San Angelo is where the best parts of West Texas come together. Known for great local food options, a lively downtown scene, and is home to the friendliest of people. What sets San Angelo apart is the beautiful outdoor landscapes. A confluence of four different kinds of countryside makes the area perfect for outdoor activities including hunting, fishing, kayaking, hiking, biking, bird watching, camping, and playing under the big West Texas sky.
The city of over 100,000 people sits at a crossroads between four different regions. On the western and southern edges of Tom Green County are the margins of the Edwards Plateau which is a rocky ranch country hospitable to sheep and goats. A lobe of the Osage Plains runs through the center and eastern parts of the county, good for growing grasses for cattle or plowing for cotton. To the west of the county are the flat, oil-laden lands of the Permian Basin. Go southwest and you’ll soon be in the hot barren land of the Chihuahuan Desert.
If you’re a fan of the great outdoors, you’ll find lots to love in San Angelo. The river, lakes, parks, and high sky are all invitations to have fun. And while you’re here, you’ll see why San Angelo was named the Destination of the Year by the Texas Travel Association, the #1 True Western Town by True West Magazine, a Film Friendly Texas Certified Community, and the Visual Arts Capital of Texas. All of this will be evident as you explore San Angelo’s water, land, and sky.
People may think West Texas is dry and barren, but San Angelo is rich with lakes and rivers. The first settlers to the Concho Valley were drawn by the clear waters that bubbled from springs in the ground and formed three branches of the Concho River. The rivers still wind their way across West Texas, through the city, and through Tom Green County.
The Concho River in the heart of San Angelo flows beside four miles of trail for hiking or biking. It is one of the few rivers in Texas with a popular community fishing area, and it’s stocked with bass, catfish, carp, bluegill, and rainbow trout. Even birds like cormorants and geese fish in the river.
A hike along the San Angelo River Walk leads you past landscaped gardens, a skate park, the Bosque Park which features miniature golf, a sand volleyball court, a picnic area with grills, and the Kids Kingdom playground. There are exercise areas for walkers and joggers and Santa Fe Park golf course, a public course with nine holes spanning over 2,400 yards.
Further along the Riverwalk, there’s a new area dedicated to the inspiring story of the Lady in Blue, with sculptures and a garden designed for contemplation and meditation. In the other direction, there’s the easily accessible Richard and Pam Salmon Sculpture Garden with a rotating display of works created in competition by artists from all around the world. Celebration Bridge connects the north and south banks.
One of San Angelo’s most creative ventures, Art in Uncommon Places, has a big impact throughout the city, but especially in the downtown area. The murals of Paintbrush Alley pay homage to the movie “Giant” about larger-than-life Texans. It’s easy to stroll through the alley and get inspired. The new Pop Arts Museum is an open-air bright spot in a former downtown bowling alley. One of the most popular events in town is Paintbrush Alley Market Days, which includes over 70 different artists, vendors, food trucks, children’s activities, music, and other activities. There’s no admission to enjoy the activities. Saturday, April 15 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
If you’d like to include history in your walking tour of downtown, visit Heritage Park. It’s dedicated to the ranches and ranchers that pioneered West Texas. You might pause a moment to have your photo with a sculpture of Hank the Cowdog, the happiest detective in books by John R. Erickson.
Two buildings on the Riverwalk are works of art themselves.
The award-winning San Angelo Visitor Center has been consistently voted one of the best visitor centers in Texas. It features a base of 250 tons of rough-back quarried limestone and exterior walls for more than 300 tons of specially blended sandstone and mesquite wood floors. The serpentine structure of the building is the most photographed spot in San Angelo and is a good place to start exploring the Riverwalk and pedestrian pathways to the historic city center.
A high point in creativity besides the Concho River is the award-winning San Angelo Museum of Fine Arts. Designed by Malcolm Holzman of New York, the prized facility looks like a huge saddle or a covered wagon but is a design unlike any other. The exterior is constructed of massive blocks of Texas limestone with a vaulted copper roof and Texas mesquite hardwood floors.
Across Oakes Street to the east is the Fort Concho National Historic Landmark. It is one of the best-preserved examples of the military installations built by the US Army in Texas. The Fort Concho Historic District covers the fort’s original 40-acre grounds and 23 buildings, some of which are the oldest in San Angelo. You can explore the grounds on your own; there is a charge for tours and admission to special events.
Established in 1867 along the banks of the Concho River, Fort Concho was built to protect frontier settlements, patrol and map the vast West Texas region, and quell hostile threats in the area. Constructed for the most part of native limestone, Fort Concho consisted of at least forty buildings and covered more than 1600 acres.
Fort Concho served as regimental headquarters for some of the most famous frontier units like the 4th and 10th Cavalry. Notable military commanders such as Ranald Mackenzie, Benjamin Grierson, and William ‘Pecos Bill’ Shafter commanded here. Elements of all four regiments of the Buffalo Soldiers were stationed at the post during its active period. At full strength, Fort Concho supported 400-500 men made up of companies of infantry and troops of cavalry, staff officers, and support personnel. In the Summer of 2023, the San Angelo NAACP Buffalo Soldier Memorial will open for public viewing. Honoring the legacy of buffalo soldiers that once walked the grounds of Fort Concho.
