austin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For a quick lunch, the Congress Avenue Torchy’s Tacos is a popular regional chain with a creative taco menu (try the Trailer Park with fried chicken, pico de gallo, and green chiles). For a decadent dessert, get in line at Amy’s Ice Creams where the Mexican vanilla and dark chocolate flavors are standouts.

Lady Bird Wildlife Center in Austin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Along with the stellar Tex-Mex cuisine, any trip to Austin should include a visit to at least one of the city’s famous barbecue spots. The Visit Austin website breaks it down in its Ultimate Guide to Austin Barbecue. Terry Black’s BBQ is a premiere destination for legendary Texas barbecue. You can’t go wrong with an assortment of brisket, sausage, and turkey (sold by the pound) and sides of mac and cheese, green beans, and cornbread muffins.

You could easily spend a week or two exploring Austin but on a road trip across West Texas, two or three days would allow you to take in a good assortment of the city’s attractions.

Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fredericksburg

Heading west out of Austin on US Highway 290, a favorite first stop is Fredericksburg, a mid-sized town with an astonishing array of well-preserved rock buildings from the 1800s days of German settlers. Any visit to Fredericksburg should begin with a walk down Main Street to take in distinctive buildings like the Pioneer Memorial Library (built in 1882) and the Vereins Kirche Museum (built in 1847).

Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stop for lunch at the iconic Auslander Restaurant and Biergarten for authentic German fare like schnitzel and sauerkraut or the Altdorf Restaurant and Biergarten for bratwurst or knockwurst. For a beautiful look at the plants, seeds, and wines of the region take a quick drive east from town to Wild Seed Farms. To hike head a short distance to Enchanted Rock State Natural Area.

Wildseed Farms near Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bonus: Luckenbach, the tiny Texas outpost made famous by a 1977 hit song by Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson is a 15-minute drive from Fredericksburg and makes a wonderful day trip.

Caverns of Sonora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Caverns of Sonora

The founder of a National Speleological Society (read: a group of dudes who love exploring caves) once said “its beauty cannot be exaggerated, even by a Texan.” The Cavern is over seven and a half miles long but only two miles of trails are developed for tours. There are five levels of the cave that vary in depth form 20 feet to 180 feet below the surface.

Caverns of Sonora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Cavern is known for its stunning array of calcite crystal formations, extremely delicate formations, and the abundance and variety of formations. You’ll find helictites, soda straws stalactites, speleothems, stalagmites, and cave bacon. The cave is a constant 71 degrees with 98 percent humidity which makes it feel about 85 degrees.

Caverns of Sonora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Daily guided tours of this remarkable cave system last just shy of two hours and take you 155 feet below the earth’s surface. Sonora is also a great halfway point between Austin (or San Antonio) and Big Bend. Their RV Park offers 48 sites complete with water and electricity, several of which are pull-through. Due to the presence of the cavern, a dump station is not available; however, there are clean restrooms with showers.

Fort Stockton © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fort Stockton

Few Texas towns can claim a past as colorful or well preserved as Fort Stockton. The best way to experience these cultural treasures is to take a self-guided driving tour beginning at the Visitor Center inside the railway depot that was built in 1911.

Fort Stockton © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

During the tour, you’ll pass more than a dozen legendary sites such as the Pecos County Courthouse, the Historic Old Jail of 1884, the “Oldest House” that is believed to have been built as early as 1855, and the Comanche Springs Pool. Following this route takes you to some of Fort Stockton’s most fascinating places, a great way to get acquainted with this exceptional West Texas town.

Monahans Sandhills State Park

Monahans Sandhills State Park

A mystical place where the wind sculpts sand dunes into peaks and valleys Mon­a­hans Sandhills offers a Texas-sized sand­box for kids of all ages. These natural sand dunes are ever-changing and worth stomping around. An hour north of Fort Stockton on State Route 18, stop here for a picnic or sled down the swirling dunes on rentable plastic lids.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Entry is $4. And spend the night at one of the 26 camping sites with water and electric hookups, a picnic table, and shelter. Camping is $15 nightly plus the entry fee.

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Balmorhea State Park

It’s time to bust out your swimsuit. Near the crossroads of I-20 and I-10, you’ll find a literal oasis in the middle of the desert: the largest spring-fed swimming pool in the world. Recharge in the cool, clear waters and get a glimpse of tiny endangered pupfish, found only in the San Soloman springs.

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Open daily, entry costs $7; buy a day pass in advance to guarantee a spot especially on crowded weekends when the pool can reach capacity. Stay overnight at one of 34 campsites. Or reserve a room at the San Solomon Springs Courts, motel-style retro lodging built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Marathon, Alpine, and Marfa

Although staying on I-10 would be the quickest and most convenient way to continue west, consider heading southwest at the I-10 town of Fort Stockton toward Big Bend Country. Even if you’re not continuing on to the amazing Big Bend National Park, the row of little West Texas towns that are known as gateways to the park make a worthy detour off the interstate.

Marathon, Alpine, and Marfa are all within 30 minutes to an hour from one another. Visitors can take their pick among Marathon for its splendid night skies, Alpine for its bustling downtown and colorful murals, and Marfa for its movie, music, culinary, and art scenes.

I suggest choosing one of the towns to serve as a base for exploring the region for a day or two. In Marathon, Marathon Motel and RV Park offers 19 full hookups sites suitable for big rigs.

Davis Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fort Davis

For another cool detour south of the interstate, consider the historic town of Fort Davis, a 35-minute drive from Balmorhea State Park on State Route 17. Located in the middle of the craggy Davis Mountains, Fort Davis is a self-contained community of about 1,100 people that boasts a surprisingly robust selection of restaurants and shops.

Fort Davis Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For authentic Mexican food, try Poco Mexico where orders are taken at a window to the busy kitchen or at Cueva de Leon which features a full menu of Mexican fare and a comfortable outdoor patio.

And while you’re in the area, be sure to check out the well-preserved frontier military post, Fort Davis National Historic Site, and the incredibly scenic Davis Mountains State Park.

McDonald Observatory © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stargaze at McDonald Observatory. Northwest of Fort Davis on State Route 118, one of the darkest night skies in the country allows for spectacular stargazing. Gaze into the cosmos during one of their evening star parties. Otherwise, they’re open to the public from Tuesday to Saturday. 

Franklin State Park near El Paso © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

El Paso

Located along the Rio Grande on the border with Mexico, the far-west Texas city of El Paso offers a wonderful mix of Mexican and Old West cultures. The international culture is evident in everything from the city’s historic buildings to the Tex-Mex cuisine to the colorful art.

Any visit to El Paso should include an exploration of the Las Plazas Arts District, an area in the center of town that features the picturesque El Paso Street festooned with string lights and neon signs. The entire Arts District is a great place for a walk and the area features a host of trendy spots for taking in a cocktail or meal.

Franklin State Park near El Paso © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

El Paso also features numerous choices for authentic Mexican cuisine. The homey L&J Café offers a range of Tex-Mex specialties such as beef and chicken fajitas, chile con queso, and grilled steak. In the downtown area, the Kansas Street spot ELEMI sources heirloom varieties of native corn from sustainable farming communities in Mexico for its signature dishes such as deconstructed street corn.

El Paso is a great spot to either end or start a road trip across West Texas and a stay of several days would give visitors a good taste of the city.

For more on West Texas, check out these articles:

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

There is a growing feeling that perhaps Texas is really another country, a place where the skies, the disasters, the diamonds, the politicians, the women, the fortunes, the football players and the murders are all bigger than anywhere else.

—Pete Hamill

The Ultimate Guide to Padre Island National Seashore

Padre Island National Seashore is the longest stretch of undeveloped barrier island in the world

Are you ready for a day (or two or three) at the beach? Why not spend it at Padre Island National Seashore in Texas, a park with “the longest stretch of undeveloped barrier island in the world.”

Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Padre Island National Seashore separates the Gulf of Mexico from the Laguna Madre, one of a few hypersaline lagoons in the world. The park protects 70 miles of coastline. It is a safe nesting ground for the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle and a haven for over 380 bird species. It also has a rich history including the Spanish shipwrecks of 1554.

Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In addition to its 70 miles of protected coastline, other important ecosystems abound including rare coastal prairie, a complex and dynamic dune system, and tidal flats teeming with life. The National Seashore and surrounding waters provide important habitat for marine and terrestrial plants and animals including a number of rare, threatened, and endangered species.

Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Padre Island National Seashore and South Padre Island are two different places located over 100 miles apart. Sometimes Padre Island National Seashore is confused with South Padre Island but the two are very different destinations. Padre Island National Seashore is a National Park Service (NPS) site located just outside of Corpus Christi. South Padre Island is a resort community located near Brownsville with numerous hotels, clubs, and souvenir shops. The two destinations are at opposite ends of the long, barrier island named Padre Island and are about 100 miles apart.

Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Planning on putting the park address into a smart phone app or GPS? It most likely will NOT bring you to the park. For unknown reasons, many of those applications place the park’s physical address miles away from its actual location.

Plan your trip: A Slice of Paradise: Padre Island National Seashore

Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fortunately, getting to the park is easy once you know that the road coming to the park—Park Road 22—actually dead ends into the National Seashore. The park entrance station is a booth that is located literally in the middle of the road. Once you’re on Park Road 22, just keep going until you reach the end and the park entrance station. Bring a paper map or use the above directions to locate the park.

Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Park entrance fees and passes can be purchased online before your visit or purchased in person at the entrance station upon your arrival. Your options include a 1-day pass ($10.00 per vehicle), a 7-day pass ($25.00 per vehicle), and a 1-year pass ($45.00 per vehicle). Those with federal interagency passes enter free.

Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Typical weather conditions. Weather on Padre Island varies widely and can change from sunny and warm to thunderstorms and heavy winds very quickly. Padre Island has long, hot summers and short, mild winters. Most rain falls near the beginning and end of hurricane and tropical storm season which lasts from June through October.

