Travel

The Most Beautiful Places to Visit in Texas

Get some fresh air.

Daniel Mullins/Shutterstock
Daniel Mullins/Shutterstock
Daniel Mullins/Shutterstock

The Great Icepocalypse of 2021 is behind us, and we feel that Texans could use a little friendly reminder of why we chose to live in this state again. Outside of things like job opportunities, cost of living, and the badass community, there’s the fact that the Lone Star is brimming with serene, gorgeous locales that you can easily pay a visit to. We’ll skip the more popular spots you’ve likely already been-we’re looking at you Barton Springs, Guadalupe River, and Hamilton Pool-and instead, focus on the lesser-known, largely undisturbed Texan gems. Now’s the time to show off your safe social distancing skills amidst these beautiful Texas landmarks, including but not limited to lush lakes, cascading waterfalls, winding valleys, and super cool caverns that date back to dino times.

amadeustx/Shutterstock
amadeustx/Shutterstock
amadeustx/Shutterstock

Caddo Lake

Karnack
With Spanish moss casing thick cypress trees and a sprawling labyrinth of lush bayous and wetlands, this lake is one of the most overlooked jewels in the Lone Star; and it’s just begging to be kayaked. One of the only naturally formed lakes in Texas, it was created by the gigantic log jam-“The Great Raft”-which began backlogging the Red and Atchafalaya Rivers as far back as 1100 – 1200 AD. The lake often reaches capacity, so reservations are highly recommended for both camping and day use. Reserve passes online, or by calling the customer service center, before you visit; and check the park website for details on closures and current safety restrictions.

Flickr/Leah Jones
Flickr/Leah Jones
Flickr/Leah Jones

Caverns of Sonora

Sonora
Just west of the small city of Sonora (which, FYI, is about halfway between San Antonio and Big Bend), this massive cave carved itself into Cretaceous-period limestone about 1.5 to 5 million years ago. It boasts one of the heaviest collections of calcite crystal formations, most especially helictites, in the world. Make sure to check out the “butterfly,” where two fishtail helictites share the same attachment point, and the “snake pit,” where the formations are so densely packed, you’ll soon be Indiana Jonesing to get out. All tours are currently offered by reservation only, with time limits and a maximum of six people allowed on the tour to limit exposure to visitors and staff while in the cave.

Find an amazing Airbnb near the Caverns of Sonora

Stanley Ford/Shutterstock
Stanley Ford/Shutterstock
Stanley Ford/Shutterstock

Gorman Falls

Bend
We don’t even know why you’d visit Colorado State Bend Park without hiking the 1.5-mile trail to this hidden treasure. Complete the trek and you’ll be treated to a misty chill, complete with a breathtaking 60-foot waterfall cascading into a fern-coated grotto and some new Instagram followers. Like most state parks, this one is open with some limitations and guidelines. Reserve day passes and camping online or by calling 512-389-8900 (which is especially important during busy season).

William Silver/Shutterstock
William Silver/Shutterstock
William Silver/Shutterstock

Santa Elena Canyon 

Terlingua
With over 800K acres, Big Bend National Park is one of the largest national parks in the US. It’s also one of the most desolate, with less than 400K visitors annually. You may be tempted to hit the Chimneys and Marufo Vega Trails first, but you should really make your way over to the winding valley that separates the US and Mexico. Flowing with the waters of the Rio Grande River and lined by towering 1,000-foot cliffs, the canyon’s water can get as shallow as two feet at points, allowing you to both hoof it and paddle it. Reservations are not needed to enter Big Bend National Park (group sizes are limited to either eight people or a single household), but normal entrance fees will be collected at all park entrance stations; and camping and lodging reservations are required. Check for further status updates online.

Flickr/Steve Davies
Flickr/Steve Davies
Flickr/Steve Davies

Cattail Falls

Rio Grande
With all of those acres to cover, we had to bring you two spots in Big Bend. This lush desert oasis, complete with an Instagram-baiting waterfall that can reach up to 80 feet, is hidden off the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive at the base of the Chisos Mountains. The secret spot is not on many travel guides, but you can thank the internet for directions. Be sure to check the park status before you go.

