Travel Tips

5 min read

Texas Unveiled: A Local’s Guide to Secret Spots & Gems

Ever think Texas is all cowboy boots and rodeos? Buckle up, as a lifelong Texan reveals her secret spots that'll make you fall for the Lone Star State all over again.

Tobi Miles
December 7, 2023

Texas is the second biggest state in the country, and most people know it for iconic locations like Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio. However, locals and visitors alike forget that there is much more to Texas than just the famous attractions in the state’s biggest cities. Texas boasts several hidden gems throughout the state that only locals typically know about.

The best hidden gems to visit in Texas include Buffalo Bayo Park Cistern in Houston and Bracken Cave Preserve near San Antonio. Big Bend Hot Spring provides some of the best views in Texas as it sits along the banks of the Rio Grande. It’s also worth checking out Boca Chica Beach, Caddo Lake, and San Jose Island to cool off and escape the Texas heat.

Texas holds lots of history, and many of the best destinations in the state highlight this. Places like Terlingua Ghost Town and Hueco Tanks State Park and Historic Site let you experience the state’s rich history. Follow along as we highlight the 10 best hidden gems throughout Texas.

1. Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern

Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern is a breathtaking hidden gem in Houston, Texas, and now it looks better than ever. This underground reserve once boasted 15 million gallons of water between 1926 and the early 2000s until a massive leak put it out of commission. The beautiful cistern was decommissioned from 2007 to 2016 when it reopened to the public.

Now, it doubles as a unique art installation, meditation site, and an unforgettable guided tour experience. It's the perfect spot for a photo spot or to simply experience the unique feeling of being beneath Houston in such a big underground space.

2. Bracken Cave Preserve

Texas is the state with the most bats in the country, and you can find up to 15 million of them at Bracken Cave Preserve. Bats visit Bracken Cave Preserve near San Antonio in droves each summer to birth and raise their young. It’s the biggest bat colony in the world, and you can visit the cave each summer to safely observe the incredible display of wildlife.

3. Big Bend Hot Spring

Big Bend Hot Spring is often overshadowed by everything else at Big Bend National Park, but that’s a mistake. This breathtaking hot spring sits on the Rio Grande’s north bank and is notable for the invigorating minerals the water contains. You can take a dip into the remnants of what was once an iconic bathhouse that was built around the spring.

The scenic drive along a 2-mile road to get to Big Bend Hot Spring is half the fun of the experience.

4. Caddo Lake

Texas is home to no shortage of scenic lakes, but Caddo Lake is the only one that isn’t man-made. The natural curtain of cypress trees adds to the immersion and quickly envelopes you. It’s the perfect place for paddling in Texas, but it’s not ideal for swimming because the lakebed is quite muddy.

Caddo Lake is 20 feet deep and home to some incredible animals, such as warblers and wood ducks. However, you must be careful at Caddo Lake and keep an eye out for alligators.

5. Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge

There are over 2,000 hiking trails in Texas, but you can find the best of them at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge. Since 1996, this wildlife reserve has served as a haven for endangered animals as well as a place for visitors to appreciate them. You can freely explore 3,500 acres of the property and soak in the natural beauty.

Otherwise, you can enlist the help of a tour guide to check out key locations throughout the other 32,000 acres on the property that are otherwise closed to the public.

6. Hueco Tanks State Park and Historic Site

History buffs cannot miss the chance to experience Hueco Tanks State Park and Historic Site. You will find over 3,000 prehistoric symbols and pictographs that represent early human history. The beautiful surroundings of the outskirts of El Paso, Texas only add to the experience.

You can also camp there if you want to fully immerse yourself in the historic scenery. Otherwise, it’s a great location for a short hiking and birdwatching excursion.

7. Pinto Canyon Road

Texas has countless roads that offer incredible views, but few are as memorable as Pinto Canyon Road. One of many “roads to nowhere” in Texas, Pinto Canyon Road is notable for the views of old mines and the desert. It’s also the best way to access one of several cute small towns in Texas, such as Ruidosa.

However, you must make sure to start your journey with a full tank of gas as the road is long and there aren’t any gas stations in the area. There are also several unpaved sections, so it’s best to visit Pinto Canyon Road during the day.

8. Boca Chica Beach

Boca Chica Beach is home to the clearest water in Texas, and it’s the perfect destination for a hot day. It’s one of the highlights of South Padre Island, and Boca Chica Beach is free to visit. The beach spans over 1,000 acres and is home to endangered animals like aplomado falcons and ocelots. It also boasts the most shells of any beach in Texas.

9. San José Island

You can easily spend a day at San Jose Island and only scratch the surface of what it has to offer. Walk along the 21 miles of beach space and keep an eye out for unique shells you will undoubtedly find. You can reach San Jose Island via a ferry that takes you to the remote oasis.

Its proximity to Port Arkansas Beach is also quite convenient as you can visit another beach on the same day. San Jose Island is the perfect fishing destination, but it’s also a great place to unwind and soak in the view.

10. Terlingua Ghost Town

Don’t let the name fool you, Terlingua Ghost Town is anything but scary. It may look like a movie set, but Terlingua Ghost Town was once a bustling mining town that was abandoned when it was no longer useful. Now, it’s been repurposed as a fun place to explore, enjoy some local art, and immerse yourself in a historic location.

Article updated:
January 5, 2024

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