In perhaps a sign that the country is revving back to normal, the number of people traveling 50 miles or more from home on Memorial Day weekend is expected to represent a 60 percent increase from last year, CNN reports. Americans are ready to hit the road, and one popular destination is state parks.
And why not? The U.S. boasts more than 10,000 state parks covering a total of 18.6 million acres, with more than 813 million visitors every year, per the National Association of State Park Directors.
To that end, vacation rental search engine HomeToGo has released its annual list of 21 best state parks — and four Texas parks land on the survey.
For its report, HomeToGo scoured the nation’s parks and scored the best (five is lowest; 10 is highest) based on the number of annual park visitors, the size of each park in acres, the number of activities on offer, the species diversity of plants and animals, the number of offers available nearby on HomeToGo, and the average nightly price for accommodation.
These four Texas parks — dotting the Lone Star State’s Hill Country, Gulf Coast, and east side — offer wide open spaces and plenty to see and do, just in time for summer.
Garner State Park
Nestled in the southern region of the Texas Hill Country (Uvalde County), Garner State Park comes in at No. 7 nationally and scores 8.9 for solitude, 6.3 for wildlife, 7.8 for activities, and 6.8 for accommodations. Visitors can trek alongside 2.9 miles of the Frio River, float the waters in an inner tube or paddle boat, or just slip into the water after a long, hot hike.
Speaking of hiking, the more than 1,774 acres of terrain offer up 16 miles of scenic trails. After a day of outdoorsy activities, cut loose at the nightly dances held during the summer.
Kickapoo Cavern State Park
Yet another southern Hill Country park (located in Brackettville, Texas) clocks in at No. 12 overall. Kickapoo Cavern State Park scores a perfect 10 for solitude, 5.8 for wildlife, 6.7 for activities, and 5.5 for accommodations.
As the name implies, the park has 20 known caves. Notable draws and the two largest are Kickapoo Cavern and Stuart Bat Cave. Here, visitors can truly get away from it all and marvel at nearly 4 million years of nature’s handiwork revealed in the sprawling space. Interestingly, though the area is known for its caverns, some 240 migrant and resident bird species have been sighted in the park.
Brazos Bend State Park
Landing on No. 11 overall on the list, Brazos Bend State Park in Needville, Texas, near Houston, scores a 9.7 for solitude, plus a 5.9 for wildlife, 5.6 for activities, and a 6.8 for accommodations.
As visitors are no doubt aware, Brazos Bend is home to a diverse mix of wildlife, including deer, armadillos, birds, river otters, and, most notably, a host of alligators. HomeToGo notes that this Houston-area paradise boasts nearly 5,000 acres of land, offering up plenty of nature and land to explore on foot, bike, or, fittingly, horseback.
Caddo Lake State Park
A visit to Caddo Lake State Park (No. 15 overall) in East Texas’ Piney Woods region (Karnack, Texas) yields a lush and grand maze of slow-moving bayous, wetlands, and backwaters. Caddo Lake State Park also scores a perfect 10 for solitude, 5.8 for wildlife, 6.7 for activities, and 5.5 for accommodations.
Not surprisingly, fishing is a major draw here; Caddo Lake is home to more than 70 species of fish, such as largemouth bass, trophy-size bass, crappie, white bass, and sunfish. More waterborne activities include canoeing and kayaking through the waterways that are lined with bald cypress trees.
Meanwhile, Texans in search of the top-ranked state park in the U.S. should plan a trip to the list’s top destination, Custer State Park, which encompasses 71,000 acres in the Black Hills of scenic South Dakota.