8 Best State Parks Near Dallas

A field of Tex bluebonnets during sunset with a pink rectangle that reads "8 best state parks near Dallas TX"

Dallas is among the biggest cities in the U.S., in terms of both population and physical size (and it gets exponentially bigger when you look at the entire Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area!). 

The city is an internationally-recognized hub of innovation. It's also an eclectic, culturally-rich melting pot, thanks to the influences of its residents, who come from every corner of the globe

Dallas is known just as much for being a major center for finance and technology as it is for professional sports and food. But nature and outdoor recreation? Not so much. 

Fortunately, Dallasites (Dallasonians?) have quick, convenient access to many open natural spaces offering a tranquil escape  many in the form of the 80+ Texas state parks. Every one of them has something different to offer, so we rounded up eight of our favorites, all within a two-hour drive of the Big D. 

From rivers to trail networks to actual sandy beaches, the best state parks near Dallas allow you to get a healthy dose of fresh, clean air and wide-open spaces even when time is at an absolute premium.

Psst...did you know The Wander Club has an enormous selection of US State Park Tokens? We all know some state parks are just as spectacular as some of the ost national parks, and now you can show off your adventures on the state level, too!

8 of the Best State Parks Near Dallas

A beach area at Cedar Hill State Park, one of the best state parks near Dallas

1. Cedar Hill State Park

Distance from Dallas: 20-30 minutes

Two very different ecosystems collide here: expansive prairie and limestone bluffs, both co-existing peacefully on the shores of Joe Pool Lake.

Cedar Hill State Park is a major fishing, birding, and camping destination, with a whopping 350 campsites. They do say everything is bigger in Texas, y'all...(sorry, we had to)! The park is also an excellent site for wildflower spotting in the spring, and history buffs will enjoy exploring the Penn Farm Agricultural History Center, home of an 18th century working farm. 

One thing to keep in mind is that because this park is so close to Dallas, it can get extremely busy on weekends and holidays. It's big enough to spread out and carve out your own slice of paradise, but you should book campsites as far in advance as possible.

An educational placard near a lake and tracks at Dinosaur Valley State Park, one of the best state parks near Dallas

Photo credit: Pinterest

2. Dinosaur Valley State Park

Distance from Dallas: 1.5 hours southwest

Immaculately well-preserved dinosaur tracks and fossils are, of course, the main attractions at this state park near Dallas, but they're only the beginning. Before we get into that, isn't it crazy thinking that Texas...enormous, hot, dry Texas...was once completely under an ocean?!

Dinosaur Valley State Park also features 20 miles of hiking and biking trails, canoeing or kayaking opportunities on the Paluxy River, excellent birding, and horseback riding. 

Pro tip: the dinosaur tracks are most prominent along the riverbed, so the best time for seeing and exploring them is when water levels are at their lowest, late in the summer and in the early fall. 

An arch in front of buildings at Fort Richardson State Park, one of the best state parks near Dallas

Photo credit: Jacksboro Chamber of Commerce

3. Fort Richardson State Park

Distance from Dallas: 1.5 hours northwest

History buffs will love this state park near Dallas, built to protect the Texas frontier just after the Civil War ended in 1867. It went on to become the largest US Army installation in America and today, seven original buildings still stand, including the hospital and officers' quarters.

Visitors can explore this remarkably well-preserved slice of history, checking out the exhibits on a self-guided tour, learning more information from a ranger-led program, and attending special events throughout the year. 

In addition to the fascinating historical aspect, Fort Richardson State Park has several creeks and lakes. Hiking and horseback riding trails take you right by them, inviting you to stop for a swim or to cast a line. 

Fun fact: you don't need any sort of fishing license to fish within the boundaries of Texas state parks!

People jumping off a cliff into Lake Whitney, one of the best state parks near Dallas, Texas

Photo credit: Having Fun in the Texas Sun

4. Lake Whitney State Park

Distance from Dallas: 1.5 hours south

Lake Whitney holds a distinction no other Texas state parks do: it's the state's "Official Getaway Capital!"