Find an amazing Airbnb near Cattail Falls

JB Manning/Shutterstock
JB Manning/Shutterstock
JB Manning/Shutterstock

Willow City Loop

Willow City
We’re sure you’ve seen some Texas bluebonnets, blooming across a stretch of Texas from March through mid-April. Well, the best place to view them is this hidden scenic loop outside of Fredericksburg. Take your significant other and bring some Hill Country wine and cheese, too.

Christopher Winfield/Shutterstock
Christopher Winfield/Shutterstock
Christopher Winfield/Shutterstock

Blue Lagoon

Huntsville
You don’t have to drive all the way to South Padre to get blue waters. Just 75 miles north of Downtown Houston, you’ll come upon this clear blue spring-fed lagoon and scuba diving hotspot. The lagoon is privately owned and space is limited for non-divers, so check its Facebook page or call 936-291-3483 to see availability before you make the drive over (and call to make reservations if you are a certified scuba diver).

Find an amazing Airbnb near Blue Lagoon

xradiophotog/Shutterstock
xradiophotog/Shutterstock
xradiophotog/Shutterstock

Palo Duro Canyon

Canyon
This incredibly underrated canyon is the second-largest in the United States-but it’s only visited by around 300,000 people per year (by comparison, the Grand Canyon gets around 5-6 million). Dubbed “The Grand Canyon of Texas,” the sunken valleys show off a seemingly endless array of green and sunset-colored terra cotta that deserve at least a few more props. At this time, all guests, including annual pass holders, must purchase day passes and/or overnight reservations in advance online at texasstateparks.org or by calling 512-389-8900.

Courtesy of Hueco Tanks State Park & Historic Site - Texas Parks and Wildlife
Courtesy of Hueco Tanks State Park & Historic Site – Texas Parks and Wildlife
Courtesy of Hueco Tanks State Park & Historic Site – Texas Parks and Wildlife

Hueco Tanks State Park

El Paso
A little over 30 miles north of El Paso, this 860.3-acre park is named for the “huecos”-large natural rock basins-that encompass it. Rumor has it the place was a spiritual haven for ancient Native Americans who used the basin’s pooled water to survive in the arid land. Their thousand-year-old pictographs can be found all over the monstrous boulders. Just remember to look, not touch. Texas State Park reservations for day visits and camping are recommended and can be made online or by calling 512-389-8900.

Flickr/Amy the Nurse
Flickr/Amy the Nurse
Flickr/Amy the Nurse

Cascade Caverns

Boerne
Just 3 miles south of Boerne, you’ll find this limestone cave that formed all the way back in the Lower Cretaceous period. It was once Texas’ only cavern with an interior waterfall, though droughts have limited the flow in recent years. Luckily, people are smart, so they figured out a way to keep the water cascading through man-made pipes. Visit the cool, 64-degree cavern by making a reservation for a guided tour (limited, masks required). Call 830-755-8080 for more details and to check for closures due to flooding, especially during summer months.

Aaron Bender/Shutterstock
Aaron Bender/Shutterstock
Aaron Bender/Shutterstock

Medina River

Bandera County
Anyone who’s anyone has been floating the Guadalupe, but this less-crowded 116-mile-long river — starting in northwest Bandera County and ending just southeast of San Antonio — is equally as enjoyable. Lined with cedar, live oak, and limestone bluffs, the spring-fed rapids make it a kayaker’s dream. Don’t miss Chamblee Falls on the North Prong, where a 10-foot waterfall and baby 4-foot waterfall provide some pretty blissful scenery. Try the Medina River Company for tube and kayak rentals and check the river flow rate before you go.

Find an amazing Airbnb near Medina River

Endi Sukma Dewata/Shutterstock
Endi Sukma Dewata/Shutterstock
Endi Sukma Dewata/Shutterstock

Devil’s Waterhole

Burnet
Forget Lake Travis. Inks Lake, only slightly farther from Austin, is just as amazing. Case in point: This picturesque inlet just off the lake, which is the perfect place to plop yourself into a float tied with another float to house your cooler. Best day ever? You bet. Just make sure you secure reservations and follow Inks Lake State Park‘s safety guidelines when you visit.

