AUSTIN— As the year ends, so does Texas State Parks’ Centennial Celebration, but the fun doesn’t stop when the clock strikes midnight. Kick off your resolution to explore the outdoors in 2024 with a First Day Hike at a state park, which will host ranger-guided and self-guided walks, bike rides, paddling trips and polar plunges in honor of the national initiative aimed at getting people outdoors.
Last year, nearly 8,000 participants shattered the previous attendance record New Year’s Day by ringing in Texas State Parks’ 100th birthday with a First Day Hike. Texans across the state traveled to one of the 83 participating parks and hiked, biked and paddled a combined 17,190 miles.
“Texas State Parks’ staff had so much fun celebrating the 100th birthday with the people of Texas this year,” said Rodney Franklin, director of Texas State Parks. “Last year, Texas led the nation in First Day Hikes participation and miles walked. We invite everyone to come back and be part of the fun again this year as we usher in the next century of memories. Whether visiting for the first time, or returning to your favorite park for more fun, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.”
Trails at Texas State Parks range in length and difficulty levels. Some short, easy trails are perfect for family-friendly scenic strolls, while more strenuous ones can challenge experienced hikers. Trail maps for all Texas State Parks can be found on TPWD’s website, the recently redesigned official Texas State Park app and individual park webpages.
“I am thrilled to see the continued growth and success of the First Day Hikes program,” said Lewis Ledford, executive director of the National Association of State Park Directors. “This initiative has become a cherished tradition, providing individuals and families with the opportunity to embrace the outdoors, and kick off the year with a commitment to health and well-being.”
TPWD strongly encourages anyone planning a trip to a Texas state park to reserve a day pass in advance since some parks are expected to reach their capacity limit. Reserve day passes online through the TPWD reservation website or by calling (512) 389-8900.
Examples of some First Day Hikes are listed alphabetically below:
Texas polar plungers can dive into the new year at the West Texas oasis Balmorhea State Park. The polar plunge will take place at 9 a.m. off the diving boards into the pool which is a constant 72-75 degrees year-round. For more information, visit the Balmorhea State Park page.
Flock to Government Canyon State Natural Area from 8- 11 a.m. for a guided birding hike though the wildlands on the northside of San Antonio. Participants can bring their own equipment or borrow a pair of binoculars. Reservations are required and spots can be secured at the Friends of Government Canyon website. Registration opens on Saturday two weeks prior to the event and closes at noon the Thursday before the event.
Shutterbugs can take part in a First Day Hike photo scavenger hunt at Lake Colorado City State Park. The scavenger hunt has two options and can be guided or self-guided. Participants can pick up a list at the main office. The guided hike is at 2 p.m. at the Cactus Cut Trailhead.
Welcome 2024 outside during the midnight hike at Lake Mineral Wells State Park. The hike, which starts at 11:30 p.m., will traverse about a mile and a half through the Cross Timbers Trail. The guided hike will explore the creature sounds of the Texas winter night sky. Staff recommend participants bring a flashlight, bundling up for the weather, sturdy shoes and water for the walk.
Start the new year off by hitting the trail and participating in Ray Roberts Lake State Parks’ Tri-Park-A-Thon. Participants can hike at one unit or participate in a hike at all three units and receive a prize. Moderate guided hikes are scheduled at staggered times throughout the day so folks can participate in the tri-park-a-thon. More information about the trails and times can be found on the park’s page.
Humans and their four-legged family members can start the new year on the right foot (and paw!) with a First Day Dog Walk at Sheldon Lake State Park and Environmental Learning Center. At 9 a.m., participants can hit the trails with Sheldon Lake’s own Bark Ranger for a guided hike. Hikers will meet at the Pond Center to begin. All trails are ADA accessible, and this event is for all ages. Dogs must be leashed to participate. Pre-register for this hike by emailing Victoria.Sharrock@tpwd.texas.gov or calling (281) 456-2800, x232. Spots are limited.