Daytime temperature in spring averages in the 70s-80s with lows in the 50s-60s. Summer daytime temperatures are usually in the mid-90s with very humid conditions. Lows are usually in the 70s. Afternoon and evening sea breezes help to moderate temperatures. In the fall, daytime temperature average in the 70s-80s with lows in the 50s-60s. Winter high temperatures are usually between 50 degrees and 70 degrees but can occasionally drop into the upper 30s. Sudden, strong cold fronts can move through bringing gale force winds and dropping temperatures quickly.

Average rainfall for the southern portion of the park is 26 inches and 29 inches for the northern area of the park.

Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take a drive along the seashore. Many people come to the National Seashore to experience the beauty of nature in isolation. One way to do this is to travel down-island into the park’s most remote areas which are only accessible with a high-clearance, 4-wheel drive vehicle. Don’t try it with a regular car if you intend to drive further than 5 miles.

Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To get to the portion of the park where you can drive on the beach and down to the remote parts of the island, continue on the main park paved road (Park Road 22) past Malaquite Visitor Center until the pavement ends (South Beach). From that point, the park has 60 miles of beach open to driving. South Beach (and driving) ends at the Port Mansfield Channel, a man-made waterway cut through the island.

Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It is not possible to drive all the way down to South Padre Island due to this waterway. You must turn around at that point and drive 60 miles back north to reach the park paved road.

Plan your trip: Padre Island National Seashore: World’s Longest Stretch of Undeveloped Barrier Island

Remember that Texas beaches are public highways and all traffic laws apply including seat belt regulations. All vehicles on Padre Island National Seashore must be street legal and licensed.

Bird Island Basin Campground, Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Go camping. Padre Island National Seashore has two campgrounds and three areas for primitive camping. They are open year-round and are first-come, first-served. Campers must have a camping permit. There are no RV hook-ups on Padre Island but a dump station and a water filling station are available for all campers staying in the National Seashore.

Malaquite Campground, Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tucked in the dunes with a view of the Gulf of Mexico and a short distance north of the visitor center, Malaquite Campground features 48 semi-primitive designated sites. Located near the boat ramp on the waters of the Laguna Madre, Bird Island Basin Campground offers an opportunity for windsurfing, kayaking, boating, birding, and fishing. Both RV and tent camping sites are available but it is dry camping only.

Sea Breeze RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’d rather stay in a full-service RV park, Corpus Christi, 10 miles away from the park entrance, has several choices. We stayed across the bay in Portland at Seabreeze RV Resort and would return in a heartbeat.

Since sunrises are spectacular along the seashore, plan to take a morning walk along the beach and bring your camera with you to capture the moment. During your early-morning walk, you might spot the elusive (and very fast) ghost crab peeking at you from its burrow.

Stick around after dark on a clear night for a little stargazing. Take a flashlight with you to spot ghost crabs as they move away from their burrows to seek a midnight snack.

Do some beachcombing. Have you ever gone to the beach with bucket in hand hoping to find treasures along the seashore? If so, then you have been beachcombing. Many of the currents that flow through the Gulf of Mexico bring endless curiosities onto the beach at Padre Island National Seashore. These items include seashells, beached jellyfish, sea beans (drift seeds), driftwood, lumber, plastics, and things that have been lost or discarded by seagoing vessels and other marine activities. The best time is immediately following a storm. You are allowed to keep a five-gallon bucket of treasures you might find but if an animal is still in its shell be sure to put it back where you found it.

Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Go fly a kite. Padre Island National Seashore has plenty of wind to fly a kite. The seashore has in the past hosted a kite festival in February filling the sky with all sorts of colorful kites including some intricate and creative Chinese kites. Be sure to check with the park before heading there with your kite. 

Plan your trip: Oceans of Fun: Port Aransas and Mustang Island

Go swimming. Swimming at the National Seashore can be a lot of fun! You can swim in the recreation area at Bird Island Basin or in the Gulf of Mexico. However, remember that safety is important and there are no lifeguards on duty. Use caution when swimming and never swim alone.

Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Go fishing. Fishing has been one of the biggest attractions to Padre Island, long before its designation as a National Seashore. Visitors may fish along the entire length of the Gulf of Mexico beach in the Laguna Madre and at Yarborough Pass and Bird Island Basin. Two currents, one from the north and one from the south converge at Big Shell beach near the middle of the park.

Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

These currents bring an abundance of nutrients which, in turn, attract plenty of fish. To fish anywhere within the park requires a valid Texas fishing license and a saltwater stamp which are only sold outside of the park at any local gas station or tackle shop.

Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Go boating. Bird Island Basin offers a boat ramp to provide access to the excellent boating and fishing waters of the Laguna Madre. It’s one of the world’s best windsurfing sites and you can fish and birdwatch there, too. You can get a daily pass to Bird Island Basin at the Entrance Station for $5.00 or an annual pass for $30.00. Be aware that jet skis, kite surfing, and air boats are prohibited at the national seashore.

Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hatching releases. During the summer Kemp’s ridley sea turtle hatchlings are released from nests that were laid in the park and along parts of the Texas coast. Hatchling releases typically occur from mid-June through August. Most releases that are open to the public take place at 6:45 a.m. on Malaquite Beach in front of the Visitor Center at Padre Island National Seashore. For information about public hatching releases, call the Hatchling Hotline at 361-949-7163. Because park rangers cannot predict exactly when a sea turtle nest will hatch, not all hatchling releases are public and hatchling releases do not occur daily or on a regular schedule.

American avocet and Black-necked stilt, Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Go bird watching. With more bird species that any other city in the U.S., Corpus Christi has won the competition for being the “Birdiest City in America” for the past 10 years in a row. Needless to say, Padre Island National Seashore, located on 130,000 acres of undeveloped land is an exceptional place for bird watching.

Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Situated along the Central Flyway, Padre Island is a globally important area for over 380 migratory, overwintering, and resident bird species (nearly half of all bird species documented in North America). You’ll catch sight of brown pelicans, egrets, herons, terns, gulls, hawks, ducks, teals, and crested caracaras and not just along the beach but inland as well. The best time to bird Padre Island National Seashore is either during early spring or during fall and winter when thousands of birds either migrate through the park or spend the winter there.

Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Interpretive programs. Attend a ranger program to learn about the seashore, the birds, and the things that wash up on the beach. Informal 30-45 minute Deck Talks on various aspects of the island’s natural and cultural history are held Thursdays to Sundays at 1 pm at the Malaquite Visitor Center.

Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Be a Junior Ranger. Padre Island National Seashore is just one national park that gives you a chance to earn an official Junior Ranger badge. Ask a ranger for a Junior Ranger booklet when you stop by the Malaquite Visitor Center. The Underwater Explorer Junior Ranger Program is available as well. For all those who are young or young-at-heart, come out and earn your badge. All ages are welcome to participate in the Junior Ranger program at Padre Island National Seashore.

Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Relax on the beach, build a sand castle, and play in the sand. Just remember the Leave No Trace principles. If you dig any holes or trenches while playing in the sand, cover them back up so they don’t create a hazard for vehicles, people, and animals.

Remember to check the park’s website for any alerts and closures due to construction or weather-related damage. Check the site also for other things to know before you head out to the park and whether or not pets are allowed.

Read Next: Where the Journey Is the Destination: Texas State Highway 35

Worth Pondering…

I must go down to the seas again,

To the lonely sea and the sky,

And all I ask is a tall ship and a star

To steer her by.

—John Masefield

World Migratory Day: Texas Birding Trails

Texas has an extensive series of birding and wildlife trails covering scores of sites over the entire state

Birding is one of the fastest-growing outdoor activities in the US. In celebration of World Migratory Bird Day on the second Saturday of May (May 14, 2022), here is a look at the nine eco-regions and birding trails in Texas which hosts more bird-watching festivals than any other state.

Turkey vulture © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Lone Star state is home to some of the most famous birding sites in the country: High Island, Bolivar Flats, Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, Big Bend National Park, and Lower Rio Grande Valley. The list could go on and on.

With 639 species of birds documented in Texas, things really are bigger and better in the Lone Star State. Birding in Texas is year-round thanks to its location and diverse eco-regions and can be rewarding in every corner of the state. 

Roseate spoonbill © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This is where it all started—where the birding trail concept was pioneered in the 1990s. Still luring birdwatchers from all over the world, the Great Texas Wildlife Trail offers good birding throughout the year but the upper coast is at its best in spring migration when songbirds crossing the Gulf of Mexico make landfall. When the timing is right, you’ll find trees filled with colorful congregations of warblers, orioles, tanagers, and buntings.

Reddish egret © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most famous for water birds, the central coast is highlighted by the wintering population of whooping cranes centered in the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. Now readily seen from November to March, the cranes are not the only spectacles here; you might also encounter shaggy-plumed reddish egrets, blazing pink roseate spoonbills, and beautifully patterned white-tailed hawks.

Ibis rookery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The lower coast trail takes in a magical region where dozens of species spill across the border from Mexico, enlivening the landscape with a mosaic of surprises—noisy ringed kingfishers like belted kingfishers on steroids, great kiskadees that seem too colorful for the flycatcher family, and green jays which provide a shocking departure from their relatives’ blue and gray tones.

Related Article: My Top 10 List of Texas Birds

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) Wildlife Trails make it easier than ever to find the best birding hot spots.

Pied-billed grebe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nine Interactive maps are available on their website:

  • Far West Texas
  • Upper Texas Coast
  • Central Texas Coast
  • Lower Texas Coast
  • Heart of Texas West
  • Heart of Texas East
  • Panhandle Plains
  • Prairies and Piney Woods West
  • Prairies and Piney Woods East

Whether you are a birder, a wildlife enthusiast, a photographer, or just want to see the wild side of Texas, these nine driving trail maps will lead you to the best spots to see birds, butterflies, bats, pronghorns, and more. What will you discover?

