Texas

The 8 Best State Parks Near Dallas for a Natural Escape

by Cindy Brzostowski
Updated June 03, 2022

best state parks near dallas
Photo: Daniel Mullins

Why spend time stuck in Dallas traffic when you can enjoy nature at a state park instead?

There are over 80 state parks in Texas, and being in Dallas puts you in close range of many of them. If you ever need a break from the city and all that comes with it, just hop in your car and before you know it, you could be immersed in some beautiful nature. Just have a day to spare? Don’t worry, there are great state parks an easy hour’s drive away. Have a weekend or more to play? You’ll have even more options at your fingertips.

Here are some state parks near Dallas, listed in order of closest to furthest away from the city so you can decide which to visit based on how much you feel like driving. The great news is that all but one of them are under two hours away by car so you’ll still have lots of choices without having to sacrifice outdoor time for travel time.

1. Ray Roberts Lake State Park

Ray Roberts Lake State Park Texas
Photo: Texas State Parks

Why you should go: An expansive, nature paradise awaits you just outside of the DFW metroplex.

  • Distance from Dallas: 58 miles
  • Drive time without stops: 1 hour
  • Camping: Yes, 358 sites

It’s probably easier to talk about what you can’t do at Ray Roberts Lake State Park than it is what you can do since there’s something for every kind of visitor — but we’ll take on the challenge. Like to stay safely on land? Hike some of the 20-mile Greenbelt Corridor or one of the other trails. Love being in the water? Well, feel free to swim, boat, or paddle to your heart’s desire.

Fishing is also a big thing here since the lake spans 29,000 acres and is full of bass, crappie, and catfish. You can either fish right from the shore or pier, or you can rent a watercraft from one of the two local marinas: Lake Ray Roberts Marina and Lone Star Lodge Marina.

You’ll notice that the park is actually divided into different units with the three main ones being Isle du Bois, Johnson Branch, and Jordan. Each is located around a different section of the lake, and each has various facilities, so you’ll just want to check what activities your most interested in to decide where best to set up camp.

2. Purtis Creek State Park

Purtis Creek State Park Texas
Photo: Texas State Parks

Why you should go: It’s an angler’s dream at this state park with a 355-acre lake.

  • Distance from Dallas: 62 miles
  • Drive time without stops: 1 hour
  • Camping: Yes, 74 sites

Not everyone is into fishing, but if you are, then Purtis Creek State Park should definitely be on your bucket list. Many come out here to catch (and release) some largemouth bass, and even if you’re not coming with all your own equipment, you can easily rent everything you need right at the park. And nope, there’s no fishing license required.

For those of you who don’t care to fish at all, there’s still plenty to hold your interest. You can take the boat out on the lake, or you can do a leisurely hike or bike one of the trails, all of which are considered easy on the difficulty scale. Regarding the latter, the Beaver Slide Nature Path is a nice one if you want lots of scenic views, while the Solar Walk Trail is fun to do with kiddos since there are signs along the way demonstrating the distance between planets and the sun.

3. Cleburne State Park

Cleburne State Park Texas
Photo: Texas State Parks

Why you should go: You can have fun on the lake or on land at this historic park created by the CCC.

  • Distance from Dallas: 64 miles
  • Drive time without stops: 1 hour, 6 minutes
  • Camping: Yes, 58 sites + screened shelters and a youth group camp

Located southwest of Dallas, Cleburne State Park is a place of peace and relaxation. The focal point of the park is Cedar Lake, where you can swim and fish. Boating is only allowed if there’s no wake, and anyone who doesn’t have something suitable can rent a kayak or paddleboard from the on-site kiosk.

For hiking, you have nearly a dozen trails to choose from, ranging from easy walks to more challenging ones. If you’re limited on time, try and check out the Spillway Trail at least, since that’ll take you to a great view of the three-tiered spillway that the Civilian Conservation Corps made back in the day. Depending on what the weather has been like recently, it can sometimes look like a waterfall as the water cascades down. Anyone into local history or geology will find it a highlight of their visit.

Have a mountain bike? You’ll want to bring it since there’s a six-mile loop of technical and wooded trails to run wild on.

4. Lake Mineral Wells State Park

Lake Mineral Wells State Park Texas
Photo: Brandon Smith

Why you should go: Boating, rock climbing, and hiking a reclaimed railroad bed are just a few of the fun things you can do at this state park with a lake.

  • Distance from Dallas: 78 miles
  • Drive time without stops: 1 hour, 15 minutes
  • Camping: Yes, 108 sites plus primitive campsites and screened shelters

People have long been going to the area around Lake Mineral Wells State Park for rejuvenation. These days, it’s to camp out by the beautiful lake and enjoy all that that body of water has to offer from fishing to boating to swimming. Back in the day, the area was a popular health resort as people were lured by the supposed healing properties of the local well water.

