Estero Llano Grande State Park

When it comes to lesser known state parks in Texas, Estero Llano Grande State Park is  definitely on that list. This under-the-radar park is located south of Weslaco along International Boulevard, the road that leads to the Rio Grande River and Nuevo Progreso, Mexico. Estero Llano is at the geographic center of the World Birding Center — a network of nine unique birding locations along a 120-mile stretch in the Rio Grande Valley.
Estero Llano Grande EntranceThe Spanish words Estero Llano Grande are translated “a wet place on the big plain.” And indeed it is. More than 300 species of birds and a variety of flora and fauna can be found within the park’s 230 acres of ponds, woodlands, and thorn forest. Since opening in 2006, the park has become one of the top birding destinations in the Rio Grande Valley.
Ibis PondEstero Llano Grande is indeed a treasure among our state parks. And because it is located along a major bird migration corridor, it is a popular hotel for migratory birds as well as many tropical bird species found nowhere else in the United States. The park offers regular guided bird, butterfly and dragonfly hikes — an excellent way to learn some really interesting stuff about everything that lives, grows, and thrives at the park.
Estero Llano DucksWhether or not you are a birder, you will enjoy all that this beautiful park has to offer. I am not a birder but I did purchased a guide to South Texas birds at the park store. I was amazed at how many birds I saw as I strolled along the well-maintained trails. The benches along the trails prompted me to slow down to enjoy and to listen to the birds. Hopefully I will get better at the identification of birds with time and practice.
Estero Llano GuidebooksI also purchased guidebooks about native shrubs and plants of the Rio Grande Valley. Many of the trees, plants, and shrubs at the park are already identified by information markers. Others were easy to identify with the help of the guidebooks. This area is rich with a diversity of native plants and trees. Of course, I am partial to the gnarly mesquite.
Estero Llano BoardwalkI hope that you will discover and enjoy the state parks and natural areas near you. Invest in a Texas State Parks Pass — well worth every penny and a great way to support our Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Estero Llano is just one of 95 Texas State Parks you can enjoy with your State Parks Pass. This South Texas wildlife refuge is certainly worth a visit.

Bentsen—Rio Grande Valley State Park

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department manages 95 state parks in the Lone Star State. My goal is to visit all of them. Regardless of where you live in Texas, you are within a short drive of a state park or a state natural area — places where you can go hiking, biking, camping, boating, birding, or whatever scratches your outdoor itch.

If you are a history buff then you are in luck. Several parks preserve and bring Texas history to life — everything from ancient pictographs, twentieth century battleships, hallowed burial grounds, silent battle sites, and Spanish missions. You can even visit the place where Texas declared its independence from Mexico. We are indeed fortunate to have so many parks in Texas.
Bentsen State Park SignBentsen—Rio Grande Valley State Park, located just outside of my hometown of Mission, is the first state park I visited as a kid. As a Boy Scout, I spent many days camping and hiking all over this 760-acre park. This is where I learned to identify a variety of birds, where to locate the constellations in the night sky, and how to leave a campsite better than I found it.
Bentsen Birding SignNamed after the family of the late Senator Lloyd Bentsen, this park serves as the headquarters of the nine World Birding Center sites in South Texas. More than 340 species of birds and more than 200 species of butterflies have been documented within the park’s boundaries. Because the park is a World Birding Center, no vehicular traffic is allowed in the park. Access into the park is restricted to walking, biking, or tram.
Bentsen Bird Viewing AreaBentsen is more than a popular stop for migratory birds and butterflies, it’s a very popular place for birders, locals, and winter Texans. The park offers several convenient places from which to watch birds, including a two-story high Hawk Observation Tower. A pair of binoculars is definitely a plus when visiting the park. And, if you are not a birder, pick up an inexpensive guide to the birds of the area at the park store and see how many species you can spot.
Bentsen State Park MesquiteLike all of our state parks, Bentsen is a Texas treasure. I enjoy riding my bike in the park and stopping at the designated bird observation areas to see the amazing varieties of birds. And because I happen to love mesquite trees, I enjoy taking photos of these trees with their gnarled trunks and branches throughout the park. The park is also home to other varieties of trees, including the beautiful ebony.
Bentsen State Park BikingI always enjoy visiting Bentsen—Rio Grande Valley State Park whenever I am in South Texas. It is a nostalgic and peaceful place for me. I am glad that in 1944 the Bentsen family gave this land to the state of Texas with the understanding that it be maintained and preserved for the enjoyment of future generations. Their generous gift continues to be enjoyed by countless visitors from all over the world.