The Best Hidden Places in Texas for Road-Trippin'

Oh, there's so much to see in Texas. From the white sands of the coastal shores to the deep canyons on down, our state has so much to offer.

And while everyone knows about some of our more national attractions — Big Bend, South Padre Island and so on — this is an enormous state, covering 268,820 square miles of land. With girth like that, there are bound to be a number of hidden gems in Texas that are just itching to be explored.

So if you're still busy planning out a summer vacation, perhaps you should eschew the typical and head for the hills — of the Hill Country, perhaps — or one of the many other places on this list, to find yourself a real adventure, Texas-style.

Here are the best hidden places to road-trip in Texas. Saddle up, y'all, but leave the spurs at home.

Marvel at Marfa's Mystery Lights For a town as tiny as Marfa, Texas, it sure is a place full of rad stuff to do. If you road-trip it somewhere near this town — which you may, considering it's located between Big Bend National Park and the Davis Mountains — perhaps you should make plans to stay a night or two in order to check out the mystery lights.

The mystery lights, Marfa's claim to fame, appear in the sky between Marfa and Paisano Pass on clear nights, and are visible when facing southwest toward the Chinati Mountains. The lights have been twinkling since at least 1883, when the first record of them appears, and have been puzzling viewers ever since.

At times they appear colored, and at others quite mobile, with some appearing to fuse and split with the others, and they disappear and reappear at will. No one's quite sure where they came from, but there they've been for over a hundred years.

Distance from Houston: 8 hours 24 minutes

Diggin' Up Bones at Dinosaur Valley State Park Well, please don't actually try to dig up bones at Dinosaur Valley State Park. You might get in a lot of trouble for pulling something like that. But do check out this massive state park in Glen Rose, Texas. It's located right on the Paluxy River, and yes, it has dinosaur footprints and all sorts of other cool dinosaur-themed stuff, but it's way more than just that.

There are eastward-dipping limestones, sandstones and mudstones that were deposited about 113 million years ago when this park, which is also a National Natural Landmark, was the shoreline of an ancient sea. The park and the natural setting of the area are gorgeous and well worth a visit, even though it's less well known than Texas's other parks like Big Bend.

Distance from Houston: 4 hours 9 minutes

John Wayne's Head In Lubbock, Texas, there is a 13-ton boulder carved into the likeness of John Wayne's head. That's pretty much it, but does there need to be much more? It's John Wayne's head, on a boulder, in Lubbock. Could a landmark get any more Texan than that?

Distance from Houston: 7 hours 54 minutes

Searchin' for Topaz in Mason County Mason County is the only place in Texas that you can hunt for natural topaz. Topaz is the state gem of Texas, and is usually found within streambeds and ravines, but still only in Mason County. There are a number of ranches in the area that will set you up with everything you need to go topaz hunting, unless they're closed for deer season, and since there's no commercial mining in the area, the entire experience is really unique.

Distance from Houston: 4 hours 26 minutes

Hiking to Gorman Falls Gorman Falls is a secluded little waterfall that's located right in the heart of Colorado Bend State Park in the hill country. Colorado Bend State Park is a gorgeous area without the hike up to the falls, but if you happen to head out there, this is a hike you should definitely take. It'll be about 1.5 miles up some pretty sticky terrain, but finding the oasis in the middle of Texas is well worth it.

Distance from Houston: 4 hours 19 minutes

Chilling Out at Enchanted Rock If you've never seen the Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, it's time you remedied that. Enchanted Rock is an enormous pink granite pluton dome that rises naturally out of the earth, and as a landmark, it is impressive all on its own. But when you factor in the legend of Enchanted Rock — the folklore of the Tonkawa, Comanche and Apache tribes all describe the area as mystical and magical — it truly takes you to another place and time.

Creaking and "groaning" can be heard from the rock at night, and while scientists attribute this noise to the cooling of the rock after it's been heated by the sun during the day, the Native tribes attributed it to ghost fires. They also believed that the rock made them invisible when Anglo settlers started to come to the area, and a number of legends surround the rock to this day.

Distance from Houston: 3 hours 59 minutes

Kayaking on Medina River While the area surrounding Medina River is quite popular for water fanatics, the river has managed to skirt a lot of the rowdier toobers, and has found its niche with the more sedate — and nature-loving — kayakers instead. The Medina is a pristine, greenery-covered waterway, free of overly tenuous whitewater rapids or the like. It's basically made for relaxation, and kayaking it is the perfect way to experience that.

Birds chip, fish jump and frogs croak, and you'll be able to hear all of it without having to hear "Spring Break, YEAAAAAAAHHHHHH!" over and over, quite unlike what you'll find on some of the more hard-partyin' rivers in the area.

Distance from Houston: 2 hours 57 minutes

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Giant Steer Statue at Big Texan Steak Ranch Amarillo by mornin'...

Eh, it may take you a bit more time than that to get up to Amarillo, but if you happen to make it up to the very distant area, you should swing on by the giant steer statue at the Big Texan Steak Ranch. Oh, and then you should go into the Big Texan Steak Ranch and challenge yourself with that huge 72-ounce steak that the place has become famous for.

Remember when Bobby Hill killed that challenge after being dumped by the vegan chick on King of the Hill? Yeah, that's the place. And you know you want to go.

Distance from Houston: 8 hours 57 minutes

Asserting Artistic Expression at Cadillac Ranch Oh, and if you do make your way up to Amarillo, be sure to stop by the Cadillac Ranch. The enormous public art installation is amazing, with a number of junked-out old Cadillacs half-buried with their noses in the ground. The cars are repainted periodically to provide "fresh canvases" for visitors, who are invited to spray-paint them to their heart's content. So awesome.

Distance from Houston: 8 hours 47 minutes

Cascade Caverns The caves at Cascade Caverns are simply breathtaking. And at points slightly claustrophobic, but that's besides the point. What is the point, however, is how stunning geologic formations like the ones found at Cascade Caverns can be. Texas sure is awesome, ain't it?

Distance from Houston: 3 hours 19 minutes

"Texas' Grand Canyon," or Palo Duro Canyon This canyon, nicknamed the "Grand Canyon of Texas" due to its massive size, dramatic geological attributes and those steep mesa walls, is the second-largest canyon in the United States. There are plenty of trails meant for hikers — but if you're a novice, start slow — which lead down to the area's most impressive sights, like the Lighthouse Peak.

The area is rich with history, especially about the Native American tribes who were once its prime inhabitants. If you've never seen the Grand Canyon and are a bit afraid of heights, perhaps this is the place to start. And even if you've seen the Grand Canyon, you should still check out Palo Duro. It's Texas through and through.

Distance from Houston: 9 hours 14 minutes

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Angelica Leicht
Contact: Angelica Leicht