It’s not just water activities that make this state park a popular spot to visit though. Rock climbers come out here to explore the sandstone rock formations at Penitentiary Hollow, which is one of the rare places in North Texas where you can do some natural rock climbing. Just make sure you register at the park headquarters before doing any climbing or rappelling.

Another popular thing to do is to check out the Trailway by foot, bicycle, or horse. A former railroad bed, this flat trail stretches on for 20 miles, and there’s a trailhead for it right in the park.

5. Fairfield Lake State Park

Fairfield Lake State Park Texas
Photo: Kasey Englehart

Why you should go: Time your visit right and you can see some bald eagles at this lakeside state park.

  • Distance from Dallas: 97 miles
  • Drive time without stops: 1 hour, 30 minutes
  • Camping: Yes, 136 sites

Make your way down I-45 toward Houston, and you’ll eventually get yourself to Fairfield Lake State Park. Not as popular as some of the other big names on this list, you might have more room to yourself here than at other spots, especially those camping since the sites are spacious.

This state park hugs the southern half of Fairfield Lake, giving you easy opportunities to swim, fish, and boat. There are also a handful of easy to moderate trails you can explore, some of which take you through forest and some by the shore. For some nice elevated views of the park, head to the Ski Cove Overlook or the Dockery Trail Overlook.

If you come from November through February, keep an eye out for bald eagles since they’re known to be spotted at the park during those colder months. Other wildlife you may see include osprey, armadillo, deer, otters, and raccoons.

6. Tyler State Park

Tyler State Park Texas
Photo: Texas State Parks

Why you should go: It’s pure peace as you swim and paddle while surrounded by pine trees.

  • Distance from Dallas: 100 miles
  • Drive time without stops: 1 hour, 44 minutes
  • Camping: Yes, 107 sites plus screened shelters

Created from the hard work of those in the Civilian Conservation Corps, Tyler State Park has been open to the public since 1939. You can find traces of the CCC’s work in many places around the park, including the positioning of the various outlooks and the rock dam visible from the C Loop trail. Since there are seven trails of all difficulty levels, you can pick the perfect one for how you’re feeling that day.

This state park is located right next to the Pineywoods region, and lots of the trees you’ll see around the lake are 75 to 100 years old. Speaking of the lake, it’s a nice place to fish, boat, paddle, or swim, and you’ll find watercraft rentals at the park store. The swimming area, which is in the northern part of the lake, is particularly picturesque.

While you’re here, keep an eye out for the pesky raccoons. They’re known to scurry about, and you don’t want them running off with your food.

7. Fort Boggy State Park

Fort Boggy State Park Texas
Photo: Texas State Parks

Why you should go: This quiet, small state park is perfect for a day or weekend trip.

  • Distance from Dallas: 128 miles
  • Drive time without stops: 2 hours
  • Camping: Yes, 5 sites

Fort Boggy State Park is roughly halfway between Dallas and Houston, just off of I-45. The unusual name comes from the fact that back in the late 19th century, settlers here built a fort for protection from Native American attacks and named it after the nearby Boggy Creek.

These days, things are far more tranquil here as visitors come out to hike, mountain bike, and simply enjoy the wildlife. There’s also a little lake where people can go for a swim, fish from the pier, or do some boating or paddling. If boating, keep in mind that it’s a no-wake lake, and if you want to canoe or kayak, you’ll have to bring one of the watercraft yourself.

While there aren’t too many campsites at Fort Boggy State Park, they do have five cabins available for rent, each of which can fit five people inside and three outside.

8. Caddo Lake State Park

Caddo Lake State Park Tx
Photo: Xiu Yu

Why you should go: Enjoy an otherworldly landscape best experienced by canoe or kayak.

  • Distance from Dallas: 171 miles
  • Drive time without stops: 2 hours, 50 minutes
  • Camping: Yes, 46 sites

Yes, Caddo Lake State Park is considerably further away from Dallas than all of the other parks on this list, but it’s such an enchanting place that it deserves mentioning. While the state park officially opened in 1934, the area has been in use much longer than that with inhabitants dating back 12,000 years. The place is steeped in history from the Caddo people to French and Spanish explorers to the Civilian Conservation Corps.

Unlike the state parks you may be used to, this one is one you can only fully appreciate only by watercraft. Since Caddo Lake State Park consists of a web of bayous and sloughs, it’s fun to rent a canoe from the park and set off around the waterways. As you paddle around, you’ll pass gorgeous trees draped in Spanish moss.

Word of caution: Alligators do call this place home, so it’s a good idea to freshen up your alligator safety know-how and keep your eyes peeled while you’re visiting.

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