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12 Top-Rated Things to Do in Texas in Winter

Written by Brad Lane
Oct 9, 2020

Winter is an especially lovely time to visit Texas. Compared to northern states, a Texas winter is temperate, and it feels pleasant to be outside. Snow is something of a rarity in Texas, and overnight lows rarely ever reach below freezing. During a winter day in Texas, T-shirts are typical attire, with maybe a light sweater packed away.

This beautiful weather in Texas during winter caters to several activities outside. Hiking in a state or national park, attending an outdoor holiday festival, or dining al fresco are everyday activities in the winter. For the occasional gray weather of December and January, the state's biggest cities have several venues like museums to spend the day.

For those looking for holiday cheer during the winter season, Texas specializes in a Lone Star Christmas. Cities like Galveston and Grapevine transform into true winter wonderlands at this time of year. And in several other cities in Texas, millions of holiday lights illuminate the early evenings of winter.

Whether you're escaping to winter in Texas from elsewhere, or you're a longtime resident looking for something new to explore, plan your seasonal interests with our list of the top things to do in Texas in winter.

1. Cherish the Season on the San Antonio River Walk

San Antonio River Walk in winter

The San Antonio River Walk is a 15-mile urban waterway at the heart of the city. Restaurants, shops, and the entire downtown district line this pedestrian corridor, with the Alamo only steps away. Exploring the River Walk is one of the top things to do in San Antonio. And this popular downtown gateway lights up in the winter with seasonal attractions.

Throughout January, the bald cypress trees lining the River Walk host over 100,000 lights strung across their branches. From sundown to early morning, these festive bulbs shine a light on the holiday spirit in San Antonio.

The River Walk is a public park. One of the best ways to enjoy the illuminated space in winter is with a casual stroll, or perhaps a table at a restaurant next to the water.

Guided cruises on the San Antonio River are also available. The December Downtown Lights Cruise includes a cup of hot cocoa to go with the ride.

Official site: https://www.thesanantonioriverwalk.com/

Accommodation: Where to Stay in San Antonio: Best Areas & Hotels

2. Celebrate the Holidays in Galveston

Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier

Less than an hour from Houston, Galveston is where Texans go to enjoy the ocean. This beachfront city has a rich history as a place for tourists to unwind, and a brief tenure as the capital of the Texas Republic. This history still shines from the streets of Galveston, especially in the Strand Historic District.

Alongside providing 32 miles of beaches and a vibrant downtown area, Galveston also knows how to celebrate winter correctly. With over 50 scheduled holiday events near the end of the year, Galveston embraces the nickname the "Winter Wonder Island of Texas." The city exudes a joyful spirit in December, with activities like holiday lighting ceremonies and decorative history tours.

Holiday in the Gardens is one of the biggest can't-miss seasonal events in Galveston. This impressive display of lights and animatronics takes place in Moody Park between late-November and early January.

Dickens on the Strand is another immersive event in Galveston. The Strand Historic District comes alive during this December event with the works of Charles Dickens. Costumed characters and fanciful reenactments add to the appeal of this holiday tradition.

For more reasons to visit Galveston in winter and throughout the year, check out our things to do in Galveston article.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Galveston

3. Walk the Trail of Lights in Austin

Austin Trail of Lights

The state capital of Texas, Austin, is exciting to visit throughout the year. The city lights up in a whole new way come winter, though. The city's creative energy is on full display at the Austin Trail of Lights. This meaningful community event offers a Texas winter experience not soon forgotten.

Spanning December, Trail of Lights is Austin's most prominent holiday tradition. All the merriment of Trail of Lights takes place at Zilker Park - one of the top places to visit in Austin. Festivities include live music, food vendors, and over four million lights on display. The event is entirely car-free, making for a lovely evening stroll in the park.

Trail of Lights isn't the only way to enjoy Austin in the winter. The temperate weather of the region allows Austin to be as vibrant as any other time of year. More fun things to do in winter include ice-skating on the Whole Foods rooftop, and running the Austin Marathon in February.