Greater roadrunner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Far West Texas: Encompassing an area from El Paso to Midland-Odessa and down to the Rio Grande’s border with Mexico, the Far West Texas interactive map helps visitors discover a blend of natural and cultural resources such as historic structures, forts, and ancient pictographs as well as a chance to trek through the rugged outdoors. Watch for Montezuma quail, curved-bill thrasher, greater roadrunner, and ladder-backed woodpecker.

Recommended birding site: Big Bend National Park

Curv-billed thrasher © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Bend ranks with America’s great birding destinations and if offers endless opportunities for hikers, geology buffs, photographers, history-lovers, and people who enjoy rugged landscapes.

Big Bend comprises three main ecosystems: Most of the park is Chihuahuan Desert, a terrain of cactus and shrubs. In the center, the Chisos Mountains rise to more than 7,000 feet with oak canyons and ponderosa pine. Along the Rio Grande is a lush green strip of cottonwoods and willows. All this contributes to Big Bend’s great diversity of birds.

Mexican jay © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Birds of the Chisos include acorn woodpecker, cordilleran flycatcher, Mexican jay, and painted redstart. More likely in lower elevations are such species as scaled quail, greater roadrunner, elf owl, vermilion flycatcher, cactus wren, curve-billed thrasher, pyrrhuloxia, and varied bunting.

Egret rookery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Upper Texas Coast: The Upper Texas Coast region takes you close to the Louisiana border to Beaumont and Houston then along the coast from the birding hotspots of High Island and Bolivar Peninsula continuing down to Galveston and the Brazosport Area. Visit heron rookeries and be wowed by the number of egrets, herons, and Roseate Spoonbills visible from viewing platforms. You may even get a glimpse of an alligator (from a safe distance, of course!).

Recommended birding site: Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge

Fulvous whistling duck © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the must-visit sites of Texas, Anahuac protects 34,000 acres of marsh, prairie, and scattered woods. A small sampling of breeding-season birds found here includes black-bellied whistling duck, fulvous whistling duck, wood stork (post-breeding visitor), neotropic cormorant, least bittern, roseate spoonbill, clapper rail, purple gallinule, and black-necked stilt. 

Related Article: What Is Birding?

Black-necked stilt © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Central Texas Coast: Explore well-known birding sites and hidden gems throughout the Coastal Bend from Kingsville and Corpus Christi up to Goliad and continuing through the coastal communities of Port Aransas, Rockport-Fulton, and on to Bay City. Observe vibrant migratory birds during spring and fall migration as well as over-wintering whooping cranes, all while enjoying year-round birding opportunities and events.

Recommended birding site: Brazos Bend State Park

Sites on the Texas Gulf Coast get most of the publicity but this state park 30 miles southwest of Houston is well worth a visit for its attractive scenery as well as its birds. Here, live oaks draped with Spanish moss and other hardwoods ensure a lush landscape along the Brazos River and its tributary Big Creek.

Anhinga © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Look on park lakes and wetlands for black-bellied whistling duck, pied-billed grebe, neotropic cormorant, anhinga, many species of waders including both night-herons and roseate spoonbill and Purple Gallinule. Some of the breeding birds here are least bittern, Mississippi kite, black-necked stilt, yellow-billed cuckoo, prothonotary warbler, and painted bunting.

Great kiskadee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lower Texas Coast: Spend some time getting to know the diverse landscapes of the Valley from Brownsville and South Padre Island to Weslace, McAllen, all the way up to Rio Grande City and inland to Raymondville and more. See some of the south Texas specialties such as the green jay, great kiskadee, Altamira oriole, and plain chachalaca in addition to the occasional Mexican rarity in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

Recommended birding site: Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge

Clay-colored thrush © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So many wonderful birding sites are located in the Lower Rio Grande Valley that it’s hard to single out one or even a handful. Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge comprising 2,088 acres on the Rio Grande south of Alamo has long been a favorite destination of birders from around the world.

Altamira oriole © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many of the region’s specialties are seen here including plain chachalaca, white-tipped dove, common pauraque, buff-bellied hummingbird, great kiskadee, green jay, clay-colored thrush, long-billed thrasher, and Altamira oriole, to name only a few of the most regular species.

Related Article: Discover Over 500 Bird Species in South Texas

Common pauraque © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Heart of Texas West: Covering an area from San Angelo and Sonora east to Junction and then over to Fredericksburg and Uvalde and down to Del Rio, this region offers the well-known central Texas while learning about cave formations.

Recommended birding site: Lost Maples State Natural Area

The beautiful Texas Hill Country is worth visiting for its scenery and rivers and it holds great rewards for birders. Lost Maples State Natural Area is one place that combines beauty and birds. Named for the bigtooth maples, it’s especially popular and crowded when the trees change color in fall.

Western scrub jay © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nesting birds here include wild turkey, greater roadrunner, ruby-throated hummingbird, black-chinned hummingbird, Hutton’s vireo, western scrub jay, black-crested Titmouse, Louisiana water thrush, Rufous-crowned sparrow, painted bunting, Scott’s oriole, and lesser goldfinch.

Black-crested titmouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Heart of Texas East: This region runs from Brownwood near the Panhandle down through Marble Falls and Johnson City before heading east to Austin and Bastrop and south to San Marcos and San Antonio. Tour native nature centers, private ranches, and state parks or go right into the heart of Austin, the state capitol to see the largest urban population of Mexican Free-tailed Bats. Head down to the South Texas brush country near Laredo for a more rugged terrain.

Recommended birding site: Mitchell Lake Audubon Center

Yellow warbler © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

An all-around birding site just south of downtown San Antonio, Mitchell Lake Audubon Center includes woodland, wetlands, and a 600-acre lake. At the center of the area are former wastewater-treatment ponds, now renowned for shorebirds from late summer through spring.

Some of the birds often seen on the lake and wetlands include black-bellied whistling duck, least grebe, neotropic cormorant, anhinga, American white pelican, and many species of wading birds.

Ladder-backed woodpecker © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Among nesting, birds are greater roadrunner, black-chinned hummingbird, Golden-fronted woodpecker, Ladder-backed woodpecker, crested caracara, scissor-tailed flycatcher, cave swallow, verdin, long-billed thrasher, painted bunting, orchard oriole, and Bullock’s oriole.

Sandhill cranes © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Panhandle Plains: Enjoy the expansive views available in the northern part of the state including Amarillo, Lubbock, and south to Abilene. Here, get a glimpse of scenic canyons, mesas, and river corridors and keep an eye out for coyote, pronghorn antelope, sandhill cranes, black-tailed prairie dogs, meadow larks, burrowing owls and more in the wide open spaces of Texas.

Recommended birding site: Buffalo Lake National Wildlife Refuge

This refuge 25 miles southwest of Amarillo protects a 175-acre tract of native shortgrass prairie of such quality that it has been designated a National Natural Landmark. It’s a good place to see many open-country birds as well as seasonal waterfowl and shorebirds.

Golden-fronted woodpecker © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From fall through spring many species of ducks use these wetlands and some such as cinnamon teal and redhead remain to nest. Some of the nesting birds here are wild turkey, Mississippi kite, greater roadrunner, burrowing owl, Golden-fronted woodpecker, Ladder-backed woodpecker, Say’s phoebe, scissor-tailed flycatcher, Chihuahuan raven, rock wren, and Bullock’s Oriole.

Burrowing owl © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Prairies and Piney Woods West: Extending from Wichita Falls in the north, down through the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex, and into Waco and Temple before continuing to College Station. View some of the few remaining Blackland Prairies and experience the native habitat that once covered most of north Texas. Watch for grazing bison, caracaras, Scissor-tailed Flycatchers and more. Also, reconnect with urban nature at a variety of Dallas and Fort Worth parks, zoos and nature centers.

Recommended birding site: Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge

Five species of geese winter on this refuge, at times in enormous flocks—up to 10,000 have been estimated in one field, for example. Hagerman lies along the shore of the southern arm of Lake Texoma on the route of the Central Flyway so waterfowl find it a welcome rest stop on migration and a hospitable home in winter. A four-mile wildlife drive passes along the lakeshore and several hiking trails access woodland (including some bottomland forest), grassland, and ponds.

Tri-colored heron © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hagerman’s bird list of 338 species includes more than 35 species of shorebirds that feed in shallow water and mudflats along with more than 15 species of wading birds attracted to the wetlands. Nesting birds at Hagerman include wood duck, Northern bobwhite, wild turkey, pied-billed grebe, tricolored Heron, common gallinule, black-necked stilt, least tern, greater roadrunner, red-headed woodpecker, loggerhead shrike, prothonotary warbler, and painted bunting.

Related Article: The Beginners Guide to Birding (and Bird Photography) on Your Next Outdoor Adventure

Cooper’s hawk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Prairies and Piney Woods East: Travel through a region that goes from Paris to Texarkana and down through Tyler, Nacogdoches, Lufkin, and Huntsville. Spend time in east Texas to explore the Big Thicket and hardwood forest for a variety of raptors, warblers, woodpeckers, and other woodland species. Or, take time to fish one of the many lakes, rivers and streams and maybe spot an eagle soaring above.

Recommended birding site: Lake Tawakoni

Crested caracara © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This reservoir northeast of Dallas is a favorite destination for local birders. On the west side, 376-acre Lake Tawakoni State Park is one spot from which to scan the lake for wintering waterfowl, loons, grebes, American white pelican, and bald eagle. Osprey is seen in migration. Neotropic cormorant is seen year round, and crested caracara is found regularly. Nesting birds include Cooper’s hawk, blue grosbeak, indigo bunting, painted bunting, and orchard oriole.
A few miles southeast, Highway 47 crosses the dam for the lake. The woods below the dam along the Sabine River can be excellent for spring migrants. Nesting birds include wood duck, pileated woodpecker, prothonotary Warbler, painted bunting, and orchard oriole.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

There is nothing in which the birds differ more from man than the way in which they can build and yet leave a landscape as it was before.