Find an amazing Airbnb near Devil’s Waterhole

JB Manning/Shutterstock
JB Manning/Shutterstock
JB Manning/Shutterstock

Krause Springs

Spicewood
Skip the overcrowded jungle that is Barton Springs: This Spicewood watering hole is where you want to be in the times of social distancing. The 115-acre, family-owned property has 32 springs on site, plus a waterfall, grotto, man-made spring-fed pool, and au naturel pool that flows into Lake Travis. Cliff jump, Tarzan yourself off the rope swing, or lay out on the rocks like a salamander. Call 830-693-4181 for an update on capacity.

Silvio Ligutti/Shutterstock
Silvio Ligutti/Shutterstock
Silvio Ligutti/Shutterstock

Lost Maples State Natural Area

Vanderpool
Know that coworker who’s always complaining about how the leaves in Texas never change color? Tell him he’s wrong. Lost Maples cover over 2,000 rust, gold, and green-hued acres in Bandera and Real counties. Visit and you’ll find tons of pristine hiking trails lined with steep limestones, glistening streams, and verdant grasslands. The prime time to hit it is from mid-October through mid-November, when foliage is peaking; but if you’re itching for a trip sooner, you’ll still find plenty of fine looking nature to oooh and ahhh over. Advance day pass and camping reservations are suggested (make them online or by calling 512-389-8900).

Jacob’s Well

Wimberley
Ever seek the thrill of diving head first into an artesian spring with a dangerous looking limestone cave below it? Well, you may have to wait a bit. First, because diving into Jacob’s Well, believed to be the longest underwater cave in Texas at 140 feet deep and almost a mile long, is pretty hazardous and only experienced cave divers are permitted to go down. Plus, swimming in general is not allowed at the moment (dates run from May 1 – September 30). But fear not, us regular folk still hike the preserve, snap a selfie with ol’ Jacob, and hang by the water until then.

Tricia Daniel/Shutterstock
Tricia Daniel/Shutterstock
Tricia Daniel/Shutterstock

Enchanted Rock

Texas Hill Country
We’re including this totally cool, admittedly well-known spot just in case you haven’t heard of it, because it really is incredible. The nation’s second-largest granite dome, this massive pink batholith is one of the choicest spots to catch those ultra-sexy, big and bright Texas stars. On a related note, Enchanted Rock is also one of the only IDA-recognized Dark Sky Parks in the state, which means the low light pollution here gives you an incredible view of the night sky. Native tribes once believed the rock to be haunted and have magical powers, and legend has it anyone who stays overnight becomes invisible. You’ll have to stay over to see (or not see) for yourself; and make advance day pass or camping reservations online or at 512-389-8900 before you do so.

Find an amazing Airbnb near Enchanted Rock

Dr._Colleen_Morgan/Flickr
Dr._Colleen_Morgan/Flickr
Dr._Colleen_Morgan/Flickr

Cave Without A Name

Boerne
There are many caves to explore in the great state of Texas, including this one about 50 miles outside of San Antonio that really does have no name. A statewide contest was held to name it in 1940, and after one kid suggested that the limestone cave “was too beautiful to have a name,” its non-moniker was born. After being discovered in the early 20th century and with one short stint as a moonshine distillery, 2.7 miles of the cave were mapped out in 1975. Just over a quarter-mile of the haunting, cavernous beauty is open for tours today, offering six immense rooms of looking stalactites, stalagmites, and helictites for your viewing pleasure. Due to capacity limits, reservations are required (call 830-537-4212 or email cwan@cavewithoutaname.com with your date, preferred time, and number in your party).

Nicolas Henderson/Shutterstock
Nicolas Henderson/Shutterstock
Nicolas Henderson/Shutterstock

Devils River State Natural Area

Del Rio
Located in the remote, Southwestern slice of the state, the 94-mile Devil’s River flows southwest through the desert before emptying into the Amistad Reservoir on the Rio Grande. Its remote location makes it one of the most gorgeously pristine rivers in Texas, and its lack of access points makes it one of the hardest to visit. If you do find your way there, you’ll be treated to spectacular limestone ridges, steep and dotted with juniper and mesquite trees and flowing freshwater rapids. Reservations are highly recommended and current safety guidelines are outlined online.

