Last July, the iconic Cavender’s Boot City sign in Austin caught on fire on a 109-degree day. When I saw the news photos of flames engulfing the familiar big boot, I found it to be the perfect representation of the state of Texas weather at that searing moment — boots on fire.
No matter how many summers you’ve survived in Texas, the unrelenting furnace fan can still catch you by surprise. Triple-digit days are hardly relieved by brief nightly dips into the upper 70s. Realistically, you can’t hide on the couch until October, so how can you beat the summer doldrums and satisfy your urge for outdoor adventure?
Even in hotter-than-heck Texas, you can beat Mother Nature at her own game by seeking out those places with naturally cooler temperatures. I set out to do just that by hiking at night, heading to the coast, descending to the lowest caverns and scaling the highest mountains.
Pick your own sweet spot, gas up your car, fire up the air conditioning and crank up the summer tunes. We’re off on a quest to find the coolest spots in Texas.
By Sarah Bloodworth
Photo by Chase Fountain / TPWD
WADE IN THE WATER
Padre Island National Seashore
While beaches are often used to soak up the sun, you can also find cooler temperatures by the ocean, with that refreshing sea breeze. I’m glad I packed a long-sleeve cover-up in my beach bag as the chilly winds on Big Shell Beach at Padre Island National Seashore give me goosebumps. A brief storm blows in, driving the temperature so low that I screech like a seagull and flap to the car.
The Goertz family (including my boyfriend Wyatt), a wonderfully rambunctious group of people with fishing in their DNA, accompany me on this leg of my trip. While I’m usually more of a freshwater angler, I’m excited for this trip because we’re fishing for sharks, a first for me.
Wyatt wakes up with his eyes to the horizon. He tells me that to him, fishing is a marvelous mix of contradictions. He loves the relaxation, but also the thrill of not knowing what is on the line. He loves that it brings his family together, but also that fishing breeds a sense of solitude. I ask him what kind of a shark he wants to catch. “A big one.”
The poles are longer than my body; the bait looks like a prize catch itself. They pack whole bonito tuna and cut the fish into stiff cross-sections. I grab a piece with both hands and pierce it on the colossal hook. Some adventurous members of our group try to paddle a kayak out over the rowdy waves before dropping the line but always topple over in the process.
Wyatt’s cousin returns from one such attempt as white as the sand, telling us excitedly that he saw a 7-foot shark while flipped over. “I don’t know if I was baiting or if I was the bait!” he says with a laugh.
It’s the middle of a summer weekend, and amazingly, we’re the only people in sight. With no cell service and a cool breeze, the beach becomes my spa. My lips exfoliate with salt as I wiggle my toes into the damp, cool sand for a massage. When sunscreen hits my skin and the coconut smell hits my nose, a million memories of beach trips engulf me. I can’t wait to go back and make a new one.
Near Freeport, this beach is known as one of the best places to beat the crowds.
The Spanish name says it all — the waters of the Frio provide a welcome chill.
This Wimberley treasure is a cool and intimate swimming hole.
Possum Kingdom Lake
Despite the sound of the lake's Hell’s Gate, it’s one of the most refreshingly angelic places to swim and fish.
Photo © Patricia Ann Kinder
CLIMB EVERY MOUNTAIN
Davis Mountains State Park
On the way to Davis Mountains State Park, everyone we meet warns us about the cool climate there, but Mom and I treat it like a silly urban legend. Upon arrival, we realize they were all correct. My heat-hating mother happily shivers when the nighttime low drops to 56 degrees in the park, which sits more than 5,000 feet above sea level.
Our secluded campsite is fully shaded, providing daytime heat relief as well. Fighting the flies is tough, but the ground is tougher. We beat in our tent stakes with large rocks. After an exhausting camp setup, we’re happy to find that most places in the park are accessible by car. We drive through the entire park, spotting grazing mule deer on the way. My mom eagerly names each one we see; the first she deems “Dumbo” because of its large ears. We’re also on the lookout for bobcats and javelinas.
The park’s Skyline Drive offers several gorgeous scenic overlooks, including one built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, with comfortable seating and a covered view of the scenery. The overlook frames the mountains like a painting. We see the park’s 360-degree view in broad daylight, but decide to return at sunrise, cuddling in a blanket, to watch the sun paint the mountains with reds, yellows and oranges.
