Texas pulls back some on reopening -- 4 things to know about travel in the Lone Star State
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Texas was one of the first states to take major steps toward reopening this spring. But now, it's also one of the first to have to pull back due to surging coronavirus cases.
While the state hasn't fully gone back to a prior opening phase, it has made the decision to close bars, reduce restaurant capacity back to 50% (down from 75%), limit outdoor gatherings of more than 100 people and shut down tubing and rafting retailers, which may sound strange, but we'll explain how that impacts travel.
Before we get into the details, know that the Lone Star State is massive at close to 800 miles across, meaning it would take you at least 12 to 13 hours to drive from El Paso in the west to the Louisana state line in the east. Tourism is also big business here, representing about $164 billion in revenue in 2018, which typically supports 1.2 million Texas jobs, according to Travel Texas.
And while those tourism numbers will undoubtedly be smaller for 2020 because of the coronavirus and subsequent pause in nonessential travel, Texas has around 29 million residents, some of whom started traveling again when the state's stay-at-home order expired nearly a month ago.
Here's what to know about travel in and across Texas.
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Texas travel bans
As of May 1, 2020, Texas residents are no longer under a stay-at-home order and the state's borders are open, with some caveats. Until May 21, the state had a 14-day self-quarantine requirement for those entering Texas from places such as New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, California, Washington and a few select cities. That executive order, however, has ended and there are no restrictions on those entering Texas from other states by air. You can view up-to-date orders here.
That said, as case counts in Texas have increased in recent weeks, if you travel from Texas to a state such as New York, New Jersey or Connecticut, you will now face a 14-day quarantine in those locations.
What's open in Texas
Until recently, Texas was pretty much reopened for life and travel. But now, restaurants must go back down to 50% capacity. Retail stores, movie theaters and malls, are still permitted to operate with capacity of up to 50%. You can still even get in a workout at the gym, and get your nails and hair done.
Many Texas state parks, such as Davis Mountains State Park, Garner State Park and Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, are open for day use and camping, though advance reservations are strongly recommended due to limited capacity. Texas state parks require visitors to practice social distancing, and face coverings are strongly encouraged, though not required.
Related: The 7 best state parks to visit
For those ready for some sun and sand, public beaches in Texas remain reopened as well. (Update: Some Texas beaches, such as those in Galveston, are closing for the July 4th weekend, so check local ordinances before assuming the beach is open every single date.)
Several major resorts in Texas have also reopened their doors. For example, the Hyatt Regency Hill Country in San Antonio is now open (you can use 15,000 Hyatt points per night or a Category 1 to 4 award from the World of Hyatt Credit Card to book a stay). Great Wolf Lodge outside Dallas, and La Cantera Resort near San Antonio, have also both reopened.
Beginning June 19, Texas theme parks were able to reopen to 50% capacity. This includes parks such as Six Flags and SeaWorld San Antonio which are reopened, but do require you to reserve your park day online in advance.
What's not open in Texas
Not everything is open in Texas.
The iconic Alamo remains closed. Some hotels and resorts have yet to turn the lights back on. Some city pools and parks are either closed or are open on a very limited basis. If you have your heart set on a particular local hiking trail or pool in Texas, be sure to check if it's open and whether you need to make an advance reservation -- you probably do.
Bars are now again required to close, other than for to-go orders (yes, you can get your margarita to-go in Texas right now). Also, know that retailers that are involved with the tubing and rafting industry in Texas must also again shutdown. This sounds weird, but a popular summer activity in Texas is for large groups of people to link tubes while drinking and floating a river for hours at a time in close proximity. (If you want a taste of the river without the tubing restriction -- here's how we accomplished that socially distanced Texas getaway.)
When it comes to national parks in Texas, Big Bend in West Texas is open, but note that the lodge is closed and camping is available at a reduced capacity. Attractions like the McDonald Observatory also have not yet announced reopening dates.
Where to go in Texas
In addition to some of the large resorts, Texas offers outstanding options when it comes to social distancing with a wide variety of outdoor activities, beaches and cabin rentals available.
If you're craving the beach, you can check out the sands around Galveston, South Padre, Corpus Christi or Rockport.
Related: How to choose the best Airbnb
If you're dreaming of a rustic cabin getaway, consider a trip to picturesque Wimberley, Fredericksburg and other destinations across Central Texas. While you are in the Texas Hill Country, you'll also be a stone's throw from rivers such as the Comal, Frio and Colorado. (Just keep in mind that some smaller swimming holes require reservations and tubing outlets are no longer open.)
You can head far west to Marfa, Fort Davis and Big Bend, should wide-open spaces really be calling your name. My own family took a socially distanced nearcation in the Wimberley area and had a tremendous time playing in the cool river. We also spent a night in a tiny Getaway cabin in the woods of East Texas and managed to stay a safe distance away from others while enjoying nature.
Texas is a vast state with plenty of space for visitors, but it's not 100% open or running at full capacity right now. So, do some research before planning a trip this summer.