Down Texas Way
This article was written by, R Clayton Mckee, he is a true Texan and has lived there all his life. He loves camping and the outdoors and is a photo Journalist and writer. I made the edits to this article and made it possible for him to share his knowledge of Texas and the amazing camping spots in this great state.
Texas is itself a home of epics, and as you might expect, she has a great many epic places to camp, where you can enjoy the natural beauty of the state and be within easy range of places significant to her epic history along with a nearly unlimited number of other experiences. The list is far too long for a single post; there are entire websites devoted to the topic and many places THEY don’t have space to include. So what follows is a short—in Texas terms—listing of a few special places. I’m a native Texan, and immensely proud of my home. I like scenery and wild nature and love history, Texan and otherwise, but is a little private so I avoid places with huge crowds, at least when the crowds are camped where I am.
The Texas State Parks system is extensive and although underfunded is reasonably well-developed and maintained, I suggest new campers start their Texas Camping Adventures at some of the 80+ options in the system. There are also National Parks and four National Forests which offer camping, and of course commercial sites.
An important general note: The Texas Climate is generally favorable for camping year round. Texas WEATHER, on the other hand, can be highly unpredictable. Severe storms can cause roads or parks to close without warning. Flooding and windstorms can cause severe property damage and loss of life. It’s important to be prepared, and to check websites and hotlines for current information before arriving. Also, those sensitive to heat should avoid the high summer months, June through early September. A wilderness tour operator put it thus: “Don’t mess with the Texas weather gods. You won’t win, and you know how they get.” He was right. You won’t win, but you can definitely lose.
So, weather warning done, brave adventurous souls, let’s go Camping Texas. Where to?
Texas is, as you may have heard, a big place. “Where to?” covers a variety of environments and areas to consider. She doesn’t have rainforests or snow capped mountains, but aside from that she HAS pretty much got it all.
So before we dive into specific campgrounds, let’s talk about your options.
One of the best things about Texas, for tourists, is that there is a highly developed tourist industry, which includes private and public agencies. The State of Texas offers maps, several tourist information centers close to common points of entry and major tourist areas, and a jazzy website to help you plan your stay, assuming you don’t want to just follow your nose.
(A Short History Lesson, just because we can: Any discussion of Texas State Parks and Texas Camping is going to be loaded heavily with references to the CCC, because they built most of the infrastructure we’re talking about. The Civilian Conservation Corps was an early part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, which got most of the US out of the Great Depression. Between 1933 and 1942, millions of young men were offered jobs across the country, on the federal payroll, doing natural resource conservation work and building roads, public buildings, and recreational facilities, among other related things. (There are books on these guys if you’re interested…) They were paid a dollar a day, a decent wage for the time, and the job included room and board, clothing, and education. Because they needed very little that wasn’t provided for them, most of their wages were sent home to support their families. It was a tremendously successful program – much of what they built is still in use today, including many Texas State Parks and state highways.)
Here endeth THIS history lesson; there may be others.
The Great Regions Of Texas
We’ll start in the east, near the Louisiana border, because it’s the closest to what most people think of when they think of “going camping.” The East Texas Piney Woods, broadly that part of the state east of Interstate 45, from Dallas/Fort Worth to Houston/Galveston, are temperate forests, mostly second-growth pine. The state’s four National Forests and several State Parks are here, and they offer some truly fine forest/woods camping with pleasant hiking, fishing, paddling, and wander-the-woods time.
South from the Piney Woods is the Gulf Coast. Not surprisingly, it’s an area of coastal plains and seafront towns. The main attractions relate, obviously, to the water (boats, beaches, and seafood, both catching and eating).
Swinging west and south takes you down to the South Texas Plains where you’ll find ranching culture with a Mexican flavor, and, of course, much of the best Tex-Mex food to be found anywhere. (It DID originate in that area, after all.) This is where you start encountering the Texas of movies and television westerns – hot, dry, and dusty, with lots of spiky plants
If you head north from the plains, you’re into the Hill Country, home to, you guessed it, a lot of hills, mostly limestone. Also, rivers and flowing water, so tubing, canoeing, and water sports are common. The hill country was largely settled (in recent history) by German and European settlers in the mid-to-late 19th Century, so the communities have that flavor, which covers architecture, culture, recreation, and, of course, FOOD. And beer, and a number of surprisingly good wineries. Incidentally Austin is the music capital of the southwestern United States, a don’t -miss attraction.
