Essential RV Texas:
Dispatches From The Fascinating
Expanses of the Lone Star State
by Suzanne Wright
Once famously its own country, Texas has earned icon status around the world. And as the saying goes, it “ain’t bragging if you can back it up.”
Ranging over 268,000 miles, Texas is the second-largest state by size, population, and ecological biodiversity. Contained within its borders are an astonishing number of ecosystems: the lush piney woods in the east, the Panhandle plains and prairies, the rain-drenched Gulf Coast and Mexican subtropics along the Rio Grande River, rolling Hill Country, and dark-sky southwestern desert. In Texas, Southern manners meet Western individualism. Simply follow your muse(s) through dynamic big cities and beguiling small towns, backwoods and backroads. Just don’t expect to see everything in one trip (we lay odds you’ll be back) and keep your gas tank full.
On the far eastern side of the state, where Texas hugs Louisiana, pine forests, bayous, and blackwater swamps are a naturalist’s heaven. Caddo Lake State Park is the state’s largest naturally-formed lake with more than 70 species of fish. It’s an unforgettably atmospheric place to paddle amid Spanish moss-garlanded cypress in alligator territory. The park offers full hookup campsites and historic cabins. Another singular destination is Big Thicket National Preserve, a UNESCO-designated Biosphere Reserve. Known as a biological crossroads, many plants and animals from the East and Midwest reach the western and southern limits of their range in this fertile environment. Carnivorous pitcher plants and sundews, reptiles and amphibians, migratory birds, and mammals including armadillos, bobcats, deer, foxes, opossum, and otters await your visit.
Where to Stay:
Nacogdoches may be hard to say, but it’s easy to love. It is both the oldest town in Texas and the garden capital of the state. Nacogdoches charms visitors with red brick streets, outdoor summer concerts, and antiquing. The Place at Sam Rayburn RV Park, located near the best bass fishing lake in the U.S., has both covered and uncovered sites.
Dallas is host to the State Fair every September and it runs a whopping 24 days. If you’re lucky enough to be in Texas in April, mapped driving trails put you smack in the middle of the famed bluebonnets that blanket the roadsides of Ennis, less than 40 miles outside the Big D. Watch the ‘Gram burst with Likes for your indigo images. The historic western Stockyards of Fort Worth still run twice-daily cattle drives—watch those horns! There’s also a twice-weekly championship rodeo. The National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame celebrates the gals who tamed the west, from ranchers to ropers to rodeo queens. Billy Bob’s Texas, a 10,000-square foot honky-tonk featuring top country music headliners, bull riding, pool, and plenty of cold beer is a must on your Texas bucket list. Chicken fried steak is legendary in Texas. We like ours with peppered cream gravy at the Horseshoe Hill Café, topped with a fried egg.
Where to Stay:
The Silver Creek RV Resort TX is an 18+, pet-friendly community with full hookups, wood-burning fire pits, laundry facilities, a bark park, and an onsite BBQ restaurant with live weekend music.
Austin and Hill Country
As the undisputed capitol of live music—everything from bluegrass to Tejano, reggae to Western swing—wafts through the open doors of bars and breweries that front Austin’s historic Sixth Street. Late March through early fall, head to the Congress Avenue Bridge to watch the winged spectacle of Mexican free-tailed bats emerging at dusk. Runners and cyclists flock to the Barton Creek Greenbelt, while leafy Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is tops for flower fans. The University of Texas campus is a great place to stroll beneath shady oaks and score some longhorn swag; practice your boot scootin’ at The Broken Spoke, a dance hall in South Lamar. Who dishes up the best BBQ in town? It’s a matter of debate, but you can’t go wrong with Franklin Barbecue’s award-winning brisket.
Lake Travis, a reservoir on the Colorado River, makes a perfect day trip for boating, water skiing, or adrenaline-fueled flyboarding. A clutch of spring-fed, clearwater swimming holes ring Austin, including the popular Blue Hole (reservations are necessary) in nearby Wimberley. Hospitality reigns in the picturesque towns that stud the Hill Country. German pioneers founded Boerne, Fredericksburg, and New Braunfels, so save room for generations-old specialties such as kolache, strudel, and schnitzel. The trick is to travel slowly along the ranch roads and byways to savor the sweepings vistas, plucking produce from local farm stands.
Where to Stay:
McKinney Falls State Park offers 81 campsites with water and electric hookups13 miles outside Austin. Closer in, Austin Lone Star RV Resort has special monthly and yearly rates, a fitness center, swimming pool, and laundry facilities. Spicewood, the gateway to the Hill Country, boasts Open Air Resort, a luxe RV park with extras like dog wash stations, lounges, and volleyball courts.
