Texas’ Hidden Gems: Secret Places You Should Know About Before Your Next Trip

Mappingmegan

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We know you've heard it before, but Texas is big ... really BIG. 268,597 square miles in fact; an area which is bigger than Germany, England, Scotland, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Belgium and the Netherlands combined!!

Texas is known for being so big and diverse that it’s practically its own country; a state which combines cowboys and country culture with glossy urban landscapes and sprawling city life, and one blessed with thousands of kilometers of rugged, gorgeous terrain.

The sheer diversity of the state means there are bound to be hidden gems which even locals haven't heard of before. With such a wide swath of human experience on offer, visiting every corner of Texas would take months, if not years to explore!

Though for those who only have a couple of days to a week, the following are some of our favorite nooks and crannies; home to the most incredible hidden gems in the State.

Take an African Safari

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If you're looking for things to do in San Antonio that are off the beaten path, Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch has you covered. Here, amid the Texas desert, you can take an African safari!

Unlike most open range zoos which offer ranger led safari tours, you get to enjoy this zoo in the comfort of your own personal vehicle. See rhinos, giraffes, zebras, and other African wildlife as well as other exotic species from around the world.

You are even given food to feed the animals and animals like zebras and emus often come right up to the cars and poke their heads through the windows!

Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch is especially focused on Giraffe conservation, and their mission is to create a space where giraffes are protected and preserved in their natural habitats.

Lexington

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With a population of 1178, there's no doubt that Lexington is a small town. But in the center of Texas' barbecue belt, if you're a fan of pulled pork, fatty brisket, or tender ribs, this is the place to be!

For foodies obsessed with slow-smoked goodness, Texas Monthly has named Snow's BBQ as the best in the State. And Snow’s (female) pitmaster has become a bit of a legend as well. Tip: On Saturday's they open 8 am and usually sell out of ribs by noon.

An hour drive from Austin, many residents of Lexington make the commute to the city each day, but you can bet they're all home before dinner!

Palo Duro Canyon

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The Grand Canyon may pull in some 4.5 million tourists a year, though the second largest canyon in the US lies in the heart of the Texas Panhandle ... and few people know it’s even there!

Known as the Grand Canyon of Texas, Palo Duro Canyon is just as stunning as it's Arizona rival ... offering landscapes which are equally as powerful and inspiring, though minus the mass tourism and claustrophobic crowds.

The canyon can be explored by foot, mountain bike, horse, or car, and there are more than 30 miles of hiking, biking and equestrian trails which offer stunning vistas and spectacular views.

You can camp (there are sites with water and electricity), geocache, study nature or bird watch. Or if you're after more comfortable accommodations there are three cabins on the canyon's rim, and four limited service cabins on the canyon floor.

Jefferson

A stunning pedestrian community offering visitors a taste of the genteel culture of the Old South, Jefferson is a beautiful, historic town just an hour west of Louisiana. Offering an intimate riverfront setting in East Texas, this is the perfect spot for a weekend get-a-way, intimate honeymoon, romantic wedding, or a family day trip from the surrounding region.

Nestled between Caddo Lake and Lake O' the Pines, a great way to experience Jefferson is by jumping on a historic river boat tour. Lined by incredible cypress trees and Spanish moss, Caddo Lake is rich in wildlife, from alligators, bobcats and coyotes, to all kinds of birds nesting in the trees. There is a beautiful water garden of bayous, lotuses and water lilies, and you can take both day and night tours of the swamp.

Lake O’ the Pines is a popular destination for water sports, and on any given day you can spot sailboats, ski boats and other water craft in the open water. It has fantastic camping nature trails, beaches and other recreational areas, and a range of homes, restaurants and boat marinas by the shore.

Terlingua Ghost Town

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An abandoned quicksilver mining town surrounded by the Big Bend parks, if it's the Old West feel you’re craving, Terlingua will do the trick! More off the beaten path than some of West Texas’ better known towns like Marfa, this is a small community of desert denizens accessible by Highway 118 heading west out of Big Bend National Park, or by traveling south on 118 from Alpine.

Most afternoons you can see the Santa Fe de Los Pinos mountain range over 80 miles south in Mexico, and of course such local landmarks as the Chisos Mountains and Mule Ears peaks.  There's a trading company/gift shop, art galleries, unique lodging options, restaurants, and one of the kookiest bars you’ve ever seen.

Host to the famous championship chili cook off in 1967, this has since become an annual event which draws over 10,000 “chili heads” from all over the world on the first Saturday every November. There is another ghost town just 30 minutes from Terlingua in a town called Lajitas located next to the Rio Grande.

Dinosaur Valley State Park

Once the shoreline of an ancient ocean which existed 113 million years ago, the Dinosaurs which roamed the area left their footprints in the mud. And while the ocean has since disappeared, the footprints remain, and today you can walk in these tracks in the bed of the Paluxy River.

The park is a National Natural Landmark, and is a lot less known than Texas's other parks like Big Bend. You can find dinosaur tracks, camp, picnic, hike, mountain bike, swim and fish in the river, watch for wildlife, look for a geocache, ride your horse, or visit the interpretive center.

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Megan is an Australian Journalist and award-winning travel writer who has been blogging since 2007. Having visited 100+ countries across all seven continents, Megan’s travels focus on cultural immersion, authentic discovery and incredible journeys. She has a strong passion for ecotourism, and aims to promote responsible travel experiences.

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