Are you looking for kid-friendly fall hikes in Texas to check out with your family? This week’s blog post is written written by Explorer Family @strongerthanfire. Christina Sizemore (Chris) resides in her hometown of Houston, Texas with her husband Bill, daughter Issa and black lab Layla. Chris grew up camping and paddling and when her daughter turned 2 they started camping and exploring together as a family. In 2017, just before Hurricane Harvey, their lives were devastated by a house fire. They lost their home, belongings, dog and her husband almost lost his life. Chris had two options, succumb to PTSD, guilt and depression, or live. She chose to live life brazenly. Their story inspires us every day, and we are so grateful to have them write another blog post for Kids Who Explore. Here are 5 kid-friendly fall hikes in Texas.
If you follow us on Instagram or read our previous posts on the Kids Who Explore blog or even our own blog, you know we love our Texas State Parks and Trailways. For our family Fall is truly the start of our exploration season as the summer months in Texas are far too hot for camping or hiking. We certainly have our favorite trails across the state, but the following are our top five family friendly Texas trails to hike in the fall.
Kid-Friendly Fall Hikes in Texas
Palo Duro Canyon State Park, Lighthouse Trail
2.8 Miles In, 2.8 Miles Out | 660’ Elevation Gain
This is an epic trail and one I would definitely reserve for cooler months. In the summer, canyon temperatures can reach 108-110 F. In fact, 40 people were rescued off the trail in one day in the summer of 2022. The trail also closed for multiple days because of heat warnings and there are several recorded heat related deaths from this trail.
On the park trail map this trail is labeled as moderate, and most of it is. The majority of the trail is wide and sandy, taking you through low shrubs with views of the colorful Spanish skirt formations.
Easily the most difficult part is the ascent to the Lighthouse, which is the iconic rock formation for which the trail gets its name. This section of the hike comes in two parts. The first is a scrambling bit, with a steadily increasing ascent up rock and sand. The second is shorter but with a bit more scrambling and a decent drop off to one side.
Once on the mesa, it’s a breathtaking 360 degree view of the canyon and the Lighthouse formation itself.
Lighthouse Trail Tips:
- Bring at least 1 gallon of water per person.
- Bring sun protection, there is little to no shade on this trail.
- If you hike to the mesa at the top, watch young children, it’s a long fall down.
- Get an early start, this will ensure it’s cooler (even in the fall) and you will beat most of the hiker traffic (this is the most popular trail).
- If you do not have a Texas State Park Pass there is an entry fee for day use of $8 per person 13 years and older, 12 and under are free. Visit https://tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/palo-duro-canyon for passes and more info.
Lost Maples State Natural Area, East Trail to Maple Trail to East Trail to East/West Trail
4.8 Miles Circle | 543’ Elevation Gain
While most families are cozying up to cooler weather with their pumpkin spiced lattes in the fall, it’s still hot in most of Texas. Around the Gulf Coast, the leaves don’t really start to change until late December, if we get changing leaves at all. However, there is one small secret area of classic color changing fall and that is at Lost Maples State Natural Area and their protected Bigtooth Maples.
This specific trail loop will give you views of the Bigtooth Maples, some really interesting geological formations and highlights worth stopping for. Your first stop will be Monkey Rock, an interesting limestone formation that is clearly a monkey face. Next is the Grotto, a peaceful area perfect for a snack break with cooler temperatures. You can hear trickling water and spot maidenhair ferns here. Lastly, there is the Pond which is a great place to stop and relax for a bit.
The park trail map labels this hike as difficult, which sections during the increased elevation can definitely pose a challenge and in our case, an 8 year old meltdown. We recommend planning for breaks at the different highlight areas.
East Trail to Maple Trail to East Trail to East/West Trail Tips
- If you want to see the leaves, check out the Fall Foliage Color Report on their website.
- Book passes or campsites for fall early, this is a popular park and fills up quickly.
- Sections of this trail are more difficult because they are steep, plan breaks throughout your hike for little ones.
- Depending on water levels you may cross some small streams.
- If you do not have a Texas State Park Pass there is an entry fee for day use of $6 per person 13 years and older, 12 and under are free. Visit https://tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/lost-maples for passes and more info.
