Up at the north end of Texas, Dallas is not quite the gulf, not quite the plains, and not quite the southwest, but it's within easy driving distance of all three. In three hours or less, you can visit dynamic Texas university towns, go antiquing in quirky stores, sip your way from vineyard to vineyard, meet mammoths and walk beside dinosaur footprints and breathe in the fresh air of the Texas hill country.
If you're looking to escape the Metroplex, fire up your best road trip playlist, because these are the best day trips from Dallas.
Find cattle and culture in Fort Worth
Sportswriter Dan Jenkins once said, "If you want to see Texas, come to Fort Worth." The city's cowboy flavor, friendliness and laid-back vibe haven't diminished over the years, even as the physical boundaries between the fringes of Fort Worth and Dallas have blurred. Start your sampling platter of all things western over at the Stockyards, Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame, and the National Cowgirl Museum, and watch the daily bovine parade of the Fort Worth Herd.
For a more international outlook, you can see works of art from around the rest of the world at Kimbell Art Museum and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. For even more art with a more regional vibe (this is Remington's home turf, after all) head to the Amon Carter Museum of American Art and the Sid Richardson Museum.
How to get to Fort Worth: Fort Worth is just 30 minutes drive from Dallas on I-30 W, but you can also take the Trinity Railway Express (TRE) commuter train (one hour).
Splash in the clear waters at Possum Kingdom State Park
Immortalized in the 1994 single of the same name by the Dallas band, Toadies, Possum Kingdom State Park is a perennial favorite escape for Dallas citizens looking to spend a day at the lake, go for a hike, or spend the weekend camping in calm, green surroundings. There's even a golf course and water warm that's clear enough to attract snorkelers and divers in summer, plus fishers and kayakers year-round.
How to get to Possum Kingdom State Park: It's a two-and-a-half-hour drive to Possum Kingdom from Dallas; there's no public transport.
Museums, mammoths and more in Waco
Put memories of the town's notorious 1993 siege to the back of your mind – locals celebrate Waco as the final resting place of wooly mammoths, the birthplace of Dr Pepper soda pop, and the hometown of Baylor University. Halfway between Dallas and Austin, Waco blends a little of Austin's quirk and Dallas' swagger, and there's plenty here to fill up a day trip.
From Waco Mammoth National Monument to the Dr Pepper Museum to darker attractions like the Site of the Branch Davidian Compound, there's a lot of history to soak up here. Sports fans will enjoy the Texas Sports Hall of Fame and Texas Ranger Hall of Fame & Museum.
How to get to Waco: Waco is an hour and a half from Dallas on I-35E and I-35 S, or you can take the Greyhound bus (2½ hours).
Tune in to Texas' musical heritage in Denton
If you love the bands Bowling For Soup and Parquet Courts, musicians Sly Stone, Meat Loaf, Don Henley, and Roy Orbison, you love Denton, Texas. This small college town north of Dallas may not be as recognized as its Georgia cousin, Athens, but is just as deeply knit into pop culture thanks to the University of North Texas College of Music.
Come up for toe-tapping events such as the Denton Arts and Jazz Festival, or just enjoy the regular live shows that fill venues such as Dan's Silver Leaf and Abbey Underground.
How to get to Denton: Denton is 45 minutes to an hour from Dallas depending on traffic, straight up I-35E. You can also get here on the A-Train from Dallas, but first, you'll need to take the DART light rail Green Line train to Trinity Mills Station; allow 90 minutes for the journey.
Walk with dinos at Dinosaur Valley State Park
Millions of years ago, an Acrocanthosaurus stomped across this part of the prairie, which was then the soft soil of a shallow beach. You can still see its footprints in the bed of the Paluxy River at Dinosaur Valley State Park. There are also twenty miles of trails to explore on foot or by horseback, plus geocaching opportunities and campsites.
Kids especially will love the statues of a Tyrannosaurus Rex and a Brontosaurus that were once mascots for the Sinclair Oil company, which was founded in nearby Glen Rose. Today the dinos are classic roadside kitsch greeting park visitors on arrival at the park.
How to get to Dinosaur Valley State Park: Dinosaur Valley State Park is an hour and a half southwest of Dallas via US-67 S; there are no public transport options.
Sip your way along the Piney Woods Wine Trail
Okay, it's not Napa, Sonoma or the Willamette Valley – not yet, anyway – but the wineries of east Texas are growing in number and popularity. The climate in this part of the state has historically been a little warm and wet for grape growing, but agricultural scientists at major research universities and other institutions have been learning new ways to practice viticulture here and new wineries are opening every year along the Piney Woods Wine Trail.