It's easy to see why. Situated between Dallas, Fort Worth, and Waco, it's easily accessible from many parts of the state, has exceptionally clear water perfect for a wide variety of recreational activities, and the scenic terrain is pleasant year-round.

Right off an arm of the Brazos River, Lake Whitney offers lakefront camping, fishing, boating, water skiing, and even...scuba diving?! That's right; the water is so clear in some places that it's a popular dive site. 

Beyond the water, Lake Whitney also has several laid-back walking trails. In the spring, they're surrounded by carpets of wildflowers  showy Indian paintbrush and bluebonnets, in particular. 

A peaceful lake and colorful foliage at Tyler State Park, one of the best state parks near Dallas

Photo credit: Visit Tyler

5. Tyler State Park

Distance from Dallas: 1 hour east

As you leave Dallas heading east toward Louisiana, you'll notice that the terrain quickly changes. In just over 30 minutes from downtown, skyscrapers give way to wide-open space and then dense pine forest. 

Aside from the pines, this section of east Texas is home to dozens of creeks and natural springs — very un-Texas. This area is also home to Tyler State Park, one of the best state parks near Dallas. 

Here, you can hike, try geocaching, or enjoy the lake. There are three fishing piers and a boat ramp, and the Texas state park rents pedal boats and loans out fishing supplies. 

Sunset over the water and beach at Ray Roberts Lake, one of the best state parks near Dallas

Photo credit: Texas Parks & Wildlife

6. Ray Roberts Lake State Park

Distance from Dallas: 1 hour north

When you look around at the wide sandy beach and sparkling water as far as the eye can see, it's hard to believe Ray Roberts Lake is just an hour north of DFW. That's exactly what makes this one of the best state parks near Dallas!

Some of the best beaches in inland Texas are found here, great for swimming, fishing (there's even a dedicated kids' fishing area!), and simply soaking up the sun. You'll feel less like you're in north Texas and much more like you're on a proper beach somewhere on the coast. 

If you're more of a landlubber, Ray Roberts State Park has plenty for you, too.

Several biomes coexist here, including prairie, wetland, and woodlands, so the wildlife viewing is excellent and scenery is pretty, especially in the transitional seasons of fall and spring. Enjoy it by hiking, biking, horseback riding, or paddling (rent a canoe onsite or bring your own inflatable kayak or paddleboard!).

A woman standing in Penitentiary Hollow at Lake Mineral Wells State Park in Texas

Photo credit: The Outbound

7. Lake Mineral Wells State Park

Distance from Dallas: 1 hour, 15 minutes west

Rock climbing isn't exactly one of the outdoor adventures that comes to mind for most people when they think of relatively flat Texas. But Lake Mineral Wells State Park is actually a premier rock climbing destination, one of the state's few natural ones. 

Specifically, Penitentiary Hollow is a major rock climbing and rappelling destination, a canyon with towering sandstone walls. There are strict guidelines for climbing Penitentiary Hollow, including no free climbing permitted and being required to go with a licensed guide if you're part of a group (individuals can climb on their own, but must register at park headquarters).

Even if you're not into rock climbing, the trail to Penitentiary Hollow is scenic and there are about 13 miles of additional trails. The lake also has excellent fishing and boating with six fishing piers and a boat ramp, as well as year-round ranger-led programs, such as wildflower walks and Kids' Wilderness Survival.

A man standing on a bluff overlooking a lake at Eisenhower Lake, one of the best state parks near Dallas

Photo credit: Texas Parks & Wildlife

8. Eisenhower State Park

Distance from Dallas: 1 hour, 20 minutes north

On the southern shores (Texas side) of enormous Lake Texoma, Eisenhower State Park offers a multitude of outdoor recreation in every season. 

There are four miles of hiking and biking trails sprinkled throughout the park's scenic high bluffs, two fishing piers (including one that's lighted for night fishing!), a sandy swimming cove well-sheltered from boating, a variety of rustic and developed campsites, and OHV trail. In fact, Eisenhower is one of the best state parks near Dallas because it's one of the only ones in the entire state where you can ride an ATV!

The park also offers an impressive array of ranger-led programs, including Dutch oven cooking and stargazing, and you can also rent fishing equipment.

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