Further west, you’re into the Big Bend, which is burning hot or biting cold, largely dry, deserted and hostile, and some of the most beautiful landscape and geology you’ll ever see – the ideal place to get away from it all. If you’re after Adventure with a capital A, the Bend is your spot. This is the high desert Texas of Epic Westerns. Locals say the area’s stark topography resulted when the Creator(s), finished with the rest of the world, were left with extra rocks and a lot of spare nothing, and no place to put it all, so they tossed it out in West Texas.
Do remember, though – almost everything that lives their cuts, stabs, stings, or bites. (And is likely also venomous.) The Big Bend isn’t for everyone, but if you like living “on the edge,” it’s out here waiting for you. (I want to live here, but I’m a native Texan and may not may not be sane.)
North of Big Bend is the Texas Plains, going up into the Panhandle. This is most people’s idea of Texas – ranching, cattle, and oil, spread out over big wide-open spaces. It was here, during one of the numerous cattle drives (from the panhandle north to railheads in Kansas) that some cowhand whose name is lost observed that a man on horseback might well be the tallest thing for a hundred miles.
Moving east again to complete the circuit, you’ll be in the Central Texas Prairies and Lakes area. This is largely farm country – corn, sorghum, amber waves of grain, all that stuff. Plus, a lot of flat, and some ecological oddities – the Lost Pines and Lost Maples areas…
So, welcome to Texas. Decided where you’ll start out yet?
East Texas – Piney Woods
Most of the Piney Woods camping areas were developed by the CCC in the 1930s. They’ve been updated without being “modernized” since, and have most modern conveniences – ADA-compliant sanitary facilities, running water, and electric hookups. FHU sites are sometimes available, though separate dump stations are more common. Campers whose image of Texas as hot, dry, and dusty comes from movies may be surprised to see this type of forest ecosystem in Texas.
East Texas camping is popular with families with young children; the wind in the trees is the best lullaby ever written, the wildlife is usually plentiful and benign (though beware of poison ivy and alligators), and the weather is usually mild enough to leave screened windows open.
I love camping in the East Texas woods almost as much as he loves the Big Bend (to which he is unnaturally drawn) and offers his favorite “getaway” spots.
Caddo Lake State Park
Located at the top of the Piney Woods, Caddo Lake State Park is built around the only “natural” lake in Texas. (For some value of “natural.”) Caddo Lake was initially formed by a “naturally-occurring” logjam which created a dam blocking the Red River, forcing water back into Cypress Bayou. The logjam was cleared at one point around 1900, and the lake began to drain rapidly, so dams were built to keep it filled. It’s still listed as a “natural” lake, though purists might argue the point. The CCC turned it into a State Park in the 1930s. It’s since been designated an internationally significant wetlands habitat due to the variety of flora and fauna found there.
Caddo Lake is primeval Texas. It’s on the border between Texas and Louisiana, and covers thousands of acres of bayou, slough, and cypress swamp. The prevailing visual appeal is bald cypress trees stretching up from the bayou, covered in drapes of Spanish Moss trailing back down into the water, creating a scene from the age of the dinosaurs (despite the fact that the dams holding the water in the lake are only a century or so old.) The park is prime wetland and forest habitat for a huge variety of animals and plants. The lakes and sloughs are home to 70+ species of fish, with large numbers of game fish such as bluegill and bass.
As a result, the park offers fine wildlife watching, photography, fishing, paddling, and nature exploration through a variety of ecosystems.
(Safety note: both alligators and mosquitoes are plentiful and should be treated with extreme respect. I have heard tales of mosquitoes wrestling with alligators over a prime morsel of local fauna or a casual tourist – and winning. Let’s be careful out there.)
Amenities: The park offers CCC-era cabins, group areas, and campsites. There are many miles of hiking and paddling trails; if you don’t have your canoe with you, they’re available for rent as well.
Logistics: Caddo Lake State Park features a range of campsites from water-only sites, suited only to tent and small-trailer camping, to FHU sites. There are both back-in and pull-through spaces, though the number is somewhat limited and the appeal is broad, so reservations are strongly suggested. There is also a dump station in the park.
Fees range from $10-$20/night plus $4/person daily fee.
Getting there: From Marshall, Texas, take State Highway 43 to Farm-to-Market Road 2198 (about a mile north of Karnack), then turn east for about half a mile to Park Road 2. The park entrance is north of 2198.