Brooke Viggiano is a Houston-based writer who loves good food, Texas, and people following her on Twitter.

Travel

Hollywood's Favorite Mountain Town Isn't Where You'd Think It Is

It's all hot springs and Hemmingway lore here.

Michael Godek/Moment/Getty Images
Michael Godek/Moment/Getty Images
Michael Godek/Moment/Getty Images

“Idaho is like the new Colorado, and Sun Valley is like the new Aspen,” a woman leaned over and said as we began our descent into Friedman Memorial Airport in Hailey, Idaho. “Everyone’s coming here now.”

Similar to Aspen-which has seen an unprecedented influx of transplants from around the country since the pandemic began-Sun Valley has served as Idaho’s venerable ski town ever since it was established as the country’s first designated ski resort in 1936. But those same snow-covered mountains people swish down all winter look awfully pretty come summertime, surrounded by the nearby Sawtooth Mountain range and set within the sweeping Wood River Valley.

Peter Jacobson/500Px Plus/Getty Images
Peter Jacobson/500Px Plus/Getty Images
Peter Jacobson/500Px Plus/Getty Images

Celebrities, artists, and fiercely passionate locals have long been a part of the fabric of this town ever since Ernest Hemingway was invited to live and write in the Sun Valley Lodge in 1939.

“Many celebrities were invited to come for free.” actress and Sun Valley resident Ali Larter told me at The Sun Valley Film Festival (SVFF) in April. “Hemingway was one of the first famous people to come and help build up what this mountain town was, and it’s become a part of what makes this valley the creative hub that it continues to be even today.”

Sun Valley’s cach√© remains alive and well, with its contingent of laid-back locals, cool bars, restaurants, and always-sunny Sun Valley vibes. While the secret about this idyllic mountain town may be out, Aspen, I can assure you, it is not. From spending some time soaking in the local hot springs to visiting a few of Hemingway’s favourite haunts, here are all the ways to enjoy Hollywood’s favourite mountain town, no matter the season.

Karl Weatherly/Photodisc/Getty Images
Karl Weatherly/Photodisc/Getty Images
Karl Weatherly/Photodisc/Getty Images

Walk in Hemingway’s footprints or drink amid the flowers

With 50 peaks, 300 lakes and rivers, and 250-miles of trails, wherever you are in Sun Valley, adventure isn’t far behind.

A good place to get your bearings is the White Cloud Trail. One of the most popular hiking loops at a leisurely 2.5 miles, it’s a short walk or bike ride from the Sun Valley resort area. As you make your way along the trail, plan to stop by the Hemingway Memorial, which is a fantastic place to soak in some views.

About four miles down the Wood River Trail is the Sawtooth Botanical Garden, which makes for a lovely bike-ride destination. The garden is a beautiful place to spend a few hours, especially in the summer when numerous events take place, like tours, wine tastings, and cocktail evenings.

Cavan Images/Cavan/Getty Images
Cavan Images/Cavan/Getty Images
Cavan Images/Cavan/Getty Images

Spend the morning soaking in local hot springs or angling for rainbows

Just 10 miles west of downtown Ketchum on Warm Springs Road, Frenchman’s Bend is the best place to soak in local hot springs. This shallow spring has long been a local Sun Valley hot spot, though it’s very much not clothing optional, so skinny dippers beware.

But getting hot and pruny isn’t the only way to enjoy the water here. Stretching 137-miles long and running directly through Sun Valley, Big Wood River is a great spot to go white water rafting in nearby Stanley or try your hand at fly fishing.

If you’re angling to get out and catch those elusive rainbows, try a guided fishing trip or even a women’s intro to fly fishing clinic with Sun Valley Outfitters. Big Wood is known for wild trout, though Silver Creek Preserve is another excellent spot (and a Hemingway favourite).

