Home to a diversity of ecosystems, Texas overflows with national, state and privately owned parks available for us to explore. With the Go Outside series from First Choice Power, we’ll take you all across this great state to visit both well-known public parks and lesser-known spots that are privately owned, but open to the public.
The more we journey outside, the healthier we are. Whether you’re alone, with friends, or as a family, going outside will help you learn, exercise, unplug from technology, and find a moment of respite to enjoy our planet.
Clear the calendar, dust off your hiking shoes, and pick a weekend. First we take you to an area of West Texas where you’ll find both mountains and swimming holes. Who needs Colorado?
Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Just 100 miles east of El Paso and on the border of New Mexico, lies a mountainous hidden jewel of Texas – the Guadalupe Mountains National Park (GMNP). Located in the Chihuahuan Desert, this park serves as one of the best examples of a fossilized reef that can be found anywhere. Camping is available at the park, but like most National Parks, it’s on a “first-come, first-served” basis.
A hiker’s paradise, the park is known mostly for it’s exceptional trails, where one can really get off the beaten path and out into the “back country” of West Texas. The 8.4 Guadalupe Peak Trail will take you to the “Top of Texas” at 8,751 feet, where on a clear day, the view is like no other. The trail typically takes 6-8 hours to complete, and with steep cliffs, it’s not for the faint of heart.
With dramatic climbs in elevation, another option is The Bowl Trail. A coniferous forest of Douglas and pine fir trees covers the canyons and high ridges just 2,500 feet up from the Chihuahuan Desert floor. Again, this is another strenuous trail at 9 miles long and takes an experienced hiker 8-10 hours.
For more mellow hikers or those with kids, consider the Smith Spring Trail. At only 2.3 miles in distance, it’s a great way to look for mule deer, elk, and birds. It’s also well-shaded along the Smith Spring, so you can hang out for a bit of a respite and soak up the sounds of the tiny waterfall along the way.
And if you are an artist, poet, composer, or performer, the park offers an Artist in Residence Program. I honestly can’t think of a better arrangement in which to create!
Sierra Diablo WMA
Less than an hour south of the GMNP, the Sierra Diablo WMA lies way off the beaten path. Acquired by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in 1945, it is an 11,000-acre sanctuary for the last remaining Bighorn Sheep. It’s the largest free-range area in Texas where the Bighorn Sheep roam without worry.
Rugged hills with rough topography and steep canyons make up this West Texas landscape, and the average elevation reaches 6,200 feet. There are no restrooms, and visitors are required to bring their own drinking water. Though open to the public in a technical sense, access to the park is restricted, so you must call before you visit. It’s also suggested that you bring a 4×4 vehicle to withstand the terrain .
Balmorhea State Park
You know those desert mirages of a swimming pool oasis in the middle of nowhere? They are real out in West Texas!
Balmorhea State Park was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (who also built Big Bend National Park) and opened in 1968. This small state park with camping, swimming, changing facilities, and picnic spaces is located just two hours southeast of the Guadalupe Mountains. Once you’re this far off the path, two hours is nothing to find a treasured swimming clear pool in the middle of nowhere.
Located on 46 acres, the pool is drawn from the San Solomon Springs in Reeves County. Crystal-clear spring-fed waters provide for great use of scuba diving or snorkeling, where divers will see fish, turtles, and ducks on the surface.
The diving boards provide an extra bit of fun, and if you’re in these parts of Texas in the hot summer, this is the perfect way to cool off the family. If you visit in the wintertime, leave the wetsuit at home, as the water is a warm 76 degrees F all year – perfect in the dead of winter, and refreshing in the height of summer.