Fog under elephant tusk, Big Bend National Park (Flickr: Adam Baker)
List Words : Insider Secrets | 20 February

Top 5 Texas highlights

Marvel at Big Bend National Park, try out tempting food trucks and get hands on at a rodeo – don't miss these essential Texan experiences

1. Under the big skies of Texas

For the essential Texas outdoor experience, Big Bend National Park in West Texas encompasses mountains and desert scenery. Big Bend Country is the most remote part of the state, but arguably the most beautiful.

Hailed as one of America’s largest national parks, Big Bend National Park covers more than 800,000 acres along the Rio Grande River in West Texas. The park is home to massive canyons, rock formations and vast deserts. In addition to the region’s two national parks – Big Bend and Guadalupe Mountain National Park – visitors will discover old forts, abandoned mining camps, quirky historic towns and ranches.

In Odessa, visitors can see a 550ft meteor crater, the result of a barrage of meteors crashing to the earth 20,000 to 30,000 years ago. And at the McDonald Observatory, in Fort Davis, discover the wonders of dark skies daily. Or enjoy one of their unique Star Parties, where dinner and dancing only enhance the lectures by renowned astronomers and the beauty of night sky observation.

2. A natural coastline

Texas boasts more than 600 miles of sparkling coastline fronting the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Soak up the sun on the Padre Island National Seashore, the world’s longest remaining undeveloped stretch of barrier island. Encompassing more than 130,000 acres, Padre Island is famous for its fishing, camping and windsurfing. The Bird Island Basin area on the Laguna Madre is one of America’s top spots for windsurfing with its steady wind, warm water and shallow depths. The 600-mile Texas Gulf Coast is protected by barrier islands stretching from Galveston to South Padre Island. 

Visitors can wander along the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail, which offers 308 individual birding sites. The first of its kind in the USA, it runs along the Texas coastline from Beaumont down to the Rio Grande Valley. Its primary function is the conservation of bird and wildlife habitats in the local communities, and education of these same communities; however, it has naturally evolved into one of the most popular birding habitats in the United States. 

3. Five-star food trucks

One of the newest trends on the Texas culinary scene is the explosion of food trailers offering gourmet tastes on wheels. Austin has been one of the undisputed leaders of this new movement, not just in Texas but across America.

There are over 700 food trucks operating in Austin and the city now has an annual festival, held every November, aptly named the Gypsy Picnic Trailer Food Festival, with live music and activities for the whole family. As the trend continues to spread, food trailers are gaining ground in neighbouring dynamic cities such as Houston and Fort Worth with creative culinary chefs preparing innovative dishes in new ways.

4. Experience the rodeo for real

In the spring and summer months, rodeo season is in full swing across the Lone Star State.  Visitors can enjoy this authentic Western tradition, filled with sights, sounds, scents, tastes and experiences which are sure to set your senses reeling with possibilities. With high stakes professional roping and riding, concert performances, carnivals, barbecue cook-offs, live auctions, trail rides and more, rodeos offer something for everyone. 

Annual events include the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo, San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo, Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, Austin’s Star of Texas Rodeo, the West of the Pecos Rodeo, the Tri-State Fair and Rodeo in Amarillo and the Southwestern International PRCA Rodeo in El Paso.

5. Big sounds

Nothing brings Texans and visitors together like good music, and there’s no shortage of music venues and festivals to keep the party going year round. Events such as Fiesta San Antonio, the Folklife Festival and the annual International Accordion Festival draw crowds to the city. Corpus Christi has hosted the annual Texas Jazz Festival for more than 50 years, promoting the best of American Jazz. Austin is known as the “Live Music Capital of the World” and is also home to several festivals that have grown from the roots up, including South by Southwest and Austin City Limits. Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio and Lubbock are renowned for live music, but equally beloved by music lovers are the Texas back roads driven to visit the dance halls in the quaint communities of Luckenbach, Gruene and Bandera.

On a different note, the Dallas Arts District is the largest urban cultural district in America  and is well-known as a catalyst for creative vitality in the region  with world class venues such as the AT&T Performing Arts Center.

These top five Texan highlights have been supplied by the Texas Tourist Board. Find more inspiration and how to plan your trip to the US state here.