With the summer heat diminishing, it’s time to get outdoors again. To help you translate your good intentions into action, I’ve put together a list of thirty hikes. Each offers something special, whether it’s a comfortable stroll through shady woodlands or a steep climb to a remote summit. Going out on a limb, I’ve ranked the top ten hikes—ones that felt truly spectacular, at least on the day I went. So that you can pick the trail that’s right for you, I’ve marked them as easy, moderate, or hard. I've also noted the best season to go, as well as whether you can enjoy primitive camping, swimming, or birding. You can download detailed maps, or in most cases you can pick one up from the visitors center or park headquarters at each location. Every hike can be done in a day, but some provide the chance to pack a tent and spend a night or two out in the wild. Take plenty of water, wear stout boots, carry a good walking stick (or trekking pole), and soak up the state’s natural beauty. And when you return, visit texasmonthly.com and share your adventure.
1. South Rim
LOCATION: Big Bend National Park, 70 miles south of Marathon on U.S. 385
DIRECTIONS TO TRAILHEAD: Trails begin at the western end of the parking lot at the Chisos Basin, 9 miles from Panther Junction.
DISTANCE: 12- to 16.5-mile loop
FEE OR FREE: $15 park entrance fee (good for seven days)
CAUTION: Take plenty of water and be prepared for sudden changes in the weather.
THE MOST FAMOUS HIKE IN TEXAS is also the best. No other route has the grandeur and scope of this trek up the southern edge of the Chisos Mountains, and no other trail rewards you with such a mind-blowing view. Thousands of feet below you, the Sierra Quemada badlands fade into the desolate ridges on the other side of the Rio Grande, in Mexico. And every time I visit Big Bend, something different and memorable happens; in July I walked through such thick clouds of orange-and-black butterflies that they could have been mistaken for leaves on the trees.
Start as early in the morning as you can, following the Pinnacles Trail as it rises past Casa Grande to the pass below Toll Mountain. A one-mile spur forks off to Emory Peak; at 7,832 feet it’s the highest point in the Chisos. The main trail edges around the northeastern side of Emory and dips into a wooded bowl at the north edge of Boot Canyon, one of the prettiest places I have ever seen, then continues along the canyon to the top of the South Rim. If you have the time (and the energy), add the 3.5-mile East Rim trail, with its own spectacular vistas of the Chihuahuan Desert. Shady forests and cool temperatures make this hike comfortable year-round, though thunderstorms are common in July and August.
As awe-inspiring as the views are from the South Rim, the soft haze of pollution has grown more noticeable, and I couldn’t help wishing that I could be transported even thirty years back, when I could have seen maybe one hundred miles into the distance. You should visit soon before the scenery disappears like the snows of Kilimanjaro.
2. Guadalupe Peak
LOCATION: Guadalupe Mountains National Park, 110 miles east of El Paso on U.S. 62/180
DIRECTIONS TO TRAILHEAD: Trails begin in the RV parking area next to the Pine Springs campground at park headquarters.
DISTANCE: 8.4 miles
FEE OR FREE: $3 park entrance fee (good for seven days)
CAUTION: Winter and spring can bring winds of up to 120 miles per hour.
TO REACH THE TOP OF TEXAS, you must climb 3,000 feet to Guadalupe Peak, which, at 8,749 feet, is the highest point in the state. Turn to the north to look down on the rest of the Guadalupe Mountains; to the south, over the prow of El Capitan, is an endless vista of bleak and rugged desert. On a clear day you might see the Davis Mountains, 125 miles away, or even all the way to the distant sierras on the other side of the border. After a few minutes of being buffeted by the strong winds that blast over this range, I felt as though I were sailing across the world on a giant ship.
On the climb, you pass through a forest of Douglas firs and ponderosa pines and then cross a meadow before the trail emerges out onto the bare mountainside for the last cruel switchbacks up to the peak. This is when you realize that the thing you thought was the top is not and you still have hundreds of feet to climb. At this point you may feel like turning around, but don’t give in. I’ve seen both eight- and eighty-year-olds reach the top, fueled by individual mixtures of enthusiasm and stubbornness. Only at the summit will you understand the deep satisfaction of knowing that everything you see is below you. Have someone take your picture by the odd pyramid that marks the peak, then head back to the bottom and celebrate with a cold beer. You deserve it.
3. Enchanted Rock
LOCATION: Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, 18 miles north of Fredericksburg on RR 965
DIRECTIONS TO TRAILHEAD: Trails begin at the eastern end of the park headquarters’ parking lot.
DISTANCE: Summit trail: 1.2 miles. Loop trail: 4 miles
FEE OR FREE: $6
CAUTION: This spot is popular, so arrive early.
YOU CAN’T CALL YOURSELF A TEXAN until you have clambered up this irresistible lump of pink rock. The hike to the summit is demanding, but the panoramic views of the veldlike Hill Country from 1,825 feet above sea level are a stunning reward. Technically the rock is a batholith, a mass of molten magma that rose up to rest just below the earth’s surface. Wind and water then gradually revealed the naked granite and are now slowly demolishing it.