From the Rio Grande Valley to the San Antonio River, the South Texas Plains region hides scenic canyons and bodies of water ripe for outdoor adventures. It harbors wildlife in subtropical woodlands and nurtures the state’s wildest blooms. Visit in spring and you can count on finding technicolor worlds at your feet…if you know where to go.
Sabal Palm Sanctuary
Palm trees once grew prolifically along the Rio Grande, an 80-mile stretch of forest lining the valley. Today, less than 30 acres remain, and the only spot you can witness this leafy legacy is at Sabal Palm Sanctuary. You’ll find it tucked into a bend in the famous Texas river just southeast of Brownsville, pretty much the southernmost point in the state.
Managed by the Audubon Society—it’s an incredible spot for birding—this verdant oasis fills with sabal blooms come spring. Expect loads of wildflowers along the three miles of trails, as well as nearly 600 species of birds and butterflies flitting about you in their colorful company.
Goose Island State Park
Indian paintbrush, scarlet pimpernel, huisache, Indian blanket, pinklady, Spanish dagger, bluebonnet… Attend one of the weekend wildflower walks at Goose Island State Park and you’ll go home with a rainbow photo roll as well as a serious lesson on the best of Texas flora. Just north of Corpus Christi and jutting out into Aransas Bay, this breezy state park absolutely comes alive from the ground up in springtime.
That’s not to say you can’t enjoy a visit at other times of year, though, as Goose Island is also known for another variety of vegetal attraction: live oaks. The park’s “Big Tree” is one of the largest of its kind in the US, a living sentinel standing some 11 feet wide with massive, tentacle-like branches reaching towards the South Texas sky.
Government Canyon State Natural Area
A 12,000-acre wilderness just north of San Antonio—talk about an urban escape! After scoping out dinosaur tracks and prehistoric Indigenous sites, you’ll stumble across firewheels, blooming prickly pears, wild petunias and dozens more species of wildflowers along 40 miles of hiking and biking trails in Government Canyon. Some will be spreading out in wide-open meadows and grasslands while others hide in rugged canyon walls, waiting to be touched by sunlight.
Tip: For some incredible views, take the Wildcat Canyon and Far Reaches Loop Trail, a 6.8-mile loop that’s nice and shady with plenty of foliage to admire.
Goliad State Park & Historic Site
Seeing as this entire state park is on the National Register of Historic Places, it’d be easy to assume Goliad State Park is all about history. And you wouldn’t be too far off: The reconstructed Mission Nuestra Señora del Espíritu Santo de Zúñiga and the ruins of Mission Nuestra Señora del Rosario spring up from the banks of the San Antonio River right here.
But history also seamlessly mixes with nature in this state park. Kayak the 6.6-mile Goliad Paddling Trail, tackle one of the hiking or biking trails or bust out the binoculars on a loop of the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail. But whatever you do, keep an eye out for Texas bluebonnet, winecup, purple primrose and dozens of other flowery friends while you’re at it.
Tip: The delicate colors blooming among the ruins make for an incredible wildflower photo op.