Just a little further is the San Angelo Farmers’ Market Pavilion. The open-air market is on Oakes Street between El Paseo de Santa Angela and Fort Concho. Local farmers sell homegrown vegetables, fruit, plants, herbs, honey, and nuts from early spring to early fall.
On the same side of the Concho River as the museum is the Bill Aylor Sr. Memorial River Stage, a 3-acre outdoor amphitheater that plays host to concerts and private events. A community favorite is the July 3rd – A Star Spangled Banner Concert with a sky full of fireworks. The concert features a diverse genre of music celebrating Independence Day with symphonic patriotic music, jazz, and mariachi. The After-Party following the Firework Show concludes the evening with a rock tribute band.
The River Stage is also the home of the largest country music concert in West Texas, Wild West Fest, which will be held July 27-29 in 2023. Over the past five years, the festival has featured notable acts such as Whiskey Myers, Muscadine Bloodline, Turnpike Troubadours, Cody Canada & The Departed, and William Beckmann plus other acts from all over Texas.
Just out of the downtown area, the International Water Lily Collection, designated a premier collection by the International Waterlily & Water Gardening Society is home to one of the largest and most diverse public displays of Genus Nymphaea, it is surprisingly unique for this West Texas city. Collected by the late Ken Landon, the beautiful blooms fill seven ponds with more than 150 kinds of lilies. Generally, they bloom from April through October. The park around the lily ponds is landscaped with native plants. There is no charge to visit.
Just south of the city, Lake Nasworthy was formed by a tributary of the Concho River. The 1,380-acre constant-level lake is stocked with fish including largemouth bass, white bass, smallmouth bass, white crappie, hybrid striped bass, and catfish. The City of San Angelo operates five recreational facilities along the lake, including Knickerbocker Park, Middle Concho Park, Mary Lee Park, and Pecan Creek Park.
Nasworthy is truly a community lake, enjoyed by townies and visitors alike. There’s a big community of RVers, who enjoy pulling in right beside the lake. Spring Creek Marina on the south side of the lake has 125 grassy RV sites with roads and site pads. All of the RV sites accommodate double slide-outs and feature full hookups, including cable TV. Big Rigs are welcome at the pull-thru sites. Roughing it is certainly a lot easier with the available water and electric hookups.
Spring Creek also has camping cabins. with air conditioning and cable TV. Each cabin has a refrigerator and a covered porch plus an outdoor picnic table and barbecue. 10 cabins have showers and bathrooms.
There’s also a 10-acre KOA Camp on the north side of the lake with a community room, barbecue pits, and camping cabins.
Tent camping is allowed at Spring Creek and Middle Concho Park at Lake Nasworthy and permits are required year-round. There are two-disc golf courses along with playground equipment, picnic tables, and public restrooms.
Swimming is allowed in designated areas in Spring Creek and along Knickerbocker Road. There’s no charge for swimming; no pets are allowed in the sandy beach area.
Water sports are allowed and a convenient place to get equipment is Water Dawg Rentals on Lake Nasworthy. They rent pontoons, jet skis, paddle boats, stand-up paddle boards, and kayaks and do teach some lessons for water sports. Their summer rates are from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Texas Parks & Wildlife registration and license are required for boating (check texas.gov for regulations). There are about 14 boat ramps around Lake Nasworthy and two nature trails.
For family fun, consider the Princess Tule Steamboat near the Spring Creek Marina. There are hourly excursion tours on the last walking-beam engine, side-wheeled paddle steamer in the world. Excursions run every weekend. The boat is available for private charters any day of the week upon crew availability and weather conditions. Reservations are not required but are recommended for groups larger than 4.
Worth a visit while you’re at the lake is the Nature Center, a sanctuary for animals that can’t live on their own in the wilds of West Texas. Here you will find all sorts of critters that aren’t usually available for a close-up, like foxes, chameleons, iguanas, big old turtles, and huge snakes. There is a low-cost general admission fee.
Planning a trip to San Angelo this Summer? Here are some events happening at Lake Nasworthy to include in plans to visit:
If you love the extreme speed and noise of powerboat racing, you should write June 24 and 25 and Sept 22-24 on your calendar. Showdown in San Angelo roars into Spring Creek Marina for the fastest show on water in June and the finals in September. Hundreds of powerboat enthusiasts bring their recreational vehicles and tents to the lake to watch this high-stakes competition sponsored by the Southern Drag Boat Association,
The Lake Nasworthy Homeowners’ Association (yes, people live around the lake!) will host the 12th Annual Nasworthy Nights, a fireworks display on Tuesday, July 4. The sky-high display should be visible from the Spring Creek and Knickerbocker Street parking areas.
Wake the Desert, Texas Wake and Surf Series, the second stop of the Texas Wake series hosted by Family Powersports, will hit San Angelo July 14-18 for a weekend of fun on the water. The Texas Wake and Surf Series is a professional and amateur wakeboarding and wake surfing competition that consists of three events: Wake the Canyon, Wake the Desert, and Wake the Capitol (TBD). Pro Men & Women Wakeboarders & Surfers can compete for thousands in cash with amateur classes competing for additional prizes. The competition is at Middle Concho Drive on Lake Nasworthy.