Caprock Canyon State Park, Eagle Point Trail
2 Miles In, 2 Miles Out (Unless someone picks you up by car at the end) | 290’ Elevation Gain
Caprock Canyon is home to over 150 wild Bison which immediately makes it incredibly cool. You can also see the Prairie Dog Town which is just incredibly cute. Caprock is also home to some of my favorite trails in all of Texas.
The Eagle Point Trail is one of the more kid friendly trails in the park. On this trail you can experience the transition from plains to canyons. It is an incredible example of erosion as winds and rains have carved the landscape you see along the trail including ridges, hoodoos and ledges. It’s also fun to spot gypsum as it sparkles along the trail.
Kids can also become a Citizen Scientist by taking a picture in a specific spot (marked by a sign, and sharing the photo on Instagram with the hashtag #RestoreCaprock. It helps Texas Parks and Wildlife track their prairie restoration project at the park.
Eagle Point Trail Tips
- Start early to avoid the heat
- Take time to read the plaques along the trail to learn about the history of the land and the creatures who live there
- Watch for Bison on the trail, if you spot one, make sure you give it at least 50 yards distance
- Agitated Bison will raise their tail into a question mark shape, paw at the ground or lower it’s head. If you notice this behavior leave the area.
- If you do not have a Texas State Park Pass there is an entry fee for day use of $5 per person 13 years and older, 12 and under are free. Visit https://tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/caprock-canyons for passes and more info.
Dinosaur Valley State Park, Paluxy River Trail
1.9 Miles In, 1.9 Miles Out | 159’ Elevation Gain
One of the most amazing moments of my life was standing with our daughter in dinosaur footprints at Dinosaur Valley State Park. The bed of the Paluxy River is littered with Sauroposeidon proteles (the official state dinosaur of Texas) and Acrocanthosaurus tracks.
The Paluxy River Trail will take you along the main tracks site where Roland T. Bird first discovered the tracks in the late 1920s. Since water levels greatly affect visitors ability to view the tracks, this is where you’re most likely to see tracks, even in higher waters. Next along the trail is the Blue Hole where you can spot Theropod tracks and take a dip in the swimming hole. Lastly, is the Ballroom Track site where you can see hundreds of tracks in all directions as if the dinosaurs were dancing.
- Start early as this is a busy park and trail.
- Check their website for track visibility, water levels greatly affect track visibility.
- Watch local weather reports, the area is subject to flash flooding.
- If you cross the river, rocks are definitely slippery, waterproof shoes/boots and hiking poles are recommended.
- Don’t forget to take a picture at the dinosaur models from the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair (note, they are not the same kinds of dinosaurs who made the tracks).
- If you do not have a Texas State Park Pass there is an entry fee for day use of $7 per person 13 years and older, 12 and under are free. Visit https://tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/dinosaur-valley for passes and more info.
Longhorn Cavern State Park, Walking Cave Tour
1.1 Miles Round Trip | 130’ Elevation Loss
It’s time to take our hikes underground! Longhorn Cavern State Park was developed in the 1930s by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps). We’ve toured many of the caves in Texas and this one remains our favorite. There is vast history filled with tall tales and legends surrounding this young cavern. It’s believed the Comanches used the cavern as a hidden meeting room. Early frontiersmen, Confederate soldiers, Wild West outlaws and even roaring Prohibition parties called the cave home at one time or another.
Don’t miss out on the CCC buildings like the Observation Tower and additional trails in this part as they are all worth experiencing. The tower even gives you a decent view of a nearby castle (yes we have castles in Texas too).
Walking Cave Tour Trail Tips
- The cave stays at a constant 68 degrees, dress accordingly.
- Watch your head in areas and trails can be slippery when wet.
- There is a lights out section of the tour, which might be scary for some kids. In addition, if this is your child’s first cave experience, make sure you pay attention to how they are feeling. Children may respond differently to a closed in, underground experience.
- Free to enter the park grounds, cave walking tours are $16.95 for kids ages 4-11 and $20.95 for ages 12+. You cannot enter the cave without being on the tour. We suggest booking a date and time online. Visit https://visitlonghorncavern.com/ for passes and more info.
Thank-you for taking the time this week to read about kid-friendly fall hikes in Texas. Will you be checking out any of these hikes this upcoming fall? Don’t forget to tag @KidsWhoExplore and use #KidsWhoExplore for your chance to be featured on our Instagram page.