Of course, not everything worth seeing is vehicle accessible. In late afternoon, we hike up the Montezuma Quail Trail, of moderate difficulty with a lot of open space. I try to spot the rare quail, but to no avail. As we walk, the sun sets on the other side of the mountain, so we’re quickly cooled by a large mountain shadow and a sweet breeze. Later, we celebrate with s’mores as the temperature continues to drop, then head off for a deep sleep.
Big Bend National Park
Big Bend has naturally cooler temperatures in the mountainous areas; the Chisos Basin can be 10 degrees cooler than the surrounding desert and river.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Average highs are in the 80s in the summer, and the coolest time is nighttime, perfect for participating in the evening ranger programs that explore everything from wildlife to history.
Photo by Sonja Sommerfeld / TPWD
DESCEND INTO THE DEPTHS
Caverns of Sonora
Even in the most extreme heat, caves and caverns can offer cooler temperatures — the Caverns of Sonora are a constant 71 degrees all year long.
Entering the caverns sparks a childlike excitement in me because I’ve always been fascinated by geology. Instead of a lemonade stand, as a child I had a “rock stand” where I cracked open rocks found in my backyard, revealing shiny minerals that I thought were worth way more than a cold drink. The journey through the caverns did not disappoint that inner child, with features named to spark our imaginations (and appetites): popcorn, bacon, soda straws and more.
Our entertaining tour guide Rita, a bubbly local, makes the journey all the more fun. She begins our tour by announcing in a thick, Southern accent: “I’m crazy! Y’all don’t know who’s leading y’all into this cave!”
Rita leads us to formations like the Quarterback, Jabba the Hutt and the Princess’ Castle. We enter a grand room that seems as if it could hold the entire population of Sonora. Soon after, we duck our heads under tight spaces to enter rooms with vibrant, copper pools and sparkling calcite formations. Fascinated, Mom and I barely speak during the tour.
Longhorn Cavern State Park
At about 68 degrees year-round, this cavern is one of the coolest Texas underground treks.
Colorado Bend State Park
If you want to see caves in a natural, unmodified state, this Central Texas state park offers a variety of tours.
Inner Space Cavern
This Georgetown cavern sits at a comfortable 72 degrees annually and offers three tours at easy, intermediate and advanced skill levels.
Photo by Sonja Sommerfeld / TPWD
STAY UP LATE
Lockhart State Park
I’ve always followed an unwritten rule to leave the trail when the sun does. Truthfully, no such rule exists. Night hiking is a great way to enjoy trails without the sun’s interference and offers a new perspective on familiar scenery. My mom and I decide to try out our favorite trails at Lockhart State Park by moonlight for the first time.
We fortify ourselves at Smitty’s Market and, with bellies full of brisket, we arrive at the park in late afternoon. We enjoy a refreshing dip in the pool and a hike before dark; many trails are shaded here and comfortable to hike, even in July. With headlamps illuminating the way, we begin our hike on the Hilltop Trail. Mom tells me the array of tiny blue-green lights around us are reflections of spider eyes and laughs at my discomfort. She doesn’t spook easily.
Moments later, we hear rustling in the foliage to the side of the trail. The brush is thick and obscures our view. The noise continues and seems to follow us. We stop. It stops. My fearless mom seems a bit concerned. As we shine our lights into the brush, there’s a low growl. Eyes wide, we look at each other.
“Did you hear that?!”
We move along quickly. A bit spooked, but safe, we end our night hike on a thrilling note.
Full Moon Hike, Franklin Mountains State Park
Seek out vibrant nightlife under a guided trek illuminated by only the moon.
Starwalk, Copper Breaks State Park
At this Dark-Sky Park, join an exploration of the deep sky with viewings of planets, constellations and distant galaxies.
Guided Night Hike, Estero Llano Grande State Park
This hike is known for creepy-crawlies of the night such as scorpions, alligators, tarantulas and wolf spiders.
Guided Night Hike, Lake Casa Blanca State Park
Enjoy this brisk, mile-long night hike to see the beauty of the trail by starlight.
The Transformation of Aquarena
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