Twin Buttes Lake is west of San Angelo on the Middle and South Concho Rivers. The 9,080-acre Twin Buttes Reservoir requires a limited public use permit ($12 per year) to fish, hike, camp, or picnic in the area for 17 years and older. You can purchase an Annual Public Hunting permit to include hunting. There is excellent fishing for bass and catfish. Twin Buttes Is currently managed under the TPWD public hunting lands program.
If you want to rev up the action, Twin Buttes allows off-road vehicle trails for motorcycles, ATVs, and even jeep crawling. If you’re thinking about jeep crawling, here’s some information from a company that outfits jeeps for this “seriously fun” sport:
“Trails come with ratings. For your first rock crawling experience, choose a lower rating with plenty of bypasses which allow you to get out of the way of more experienced drivers, or allows them to get around you. One of the other basic moves is to let some of the air out of your tires (aka “airing down”). You don’t need as much air when you are rock drawing and airing down gives your Jeep a wider footprint for improved traction. Aim at 10-13psi (depending on your rig). Crawling is slow, which is why it’s called crawling. Taking obstacles too fast will almost always guarantee a bad time. Most rock crawling moves can be made using less than 2,000 rpms. For your first crawls, make sure you take a spotter. Spotters are typically passengers who can help you see what is in store for you by getting out of the vehicle and guiding you as take on the next obstacle. When going down an incline, make sure that you gear down instead of just stomping your foot through the brake, and ease up on pressing the clutch.” –Morris 4×4 Center
San Angelo State Park is 7,677 acres of the Texas portrayed in books and movies. It is a place where buffaloes literally roam, and the deer and the Longhorn cattle play.
The State Park connects the O.C. Fisher Reservoir and the Concho River with 50 miles of multi-use trails for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. There is a 2-mile Dinosaur Trail, where fossilized tracks of pre-dinosaur creatures from the Permian Age wandered. You can also hike the lakeshore on the nearly 6-mile trailhead, or fish the reservoir and the river. No fishing license is required from the shore or pier, only when you fish from a boat. The park will even loan fishing gear (rods, reels, and tackle boxes) for use while you’re there.
One of the highlights of the State Park is viewing bison. Originally called “buffalo,” there are 19 of the wooly ruminants, including baby bison that look like they’d be cuddly and friendly. Their mamas, however, are not the least bit huggable and roam through the park’s fields of mesquite safely behind sturdy wire fences. They are fed by the park rangers in visitor-safe viewing areas.
Fences also separate the bison from the longhorns that come to feed at the same time. First known as “Texas cattle,” and later, “Texas Longhorns,” the animals had spread over a wide area by the time Texas won its independence from Mexico in 1836. They ranged from the Red River to the Rio Grande, east to the Louisiana line, and west to the upper breaks of the Brazos River. These early longhorns, almost completely wild, continued to roam Texas until the end of the Civil War. Today’s Texas cattle have huge horns that are not practical, but they are certainly picturesque. San Angelo State Park is home to the official Texas State longhorn herd.
Just inside the gates of the park, there is a wildlife observation area where over 300 types of birds show up to sample the seeds the volunteers put out for them. Some of the birds are rare, some are common, but all of them are close enough to make good photo subjects.
Like all the state parks, San Angelo has its share of opportunities for visitors. Check the website for star parties, coffee with the park rangers, birding talks, meet the Longhorns and bison events, guided hikes, and campfire events. There is an interactive trail map, yours for the asking.
There are fine hotels nearby, but camping is welcomed in the State Park. You can choose campsites with electricity and water or primitive hike-in sites. The group bunkhouse, with a kitchen, living area, and restroom, sleeps six or you can reserve a rustic log cabin with toilets nearby. There is a charge for day passes as well as overnight to the State Park as well as varying rates for camping.
You can also camp with your horses in the North Concho area. These sites have pole tethers; some have pens, as well. You may also bring portable pens. Water is available in the camp area and along trails. Be sure to make your reservation as soon as possible.
The West Texas sky offers brilliant sunrises and spectacular sunsets. The stars and moon at night are often so bright that campers gaze at them long after they intended to go to sleep. The moderate climate brings more than 300 varieties of birds, some that thrill hunters and some that are hunted only with binoculars. Hunters pursue wild turkey, mourning, white-winged and white-tipped dove, quail, teal, sandhill crane, rails, light and dark geese, Wilson’s Snipe, and woodcock.
Watchers are delighted by four or five species of migratory hummingbirds, stopping in at San Angelo long enough to pose for photographs. There are also uncommon species including the Northern Flicker, yellow-bellied and red-naped sapsuckers, somewhat rare woodpeckers, and Say’s Phoebe.
Another migratory favorite is the monarch butterflies that descend in thick clouds, covering trees and flowering plants as the butterflies make their way to Mexico.
Whether you are looking for a quiet weekend getaway or a place where you can get away from it all, San Angelo has something for the unique traveler. For more information about San Angelo and all it has to offer, go to discoversanangelo.com.