I’m on a mission to discover all the outdoor adventures tucked away in the 41 Central Texas State Parks; each one offering a unique view of this great state. In order to find the top hill country destinations, I have compiled a ranking of every Texas State Park within a 3-hour drive of Austin.

Texas Parks and Wildlife requires reservations for day and overnight use, so be sure to plan ahead.

Rating Central Texas State Parks

You’ll likely see the same few parks on every site when you google “best places to hike in Austin”. I’ve been to those – a lot, and I’m bored. I’ve set out to find the most beautiful and underrated state parks in central Texas and have not been disappointed. I started this project to discover lesser-known state parks to explore near me, so I haven’t been to all of these (yet), but places I had never heard of now sit at the top of my list for places to visit

To uncover what each park has to offer, I searched Google images, user-submitted Yelp images, the park websites, and various blogs then compiled the information into one location to make finding the best central states parks easy to research. I rated the parks based on how many attractions they have that interest me; here’s what I was looking for:

  • Mountain/landscape views
  • wildlife/birding
  • Challenging Hikes
  • Wildflowers
  • Unique Attractions

The more the park has or the more unique, the higher the rating.

State Parks Near Austin

State ParkRatingBest ForNot Best ForDrive Time From Austin
McKinney Falls State Park*****Birding, waterfall, camping, walking trailsChallenging hikes.5 Hours
Bastrop State Park*Camping, fishingChallenging hikes, views1 Hour
Buescher State Park*Lake, picnic, walking trails, views, fishingChallenging hikes, wildlife, swimming1 Hour
Inks Lake State Park****Birding, lake, swimming, camping, kayaking, swimming, scuba divingHistory, unique attractions1 Hour
Lockhart State Park*Walking trails, picnicsChallenging hikes, views1 Hour
Longhorn Cavern State Park*****Caverns, history, walking trails, experienced cavers,Wildlife, challenging hikes, pets not allowed in caverns, camping1 Hour
Pedernales Falls State Park****Waterfalls, swimming, birdingLong or challenging hikes1 Hour
Blanco State Park***Swimming, tubing, fishing, camping, birdingHiking, wildflowers, views1.25 Hours
Palmetto State Park*****Lake, vegetation, walking trails, history, swimming, tubing1.25 Hours
Colorado Bend State Park*****Waterfalls, viewsShade, many parts of the trails are in an open field making summer hikes tough1.5 Hours
Lake Somerville State Park****Birds, beach, wildflowers, challenging hikesViews, fishing1.5 Hours
Lyndon B. Johnson State Park*****History, wildlife, wildflowers, creeks, Christmas DecorCamping1.5 Hours
Mother Neff State Park**Walking trails, camping, watering hole, limestone wallViews, challenging hikes1.5 Hours

Weekend Camping Trips

State ParkRatingBest ForNot Best ForDrive Time From Austin
Enchanted Rock State Natural Area****Stars, views, picnics, campingBirding1 Hr 45 Min
Old Tunnel State Park**Views, BatsHiking, camping1 hr 45 min
Fort Parker State Park**Lake, birding, fishing, walking trailsChallenging hikes, views, wildflowers2 hours
Government Canyon State Natural Area**Hiking, dinosaur tracks, views, wildlife conservationDogs not allowed on most trails, fishing, boating2 Hours
Guadalupe River State Park****Lake, river, views, swimming, birding, campingChallenging Hikes2 Hours
Lake Whitney State Park*Lake,

fishing, swimming, camping
Hiking, wildlife2 hours
Meridian State Park****Wildflowers, camping, walking trails, birding (home to the endangered golden-cheeked warblers)Challenging hikes2 hours
Stephen F. Austin State Park**Birding, wildlife, walking trails, historyChallenging hikes, wildflowers, views2 hours
Honey Creek State Nautral Area*****Creeks and streams, wildlife, wildflowers, educational guidesHiking, camping, spontaneous trips (only available through reserved guided tours)2 Hours
Dinosaur Valley State Park****Swimming, lake, dinosaur tracks, watering holeChallenging hikes, views, birding, wildlife2.5 Hours
Goliad State Park and Historic Site***Mission Rosario and Zaragoza Birthplace Historic Sites, weddings, fishing, kayaking, birdingHiking, views, wildlife, wildflowers2.5 Hours
Hill Country State Natural Area*****Horseback riding, hiking, wildlife, birding, stargazingSwimming, fishing, boating, camping (very few campsites available)2.5 Hours
Lake Brownwood State Park*Camping, fishing, boatingHiking2.5 Hours
Fort Boggy State Park*Lake, fishing, boating, water sports, camping, cabinsHiking, wildlife, wildflowers2 hr 45 min
South Llano River State Park*****Birding, wildlife, tubing, camping, stargazing, hikingWildflowers, history, education2 hour 45 min
Battleship TEXAS State Historic Site****Battleship, historyCurrently closed for an undetermined time frame for repairs, hiking, swimming, wildlife3 Hours
Brazos Bend State Park*****Hiking, fishing, horseback riding, wildlife, birdingStargazing3 hours
Cedar Hill State Park***History, hiking, fishingViews, camping (crowded sites)3 Hours
Choke Canyon State Park**Calliham and South Shore Units, lake, birdingHiking, views3 hours
Cleburne State Park*Waterfall, lakeChallenging hikes3 hours
Devil’s Sinkhole State Natural Area**Bats, birdingHiking, camping, views, lake3 hours
Garner State Park*****Views, tubing, hiking, camping, lakewildlife, wildflowers3 hours
Huntsville State Park***Walking trails, lake, picnic, alligators, birding, hiking, weddingsViews,3 Hours
Lake Corpus Christi State ParkIBirding, fishing, campingHiking, views3 hours
Lake Mineral Wells State Park and Trailway*****Rock climbing, lake, views, hollow (similar to slot canyon), camping, hike, swim, fish, beginner and challenging hikes, birdingWildlife3 Hours
Lost Maples State Natural Area*****Fall foliage, moderately challenging hikes, viewscamping (there are sites, but they are limited and book a year out), wildlife3 Hours
Palo Pinto Mountains State Park (currently under development)****Views, fishing, hiking, camping stargazing.Boating3 hours
Possum Kingdom State Park***Fishing, campingWildlife, birding, hiking3 Hours
Sheldon Lake State Park**Lake, walking trails, fishing, envrionmental educationChallenging hikes, camping, wildlife3 hours
San Angelo State Park****Birding, wildlife (bison and longhorns), fishing, challenging hikes, horseback ridingViews3.5 hours

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Central Texas State Parks Pin

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