—Robert Lynd, The Blue Lion and Other Essays

“Howdy, y’all” to these Small Texas Towns

Looking for the best small towns to visit in the Lone Star State? We’ve got you covered.

These burgs might not be as flashy or as big as cities like Houston and San Antonio but the warm hospitality and eclectic attractions are found in the sparsely populated patches up in the hills, through the plains, and along the coast are well worth a trip to explore. So put on your boots, and hit the back roads. and get ready to say “Howdy, y’all” to these small Texas towns!

Here are a few suggestions for unique small towns in Texas to add to your next getaway in the Lone Star State. 

Goliad State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Goliad, Texas

The site of one of the most infamous battles of the Texas Revolution, Goliad, is a top spot for history buffs traveling through Texas. Goliad is the third oldest municipality in Texas and is the County Seat of Goliad County, which is one of the oldest counties in all of the state.

Goliad State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The original name for Goliad was Santa Dorotea, noted by the Spaniards in the 16th century. It was then changed to Goliad in 1829 with religious origins. Places to visit include the Goliad State Park and the General Ignacio Zaragoza state park and historic site.

Shiner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shiner, Texas

Speaking of beloved American beverages… Shiner, Texas is home to 2,069 people, Friday’s Fried Chicken, and—most famously—the Spoetzal Brewery where every drop of Shiner beer is brewed. Tours are offered throughout the week where visitors can see how every last drop of their popular brews gets made. 

Related Article: The Spotlight Shines on Unique Small Texas Towns

Shiner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tours and samples are free. Founded in 1909, the little brewery today sends more than 6 million cases of delicious Shiner beer to states across the country. Founder, Kosmos Spoetzal, would be pretty proud! To which we say “Prosit!”

Port Lavaca © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Port Lavaca, Texas

It’s no secret that the Texas Gulf Coast is a fantastic destination for seaside fun. Port Lavaca is a place where you can enjoy all the sun, sand, and surf without bustling crowds and traffic jams. Nestled halfway between Galveston and Corpus Christi, Port Lavaca is a spectacular place to go fishing on the Texas Gulf Coast.

Port Lavaca © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Anglers have access to a number of public boat launches and fishing piers around town such as those at Bayfront Peninsula Park, Lighthouse Beach, and Magnolia Beach. Along with all the fishing, Port Lavaca is a bird watcher’s delight. Lighthouse Beach offers a birding tower and walkway for getting out among the wetlands creatures of the bird sanctuary, but it is just one of many places around town to bird watch.

Kenedy County Courthouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sarita, Texas

You may have passed this county seat because you were too busy looking at your fuel gauge. It’s on Highway 77 on route to The Valley between Kingsville and Raymondville. Sarita was once part of the Kenedy Ranch and John G. Kenedy named the town after his daughter Sarita Kenedy East when it was established in 1904 as a center for the ranch and the Kenedy Pasture Company. Kenedy Ranch Museum is worth a visit.

Kenedy Ranch Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take a picture of the Courthouse as I did, nobody will bother you. Look for gophers in the courthouse lawn. There isn’t much more to do. Population is up from 185 in 1993.

Related Article: 4 Small Texas Towns to Visit

Ibis at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alamo, Texas

Alamo’s claim to fame as the “Refuge to the Valley” illustrates its symbiotic relationship with the adjacent Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, an internationally renowned birding destination. The subtropical thorn forest along with the resacas draw birds such as tropical green jays, Altamira orioles, great kiskadees, and chachalacas.

Great kiskadee at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After exploring the refuge, check out the Mercadome Flea Market and Alamo Dance Hall which draws thousands of weekend visitors to shop, eat, and move their feet to the sound of accordion-driven conjunto and norteño music.

Schulenburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Schulenburg, Texas

With its rolling hills and relaxed pace, Schulenburg will put a little oompah in your step. Located at the intersection of Interstate 10 and US 77, Schulenburg may be best known as a reliable stop for a kolache fix. But with its roots in German and Czech settlement, this little town offers outsized cultural attractions including spectacular painted churches, the Texas Polka Music Museum, and the Stanzel Model Aircraft Museum.

Guadalupe River at Kerrville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kerrville, Texas

Nestled in the heart of the Texas Hill Country, Kerrville stands as a gorgeous getaway from the hustle and bustle of the city. From its many public parks to the picturesque Guadalupe River that runs right through downtown, Mother Nature is truly the star here. In short, finding enjoyable things to do in Kerrville is as simple as stepping outside. Visitors also travel to Kerrville for its music festivals, arts and crafts fairs, outdoor sports and activities, shopping, and world-class dining.

Black’s BBQ © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lockhart, Texas

Houston and Austin can quibble all they want about who has the best barbecue, but the clear winner is Lockhart. This small town 35 miles south of Austin is the Barbecue Capital of Texas—and that’s not just a municipal marketing ploy. The Texas State Legislature passed a resolution in 2003 officially giving Lockhart the title. 

Smitty’s Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hundreds of thousands of people make the trek to Lockhart every year where four barbecue joints cook up mouth-watering meats made by legendary pitmasters. Here, meat is served in boxes by the pound and eaten off butcher paper on long, wooden tables.

Fort Stockton © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fort Stockton, Texas

Few Texas towns can claim a past as colorful or well preserved as Fort Stockton. The best way to experience these cultural treasures is to take a self-guided driving tour beginning at the Visitor Center inside the railway depot that was built in 1911. During the tour, you’ll pass more than a dozen legendary sites such as the Pecos County Courthouse, the Historic Old Jail of 1884, the “Oldest House” that is believed to have been built as early as 1855, and the Comanche Springs Pool. Following this route takes you to some of Fort Stockton’s most fascinating places, a great way to get acquainted with this exceptional West Texas town.

Related Article: Explore the Funky Art Towns and Desert Beauty of West Texas

Port O’Connor © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Port O’Connor, Texas 

Port O’Connor is a small fishing village on the Texas Coast. It is often known as the “Best Kept Secret on the Gulf Coast” for its relaxing, laid-back atmosphere, and numerous fishing and boating venues. The most common activity in Port O’Connor is fishing followed by recreational boating and coastal sightseeing.

Port O’Connor © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Port O’Connor area is an excellent place for birding. Some places to view birds in town are at the Nature Park at Boggy Bayou, King Fisher Beach, and the Little Jetties as well as walking the residential areas.

Read Next: Texas Road Trips Sampler

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

Here and there…not quite everywhere yet!

Texas Road Trips Sampler

Take a leisurely drive and avoid traffic, feel reinvigorated along the coast, and how to enjoy a north-south road trip

Ready to take the roads less traveled? Along this pair of spring road trips you have an option to avoid the traffic of Interstate 35 from DFW to the Hill Country and feel invigorated along the coast. This drive takes you along Texas’ version of the Pacific Coast Highway. If you want to see the variety of vistas that Texas has to offer then load the RV, buckle up, and get ready for these fun spring drives.

Along the coast © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hug the Coast Highway

Distance: 217 miles

Overall vibe: Seafood and seaside breezes

Along the coast © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Don’t be fooled by the name. State Highway 35 is the antithesis to the behemoth with which it shares a number. Interstate 35 is a white-knuckle fight for highway survival while its country cousin is an easy cruise through green marshes and across bays with intermittent glimpses of the Gulf of Mexico.

Tricolored heron © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Otherwise known as the “Hug-the-Coast” Highway, this 35 predates I-35 by more than 40 years. With only one lane on each side most of the way, it’s a quaint retreat—a throwback to Sunday drives where the journey was the destination.

Related Article: 4 Texas Road Trips: These You Have to Take

Along the coast © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This slow ride begins south of Houston in West Columbia, the tiny town with the distinction of having been the capital of the Republic of Texas for about three months in 1836. 

Along the coast © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Continuing on the road as Route 35 steers you straight toward Matagorda Bay. In the town of Palacios, home to birders and fishermen, stop at The Point. The hybrid convenience store and Vietnamese and Mexican restaurant has become the social hub of the town. You can grab fishing gear, breakfast tacos, and authentic Vietnamese food or grab takeout for a picnic on the docks overlooking the bay. If you’re lucky, you might catch the flash of a roseate spoonbill in flight.

Port Lavaca

Grab your fishing pole, sunscreen, and beach chair…it’s time to go to Port Lavaca. This coastal town has all the seaside fun you could ask for but without all the crowds found in other Gulf Coast locales.

Port Lavaca © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Checking out Port Lavaca’s beaches is a no brainer, regardless of whether you’re looking for a quiet barefoot stroll, hunt for shells, or kick back and relax. Start at Magnolia Beach, also known as the only natural shell beach on the Gulf Coast. Lay out a blanket and soak up the sun, or cast a line from the fishing pier. For more sandy beaches, relax in the shade of a thatch-covered cabana at Lighthouse Beach or swim or paddle board in the tranquil waters of Alamo Beach.

Related Article: Texas Road Trip Playlist: Sing Your Way across Texas

Goose Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can keep on trucking toward Rockport or take a 45-minute side trip to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. This pristine sanctuary overlooking San Antonio Bay attracts more than 400 species of birds and is the winter home of the endangered whooping cranes. Heron Flats, an easy 1.5-mile walking trail, promises glimpses of leggy birds high-stepping through marshes as they seek their supper.

Big Tree © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The natural wonders continue 10 miles north of Rockport in Goose Island State Park where the Big Tree prevails. Scientists have calculated this live oak could be more than 1,000 years old—and it’s so resilient even Hurricane Harvey couldn’t knock it down.

Rockport © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fulton and its historic mansion and the seaside resort town Rockport are worthy stops, especially for dockside seafood at places like the Boiling Pot or Charlotte Plummer’s.