That means Dallasites can enjoy visits to wine country in their own backyard. The trail is made up of twenty East Texas wineries running from Nacogdoches to Naples – coming with a car and a designated driver is the best way to explore.
How to get to the Piney Woods Wine Trail: Many of the wineries on the Piney Woods trail are centered around Tyler, Texas, which is an hour-and-a-half from Dallas on I-20 E.
Seek antique treasure in Canton
Thousands of antique hounds gravitate to this small Texas town on the first Monday of each month for Canton First Monday Trade Days, a sprawling 100-acre flea market that draws vendors from all over. Even if you don't come for First Monday, there are plenty of crafts and homeware shops open beyond the flea market, including the Canton Dish Barn, the Paul Michael Company, Canton Marketplace and more. Fuel up at Buttermilk’s and start pickin'.
How to get to Canton: Canton sits just under an hour to the east of Dallas via US-80 E and I-20 E.
Catch Austin's energetic college vibe
A three hour drive south from Dallas, cultured, fun-filled Austin is an easy city break, even if you're just staying for the day. Austin has retained much of its college town indie cred despite increasing gentrification and the attentions of the tech industry, thanks to the influence of the world-famous South by Southwest tech festival.
This is still a place where you can spend a mellow afternoon admiring street art and enjoying alt cinema. Grab brunch at Elizabeth Street Cafe, check out local outsider art at the Cathedral of Junk, get a taste of the culture at SouthPop, see a concert at the Broken Spoke, and soak in the fresh waters of Barton Springs Pool if you come on a hot day in summer.
How to get to Austin: I-35 E will get you to Austin from Dallas in three hours, though Greyhound bus routes and an Amtrak route will also do the job – allow four hours by bus, or more than six by train. With the distance, and Austin's abundant nightlife, stopping over for the night is a sensible decision.
Browse museums on every subject in Norman, Oklahoma
Austin and Denton don't have the monopoly on chill college vibes near Dallas. Norman, Oklahoma is three hours away – making it a bit of a stretch for a day trip – but this is Texas, where long drives are the norm (pun intended), and the Texas Long Horns' college football rivals, the Sooners, are here at the University of Oklahoma.
The university is also responsible for Norman's youthful, colorful energy and array of museums, restaurants, bars and public events. For some excellent displays on art and nature, visit the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History and Fred Jones Jr Museum of Art. Meanwhile, weather nerds will enjoy the National Weather Center and politics wonks will love the Julian P Kanter Political Commercial Archive.
How to get to Norman: Norman is about three hours north of Dallas on I-35, it's a long drive for a day trip so consider stopping over for a night.
Bask in the green gardens of Shreveport, Louisiana
Casinos beckon in Shreveport, Louisiana, but so do a bounty of gardens built in the good years of the city's dramatic 20th-century cycle of boom and bust. Some of the nicest of these green spaces include the American Rose Center and RW Norton Art Gallery – the latter of which not only features rare books and works by Frederic Remington and Charles M Russell, but sets its collection in a sprawling 40-acre oasis.
There are other fun, less botanical, museums for all ages, including the Shreveport Water Works Museum, Louisiana State Exhibit Museum and the family-friendly Sci-Port Discovery Center.
How to get to Shreveport: It's just under three hours to Shreveport from Dallas via I-20 E; the journey takes around the same time by bus.
Enjoy antique-hunting and pie-eating in Round Top, Texas
Round Top has long been a favorite of antique hunters, and has lately attracted the attention of travel influencers with its abundance of airy, monochrome vacation rentals primed and ready for Instagram. This tiny town is overflowing with boutiques, artist studios, and vintage emporiums selling eclectic antiques and bric-a-brac. Head to Henkel Square for a blend of vintage architecture and unbeatable shopping.
If you get hungry, pie seems to be Round Top's signature dish and can be found at plenty of spots, including the aptly-named Royers Pie Haven and Royer's Round Top Cafe. Just be sure to check if the day you're hoping to drive down is one of two annual Antique Weeks when Round Top will be flooded with 15,000 pickers, meaning a rush for accommodation and parking space.
How to get to Round Top Texas: Although it's not far east of Austin, it'll take three and a half hours to get to Round Top from Dallas, since you need to transfer from I-25 E to the slower US-77 S partway.
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