Accommodation: Best Hotels in Austin

4. Take a Trip to the Texas Hill Country

Garner State Park, Texas Hill Country | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Between San Antonio and Austin, Texas Hill Country is a unique geographic region in the state. Sitting atop the Edwards Plateau, Texas Hill Country is at a higher elevation and lends plenty of credence to its name. While Hill Country is a popular area throughout the year, winter in this part of Texas is lovely.

A temperate winter complements the rolling topography of Texas Hill Country. In December and January, nights rarely go below freezing. The days call for a light sweater, with temperatures in the sixties. Compared to the sometimes-stifling weather in the summer, winter temperatures better accommodate things to do like hiking and camping.

The communities of Texas Hill Country come alive in wintertime. An authentic German heritage rings throughout Hill Country and its small towns. This history is on full display with annual celebrations like Wurstfest in New Braunfels. This lively event is one of the largest Oktoberfest celebrations in the state.

Other winter festivities in New Braunfels include a Christkindlmarkt and a Hometown Holiday Christmas Parade.

5. Explore Big Bend National Park

The Chihuahuan Desert and the Chisos Mountains touched with snow

In West Texas between San Antonio and El Paso, Big Bend National Park encompasses a staggering 800,000 acres of varied terrain. The stunning Rio Grande makes up the southern border of the park, with Mexico on the other side of the river. The two other significant landscapes in Big Bend are the Chisos Mountains and the Chihuahuan Desert.

The winter is a prime time to visit Big Bend National Park. Unlike the dangerously hot temperatures of Big Bend in summer, the winter months at the park are pleasantly mild. For this reason, the park's busiest season is generally between November and March.

The winter is an excellent time to explore the park's backcountry and extensive trail system. Hikers, mountain bikers, and horse riders all have routes to discover. Hiking trails for all levels of ability are found throughout the park. And thanks to earlier sunsets, winter is also an excellent season for stargazing, with the incredible dark skies over Big Bend.

Lodging and campground reservations should be booked ahead of time during this busy season. Several excellent campgrounds are found in Big Bend National Park. If you aren't interested in roughing it, you can find some great hotels and resorts just outside the park.

6. Visit the Dallas World Aquarium

Flamingos at Dallas World Aquarium

Among the many fun things to do in downtown Dallas, the Dallas World Aquarium (DWA) is a must-visit no matter the time of year. The aquarium is in the Historic West End District. This family-favorite destination features several exhibits that transport tourists across the world.

From the forests of Guatemala to the beaches of Borneo, DWA houses animals from several continents. The fish tanks at DWA hold over 600,000 gallons of water with various species, including sharks and manatees. And it's not just fish at the aquarium, either. Some of the larger mammals at DWA include flamingos, ocelots, and penguins.

The aquarium is one of many fun places to visit in Dallas during the winter. Another must-see museum in Dallas is The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza. This museum chronicles the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy that took place on the city streets below. Visitors to the museum can stand near the exact spot where the supposed gunman altered the course of history.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Dallas: Best Areas & Hotels

7. Celebrate Christmas in Grapevine

Grapevine A.K.A. Christmas Capital of Texas | Alex Butterfield / photo modified

Between Dallas and Fort Worth in the north-central part of the state, Grapevine earns its nickname as the Christmas Capital of Texas. With over 1,400 holiday events over 40 days, the city outdoes itself every year to hold onto that title.

In a city known for its historical architecture, these antique streets stand out in winter, with costumed characters and holiday animatronics. Decorations abound in the historic downtown district this time of year, making it impossible to avoid the holiday cheer. Aside from the aesthetics, it's also the several attractions that pop up that make Grapevine a Christmas capital.

Visitors can hop aboard the North Pole Express in Grapevine to visit Mr. and Mrs. Claus at home. A Parade of Lights and holiday lineup at the Historic Palace Theatre also contribute to cherished family memories.

One holiday celebration not to miss in Grapevine is the Lone Star Christmas at the elegant Gaylord Texan Resort. This resort and conference center decks out their halls with millions of Christmas lights and themed events. Ice-skating, snow tubing, and several other snowy staples are available at the resort in winter.

