Before early Texas settlers arrived, several Indian tribes roamed the land. These hunting, gathering, and warring tribes included the Tonkawa, Tawakoni, Comanche, Cherokee, and Waco Indians. By the end of the 18th century, only the Waco Indians remained. In 1837, the Texas Rangers established Fort Parker near Mexia as a temporary outpost to protect the early settlers. Keep reading to learn all the different ways to explore Waco, Texas.

The city of Waco was incorporated in 1857. In 1870, Texans built the Waco Suspension Bridge. At the time, it was the longest single-span bridge west of the Mississippi. The bridge also provided the only Brazos River pedestrian and wagon crossing. When a pharmacist started making Dr Pepper, that’s when Waco began to grow. That was 1885. One year later, Waco claimed to be the largest inland cotton market in the world and Baylor University moved there. It had previously been located in Independence, Texas.

How Waco Attracts Attention

Waco gained a lot of attention for itself when:

  • Amicable Life Insurance built the tallest building west of the Mississippi in 1911
  • one of the deadliest tornadoes in Texas history struck, in 1953, killing 114 people
  • the paleontologists discovered Waco Mammoth site, which became one of the most important paleontological finds in the world, resulting in the skeletal remains of 23 mammals thus far
  • when the 1993 siege of the Branch Davidian compound ended in gunfire and took the lives of most of the adults and children living within the commune
  • Baylor joined the Big 12 Conference in 1996
  • Texas Governor George Bush purchased 1600 acres of land, built a 4000 square foot house and cottage, and named it Crawford Ranch in 1999

Waco was once a crucial gateway to settlers headed to the Texas frontier and remains a crossroads for people from around the globe seeking to discover the heart and soul of the Lone Star State. In 1837, the Texas Rangers established Ft. Fisher as a temporary outpost to protect the early frontier settlers.

For a real interest tour of Waco, Texas, check out this YouTube video:

Outdoor Activities in Waco, Texas

We view Waco from I-35 on our way to or from Austin and Dallas. For a while, all we knew was this small town was a good place to stop for fast food and gas. When we spent time in Waco, we were pleasantly surprised by all the fun things to see and do.

Waco offers some fun outdoor activities. Here is a list of some things to do:

Waco trail along the Brazos
  • Play tennis at Waco Regional Tennis & Fitness Center followed by a private or couples massage at La Bella Visage.
  • Launch or rent a kayak or canoe and explore the Brazos River or Bosque River.
  • Take a fun drive along Highway 6 to the town of Valley Mills, then south of Valley Mills on FM 317 to Middle Bosque Road as it winds and twists past cliffs, through woods, past President Bush’s Prairie Chapel Ranch, and ends at Canaan Church Road. After that, head two more miles and you’ll pass the entrance to the Bush ranch. Turn right on Coryell City Road to see the very quaint Canaan Baptist Church.
  • Enjoy Cameron Park, set in the heart of Waco, with a series of bluffs and gullies along the Brazos and Bosque rivers. The Park has more than 400 acres of varied terrain (dense foliage, high overlooks, lush vegetation, towering limestone cliffs, river bottom) and some incredible views. If you like to bike, there are nearly 20 miles of renowned mountain biking trails. Those trails suit casual bikers and kids while challenging mountain bike extremists (click here for a trail map of Cameron Park).
  • Some other things to do in Cameron Park include:
    • hike, walk, or jog along the river and some of the trails
    • enjoy a picnic lunch or outdoor BBQ at any of the many picnic spots within Cameron Park
    • play 18 holes of disc golf along the river, up and down the hills, and through the trees
    • challenge someone to a game of horseshoes at Jimmy Bryant Horseshoe Complex

Other Fun Things To Do In Waco, Texas

Of course, that’s not all there is to do in Waco, Texas. If you want more than bike trails, museums, and a drive to Crawford Ranch, here are some other things to do while in Waco:

Cottonwood Golf Course in Waco, Texas
  • ride the Waco Transit (an old trolley car) around town
  • explore the Baylor University campus
  • go back in time and catch a flick at the Last Drive-in Picture Show in Gatesville, which opened in 1950
  • bike, walk, or stroll across the Waco Suspension Bridge and view the Viet Nam Veterans Memorial as you enjoy the paved and level River Walk loop
  • enjoy some food, drinks, or music on the Dock’s Riverfront deck overlooking the Brazos River
  • boat, fish, or take a dip in Lake Waco
  • enjoy a game of golf at Lake Waco Golf & Country Club
  • beat the heat at the Waco Water Park, which has a 22-foot water slide, current channel, tumbling water buckets, and zero depth pool

Where to Stay, Eat, and Party In Waco

Waco, Texas has no shortage of places to lodge, eat, and have a good time. Here are some things to plan for a weekend trip or an extended vacation to Waco:

Moon River Ranch
  • Camp at I-35 RV Park & Resort, which is a very clean RV park with large sites, a pool, and a cafe just north of Waco. Alternatively, stay at the Corps of Engineers park on Lake Waco.
  • See Waco from the water on a river cruise tour.
  • Enjoy dinner and drinks on the the Dock’s River Front deck overlooking the Brazos River. You’ll occasionally hear some good music on the deck and always enjoy a great sunset.
  • Head over to River Square Center for shops and restaurants. Cricket’s Grill and Drafthouse is a fun bar in River Square Center with food, pool tables, darts, shuffleboard, and 100 draft beers on tap and nightlife in the Wild West.
  • There are plenty of bars and restaurants in Waco for you to enjoy, but here is a list of top-rated bars for your entertainment.