Fulton Mansion State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Rockport, it’s only 28 miles to Portland where it’s time to say goodbye to this laid-back coastal road as it merges south into the bigger US-181. 

Corpus Christi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Heading toward Corpus, you are thrust back into the rush of multiple lanes and cars in a hurry to get somewhere—a jolt after so many miles of traffic-free driving. The intensity of it brings to mind the other bigger, faster 35. It’s a reminder of just how good you’ve had it on the mellow side of the coast-hugging highway.

Related Article: Visit SIX Iconic Texas Landmarks on One Road Trip

San Antonio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The DFW Metroplex-South Texas Scenic Workaround

Distance: 370 miles

Overall Vibe: Pretty as a picture

San Antonio

No matter where you are or the time of day, Interstate 35 is a crapshoot. You never know when traffic is going to back up, or why. There is an alternative for a north-south road trip: US Highway 281 running between the western Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex and greater San Antonio. It is less traveled, less billboarded, and less congested—and usually, worth the extra hour especially whenever I-35 is all jammed up.

Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alas, US-281 is no longer a secret thanks to Google Maps and Waze. The route which goes through Hico, Hamilton, Lampasas, Burnet, and Marble Falls has unpredictable bumper-to-bumper, stop-and-go traffic. To bypass these conditions the time has come to suck it up, factor in at least two more hours of drive time, and take the long way to South Texas. Fortunately, you’ll be passing through some of the prettiest western landscapes Texas has to offer.

Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After leaving Dallas, make your way to downtown Fort Worth then drive 75 miles west on Interstate 30 and Interstate 20 to Exit 361, south of Strawn. Head south on State Route 16. The two-lane road starts in the Big Country and transects the Hill Country. If you’re relatively new to Texas, this is a fine introduction to some of the state’s finest natural beauty. Plus, you’ll be avoiding the horrible, ongoing interstate highway construction in Waco.

Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Granted, SR-16 is a longer way and posted speed limits drop below 55 passing through small towns. But since each one justifies stopping for one reason or another depending on your level of curiosity and available time, slow down at least and enjoy the scenery.

Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On this route you’ll pass through the boomtown ghost town of Desdemona to Comanche where you can stop for a bite to eat at Stone Eagle Beer Garden. If in need of a beautifully crafted custom pair of boots set up an appointment at the family-owned and operated Kimmel Boot Company.

Related Article: Everything’s Bigger in Texas: Best Road Trips from Houston, San Antonio, and Austin

Drive past the wind farms of Priddy on your way to Goldthwaite, home to the Texas Botanical Gardens at Legacy Plaza and Mills County Historical Museum (note, the museum is only open Monday through Friday).

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Continue on SR-16 until you hit San Saba, the Pecan Capital of the World. If you have some time, park your car and take a walking tour of downtown and the lively main drag. Then, head to Cherokee where the bluebonnets should be in full bloom this time of year. If hungry, make a pitstop at Cherokee Corner Cafe.

Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Next up is Llano, the heart of the granite part of the Hill Country and a traditional barbecue town with options that include the original Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que and Inman’s BBQ and catering (known for turkey sausage). Take the Farm to Market Road 965 junction to see the bulging pink granite mountain known as Enchanted Rock within Enchanted Rock State Natural Area. From here, you’ll drive to Eckert, a ghost town at the western end of the Willow City Loop wildflower drive, and Fredericksburg where all the action can be found on its charming Main Street.

Windseed Farms near Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From here, you have the option of cutting away at Fredericksburg onto US-290 and going to Austin or taking US 87-and Interstate 10 for a more direct route south to San Antonio.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

After 7 days of trial and error,

God created Texas on the 8th day.

7 of the Best State Parks in Texas to Take Your RV

Desert, mountains, sandy beaches, clear blue rivers, and deep canyons. The Lone Star State has it all—and you can find it in a state park.

Texas is one of the most geographically diverse states in America—it is the largest state in the contiguous United States after all with a thriving state park system to match that has more than 80 different sites across the state to explore.

Officially established in 1923, Texas’s state park system was loosely modeled on the United States’ national parks. When Texas was annexed into the U.S. in 1845, the state government stipulated that Texas must retain control over its public lands, so when the country’s national park movement was first gathering steam in 1916, very little land was allocated to the federal government. There’s now a grand total of 603,748 acres of Texas state parks to traverse, so there’s a little something for every type of adventurer.

Here are the 10 best Texas state parks to visit.

Davis Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Davis Mountains State Park

Why go: Desert mountain hikes and a historic lodge

Nearest town: Fort Davis

Davis Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to stay: Davis Mountains State Park offers primitive camping, campsites with electricity and water, and full hookup campsites for RVs. If you’re not into camping, check out the Indian Lodge, a full-service hotel in the state park. 

Davis Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you ask any Texan what they think of when they hear the words “West Texas,” the first thing that probably comes to mind is Big Bend National Park (or, alternatively, the cool little art town in the middle of nowhere, Marfa). But about 140 miles north of Big Bend country are the Davis Mountains which are geologically classified as a “sky island”—an isolated mountain range surrounded by a radically different lowland.

Davis Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The mountains were created 35 million years ago after a series of violent volcanic eruptions which gave the area a large outcropping of rare (for Texas) igneous rock. The park offers a variety of hiking and biking trails and horseback riding corridors plus what the park fondly calls the “best little bird blind in Texas.”

McDonald’s Observatory © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Thanks to the state park’s proximity to the McDonald Observatory, the area enjoys mandatory dark skies making it an ideal spot for stargazing.
Davis Mountains State Park isn’t known only for its outdoor activities. One of the most distinctive hotel options in the area is the Indian Lodge, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1933. The pueblo-style lodge functions as a full-service hotel and has 39 rooms and a dreamy swimming pool.

Related Article: 10 Things You Need To See and Do At Least Once In Texas

Big Bend Ranch State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Bend Ranch State Park

Why go: Big Bend’s geography without the crowds of Big Bend National Park

Nearest town: Lajitas or Terlingua

Where to stay: Primitive camping only. Nearby towns of Lajitas and Terlingua have RV parks, hotels, and motels.

Big Bend Ranch State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Bend Ranch State Park is often overshadowed by its spectacular national cousin, Big Bend National Park. But just a few minutes down Highway 170 (which, by the way, was named one of the most scenic drives in the country) is this state park—the biggest in Texas at a whopping 300,000 acres. Admittedly, Big Bend Ranch State Park is not for the faint of heart: There’s only primitive (a campsite with no water or electricity, but can be driven to) and backcountry (campsites with no water or electricity either, but require a hike to reach) camping in the park.

Big Bend Ranch State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Because of its size and remoteness, it offers little in the way of amenities. What the park does have is 238 miles of multiuse trails for hiking, biking, and riding horses. Bring plenty of water—temperatures can reach as high as 130 degrees in the summer, so plan your visit for sometime during late November to early March. This west Texas park also makes a great place to stargaze.
For an extra dose of personality, add a stop in Terlingua to your trip. The famous revitalized “ghost town” serves up some serious western-inspired grub, drinks, and music at the Starlight Theatre. 

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area 

Why go: Hike a gorgeous pink granite monolith

Nearest town: Fredericksburg

Where to stay: Group campsites, campsites with water, and backcountry camping are all available.

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As any Texan knows, Enchanted Rock State Natural Area is a must-visit park. You can see what makes the region special from miles away along the drive on Ranch Road 965—a gargantuan hunk of pink granite that’s completely unique to Texas. (The state capitol is made of the same rock.) Geologically, the unusual formation is known as a ​​monadnock, a hill of bedrock that rises above its surroundings.

Related Article: Discover more on a Texas-sized Outdoor Adventure

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The stunning monolith has always had a mystical ambience. Before the Spanish and Anglo settlers arrived, the Plains Native Americans who frequented the area called the formation the “Singing Rock.” When the granite would cool from Texas’s ultra-hot summer temperatures as the sun went down, the stone would moan and groan as it shrank in the cool night air. If you’re lucky, you can still catch this phenomenon during a sunset hike.

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are 11 miles of trails in Enchanted Rock State Natural area; the most popular hike goes straight up to the top of the rock, the Summit Trail. The “trail” (there are few ways to mark a path on bare rock) can be slippery at times but the view of the Hill Country at the apex makes the near vertical trek worth it. Because this hike is up a hunk of granite, the trail has little to no shade or vegetation, so be prepared with hats, sunscreen, and plenty of water. 

Mustang Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mustang Island State Park

Why go: White, fluffy sand in Texas’s best beach town

Nearest town: Port Aransas

Where to stay: Campsites with electricity and primitive camping are available. There are also RV parks in the area.

Corpus Christi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

OK, so calling Port Aransas Texas’s best beach may be a controversial statement—South Padre Island is regularly flooded with spring breakers each year, Galveston enjoys a steady stream of tourists, and let’s not forget Latina superstar Selena’s hometown of Corpus Christi. But many Texans will say that Port Aransas easily beats them all. And if you’re into fishing, the reel-’em-in heaven of Rockport is only 18 miles away from this island community. 

Port Aransas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What makes Port Aransas so special? Think small-town Texas with charming coastal vibes and the whitest, fluffiest sand your toes will ever have the pleasure of knowing. Plus, being located on the barrier island, the area enjoys an ecosystem populated by seabirds, 600 species of saltwater fish, sea turtles, dolphins, and even a few alligators. One of the best places to experience the island’s environment is Mustang Island State Park.

Port Aransas ferry © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park has five miles of coastline where visitors are encouraged to camp, bird-watch, kayak, fish, or simply play in the surf. Camping here is a little different than in most Texas state parks—though there is a designated camping area with electric hookups, guests can also camp primitive-style directly on the sand near the surf with the appropriate permits. 

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Balmorhea State Park

Why go: Visit one of the largest spring-fed pools in the world

Nearest town: Balmorhea

Where to stay: Campsites with electricity, group campsites, and cabins are available.