Warfield Distillery & Brewery
Warfield Distillery & Brewery
Warfield Distillery & Brewery

Eat homey dishes in cozy settings

Sun Valley’s food scene rivals that of any big city, starting with coffee and a ham and cheese croissant at Konditorei. Otherwise head straight for The Kneadery for a country frittata and ultimate Belgian waffles topped with whipped cream in downtown Ketchum.

Walk it all off before heading to Warfield Distillery & Brewery, which serves up some of the best elevated pub food. The beautiful rooftop is perfect for drinking in the views over downtown Ketchum and Baldy mountain. Don’t miss the signature Warfield Burger and Bacon Blue Ridge Salad and save some room for the carrot cake if you can.

Set on a side street in downtown Ketchum, The Covey‘s hearth style, seasonally inspired menu more than delivers when it comes to homemade pastas and some of the best locally caught trout you’ve ever had. It’s also got a killer wine list and a gorgeous new outdoor garden to enjoy it all in. If push comes to shove, don’t be afraid to post up at the bar, where you can chat with some of Sun Valley’s coolest team of locals and longtime friends who own and operate this awesome spot.

Rickshaw
Rickshaw
Rickshaw

Rickshaw is the cozy [read: tiny] neighbourhood joint to satisfy all your Asian- fusion cravings. The Korean Fried Chicken (KFC), Chiang Mai Curry Noodles, and Green Papaya Salad are cooked to chef-kiss perfection. Just note that this place packs up quick and reservations can be tough to come by, so if you can’t get a spot, grab your food to go and post up for a picnic in any of the nearby parks.

One absolute can’t miss when you’re in Ketchum is the chance to guzzle down schooners at Grumpy’s, a true Sun Valley legend. You can sit out front and enjoy the chilli fries and beers, but you’ll be missing out on the indoor ambience of this time-capsule-of-a-ski-town dive.

Come nighttime, head to Pioneer Saloon for margaritas, pints at The Cellar Pub, a tipple and some of Tom’s Mom’s Meatloaf at the Sawtooth Club, before an obligatory lap at Casino.

The Gold Mine Thrift Store
The Gold Mine Thrift Store
The Gold Mine Thrift Store

Strike gold at the local thrift

There’s no shortage of high-end boutiques in and around the Sun Valley Resort and downtown Ketchum, but for a real taste of local goodness, Gold Mine Thrift Store is considered the ultimate choice for all your thrifting needs. There’re always gems to be found here and it’s an added bonus that all of the proceeds go towards The Community Library next door.

For all your gear and outdoor needs, head to the Elephant’s Perch; or for some great local reads, look no further than Chapter One Bookstore on a side street off the Main drag. Finally, The Farmer’s Daughter is the perfect place to pick up some cool, local home d√©cor and Idaho knick knacks.

Sun Valley Resort
Sun Valley Resort
Sun Valley Resort

Sleep like a star at Sun Valley’s best hotels

The Sun Valley Lodge is the go-to spot for a five-star stay in Sun Valley. Dating back to 1936, it’s also the former residence of Ernest Hemingway, whose room here is said to still house his typewriter.

The hotel’s pool area and bowling alley are always buzzing with activity, but if you’re in the mood for some bonafide “me time,” head straight to The Spa at Sun Valley, where a spin inside one of their “Experience Showers” in the locker room is enough to make you a believer in the power of one really good shower.

Right across the courtyard from The Lodge, the Sun Valley Inn is a bit more rustic than its glamorous counterpart-but recently remodelled and offering access to all of the same amenities as the Lodge at a fraction of the cost, the Inn is a more economical way to stay in the resort area.

Just off Main Street in Ketchum, Limelight Hotel is the perfect, pet-friendly place to stay if you want to be in the heart of the action. Word to the wise, snag a room with balcony views over Baldy, and don’t miss a chance to wind down with a dip in the pool and hot tubs.

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Michelle Gross is a travel, food and lifestyle writer who loves a small-town vibe. An alum of the University of Colorado Boulder, she spends a lot of time enjoying the great outdoors. This summer you’ll most likely find her on a paddleboard or on her porch in Beaufort, South Carolina.

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