At about three-and-a-half hours apart, the journey from Houston to Dallas probably isn’t the kind of drive that you think of when you hear the words “road trip.” Well, good news—we’re here to change that; because as it turns out, there are plenty of road trip destinations that dot the way from Houston to Dallas. From gorgeous gardens and scenic parks to niche museums and creative points of interest, the stops that you’ll come across as you drive through the Lone Star State are big in variety and even bigger in entertainment. After all, you know what they say: Everything’s bigger—and better—in Texas!
Just about a half-an-hour north of Houston, Mercer Botanic Gardens is a sprawling piece of green space situated between Westfield and Humble. Divided into an east and a west side, this colorful outdoor attraction isn’t just a traditional botanical garden—it also features an arboretum, a walking trail system, a picnic area, two playgrounds, a hickory bog and boardwalk, a cypress swamp, and memorial grounds. The east side of the gardens is where you’ll find the 60-acre botanical gardens with all types of flora, as well as bamboo, ferns, gingers, herbs, tropicals, and even endangered species. Meanwhile, on the west side, you can enjoy a nice picnic beneath the Texas sun at one of the many picnic tables or beneath one of the barbeque pavilions.
Mercer Botanic Gardens began as a piece of private land, utilized by owners Thelma and Charles Mercer as a place to create their own horticultural paradise. The Mercers later convinced the county to purchase the land from them and develop it into a public garden. Today, the Mercers’ original 14-acre tract of land has grown into a 400-acre facility that employs a staff of botanists, horticulturists, and gardeners who can provide field-related expertise and assist visitors as they explore the gardens.
The Sam Houston National Forest is one of Texas’s four national forests and encompasses over 163 thousand acres of land in the cities of Huntsville, Conroe, Cleveland, and Richards. A little more than an hour north of Houston, Huntsville is a charming city with historic roots, as made evident by the 77-foot statue of Sam Houston positioned outside of the Huntsville Visitor Center. (This is the tallest statue of an American Hero that currently stands in the country!) Seated on the edge of the Sam Houston National Forest, the preserve is, of course, a top attraction to see when visiting Huntsville.
Within the Sam Houston National Forest, the two-thousand-acre Huntsville State Park is host to an array of outdoor recreational activities, both on land and in the water. The park has over 21 miles of trails, as well as playgrounds, a bird blind, and a nature center. Lake Raven, a 210-acre body of water, acts as a centerpiece to the park, and visitors are welcome to fish, swim, motorboat, and kayak or canoe on the lake. Keep in mind that the park is home to many forms of wildlife—including alligators—so be careful to swim only in designated areas and to stay a safe distance away (at least 30 feet) from any animals that you might see.
College Station is located about an hour-and-a-half northwest of Houston, and as its name suggests, is the site of Texas A&M University’s main campus. On the university’s campus, you’ll find one of College Station’s most famous attractions: the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum. Far from a typical college library, the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum not only chronicles the life and legacy of President George H. W. Bush, but it also has a variety of engaging exhibits and displays—perhaps most notably, a replica of the Oval Office where visitors can have their pictures taken behind a facsimile Resolute Desk.
Also on permanent display at the museum is a 12-foot tall section of the infamous Berlin Wall that once divided East and West Berlin during the Cold War. Part of the “Age of Freedom” exhibit, the graffitied segment of the wall is paired with a kiosk that plays a video summarizing some of the international events that took place while President Bush was in office. In addition to its permanent exhibits, the museum also has a number of rotating exhibits relating to American politics.
The city of Waco lies around an hour-and-a-half southwest of Dallas, and some of its most visited attractions include Cameron Park, Cameron Park Zoo, the Carleen Bright Arboretum, Indian Spring Park, the Lake Waco Wetlands, the Martin Museum of Art, the Waco Mammoth National Monument, and the Texas Sports Hall of Fame. But if you’re someone who loves soda—particularly Dr Pepper—then you have to check out the Dr Pepper Museum & Free Enterprise Institute in Downtown Waco. You know about Dr Pepper, but did you know that the soda’s origins can be traced back to Waco in 1855? That’s right—the brand all started right here, in Downtown Waco, at Morrison’s Old Corner Drug Store.