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Barton Springs in Austin is indisputably one of Texas’s favorite swimming pools thanks to its year-round cool temperatures and convenient location in the heart of the capital. But if Balmorhea were a little closer to central Texas, it would definitely be a fierce competitor. It offers a sizable spring-fed pool that hovers around 72 to 76 degrees all year, right smack in the middle of the desert.

Related Article: Absolutely Best State Parks from San Antonio

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Before the Civilian Conservation Corps built the concrete swimming pool and cabins in the 1930s, the San Solomon Springs provided water for local wildlife and hunter gatherers who are believed to have first made their appearance in the area around 11,000 years ago. During the 1800s, cattle ranchers and railroad workers often used the springs.

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Now, the pool is most commonly frequented by Texans looking to escape the oppressive summer heat in an appealing desert landscape. Visitors can swim, snorkel, and scuba dive at the pool which hosts two endangered species of fish: the Pecos gambusia and the Comanche Springs pupfish. Though Balmorhea State Park is a bit out of the way from any major city (the nearest one—Odessa, Texas—is 116 miles away), getting to take a dip in the turquoise gem of the west Texas desert is an experience not to be missed. 

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monahans Sandhills State Park

Why go: Play on the Sahara-like dunes

Nearest town: Monahans

Where to stay: Campsites with water and electricity are available; also equestrian sites.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can surf on the Gulf Coast in Texas but you can also surf at Monahans Sandhills State Park in West Texas. A virtual island in a Permian Basin sea, the narrow strip of dunes runs for 200 miles from just south of Monahans north into New Mexico and creates a unique habitat that’s home to a variety of wildlife and supports one of the world’s largest oak forests—albeit the oaks themselves are of the diminutive variety. The Harvard oaks that cover more than 40,000 acres here seldom rise above three feet in height even though their root structure may extend as deep as 70 to 90 feet in the dunes.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park offers an interpretive center and museum, as well as picnicking and RV camping and a favorite activity of many visitors, sand surfing. The 26 campsites offer electric and water hookups, picnic table, and a shade shelter. Rent sand disks to surf the dunes or bring your horse and check out the 800-acre equestrian area. Just make sure you mark off “surfed in a desert” from your travel bucket list.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Look for “fulgurites” (melted sand created by lightning strikes), ride your horse, or borrow a disk to surf the dunes. This park seriously reminds me of a scene from Aladdin. Oh, and did I mention that you can surf down the sand dunes? I can’t think of many activities more fun than that!

Goose Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Goose Island State Park

Why go: Lapping water and Gulf breezes

Nearest town: Rockport-Fulton

Where to stay: 

Goose Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bounded by the waters of the St. Charles, Copano, and Aransas bays, 314-acre Goose Island State Park is a coastal delight. Popular with Winter Texans during winter months, birders during spring and fall migration, and campers year-round, Goose Island State Park is located 10 miles north of Rockport-Fulton, off State Highway 35.

Goose Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors to the Island engage in a variety of activities, including camping, birding, fishing, boating, water sports, picnicking, hiking, photography, geocaching, and wildlife observation. A leisurely 1-mile hiking trail is available. Swimming is not recommended as the shoreline has concrete bulkheads, oyster shells, mud flats, and marsh grass.

Big Tree © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Goose Island State Park is best known for two celebrated residents, one of which is the Big Tree—an enormous 1,000-year-old coastal live oak that has survived prairie fires, Civil War battles, and hurricanes. With a height of 44 feet, a circumference of 35 feet, and a crown spanning roughly 90 feet, the massive coastal live oak has survived Mother Nature’s fiercest storms including Hurricane Harvey (August 25, 2017) for more than 1,000 years.

The other resident is the rare endangered whooping crane that returns to the area every winter

Goose Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Choose from 44 campsites by the bay or 57 sites nestled under oak trees, all with water and electricity. Every camping loop has restrooms with showers. Goose Island also has 25 walk-in tent sites without electricity, and a group camp for youth groups.

Read Next: 16 of the Best State Parks in America

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

The forces of nature and their impact on the Texas landscape and sky combine to offer an element of drama that would whet the imagination of artists from any medium.

—Wyman Meinzer

Texas Road Trip Playlist: Sing Your Way across Texas

These road trip songs will make your next drive across Texas a memorable one whether you’re driving a roadster or an RV

Texans’ love for Texas runs deep and unsurprisingly, the musically inclined among us tend to share a common muse—the state itself.

Musicians have written endlessly about their affection for and occasional vexation toward the Lone Star State. There are thousands and thousands of songs about Texas. So many so that the sheer number of Texas tunes has spawned its own subset of songs—songs about songs about Texas.

Blue Bell Creameries, Brenham © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In one such tune, aptly titled “Songs About Texas,” Pat Green sings, “I tell you friends there’s a song in every town,” implying that there’s a song about every Texas town.

A thorough internet search proves that Green isn’t entirely right, but he isn’t entirely wrong either. Though there isn’t a song for every one of the state’s many places—the great state of Texas boasts more than 1,200 incorporated cities—there are several stellar songs about Texas towns which I started assembling here.

Corpus Christi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The music showcased in my playlist stretches across decades, genres and, of course, the state’s varied geography. On the list are Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys’ “I’m a Ding Dong Daddy from Dumas,” Waylon Jennings’ “Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love)” and George Strait’s “Amarillo By Morning.”

You can peruse the full list of songs about Texas towns below.

Davis Mountains in West Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“No Place But Texas” by Willie Nelson

Key lyrics: God painted the bluebonnets in the fields / By a tough little scrub oak on an East Texas hill / And he plucked the star from a lone star sky / And he put it in the twinkle of a cowboy’s eye / The wide open spaces he made wild and free / Texas as far as any eye can see / And he made her sons grow tough and strong / They still cry when they hear a sad song

Related: Ultimate Road Trip Playlist: Sing Your Way Across America

Abilene: “Abilene” by Waylon Jennings

Key lyrics: Abilene, Abilene / Prettiest town I’ve ever seen / Women there don’t treat you mean / In Abilene, my Abilene

Enchanted Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Amarillo: “Amarillo By Morning” by George Strait

Key lyrics: Amarillo by mornin’/ Up from San Antone/ Everything that I got / Is just what I’ve got on / When that Sun is high / In that Texas sky/ I’ll be buckin’ at the county fair / Amarillo by mornin’ / Amarillo I’ll be there

Bandera: “Bandera Waltz” by Ernest Tubb

Key lyrics: I danced with an angel one night ‘neath the stars / While cowboys were singing and playing guitars / The tune they were playing was a beautiful waltz / And they called it Bandera and the Bandera Waltz

Greater roadrunner somewhere in West Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beaumont: “Beaumont” by Hayes Carll

Key lyrics: All the way from Beaumont / With a white rose in my hand / I could not wait forever babe / I hope you understand

Brownsville: “Brownsville Girl” by Bob Dylan

Key lyrics: Brownsville girl with your Brownsville / Curls, teeth like pearls shining like the / Moon above / Brownsville girl / If you show me all around the world, Brownsville girl, you’re my honey / Love

Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

China Grove: “China Grove” by Doobie Brothers

Key lyrics: When the sun comes up on a sleepy little town / Down around San Antone / And the folks are risin’ for another day / ‘Round about their homes / The people of the town are strange / And they’re proud of where they came / Well, you’re talkin’ ‘bout china grove / Oh, China grove

College Station: “Traveler’s Song” by Flatland Cavalry

Key lyrics: Well, I miss College Station / Them boys were good to me / Well, I burned North Gate down / I been the life of the party / I seen that twelve man town / Through a tailgate sea

Corpus Christi Bay © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Corpus Christi: “Corpus Christi Bay” by Robert Earl Keen

Key lyrics: I worked the rigs from three to midnight / On the Corpus Christi Bay / I’d get off and drink till daylight / Sleep the morning away / I had a plan to take my wages / Leave the rigs behind for good / But that life it is contagious / And it gets down in your blood

Related: Visit SIX Iconic Texas Landmarks on One Road Trip

Dallas: “Dallas” by The Flatlanders

Key lyrics: Did you ever see Dallas from a DC-9 at night? / Well Dallas is a jewel, oh yeah, Dallas is a beautiful sight / And Dallas is a jungle but Dallas gives a beautiful light / Did you ever see Dallas from a DC-9 at night?

Fort Stockton © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Del Rio: “Rio” by Duran Duran

Key lyrics: Her name is Rio and she dances on the sand / Just like that river twists across a dusty land / And when she shines, she really shows you all she can / Oh Rio, Rio dance across the Rio Grande

Dumas: “I’m a Ding Dong Daddy from Dumas” by Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys

Key lyrics: I reckon you all don’t know me at all / I just got here today / My home is way down in a little town / It’s not so far away / Everybody for miles around / Calls me by my name / Now that I am in your fair town / You must do the same / For I’m a / Ding dong daddy from Dumas / You ought to see me do my stuff

Brooks County Courthouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

El Paso: “El Paso” by Marty Robbins

Key lyrics: From thirty thousand feet above / The desert floor, I see it there below / A city with a legend / The west Texas city of El Paso

Fort Worth, “Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind?” by George Strait

Key lyrics: Cold Fort Worth beer, just ain’t no good for jealous / I’ve tried it night, after night / You’re in someone else’s arms in Dallas / Does Fort Worth ever cross your mind?

