Thursday, December 7, 2023
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Urban Fun in the Grasslands

Find championship sports teams, scenic views, and Western charm in the sprawling cities of the Prairies and Lakes region

By Amy Durham

Between the dusty plains of the West Texas Panhandle and the lush forests of the Piney Woods in East Texas, a 45,000-square-mile region stretches from north to south from the Oklahoma border down to Cuero, just east of San Antonio. Drive through the countryside in this transitional area of the state and you’ll find woodlands of oak, pecan, and cottonwood trees dotted among the miles and miles of grassland prairie. 

The Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex is the most well-known urban center in the area, but small cities and towns scattered throughout the region are full of character. The Prairies and Lakes region is so large, it would be hard to see it all at once, so Texas Meetings + Events rounded up some of the highlights for your group.

On the Prairie

If you want an Instagrammable moment in the Lone Star State, the Fort Worth Stockyards is the place to visit. Fort Worth is located along the former Chisolm Trail, a major route in late 19th-century cattle drives, and a current favorite for events. “Attendees can experience traditional Texas culture,” says Amy Brown, senior vice president of sales and services at Visit Fort Worth. “Watch the brave bull riders at the world’s only year-round rodeo. Admire the world’s only twice-daily cattle drive, the Fort Worth Herd. Or dance the night away at Billy Bob’s Texas, the world’s largest honky-tonk.” 

Line-dancing lessons at Billy Bob's Texas in Fort Worth. June 23, 2023
Line-dancing lessons at Billy Bob’s Texas in Fort Worth || Courtesy of Visit Fort Worth

South of Fort Worth, visit Cleburne’s Chisholm Trail Outdoor Museum and spend time at the Big Bear Native American Museum that commemorates the stories of Native Americans in North America from their arrival over 13,000 years ago to the present. Stop and smell the wildflowers along the streets of historic downtown Waxahachie, the Crape Myrtle Capital of Texas, lined with hundreds of blooming pink crape myrtles in late spring. Drive 20 minutes to Ennis, the official Bluebonnet City of Texas, and hike miles of trails lined with fields of the purple- and blue-colored flowers.

At the southern end of the region, Texas A&M University sits in College Station, where the vibe is energetic with live music every weekend and restaurants that cater to comfort food and the beer crowd. Finally, cool down with a stop at the Blue Bell ice creamery in Brenham, where you can sample all the just-like-homemade flavors—and a few you can’t get anywhere else. 

Near the Water

The Prairies and Lakes name gives it away—there are a lot of lakes in the region. Even in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, water features are a big part of city planning—like in Las Colinas, a neighborhood in Irving. “Las Colinas features 56 lakes and Venetian-like canals; tree-lined, cobblestone walkways; and old-world charm,” says Lori Sirman, communications manager at the Irving Convention and Visitors Bureau. 

The Irving Convention Center. June 23, 2023
The Irving Convention Center || Courtesy of Visit Irving

In central Texas, Waco straddles the Brazos River with a suspension bridge built during the heyday of the Chisolm Trail. Baylor University fills the small city with youthful energy, and Chip and Joanna Gaines’ Magnolia Market at the Silos has made Waco a sought-out destination for shopping and home renovation fans. South on Interstate 35, Salado is an artsy, diverse town, home to one of Texas’ oldest hotels, the Stagecoach Inn. The spring-fed creek that runs through the area is a favorite swimming hole in the summer. Artists at work in their galleries line the historic district streets, earning the village a Cultural District Designation by the Texas Commission on the Arts. 

Area lakes and state parks offer a variety of outdoor activities. Lake Fork near Mineola and Lake Ray Roberts near Sanger both attract fishing enthusiasts. Cedar Hill State Park is bordered by Joe Pool Lake, Cedar Mountain Nature Preserve, and Dogwood Canyon Audubon Center, creating a haven for wildlife and a refuge for busy visitors in need of some downtime. At Dinosaur Valley State Park in Glen Rose, you can literally step into the footprints of dinosaurs that were left in the Paluxy riverbed over 100 million years ago. The tracks are best seen in summer when part of the river will be dry, and kayaking and camping are available year-round.

At the Arena

The Prairies and Lakes region is a top choice for sports fans. With multiple professional teams, Dallas was ranked first in the 2023 list of top U.S. cities good for sports business by Sports Business Journal. The NFL’s Dallas Cowboys practice in Frisco at a 91,000-square-foot facility, The Star. Both Major League Soccer’s FC Dallas and the NHL’s Dallas Stars have their practice headquarters in Frisco, too. The Dallas Mavericks play NBA games at The American Airlines Center in downtown Dallas to sold-out crowds. 

The Dallas skyline. June 23, 2023
Dallas is the ninth-largest city in the country and the third-largest in Texas. || Courtesy of Visit Dallas

If you’re in Arlington, watch MLB’s Texas Rangers play ball at Globe Life Field, or get tickets to see the Dallas Wings WNBA team shoot hoops at College Park Center. For something a little different, the Texas Motor Speedway is home to NASCAR races—you can even drive a race car for up to 40 laps. 

With all this action, so much natural beauty, and the lure of Western culture, the Prairies and Lakes region is sure to provide visitors a true Texas adventure they won’t soon forget.