Events in Waco, Texas

Waco, Texas is also home to several can’t-miss events. Check out these resources:

  • check with the Waco Visitors Bureau to learn what the locals recommend;
  • Power Boat Racing on the Brazos River;
  • Check out what’s happening at the Bosque River Stage, which hosts a variety of musical and theatrical events in a beautiful, modern amphitheater on the banks of the Bosque River;
  • You also don’t want to miss Homestead Fair, which will take you back in time and allow you to experience life without the benefits (and extractions) of modern technology.

This video from Allen and Theresa Taylor will give you a taste of Homestead Fair.

Waco Tourist Attractions

Waco isn’t known for its tourism, but there is still a lot to do in this town for anyone willing to take the time and play the part of tourist.

  • Built in 1914, Waco Hippodrome Theater offers an artistic architectural treasure hosting Broadway musicals, dance performances, and local productions.
  • Baylor University Theatre or Waco Civic Theatre feature stunning productions and a variety of special events.
  • Mayborn Museum Complex celebrates the natural science and cultural history of Central Texas with numerous vibrant exhibits and compelling hands-on activities for the whole family to enjoy. These include a very well done children’s discovery hall. That consists of a number of very well done and interesting exhibits including a travel exhibit. Outside the museum is the Governor Bill and Vara Daniel Historic Village, which is an agricultural village from around 1890.
  • Dr Pepper Museum is home to the oldest major soft drink in America and includes an Old Corner Drug Store, bottling equipment, interior artesian well, and 25 years of Dr Pepper commercials.
  • Texas Ranger Hall of Fame & Museum is dedicated to the history and lore of the legendary Texas Rangers since 1823. It features exhibits, 12,000 artifacts, and an interesting movie about the Texas Rangers.
  • Learn about Texas athletes who have distinguished themselves both on and off the field at the Texas Sports Hall of Fame.
  • Tour the historical houses around the downtown area.
  • If you like the British poets Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, then check out the Armstrong Browning Library, which is an architectural masterpiece with more than 602 stained glass windows depicting themes from the Brownings’ poetry and the world’s largest collection of Browning’s rare books.

More Waco Tourist Attractions

If that wasn’t all, here are a few more ways to spend your time in Waco, Texas:

a lion at the Cameron Park Zoo
  • Cameron Park Zoo is an outstanding 52-acre zoo with winding paths that lead to very well done exhibits. These include freshwater aquarium with paddlefish, reptiles, and amphibians; night building with owls, bats, raccoons, and opossums; shipwrecked Spanish galleon with salt water aquariums; and the World of Reptiles. Seven Cities of Gold includes prairies, a savannah, east Texas piney woods, salt marsh, Edwards Plateau, Cap Rock, Gulf Coast; and lots of animals.
  • Red Men Museum & Library contains books and artifacts pertaining to the Improved Order of Red Men and Degree of Pocahontas (dedicated fraternal organizations that believe in freedom, friendship, charity, and the American Way of Life). Plus, you’ll get to experience some American world history.
  • Lake Waco Wetlands, a 180-acre thriving ecosystem along the shores of the North Bosque River, is home to scores of birds, foxes, deer, and a variety of plants.
  • Waco Mammoth Site is a wooded 105 acres along the Bosque River. The 1st phase of this archeological attraction exhibits the remains of six prehistoric mammoths. There is also a visitors center, shaded park, a 8,350-square-foot dig shelter. This shelter includes explanatory displays, viewing platforms, and a crosswalk that looks directly into the dig.
  • For the kids, visit the spray parks in most of the Waco City Parks, Lions Park (miniature golf, go-karts, bumper boats, and a train ride), Baylor University Bear Plaza, the Cameron Zoo, and the discovery rooms at the Mayborn Museum.

Other Things To Do Near Waco

You don’t have to say in Waco to have fun and enjoy the Waco experience. These nearby activities are outside the city, but just as fun to experience as anything within the city:

  • Branch Dividian Complex;
  • George Bush Ranch in Crawford;
  • Texas Motor Speedway;
  • Flatrock on Lake Waco for some cliff diving, swimming, and fishing.

Texas Outside Favorite Things To Do in Waco, Texas

Mike Sharp
Author: Mike Sharp

I have a passion for travel and outdoor activities, and now I'm enjoying retired life. I will continue my traveling, golfing, boating, and enjoying life all across the great state of Texas.

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