The Outdoor Activity of the Month for January is Hiking! If you made a new year’s resolution to get fit and be outside more, then Texas is the place you want to be. There are hundreds of miles of hiking trails throughout the state that range from short nature walks, to aggressive overnight camping trips. Plan your next hike at a state park by exploring a state park webpage Links to trail maps are on the right-hand side of the page. Remember to pack extra food and water, clothing, a flashlight and a trail map. Keep your parks beautiful by following the Leave No Trace principles, including staying on the trails and discarding trash.
Trails suitable for parents and children, keep an eye out for "Nature Trails" and "Interpretive Trails," which generally take less than an hour to hike. Also consider Geocaching to add excitement to a family hike. You can find all sorts of family- friendly walks at www.naturerockstexas.org or go to one of the trail finding websites like http://www.everytrail.com/best/hiking-texas
Many parks have wheelchair-accessible facilities trails that are also great for strollers or for seniors that need a sturdy surface to walk on. Many parks have viewing platforms and interruptive points that can be accessed by the ADA paths. There are many state and local parks, and even nature centers like the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center or the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center that have a good system of ADA trails for families to enjoy.
Hiking into History
At Davis Mountains State Park, you can climb the Skyline Trail to a high ridge above Limpia Creek for a superb view of Fort Davis and a breathtaking panorama of this kinder, gentler mountain range. State Parks like Bastrop, Mission Tejas, Blanco and Abilene State Parks offers great examples of the craftsmanship of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), which designed and built more than 50 parks throughout Texas in the 1930s.
Play in the Sand
For a unique family adventure, walk or “surf” the dunes at Monahans Sandhills State Park near Odessa; some sand dunes are more than 70 feet tall! Boogie surf boards are available for rent at the park office. You can also explore the beautiful beaches of Texas at Galveston Island, Mustang Island, Goose Island , Padre Island and Sea Rim State Parks.
Into the Woods
For protection from the hot Texas sun, try the state’s shadier scenic trails. Martin Dies, Jr. offers trails through the primeval Big Thicket Forest that once covered much of east Texas. If you are really up for an adventure you can tackle the Lone Star Trail in the deep woods of the Sam Houston National Forest and walk for 128 miles. Or you can take a short hike on the newly renovated trails that meander through the post oak savannahs of Buescher State Park.
To take in some dazzling sights at sundown, try the Sunset View Trail in Franklin Mountains State Park, which offers a dramatic 360-degree view of the sunset and the lights of El Paso (hikes must be scheduled in advance.) The rolling hills surrounding Inks Lake State Park also make for some great sunset vistas over the lake. Late-afternoon hikes are a great time for wildlife watching, but don't forget a flashlight to help get you back to the car in case night falls quickly.
Dramatic and Demanding Hikes
The Lighthouse Trail takes its name from the Lighthouse Rock formation that has become the emblem for Palo Duro Canyon State Park. This trek offers an immersion in color-coded geology, with layers of rock ranging from bright red to yellow, pink and lavender. The cottonwoods here are spectacular in the fall. An abandoned railroad line that passes by Caprock Canyons State Park has been transformed into a scenic 64-mile trail that passes over trestles and through Clarity Tunnel, the state’s longest railroad tunnel.
Overnight Backpacking Adventures
Sometimes one day is not enough to explore the trails of your favorite park. An overnight backpacking trip is a perfect way to enjoy some solitude in the remote corners of a scenic park. The 19-mile Rancherias Backpacking Loop through Big Bend Ranch State Park leads backpackers from the narrow ribbon of the Rio Grande along Highway 170, also known as River Road, into rugged canyon terrain, across thornscrub mesas, past seeps and springs and remnants of historic homesteads. Other popular overnight hikes can be found at San Gabriel River Trail in Georgetown, TX.
All parks have some sort of wildlife. But some parks and refuges are set aside specifically to protect a species or a eco-system that supports a variety of animals, birds, insects and aquatic wildlife. The many short wildlife trails of the Luguna Atascosa Wildlife Refuge in the Rio Grande Valley allows visitors a chance to safely see some of the 45 species of mammal, 417 types of birds and 44 species of reptiles. The World Birding Centers in the Rio Grande Valley and the Texas Audubon Centers in North Texas also offer beautiful short hikes to see all types of birds and other wildlife.
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