If you want to experience Texas like the cowboys in the Wild West used to, toss those hiking boots aside and hop in the saddle. These five Texas state parks feature designated horseback riding trails and fully equipped riding stables so you can explore the Lone Star State in a historic and special way.
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Caprock Canyons State Park
Home to Texas’ official bison herd, Caprock Canyons State Park (located about a five-hour drive from Dallas) is also known for having about 140 kilometers of multiuse trails. Tackling the trails by horseback allows you a unique perspective of the landscape. You can even ride through one of the last active railroad tunnels in Texas.
Caprock Canyons’ trails are open to riders of all levels. However, about a quarter of the trails have rugged cliffs, sudden drop-offs and steep descents that are best left to experienced equestrians. You can book a guided horseback tour with Quitaque Riding Stables, which will deliver your horse to the park. The stables are open every day of the week.
Big Bend Ranch State Park
Big Bend Ranch State Park, the biggest state park in Texas, spans more than 121,000 hectares of the Chihuahuan Desert. You can experience it on horseback (by way of the 380 kilometers of multiuse trails) or by leaving the trails and exploring the backcountry. More than a five-hour drive from El Paso, the park is known for its beautiful and varying landscapes — ragged cliffs, cascading waterfalls, fluffy cottonwood groves and prickly cactus flats.
Big Bend Ranch Sate Park's rugged mountains and steep canyons require relatively advanced riding skills. For some expert guidance, set up a tour with Lajitas Stables, located on at the southeast corner of the park along Rio Grande River. For a family-friendly tour through the desert, visit Big Bend Stables, located a little over 3 kilometers from the park’s west entrance. Tours range in length from one hour to all day.
Lake Livingston State Park
Lake Livingston State Park, which boasts one of the largest lakes in Texas, may best be known for fishing, but it is also a great place to saddle up. The park has an easy and scenic 4-kilometer equestrian trail that takes you around the lake and through the Piney Woods. You can experience the trail on a group ride with Faith Ridin' Stables.
After your ride, you can view the wildlife, join one of the free ranger programs or swim in the pool or lake. Lake Livingston State Park is only about a one-hour drive northwest of Houston.
Hill Country State Natural Area
Hill Country State Natural Area is a secluded wonder, with over 64 kilometers of rugged multiuse trails. Located about an hour and a half northeast of San Antonio by car, Hill Country awes with its sprawling grasslands, cross-spring-fed streams and towering limestone cliffs.
For guided horseback tours, visit the century-old Hill Country Equestrian Lodge, which prides itself on authentic rides with gentle, responsive horses. For those in search of more rustic accommodations, the park offers six equine-friendly campsites that provide hitching posts and water troughs.
Palo Duro Canyon State Park
You’d be hard-pressed to find a view of the Texas panhandle better than the one from the edge of Palo Duro Canyon, second-largest canyon in the USA (after the more famous one at Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona). At 193 kilometers long, 32 kilometers wide and nearly 245 meters deep, the canyon is a geologic wonder 250 million years in the making. Palo Duro Canyon State Park — nearly six hours northwest of Dallas by car but only about four hours west of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma — features 607 hectares set aside for weaving your way through the canyon on horseback.
To get a full picture of the canyon floor, sign up for a one-hour guided tour with Old West Stables, which leads to Timber Creek Canyon. There are plenty of special wildlife- and bird-watching opportunities. The park is home to several members of the official state Longhorn herd and two threatened species — the Palo Duro mouse and the Texas horned lizard.
Cowboy culture is alive and well in the USA. Experience it at the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, Nevada.