Bishops Palace, Galveston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Galveston: “Galveston” by Glen Campbell

Key lyrics: Galveston, oh Galveston / I still hear your sea waves crashing / While I watch the cannons flashing / I clean my gun / And dream of Galveston

Haskell: “West Texas Highway” by Lyle Lovett

Key lyrics: I’m mighty glad / You were going my way / In your brand new clothes there / And your great big Chevrolet / I’m going down to Haskell / Got a woman down in Abilene

Goliad © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Houston: “Houston (Means that I’m one day closer to you)” by The Gatlin Brothers

Key lyrics: Houston, Houston means / That I’m one day closer to you, oh honey / Houston, Houston means / The last day of the tour and we’re through / Well honey, you and God in heaven above / Know I love what I do for a living, I do / Ah, but Houston, Houston means / That I’m one day closer to you

Huntsville: “Huntsville” by Merle Haggard

Key lyrics: They caught me on a caper that I planned for days / And proved everything I’ve done / I’m on my way to Huntsville / But I’m looking for a chance to run

Fayette County Courthouse, La Grande © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

La Grange: “La Grange” by ZZ Top

Key lyrics: Rumor spreadin’ ‘round / In that Texas town / About that shack outside La Grange / And you know what I’m talkin’ about / Just let me know if you wanna go / To that home out on the range / They got a lot of nice girls

Laredo: “The Wheels of Laredo” by The Highwomen

Key lyrics: On a winter night in Webb County, Texas / On the North Bank of the mighty Rio Grande / I was watching the jungle fires a-burnin’ / Across the border of a not-so-distant land / And the echoes of the church bells that were swingin’ / Could be heard from Guadalupe Market Square / There was a girl down there in the south side of the river / She had feathers tied into her long black hair

The Big Tree © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Levelland: “Levelland” by James McMurtry

Key lyrics: Flatter than a tabletop / Makes you wonder why they stopped here / Wagon must have lost a wheel or they lacked ambition one / On the great migration west / Separated from the rest / Though they might have tried their best / They never caught the sun / So they sunk some roots down in the dirt / To keep from blowin’ off the earth / Built a town around here / And when the dust had all but cleared / They called it Levelland, the pride of man / In Levelland

Related: The Spotlight Shines on Unique Small Texas Towns

Lubbock: “Lonely Lubbock Lights” by Aaron Watson

Key lyrics: So I’ll drive all night long / Until I find where we went wrong / But there’s no love in sight / Just those lonely Lubbock lights

King Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Luckenbach: “Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love)” by Waylon Jennings with Willie Nelson

Key lyrics: Let’s go to Luckenbach, Texas / With Waylon and Willie and the boys / This successful life we’re livin’ / Got us feuding like the Hatfields and McCoys / Between Hank Williams’ pain songs and / Newbury’s train songs and ‘Blue Eyes Cryin’ in the Rain’ / Out in Luckenbach, Texas, ain’t nobody feelin’ no pain

Marfa: “Marfa Lights” by Kaitlin Butts

Key lyrics: Oh I’ll be your cosmic cowgirl / If you’ll be my moonlit sky / I’ll chase you around low and high, yeah / We’re just out of reach, we’re just out of sight / Like the Marfa lights / Like the Marfa lights

Kerrville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Memphis: “Memphis Texas” by Cooder Graw, Chip Taylor & Carrie Rodriguez

Key lyrics: If you’d like to get to know me / I know who I am / Lay off that sweet talk / Let go of my hand / Just take one step back / And give me some space / Don’t stay away / And I’ll take you someplace

Midland: “Fair to Midland” by Dwight Yoakam

Key lyrics: Fare to Midland is all that I need / If I had fair to Midland, I’d take the first seat / On a fast train, bus, or plane / Which ever proved the quickest way for me

Nacogdoches: “Buenos Noches Nacogdoches” by Billy Walker

Key lyrics: Buenas noches Nacogdoches / I bid farewell to you, I’m leaving town today / Buenas noches Nacogdoches / I’ll shake the dust off my boots and ride away

Monohans Sandhills State Park near Pecos © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pecos: “Pecos Promenade” by Tanya Tucker

Key lyrics: Lead off with the Cotton-Eyed Joe / Buckin’ winged, and heel and toe / Hold me close for the Pecos Promenade / Big sign hangin’ by the door / Sawdust on an old dance floor / Tip your hat for the Pecos Promenade

Port Arthur: “Port Arthur Waltz” by Harry Choates

Key lyrics: He, mignonne / I know I’m leaving Port Arthur, jolie fille, chérie / Oh, chère, mais, moi j’connais, j’mérite pas ça

Related: Texas is BIG—Beautiful & Diverse

San Angelo: “San Angelo” by Marty Robbins

Key lyrics: North of the border of Old Mexico / I rode one day to the cowtown of San Angelo / A hot sun was glowing, a hot breeze was blowing / Still not as warm as the lips that I waited to kiss

San Antonio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

San Antonio: “New San Antonio Rose” by Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys

Key lyrics: Deep within my heart lies a melody / A song of old San Antone / Where in dreams I live with a memory / Beneath the stars all alone / It was there I found beside the Alamo / Enchantment strange as the blue up above / A moonlit pass that only she would know / Still hears my broken song of love

San Benito: “The Valley” by Charley Crockett

Key lyrics: I’m from San Benito, Texas / Down a dirty dusty road / There was sugarcane and cotton / How I used to watch it grow

Guadalupe River © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Santa Fe: “Santa Fe” by Augie Meyers

Key lyrics: Headin’ on down to Santa Fe / Seem like I have / Lost my way / There was something I did not see / But, oh Lord she had a hold on me

Selma: “Velma from Selma” by Augie Meyers

Key lyrics: Velma from Selma / Won’t you please tell me what to do / You wanna be my lover / We got some ground to cover / ‘Cause I sure don’t wanna be no enchilada

South Padre Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

South Padre: “Somewhere Between Texas and Mexico” by Pat Green

Key lyrics: South Padre Island to the Brownsville Bay / My heart is healing with each breaking way / But I got some real friends and they’re ready to go / Somewhere between Texas and Mexico / Somewhere between Texas and Mexico

Sweetwater: “Sweetwater, Texas” by The Charlie Daniels Band

Key lyrics: And if the good Lord see the way / To let me live one more day / I’m so tired of being alone / Gonna ride a white horse over Durango Mountain / And make Sweetwater Texas my home

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Terlingua: “Terlingua Sky” by Gary P. Nunn

Key lyrics: The nights would pass so quickly / But there’s a feeling that still lingers on / As we pass around the tomb / That big yellow moon lights us up / ‘Neath the Terlingua Sky

Texarkana: “Texarkana” by R.E.M.

Key lyrics: 40, 000 stars in the evening / Look at them fall from the sky / 40, 000 reasons for living / 40, 000 tears in your eyes

Texas Ranger Museum, Waco

Waco: “Wacko from Waco” by Billy Joe Shaver

Key lyrics: I’m a wacko from Waco, ain’t no doubt about it / Shot a man there in the head but can’t talk much about it / He was trying to shoot me, but he took too long to aim / Anybody in my place, would have done the same / I don’t start fights, I finish fights, that’s the way I’ll always be / I’m a wacko from Waco, you best not mess with me

Waxahachie: “Waxahachie” by Miranda Lambert, Jon Randall, and Jack Ingram

Key lyrics: Waxahachie, are you still on 35? / Are you still an all-night drive from Louisiana? / Waxahachie, I can be there by 4 a.m. / Looking for a long-lost friend / That’s what you’ve always been / Waxahachie / Ooh, Waxahachie

Shiner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wichita: “Wichita Lineman” by Glen Campbell

Key lyrics: I hear you singing in the wire / I can hear you through the whine / And the Wichita lineman / Is still on the line

Worth Pondering…

You’ve heard the old Willie Nelson country music song with the lyrics, “On the road again. Just can’t wait to get on the road again…” We’ll be singing this song for sure.

Visit SIX Iconic Texas Landmarks on One Road Trip

One iconic road trip in Texas

It won’t surprise many RV travelers that the Lone Star State is chock-full of iconic places to visit. Many Texans haven’t even seen everything Texas has to offer. And since Texas is enormous, it would take quite a while to see all there is to see. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try if we want, right?

Lady Bird Wildlife Center, Austin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This particular road trip offered is by no means comprehensive. Now, many hours will be spent driving. But, as they say, getting there is half the fun, right? RIGHT? (Well, as long as you can find a few Buc-ee’s along the way.) So clearly you’ll want to schedule in way more time to, ya know, actually stop and SEE the places. But, I digress.

Guadalupe River at Kerrville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This particular road trip starts in the state capital. Starting in Austin, you’ll take in a few sights before venturing into the Texas Hill Country area and then down toward San Antonio. And frankly, each of these areas can easily be an entire trip unto itself. So think of this as a great “Texas sampler” for natives and visitors alike who just want to take a quick jaunt to see some of the most iconic spots in the Great State of Texas.

San Antonio Missions © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

OK, ready?

As we’ve discussed, one of the great things about Texas is that there’s just so much to see. Here’s a look at six iconic Texas landmarks you can check out in one epic road trip!

Lady Bird Wildlife Center, Austin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Austin

Granted, I haven’t been to many of the capital cities in the U.S., but compared to the ones I’ve seen, I think the Texas Capitol Building is one of the prettiest anywhere. If you have time, take a tour of the building and grounds. Something about being there gives you more of a sense of the process of governing that takes place.

Lady Bird Wildlife Center, Austin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The beautiful bridge that carries you across Lady Bird Lake first opened in 1910. The Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge is rather famous for hosting an extraordinarily large colony of bats for which Austin has become famous.

Lady Bird Wildlife Center, Austin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is both a showplace for beautiful plants and a botanical research center. The public botanical garden introduces visitors to the beauty of wildflowers and other native plants and natural landscapes through experience and education. There are 284 acres of gardens, savannas, and woodlands including the Ann and O.J. Weber Butterfly Garden, the sprawling South Meadow, and the Erma Lowe Hill Country Stream.