Houston & The Gulf Coast
Spanning more than 360 miles, the Texas coastline is known for its family-friendly, laid-back beach towns, windswept beauty, and limitless outdoor recreation opportunities. Blessed with mild temperatures, it draws visitors year-round. The Victorian-era buildings along the Strand in Galveston distinguish this port town, as does the 11-mile long seawall, which ends at the Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier. Ride the 100-foot-tall Ferris wheel, then splurge on Sunday brunch at The Hotel Galvez. Named after the wild horses that once roamed its shores, Mustang Island State Park has 20 miles of hiking trails; Port Aransas is a popular flats fishing and paddle boarding destination. Just 30 miles out of Corpus Christi, Padre Island National Seashore is the longest stretch of an undeveloped barrier island in the world. The pristine landscape shelters the endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, more than 380 birds, and tawny beaches. South Padre Island, at the island’s southern tip, is a much livelier destination (especially during Spring Break) and a great place to try out kitesurfing.
The nation’s fourth-largest city, Houston buzzes with cosmopolitan allure. Besides the Space Center Houston, there are world-class museums including Menil Collection and the Houston Museum of Natural Science. In a city renowned for great dining, we especially appreciate the Vietnamese food scene. Crawfish pho, anyone?
Where to Stay:
Galveston Island KOA features big-rig friendly, pull-through, concrete sites with numerous amenities, including a protected wildlife area for migratory birds, a lazy river, and pickleball. Northlake RV Resort is one of several well-reviewed luxury sites in the Houston area. They offer full hookups, back-in, pull-through, and lakefront sites, along with mosquito fogging (it’s buggy in these parts!), free WiFi, and exercise equipment.
Originally built as a frontier mission by 18th-century Spanish priests, The Alamo is synonymous with Texans’ heroic battle for freedom. It is the most celebrated of five missions along the San Antonio River designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city’s number one attraction, the River Walk, is lined with hotels, restaurants, shops, and historic gems like the Aztec Theatre and the Spanish Governor’s Palace. If you’re seeking a quieter experience, check out the Japanese Tea Garden. San Antonio is the birthplace of Tex-Mex; La Fonda has a long-standing reputation for dishing out southwestern favorites.
Where to Stay:
Lost Resort RV Ranch offers seclusion in Rio Medina, less than 15 miles west of the city. With just 25 sites, it’s a quiet choice to escape the big-city bustle. Blazing Star RV Resort has a bigger footprint and can accommodate rigs up to 70 feet in length with plenty of room for slideouts. There’s lots to do: bocce, horseshoes, and a lagoon pool, and SeaWorld half a mile away.
The Panhandle Plains
On Route 66 west of Amarillo, Cadillac Ranch is a wacky, much-photographed, man-made roadside shrine to the golden age of the automobile: 10 wildly painted cars, plunged noses down and fins up in the dirt. Conversely, Palo Duro Canyon, America’s second-largest canyon (and far, far less crowded) has been magnificently sculpted by Mother Nature. The state park offers first-class wildlife watching: bobcats, coyotes, mule deer, horned lizards, roadrunners, and wild turkey. The TEXAS Outdoor Musical comes alive during the summer months, but tickets sell quickly, so get yours early. The Texas State Bison herd roams Caprock Canyons State Park & Trailway.
Where to Stay:
In addition to the parks, The Big Texan RV Park has spacious accommodations in pull-through sites, and the complex is home to the 72 oz. “challenge” steak, a brewery, gift shop, and the Starlight Ranch, Amarillo’s top music venue.
West Texas & The Big Bend
The four highest peaks in Texas are in Guadalupe Mountains National Park. It protects one of the best examples of an ancient marine fossil reef on earth. Best of all, its out-of-the-way location keeps visitation low. El Paso is the “Boot Capital of the World.” Top manufacturers including Lucchese and Tony Lama have outlets here. But if you want to go really big (this is Texas, after all!) visit specialty bootmaker Rocketbuster Handmade Custom Boots. They have made colorful custom numbers for Oprah, Julia Roberts, and Taylor Swift.
Driving west on Highway 90 your jaw will drop at the crystalline blue skies and endless horizon of the Trans-Pecos. The McDonald Observatory regularly hosts “star parties” (reserve well in advance) to marvel at the glittering Milky Way dancing across deep, dark skies. Quirky Marfa (Google “Prada Texas”) has become an international outpost for contemporary artists and wayseekers (Google “Marfa Lights”). The Chisos Mountains of Big Bend National Park, one of the least-visited national parks in the country, are a place of startling beauty. Outfitters based in funky Terlingua will organize Jeep and ATV tours and rafting trips on the Rio Grande.
Where to Stay:
Outside of the state and national parks, the Maverick Ranch RV Park in Lajitas, is an upscale option. Situated at the Lajitas Golf Resort, it offers full hookups, and all the perks available to guests, including horseback trail rides, shooting activities, a spa, and ziplining.