While the museum isn’t as old as the brand itself, having opened in 1991, you could say it’s been around the block a few times—and the building that it’s in, a former bottling plant, is over 100 years old. In this way, a visit to the Dr Pepper Museum is a trip through Waco’s past. Admission is $10 for adults and $6 for students and children, and along with access to the museum, you also get a free Dr Pepper!
Approximately one hour south of Dallas, Hillsboro, Texas, is a small town that you might be tempted to drive straight through—but it just so happens that Hillsboro holds its own hidden gem that might be of interest to anyone who’s into cars or antiques. The Roadside America Museum in Downtown Hillsboro might have started as a privately-owned collection of classic cars, vintage signs and advertisements, and other stray pieces of Americana, but today, it’s an eclectic gallery that’s become a must-see destination.
Vintage jukeboxes, old-fashioned soda fountains, and retired neon signs are just a few types of memorabilia that you’ll find when touring Carroll Estes’ massive collection that he’s been working on since the 1970s. In addition to his smaller antiques, Estes also has several garages with collector cars—which is fitting, as the museum is housed in what used to be a Ford dealership.
Waxahachie is only around a half-hour south of Dallas, but if you’re looking to take a break from the car, this small town has plenty to offer. Grab a bite at one of the many local restaurants in the area, like Pop’s Burger Stand, Bittersweet Bakery, Country Cafe, or the Doves Nest. And with a few different historical landmarks packed into its city limits, Waxahachie also makes for a fascinating place to take a casual stroll. But, if you’re in the mood to kill some time and get creative, be sure to stop by Mosaic Madness in the Downtown area.
Mosaic Madness is an art studio that invites visitors to make their own custom mosaic from start to finish. This includes choosing a shaped base, the color of the grout, and, of course, the decorations! The studio has everything from stained glass, mirror pieces, and ceramic tiles to pottery and china pieces, recycled glass, and inspirational words that you can use to build your masterpiece. (Prices vary according to materials, but most projects end up being around $25.)
About thirty-five minutes west of Dallas, the city of Fort Worth is a slight detour that you won’t regret making. Some of the city’s most popular points of interest include the Fort Worth Zoo, the Kimbell Art Museum, the Fort Worth Botanic Garden, and the Cowgirl Hall of Fame and Museum. Just looking to stretch your legs? No problem! Fort Worth has several public parks, but the most unique one has got to be the Fort Worth Water Gardens in Downtown.
Located next to the Fort Worth Convention Center, the Water Gardens consists of a series of pools, waterfalls, and fountains, creating an asymmetrical but breathtaking mix of concrete and water. Having opened in 1974, the Water Gardens has become a city landmark and a highly frequented spot in Downtown Fort Worth. Despite its energetic features, the park maintains a sense of tranquility, and no matter what season it is, visitors come from all over to enjoy the one-of-a-kind space.
A little over 20 minutes west of Dallas, Arlington makes for one last memorable stop before finally heading to Big D. With Six Flags, AT&T Stadium (home-turf of the Dallas Cowboys), the International Bowling Museum & Hall of Fame, the Arlington Museum of Art, and a large number of other popular attractions, Arlington is the perfect place to wrap up your road trip before continuing on to Dallas. Among Arlington’s most impressive features, perhaps, is its expansive River Legacy Park, a 13-hundred-acre park that winds along the Trinity River in North Arlington. Some of the park’s amenities include hiking and biking trails, picnic areas, pavilions, playgrounds, river overlooks, and a canoe launch.
But before you enter the actual park, be sure to stop at the River Legacy Living Science Center, an equally stunning space that functions as a gateway to the park. The Living Science Center covers 12 thousand square feet and was designed to have minimal impact on the environment. With environmental exhibits, aquariums and terrariums with live animals, nature trails, and a gift shop, the Living Science Center is an immersive and engaging educational experience that will be fun for the whole family.
Houston and Dallas are two of the best-known cities in Texas, and neither will leave you short on things to do. But that doesn’t mean that you have to rush from one to the other, either. Whether you plan a full-scale road trip or a few small detours, don’t be afraid to do a little exploring as you head north through the Lone Star State—more than likely, you’ll stumble across something big!