8. Visit a Museum in Houston

Houston Museum of Natural Science | Shadow Byrd / photo modified

Among many other things to do, tourists from around the world travel to Houston to visit the city's museums. These educational establishments are popular throughout the year and make for a great trip on a winter day.

Most of the city's top-notch institutions are in Houston's Museum District. With over 19 museums and several walking districts, this beautiful downtown area covers all subject matters. One of the city's most famous museums is the Houston Museum of Natural Science. This impressive space features a growing collection of dinosaur fossils.

Other fun winter museums in the district include The Museum of Fine Arts and the Children's Museum Houston.

Space Center Houston is another of the must-visit Houston museums, 30 minutes southeast of the Museum District. As the official visitor center for NASA's Johnson Space Center, this engaging institution dives deep into American space travel. Space Center Houston features replica space shuttles, moon rocks, and even the chance to bump into an astronaut.

Accommodation: Top-Rated Resorts in Houston

9. Explore a State Park in Texas

Guadalupe River State Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Winter is an excellent time to visit a Texas state park. The moderate weather across the state requires less sweat for activities like hiking, biking, or horse riding.

Texas has 80 state parks that accommodate a variety of activities during the winter. From Big Bend Ranch State Park in West Texas to Palo Duro Canyon in the Texas Panhandle, scenic state parks wait to be explored across Texas in winter.

The best state park to visit in the winter depends on the reason for getting away. Fishing trips, rock climbing, and cavern exploring are some of the many adventures to be had in Texas state parks.

10. Ring in the New Year in Texas

Fireworks over El Paso

The warm weather of Texas makes for an excellent way to welcome the New Year. Cities across the state celebrate New Year's Eve in style. Visitors to any major city can expect firework displays at the end of the year and downtown streets full of revelry.

Austin, the Live Music Capital of the World, ushers out the year with an amplified soundtrack throughout the city. In Dallas, the lights and fireworks center around Reunion Tower with several vantage points to enjoy the show. And in San Antonio, the city throws a huge outdoor celebration near the River Walk.

Small towns in Texas also deliver an excellent start to the year. Gruene Hall, the oldest dance hall in Texas, puts on quite the show in New Braunfels. Nearby, the community of Luckenbach also has a famous dance hall. On the coast, Galveston's Strand Historic District has also grown quite the reputation for New Year celebrations near the beach.

11. Go Underground in a Texas Cavern

Natural Bridge Caverns | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

No matter the season, Texas caverns are fun to explore. Deep beneath Texas Hill County, these caves proliferate thanks to erosion in the limestone bedrock. And thanks to the underground insulation, Texas caves remain at approximately 70 degrees throughout the year.

Natural Bridge Caverns is one of the biggest and best caves open for the public to explore. Guided tours are the only way to see the fantastic cave formations of Natural Bridge Caverns. Notable speleothems include thousands-of-years-old stalactites and columns. This family-owned facility also features above-ground attractions like a zipline course and gem-panning stations.

Hundreds of caverns dot the Texas Hill Country landscape. Guided tours and public entry are allowed in only a handful of these caves. Additional otherworldly caverns in the area include Cave Without a Name and Caverns of Sonora.

12. Find Some Snow in Amarillo

Snow in Texas

Snow is a rare commodity in the state. Parts of the state never witness a snowflake, making any flurries in Texas newsworthy. While tourists travel to Texas to escape winter precipitation, seeing snow in the Lone Star State is a special occasion.

One of the hottest spots for snow in Texas is Amarillo, in the northern panhandle. With an elevation of 3,600 feet, Amarillo receives snow from the westward Rocky Mountains at least once a year. Snowfall varies from melted-by-the-morning to rare "thunder snow" events that cause whiteout conditions.

Traveling to see snow in Texas can be tricky. For Amarillo, January offers the best chances. Like Lubbock and El Paso, other areas in Texas also provide a few opportunities to see snow each year. For more information on where to find a lovely wintry landscape in the Lone Star State, check out our Best Places to See Snow in Texas article.

Even if you don't find snow, Amarillo has plenty of things to see and do. Head to Cadillac Ranch and bring out your inner artist by spray painting these standing cars. For a little nature, take a drive to Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Amarillo

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