For Mother’s Day in 2016, Sarah Strauss asked her family to do something different: go on a hike at Huntsville State Park. Little did she know that simple request would launch the Strauss family, including husband Aaron and kids Kevin and Danica, on a six-year adventure visiting all of the state parks in Texas.
Between May 8, 2016 and July 6, 2022, the family traveled to 95 state parks, which was over the number they needed to visit to achieve their goal. “When we started there were six more on the list that later got transferred to the Texas Historical Commission,” Aaron says, explaining why they ended up going to 95 instead of the 89 designated state parks listed in the app (the Texas State Parks website features 88, not including Battleship Texas State Historic Site).
For their first park visit, Sarah downloaded the Texas Parks and Wildlife app on her phone, which details trail maps, activities, seminars, and other offerings at every state park. Seeing how much of Texas there was to explore, she and Aaron decided to make it a goal to see all of the parks before Kevin, who was 6 years old at the time, headed off to college.
And so, this family from Houston who hadn’t spent much time outdoors at all set off. They started in jeans and regular tennis shoes before slowly investing in better gear. They also began picking up tricks along the way: always carry water, wear sunscreen anywhere that is uncovered, don’t start a hike too late in the day, and long sleeves are life-savers, even in the heat.
According to Sarah, making time for the hikes took careful planning. “The kids go to school full time and Aaron and I work full time, so it’s not like we have these unique jobs or we homeschool the kids,” she says. “We started out close by doing little day trips that weren’t too far from our house: Huntsville, the Battleship Texas in San Jacinto, Brazos Bend.”
Tips From the Strauss Family
“Wear a hat, bring a lot of water, and be prepared!”
“Make sure you have everything you need and that [park officials] recommend.”
“Find places that are near you, and definitely take advantage of the [Texas Parks and Wildlife] app: It is so helpful to learn what there is to do around there. And if there are ranger programs or tours, those are very cool ways to experience the park.”
“Don’t be overwhelmed by the outdoors, just get out and do it. You’re going to find something that’s enjoyable; even the most city-slicker people that exist can go out to a park and have a good time.”
As the de facto planner, Sarah bought a big map of Texas to put in the kitchen and sprinkled it with green and red pins to mark the locations they had already visited and the places still to come. They took advantage of the days when classes were canceled, when work would be more lenient, and any long holiday breaks when they could explore up to five or six parks in one go.
They had some misadventures along the way—poor weather, late starts, dangerous drives—but nothing deterred them from completing their mission. As for bringing small children on hikes, Sarah found that while her kids were “real troupers,” having ranger backpacks (packs full of informative worksheets, flora and fauna to look for, and guides for kids put together by the park rangers) were helpful in keeping them engaged.
Danica, who was only 3 at the start of their challenge, grew to love the outdoors and is now seen as an outdoors expert in her Girl Scout troop where few girls have spent a significant amount of time in nature. Kevin, who is now 12, is getting the chance to revisit many of the parks anew with his Boy Scout troop, but this time for longer and more in-depth visits.
While their challenge is now over and they don’t plan on taking on any new ones anytime soon, the Strauss family is not done with park visits. They plan to revisit Lake Whitney State Park after rain showers forced them to picnic in their car. The whole family is looking forward to slowing down the process
The Strauss Family’s Favorite Parks
Danica: Monahan Sandhills State Park
Kevin: Palo Duro Canyon State Park
Sarah: South Llano River State Park
Aaron: Old Tunnel State Park
Find these and other state parks at https://tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/parks-map
and just enjoying nature along the way, something they recommend every Texan do by visiting state parks.
“There’s pretty much a park close by to everyone,” Sarah says. “Even if it’s just having a picnic, it’s still a great way to get out there and enjoy the outdoors and be a part of the state.”