best state parks

Scenic Houston-area state park scores lofty spot on new national ranking

Houston-area state park scores lofty spot on new national ranking

Brazos Bend State Park Houston
Brazos Bend offers plenty of water — but watch out for gators.  Brazos Bend State Park
Palo Duro Canyon State Park Lighthouse Peak
Palo Duro Canyon is known as "the Grand Canyon of Texas." Palo Duro Canyon State Park
Brazos Bend State Park Houston
Palo Duro Canyon State Park Lighthouse Peak

Summer travel presents an interesting conundrum to those who want to get away during a pandemic. Crowded planes, dubiously cleaned hotel rooms, and questions of safety make for hefty challenges to vacation planning.

One option that Americans are choosing in the era of social distancing is a trip to state parks. With a staggering 8,565 state parks nationwide, locals have myriad options for safe travel. Now, a new survey ranks those scenic getaways, and two beloved Texas spots rank high on its list.

HomeToGo has unveiled its 2020 US State Park Index, which ranks and scores 20 state parks across the U.S. Palo Duro Canyon State Park (near Amarillo) lands at No. 2 on the list, while the Houston-area Brazos Bend State Park follows at No. 3.

The website based its ranking on four factors deemed important to visitors and that help find the best state park. Those factors are:

  • Solitude - Annual park visitors / size of the park
  • Wildlife - Diversity of plants and animals
  • Activities - Types of activities permitted
  • Accommodations - Number of vacation rentals nearby

For those keeping score, Palo Duro Canyon State Park scored 9.90 for solitude (ahhh), 6.00 for activities, 8.37 for wildlife, and 9.21 for accommodations — for a total score of 33.48.

Meanwhile, Brazos Bend State Park scored 9.57 for solitude, 6.67 for activities, 7.28 for wildlife, and 9.46 or accommodations — for a total score of 32.73.

Nestled in the Texas Panhandle close to Amarillo, Palo Duro (dubbed the “Grand Canyon of Texas”) is the second largest canyon in the country, just after the Grand Canyon. The natural wonder is 20 miles wide and almost 1,000 feet deep, and boasts dozens of hiking trails, “mind-blowing vistas,” says the survey, adding that “this underrated beauty will impress even the most discerning guest.”

Just a 45 mile drive from downtown Houston, Brazos Bend State Park offers numerous ponds and lakes — many, however, that contain hungry alligators, so watching signs is a must. Fortunately, the survey notes, the park features 5,000 acres of space — “plenty of room for visitors and wildlife to coexist happily together.”

And for travelers who’d like to visit the top-ranked park in the country, according to HomeToGo? Locals should plan a trek to Letchworth State Park in New York.

Rounding out the top 10 are: Blue Spring State Park in Florida (No. 4), Valley of Fire State Park (No. 5), Rainbow Springs State Park in Florida (No. 6), Tettegouche State Park in Minnesota (No. 7), Baxter State Park in Maine (No. 8), Bear Mountain State Park in New York (No. 9), and Devil's Lake State Park in Wisconsin (No. 10).