Top 10 countdown: These are the most popular Texas state parks each winter

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Looking for an outdoor adventure this winter? Depending on the weather, one of Texas’ many state parks may be just what you’re looking for.

Across the Lone Star State, there are 86 state parks, natural areas and historic sites currently operated by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

The first parks were opened to the public in the 1930s and the newest, Old Tunnel State Park, opened in 2012. TPWD also has plans to develop five sites into future state parks.

TPWD splits the state into seven ‘natural regions,’ each of which is home to several state parks. The Prairies & Lakes region is home to 22 parks, more than any other region. The South Texas Plains region is home to the fewest, with seven parks.

To determine the average winter totals, we looked at the number of visitors each December, January and February since 2018-19. In an average winter, the state park system as a whole welcomes just over 1.5 million people.

The Prairies & Lakes region records the most winter visitors on average, with about 437,000 across its 22 parks. The Hill Country region typically sees just under 400,000 visitors in an average winter.

State parks in the Big Bend Country region typically get the fewest number of visitors each winter, with around 92,000. Those numbers do not include visitors to Big Bend National Park.

But which individual state parks get the most visitors in an average winter? Here’s the top 10 countdown:

10. Garner State Park

Garner State Park (Texas Parks and Wildlife Department photo)
Garner State Park (Texas Parks and Wildlife Department photo)

TPWD says “fun traditions and beautiful scenery” bring people back to Garner State Park time after time. The 1,774-acre park along 2.9 miles of the Frio River boasts 16 miles of scenic trails. Other activities include camping, canoeing, fishing, miniature golf and geocaching. Over the past five years, the park has welcomed an average of 35,911 visitors each winter.

9. Inks Lake State Park

Inks Lake State Park. (Texas Parks and Wildlife Department photo)
Inks Lake State Park. (Texas Parks and Wildlife Department photo)

TPWD calls Inks Lake State Park the gem of the Hill Country, with “sparkling blue water, colorful rock outcrops and striking sunsets.” Paddle boats, canoes, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards are available for rent daily, weather permitting. Over the past five years, the park has welcomed an average of 36,321 visitors each winter.

8. Huntsville State Park

Huntsville State Park (Texas Parks and Wildlife Department photo)
Huntsville State Park (Texas Parks and Wildlife Department photo)

Set in the Sam Houston National Forest, Huntsville State Park boasts “majestic trees and natural beauty of the East Texas Pineywoods,” according to TPWD. Lake Raven offers fishing, swimming and kayaking — but watch out for alligators that live in the park! Over the past five years, the park has welcomed an average of 41,016 visitors each winter.

7. Cedar Hill State Park

Cedar Hill State Park (Texas Parks and Wildlife Department photo)
Cedar Hill State Park (Texas Parks and Wildlife Department photo)

Just 20 miles from downtown Dallas, Cedar Hill State Park feels like “a world away from the city,” TPWD says. The park includes a lake, a working farm from the 1800s and rugged limestone hills. Over the past five years, the park has welcomed an average of 42,956 visitors each winter.

6. Pedernales Falls State Park

Pedernales Falls State Park (Texas Parks and Wildlife Department photo)
Pedernales Falls State Park (Texas Parks and Wildlife Department photo)

Thirty miles west of Austin, Pedernales Falls State Park is a “great place to relax and recharge,” TPWD says. The park offers several activities, including camping, hiking, mountain biking and bird watching. Over the past five years, the park has welcomed an average of 44,095 visitors each winter.

5. McKinney Falls State Park

McKinney Falls State Park (Texas Parks and Wildlife Department photo)
McKinney Falls State Park (Texas Parks and Wildlife Department photo)

TPWD says McKinney Falls State Park, within the city of Austin, features “rugged beauty.” Onion Creek flows over limestone ledges and trails wind through the Hill Country woods. Over the past five years, the park has welcomed an average of 61,526 visitors each winter.

4. Palo Duro Canyon State Park

Palo Duro Canyon State Park (Texas Parks and Wildlife Department photo)
Palo Duro Canyon State Park (Texas Parks and Wildlife Department photo)

Palo Duro Canyon State Park is referred to by TPWD as the “Grand Canyon of Texas.” In fact, it’s the second-largest canyon in the U.S., behind only — you guessed it — the Grand Canyon. Over the past five years, the park has welcomed an average of 63,777 visitors each winter.

3. Brazos Bend State Park

Brazos Bend State Park (Texas Parks and Wildlife Department photo)
Brazos Bend State Park (Texas Parks and Wildlife Department photo)

If you’re looking for a “wild” experience, TPWD says to check out Brazos Bend State Park, calling it a “nature lover’s paradise” while just 45 miles from downtown Houston. Over the past five years, the park has welcomed an average of 65,837 visitors each winter.

2. Enchanted Rock State Natural Area

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area (Texas Parks and Wildlife Department photo)
Enchanted Rock State Natural Area (Texas Parks and Wildlife Department photo)

Climbing the giant granite dome “is almost a rite of passage for Texans,” TPWD says. But there’s more to the Enchanted Rock State Natural Area than just the dome. “The scenery, rock formations and legends are magical, too!” Over the past five years, the park has welcomed an average of 73,880 visitors each winter.

1. Ray Roberts Lake State Park

Ray Roberts Lake State Park (Texas Parks and Wildlife Department photo)
Ray Roberts Lake State Park (Texas Parks and Wildlife Department photo)

TPWD calls Ray Roberts Lake State Park a “natural playground.” You can escape the bustle of the DFW Metroplex and “get back to nature.” Over the past five years, the park has welcomed an average of 100,941 visitors each winter.

Or if you’re looking for a little more peace and quiet, here are the state parks that typically see the fewest visitors each winter:

Balmorhea State Park and the Wyler Aerial Tramway have been removed from this list. Balmorhea State Park was closed to visitors from September 2019 to June 2021. Wyler Aerial Tramway has been closed to visitors since April 2020.

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