Texas offers a wide variety of outdoor activities, and moderate year-round temperatures in most of the state give you more time to do them.
Bird-Watching & Wildlife Viewing
Texas has some of the best bird-watching opportunities in the United States, especially along the Gulf Coast, where you often see colorful Neotropical species found nowhere else in the United States. Check out the numerous national wildlife refuges, or stop practically anywhere along the coast -- we like the Rockport. You can get bird checklists from most visitor centers and wildlife refuges, and online from the Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center (www.npwrc.usgs.gov/resource/othrdata/chekbird/r2/48.htm). Also, check with the Audubon Society (tel. 800/967-7425; www.audubon.org) to see what the national organization and its various Texas chapters are offering in the way of birding tours. Wildlife viewing is especially good at Big Bend National Park.
Opportunities for boating are abundant along the Gulf Coast -- there are boat ramps practically everywhere -- but the state's many lakes are also ideal for boating. Especially good is Amistad National Recreation Area, a huge lake along the U.S.-Mexico border in West Texas.
As one would expect in a major cattle-ranching state like Texas, there are ample opportunities for visitors to saddle up and hit the trail with genuine bow-legged cowboys (spitting chewing tobacco is optional). Close to 100 working ranches welcome guests. There are a number of ranches in the San Antonio area, and of course the West Texas plains have more than their share. A complete list of ranches, with contact information and other details, is available on the Texas Tourism website at www.traveltex.com.
Fishing & Hunting
Texans love fishing and hunting, and you'd be hard-pressed to find an area of the state without a popular fishing hole or nearby hunting location. The lakes of East Texas are especially good fishing spots, and the San Angelo area offers excellent fishing and hunting opportunities. Gulf Coast towns such as Rockport, Corpus Christi, and South Padre Island have dozens of fishing boats available for bay and deep-sea fishing. Hunting for birds, white-tailed deer, and even javelina is popular in many areas, including West Texas. For current license information, check with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department .
Visitors to Texas who brought along a street-legal 4X4 will find miles of beach to explore at Padre Island National Seashore.
Texas is one of the better golfing destinations in the U.S., with more than 900 golf courses that offer plenty of challenges and a wide variety of terrain. The best courses are near major cities such as Dallas, San Antonio, Houston, and Austin, but even out in the plains you're likely to stumble across an oasis of well-manicured green with a row of golf carts awaiting your tee time. Among top golfing destinations in Texas is the Four Seasons Resort and Club at Las Colinas, in the Dallas-Forth Worth area, with two challenging courses, more trees than you can count, and a beautiful lake. In Houston (and with another course in the Dallas-Fort Worth area), Tour 18 does a splendid job of capturing the feel and even look of some of the greatest and best-known golf holes in the country.
There are plenty of hiking trails in Texas, including those at the numerous state parks. Perhaps the most scenic trails are in the Big Bend and Guadalupe Mountains national parks -- it's especially hard to beat the spectacular beauty of a fall hike in McKittrick Canyon at Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Also very attractive are the hiking trails at Palo Duro Canyon State Park in the Panhandle Plains. Hikers need to be prepared, though; take plenty of water when hiking in the desert, watch for poisonous snakes and insects most everywhere, and use mosquito repellent in the Gulf Coast area.
Swimming and water-skiing are practically year-round activities along the Gulf Coast and at Amistad National Recreation Area in West Texas. The many lakes around the state -- especially in East Texas and the Hill Country around San Antonio -- also offer ample opportunity for a variety of watersports, especially canoeing and powerboating. In Austin, a highlight is swimming at the natural springs pool called Barton Springs, a revered local favorite. Rafters usually head to the Rio Grande near Big Bend National Park, where they can float downstream on their own or go with one of the local rafting companies. For beachcombing, try Padre Island National Seashore.