If you’ve never visited Texas, you may not know about its hidden gems that sometimes fly under the radar compared to some of the state’s more major attractions.
Of course, locals are well aware, and have been enjoying these natural and manmade wonders for many years.
“With its rolling Hill Country, its gloriously beautiful desert plains and scores of rivers crisscrossing the already magnificent landscape, Texas is a veritable wonderland of natural marvels,” writes Elizabeth Abrahamsen on WideOpenCountry.com. “Texas is so large it encompasses nearly every lyric from America the Beautiful, from shining seas to spacious skies to amber waves of grain.”
The hidden gems are among the many reasons Texas is routinely ranked among the top 5 U.S. states for tourism, placing fifth in a 2015 compilation by MSN. That year, direct travel spending in the Lone Star State was estimated at $68.7 billion thanks to some 225 million visitors, 70 percent of whom were there for non-business purposes.
Next time you’re exploring the wonders of Texas, consider visiting these stellar locations somewhat off the beaten path.
- The Town of Luckenbach. At last count, this historic little ghost town lauded in song by Waylon Jennings had three residents and just a couple of commercial buildings, including the remaining parts of its original old post office, a general store and a working saloon. Perhaps most surprising? A dance hall featuring performances by local country music artists.
- Stonehenge II in Ingram. Created of plaster and wire mesh over a 9-month period, this two-thirds scale model of the original depicts how the famous Wiltshire, England, stone formation would have appeared before erosion and weather damage. Artist Al Shepperd also built a couple of 13-foot Easter Island head replicas for good measure.
- Hamilton Pool near Austin. At the end of a rugged one-mile hike, this stellar natural swimming pool features an appealing grotto, a waterfall, giant limestone slabs, large stalactites and chillingly refreshing temperatures (perhaps 40 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter). Swimming capacity is limited based on bacteria levels and recent rainfall.
- Caddo Lake in Karnack. Formed naturally by a log jam dating back to the 12th century, this nearly 27,000-acre Spanish moss-draped body of water offers excellent fishing (some 70 species live there) and myriad wildlife including alligators, mink, wood storks, owls, eagles and great blue herons. Visitors can hike, picnic, geocache, or canoe or boat some 50 miles of paddling trails. Lodgings include 46 campsites, a screened shelter and a set of historic cabins.
- Jacob’s Well near Wimberley is beloved by swimmers and expert divers due to its 30-foot-deep artesian spring, constant 68-degree temperature and underground chambers featuring bioluminescent algae and unique limestone patterns. The mile-long cave system extends to nearly 140 feet deep at its lowest point and is considered somewhat dangerous.
- Hueco Tanks State Park near El Paso draws rock climbers, hikers and historians fascinated by the 200-some images of masks drawn on rocks by Native Americans of old. Guided tours are offered.
- The Blue Lagoon in Huntsville. Scuba divers appreciate these clear blue waters fed by a spring and surrounded by limestone and pine forest. Two of the quarries feature sunken boats and an underwater airplane to explore.
- Caverns of Sonora in Sonora. Guided tours are offered through this ancient limestone formation created some 1.5 million years ago and feature extensive calcite crystal formations and (nearby) mining for gems. Camping is also offered.
- Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo. This bizarre and well-known art installation was created with 10 Cadillacs that were reportedly buried at the same angle as the Great Pyramid in Giza. Art buffs are invited to add their own spray-paint messages.
- The town of Marfa near the Chinati Mountains. Visitors are baffled by the unexplained white, yellow, red and orange basketball-sized spheres that have been observed floating in the sky nearby since 1883. The lights, which reportedly split apart, meld, disappear and reappear have been featured in several TV shows. Each year, enthusiasts gather for the annual Marfa Lights Festival.