Looking for an inexpensive day trip or camping getaway with your dog? The answer just might lie in one of the many dog-friendly Texas state parks. From beaches to lakes, piney woods to rolling plains, you and your four-legged buddy will find an array of parks that offer miles of hikes, swims, and relaxation for the two of you to share.
Our dogs love visiting state parks and helped out with the research for our newly-published DogTipper’s Texas with Dogs guidebook. We traveled the state with our dogs Irie and Tiki to see firsthand if the parks would be welcoming of man’s best friend, especially larger dogs like our 70-pound rescues.
We found such a welcoming atmosphere at the parks. Our dogs romped on the beaches, swam in the lakes, and hiked along with us. Dogs are required to be on a leash no longer than six feet long but we found that, with few exceptions such as the designated human swimming areas or the shelter and cabin camping areas, our dogs were very welcome.
Although the choice was difficult, we—and Irie and Tiki—selected these parks as the most dog-friendly state parks in Texas:
Inks Lake State Park. With its crushed granite floor, the lake waters are some of the clearest in the state. A no-wake zone in much of the lake also makes this park attractive to dogs that might otherwise be frightened of boat noise or dogs that are new to traveling. The 1,200-acre park offers camping, lakeside picnicking, and plenty of wildlife viewing opportunities.
Enchanted Rock State Natural Area. A 640-acre granite dome, second in size only to Georgia’s Stone Mountain, Enchanted Rock is the largest stone formation in the West. Named for the creaking sounds that the Native Americans heard from the rock as it cooled during the night, Enchanted Rock offers plenty of fun for dogs of all activity levels, from picnicking and a base trail around the rock to gentle hikes up the main formation to more difficult climbs on the smaller formations. In the warm weather months of April through October, it’s best to get out here early before the granite heats up (or bring booties for your dog’s paws). On weekends and holidays, the park limits the number of visitors. You’ll find both primitive and walk-in campsites but bring supplies from nearby Fredericksburg.
Pedernales Falls State Park. Although dogs (and people) are not permitted on the cascading falls for which the park is named, you’ll find plenty of downstream fun beneath the cypress trees. Enjoy a day of swimming and wading with your dog as well as picnicking, camping, and hiking. Note: this park can experience dangerous flash floods. If you notice even a slight rise in the river, you should get to higher ground immediately. The park has sirens to warn of an approaching flash flood but stay alert to changing conditions.
Dinosaur Valley State Park. It’s not just everywhere you can compare your dog’s paw to the footprint of a dinosaur…but here’s your chance. This unique state park contains real dinosaur tracks right in the bed of the Paluxy River. You and Fido can wade in the river (some tracks are submerged, some are in the banks, depending on the water level) and touch the tracks made by Theropod and Sauropod dinosaurs. You’ll also find plenty of swimming, hiking on trails, picnicking and camping, and you can’t miss the two fiberglass dinosaur models in the park: a 70-foot Apatosaurus and a 45-foot Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Palo Duro Canyon State Park. Known as the “Grand Canyon of Texas,” Palo Duro Canyon winds for 120 miles through the Llano Estacado (“staked plains”) region of the Texas Panhandle south of Amarillo. Eroded for over a million years by a fork of the Red River, the canyon is the second largest in the U.S. and presents some of the most scenic vistas in the Southwest. The 20-mile-wide canyon is 800 feet deep at its deepest point. You and your dog will find plenty of fun among Palo Duro Canyon State Park’s 25,000 acres of rugged landscape with opportunities for driving tours, hiking, camping, picnicking and nature study.
Galveston Island State Park. Located on the west end of the island, this nearly 2,000-acre park spans the entire width of the island, including both beach and salt marsh frontage. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department runs Galveston Island State Park, located at 14901 FM 3005. This is a great place to see wildlife, including birds and ducks, raccoons, marsh rabbits, and even the occasional armadillo.
Mustang Island State Park. Just down the island from Port Aransas lies this state park with freshwater showers, picnic tables, and tent and RV camping. The park offers vehicular beach access but dog travelers might want to head to the protected portion of the beach, an area with a paved parking lot separated from the beach so no cars were permitted on the beach and adjacent sand. Here free picnic shelters offer your dogs shade and you a place to keep your items off the sand.
Franklin Mountains State Park. At over 24,000 acres, Franklin Mountains State Park is the largest urban wilderness park in the country and is one of our favorite stops in the region. The park’s borders begin in El Paso and continue through the Chihuahuan Desert to the Texas-New Mexico border. Park activities include primitive tent camping, a limited number of RV campsites, miles of hiking trails to explore the Franklin Mountain range, and a gondola which transports visitors to the top of the 5,632-foot-high Ranger Peak. Dogs on leashes are permitted on the trails and in the primitive camping areas. If your dog is small enough to hold, he’ll be allowed to accompany you on the Ranger Peak gondola.
Cleburne State Park. Located about 20 miles east of Glen Rose near the community of Cleburne, this state park is a favorite with mountain bikers but they’ll also share their trails with you and your dog. The park’s Cedar Lake is a great choice for dogs that are fearful of loud noises because this no-wake lake prohibits the use of jet skis and other personal watercraft so it’s nice and quiet! Your dog will find plenty of spots along the lakeshore for a dip; you can extend your visit by camping here as well.
Palmetto State Park. Located six miles southeast of Luling toward Gonzales, this park is like a secret tropical hideaway tucked among miles of ranch land. Thousands of years ago, the San Marcos River shifted course, leaving a huge deposit of silt that eventually became a marshy swamp estimated to be more than 18,000 years old. Today that swamp is filled with palmettos as well as moss-draped trees, 4-foot-tall irises, and many bird species. You and your dog can enjoy nature trails through the area or rent a paddleboat and enjoy an excursion on the San Marcos River together. The park has also has full hookups, tent sites, and plenty of picnic options. One precaution: those swamps mean mosquitoes so bring repellent and be sure your dog is current on heartworm preventative.
For more great places to travel in Texas with your dog, please see our DogTipper’s Texas with Dogs guidebook!