Blanco State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas Hill Country

The Hill Country lies in southwestern central Texas. Although it has no technical geographic boundaries, it generally is defined as the area west of Austin and north of San Antonio—ordered by Interstate 35 on the east, U.S. 83 on the west, U.S. 90 on the south, and Texas State Highway 29 on the north. It is a land of steep, rolling hills; woods; streams and rivers; and small towns. Towns include San Marcos, Boerne, New Braunfels, Canyon Lake, Fredericksburg, Kerrville, and Johnson City.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With a strong German heritage dating to the 1800s, several Hill Country towns are known for their German restaurants and bakeries. Other attractions include wineries, state parks, barbecue restaurants, festivals and fairs, and wildflowers. Canyon, Buchanan, and Marble Falls are three major lakes in the area, and among the primary rivers are Medina, Guadalupe, Colorado, Pedernales, and Llano. RV parks and resorts are abundant throughout the Hill Country and along I-35 and I-10.

LBJ Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

LBJ Ranch

A short and scenic drive leads to Johnson City which is where you will find the boyhood home of Lyndon B. Johnson, the 36th president of the United States, as well as the Johnson Settlement farm and the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park headquarters and visitors center. All are within easy walking distance and have free admission.

LBJ Ranch

Just 14 miles west of Johnson City on U.S. 290 is the LBJ State Park and National Historic Park. Admission is also free here. After registering at the state park visitors’ center, you begin your driving tour across the Pedernales River and enter the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park.

LBJ Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It is there that you will see the one-room school President Johnson attended as well as his reconstructed birthplace, family cemetery, his grandparents’ farmhouse, a show barn, the VC-140 presidential aircraft, and the Texas White House. His ranch home became known as the Texas White House because he spent a great deal of time there during his presidency, hosting national and foreign leaders, holding meetings and conferences, and entertaining guests at his famous Texas barbecues.

Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fredericksburg

Continuing west on U.S. 290, you arrive at the German-settled town of Fredericksburg which today has a population of 11,245. A picturesque Texas town, Fredericksburg is utterly charming and offers natural beauty, shopping, a variety of cultures, and restaurant options, and just feels like a peaceful little getaway.

National Museum of the Pacific War © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’re interested in history, the National Museum of the Pacific War is one of the coolest, more education museums you’ll ever see. As the hometown of World War II Admiral Chester Nimitz, Fredericksburg was a natural site for this major museum which is affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Its thousands of exhibits range from personal items and small artifacts to a torpedo bomber, a Japanese midget submarine from the Pearl Harbor attack, a WWII PT boat, and an actual Fat Man atomic bomb casing.

Speaking of museums, the city’s German heritage is highlighted at the Pioneer Museum. And the Marktplatz offers a replica of a 19th-century German church that was once a pillar in this pretty little city.

Fredericksburg bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Speaking of that German culture, while you’re there be sure and stop into one of the German restaurants. Der Lindenbaum is a favorite but there are also many other food options, as well.

Windseed Farms © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Depending on rainfall and temperatures, mid-April finds the area around Fredericksburg alive with bluebonnets, Indian paintbrush, and other wildflowers. The Willow City Loop is a popular 13-mile drive along a private ranch road to view fields of wildflowers. Another well-known spot for tourists to view acres of flowers is Wildseed Farms, just a few miles out of town.

And not too far from town is the hike up the gorgeous Enchanted Rock.

Kerrville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kerrville

Continuing southwest on Texas Highway 16 leads to Kerrville, located along I-10. Kerrville is home to the historic Schreiner Mansion, Museum of Western Art, Riverside Nature Center, a several-mile nature trail along the Guadalupe River, and the 24.5-acre Coming King Sculpture Prayer Garden.

The Alamo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

San Antonio

Continue 65 miles southeast on Interstate 10 to San Antonio. The Alamo is arguably the MOST iconic landmark in Texas. So much history happened around this place. One of the most brutal battles ever to take place on American soil happened here. It was a pivotal point in the Texas Revolution. Although this battle was lost to Santa Anna, it laid the inspiration groundwork that lead to the victory at the Battle of San Jacinto.

Mission San Juan © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For any lover of Texas history, the San Antonio Missions National Historic Park is a must-stop while in the San Antonio area. Over 300 years of colonial history is represented here. Plus, this is actually the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in Texas.

The River Walk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The River Walk is always a fan favorite. After exploring the history of San Antonio, this is such a fun place to stop, shop, dine, and rest. And then you can explore even more. This is a personal favorite for me, too. The food, the music, the vibe—all feel so very iconically Texan.

Looking for other great Texas road trip ideas? Here ya go:

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

My eyes already touch the sunny hill.

Going far ahead of the road I have begun.

So we are grasped by what we cannot grasp;

It has inner light, even from a distance.

—signage at Lady Bird Wildflower Center, Austin, Texas

A Slice of Paradise: Padre Island National Seashore

Get back to nature with an unparalleled experience at the Padre Island National Seashore

With more than 70 miles of unspoiled coastline and 130,000 acres of pristine sand dunes and grassy prairies, it’s fair to say there’s no place quite like the Padre Island National Seashore.

Bird Island Basin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the beach to the bay, Padre Island National Seashore offers countless opportunities to discover and enjoy the amazing recreation and resources of the park. Take a dip in the Gulf of Mexico or build a sandcastle. Swim in the recreation area at Bird Island Basin or in the Gulf of Mexico. Use caution when swimming and never swim alone. Strong currents flowing parallel to the beach, tides flowing to-and-from the beach, and sudden drop-offs in the Gulf floor can be dangerous for swimmers and waders alike.

Bird Island Basin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Padre Island National Seashore has access to the Laguna Madre waters through the boat ramps at Bird Island Basin. The boat ramps are located separately from the campground at Bird Island Basin limiting traffic through the campground. There is plenty of parking at the boat ramps for day use but the boat ramp parking can still fill up quickly. Spring and fall usually are the busiest as anglers use Bird Island Basin as a closer entry point to access the legendary Baffin Bay in search of trophy trout.

American avocet and Black-necked stilt at Bird Island Basin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Padre Island National Seashores’ access to the flat waters of the Laguna Madre has been recognized as one of the best windsurfing locations in the U.S. Bird Island Basin has year-round wind and also warm water for nine months of the year. Windsurfing rentals are available at Bird Island Basin as well as windsurfing lessons.

Related Article: Corpus Christi: Sparkling City by the Bay

Camping at Bird Island Basin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fishing is readily available while camping at Bird Island Basin. Wade fishing in front of the campground provides easy access to fish for redfish, flounder, speckled trout, and other fish. Kayak rentals are also available at the Worldwinds facility on-site at Bird Island Basin.

Malaquite Campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

All campgrounds are open year-round. No reservations are accepted as camping is first-come, first-served. Campers must have a camping permit which is available from the kiosks at the entrances of each campground. There are no RV hook-ups anywhere in the park but an RV dump station and a water filling station are available for all campers staying in the park. Camping is permitted only in the five camping areas available for public use.

Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located on the southern end of North Padre Island, the Padre Island National Seashore is just a short 10 miles from the city limits of Corpus Christi. Visitors who do not wish to camp at the Seashore can enjoy staying close by in an RV park in Corpus, Portland, Rockport-Fulton, or Port Aransas.

Related Article: Oceans of Fun: Port Aransas and Mustang Island

Kemp’s Ridley display at the Malaquite Visitor Center

Padre Island National Seashore is the most important nesting beach in the U.S. for Kemp’s Ridley, the most endangered sea turtle in the world. The park has been a participant in a bi-national, multi-agency effort to save the Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle since 1978. The park also participates in global efforts to recover the populations of four other threatened and endangered sea turtle species. 

Ranger talk at Malaquite Visitor Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hatchling releases typically occur from mid-June through August. Most releases that are open to the public take place at 6:45 a.m. on Malaquite Beach in front of the Visitor Center at Padre Island National Seashore.

Malaquite Visitor Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Padre Island has particularly varied birdlife. Most common are laughing gulls, sandpipers, geese, and herons but over 380 species of birds are sighted at the park which, impressively, represents roughly half of the all documented bird species in North America.  

South Beach at Malaquite Visitor Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Diamondback rattlesnakes, coyotes, deer, and rabbits live in the dunes while ghost crabs inhabit the area just above the high tide mark and are responsible for the many small holes in the dry sand that mysteriously stay unblocked, even when sand is blown about by the strong sea breezes that affect the island during most summer afternoons. The endangered sea turtle may also occasionally be spotted, and during the egg-laying season, park rangers patrol the beaches looking for any signs of activity.

Grasslands Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The shoreline is also home to a host of marine life including jellyfish, frogs, and 149 species of fish. The nearby dunes inhabit the spotted ground squirrel, white-tail deer, and coyotes.

Grasslands Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Observe the flora and fauna of the area by hiking the ¾-mile Grasslands Nature Trail or by going on a guided birding tour. Visitors can enjoy seeing deer, coyotes, birds in the wetlands, and beach shorelines. Hiking, bicycling, or walking through the Padre Island National Seashore is a great way to relax and enjoy the natural beauty of the park.

Grasslands Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Padre Island has long, hot summers and short, mild winters. The most rain falls near the beginning and end of the hurricane and tropical storm season which lasts from June to October.

Related Article: The 10 Top Things to Do in Texas

Daytime temperatures in the spring average in the 70s-80s with lows in the 50s-60s.

South Beach © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Daytime temperatures during summer are usually in the mid-90s with very humid conditions. Lows are usually in the 70s. Afternoon and evening sea breezes help to moderate temperatures.

During fall the daytime temperatures average in the 70s-80s with lows in the 50s-60s.

South Beach © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

High temperatures during winter are usually between 50 and70 degrees but can occasionally drop into the upper 30s. Sudden, strong cold fronts can move through bringing gale-force winds and dropping temperatures quickly. The wintertime climate is typically dry though most of the year’s rainfall occurs in the winter.

South Beach © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The average rainfall for the southern end of the park is 26 inches and 29 inches for the northern end of the park.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

Nature, it seems, has a way of returning things to how they should be.

— Fennel Hudson