Mission Tejas State Park
Another History Lesson: (These things happen when you ask history buffs for campsite recommendations.) The original East Texas missions were established by the Spanish government around the turn of the 18th Century when an expedition found bands of as-yet-unconverted indigenous peoples in the East Texas woods. The good friars present with the armies determined, as in so many other places, that these inoffensive pagans must become good and loyal Christian subjects of whichever King was on the Spanish throne at the time. It didn’t end well, but the friars learned the local plants and agriculture, and a few native words, including “Tejas,” the local term for “allies.”
Mission Tejas State Park honors this history with a CCC-built representation of such a mission and exhibits. The park offers history, picnicking, a small pond for fishing, a birding blind, and several miles of secluded woods trails for hikers, and, of course, very nice wooded campsites. A section of the old Spanish “El Camino Real de Tejas” which led from Louisiana to San Antonio de Bexar and down to Mexico runs through the park and at least a small section is accessible from the park.
Visitors can also explore nearby Crockett and right-next-door Caddoan Mounds State Historic Site, along with the National Forest across the road.
Logistics: The Park is open year-round, weather permitting.
Roads in the park and the RV pads are paved, though the paving IS old and leveling can be “challenging” for first-time visitors or RV novices. Some slopes call for more than the normal leveling chocks. There are only a dozen RV campsites, a mix of back-in and pull-through. Rigs larger than 35 feet may encounter problems; only five sites can handle 40’+ rigs. If you’re pulling a something big, you’ll want to reserve and confirm your spot. Sites include water and 110v electric (there are no FHU sites in the park). There is a dump station, and ADA-compliant bath houses with flush toilets and showers, as well.
Fees: water/electric sites: $15/night, plus $3/person daily fee. Reservations are highly recommended.
Getting There: Mission Tejas is located on State Highway 21, 12 miles west of Alto, and 21 miles northeast of Crockett. Look for Park Road 44.
Website link: https://tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/mission-tejas
Ratcliff Lake Recreation Area
Davy Crockett National Forest
There are numerous campgrounds in the National Forests. Ratcliff Lake is typical. It was developed (by the CCC!) in 1936 around a small lake that had served a sawmill that operated in the area. There’s not much to do here except enjoy the forest, or sit around camp and listen to the trees discussing the weather. If you’re blessed with musical talent, you might strike up a tune and lure your neighbors over for socializing. If you get restless, you can also rent a canoe or small rowboat and fish the lake. Not to worry; the fish won’t notice. You can also paddle around and admire the scenery.
Logistics: Ratcliff Lake is less than ten miles (straight line) from Mission Tejas, so the general observations about weather and conditions apply here, too.
There are more sites here, and the facilities are similar: water and electric hookups are available, and there are ADA compliant flush toilets and private showers in the camping area and public showers at the swimming area/camp store. There’s also a dump station in the campground area.
Fees: $5 daily admission; campsites run between $20 & $25.
Getting There: Ratcliff Lake is located 15 miles northeast of Crockett on State Highway 7.
Website link: https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/texas/recarea/?recid=30224
Heading south from the forests takes you to Houston; from there you can head down to the Gulf Coast, where you can watch the Gulf, tour Galveston, Corpus Christi, Padre Island, and lots of small fishing towns, search for seashells, watch out for jellyfish, soak up rays, and in general just kick back and relax.
When you want to be actively road running again, there are two main roads heading west from Houston: I-10, which takes you to San Antonio and points west, and I-69, which heads down the coast, more or less. Much early Texas History took place along this corridor and south to the Mexican border.
There are also some nice places to see along the way, even if they’re not part of the history.
Brazos Bend State Park
This is a prime example of Texas coastal wooded plains and a very popular camping site, drawing from the Houston/Galveston metro area as well as campers from across the state and “Winter Texans” taking advantage of the mild “winter” climate.
The prime attraction of the area is Nature, Scenery, and wandering the woods. There are over 35 miles of trail in the park, including equestrian, bike, and wheelchair accessible sections. Also, on tap: A Nature Center, birding, alligator watching, fishing, photography, and stargazing – Brazos Bend is far enough from the Houston Metro area to be truly dark and includes the George Observatory. Affiliated with the Houston Museum of Natural Science, the observatory offers the opportunity to look through one of the largest publicly accessible astronomical telescopes in the country.
On significant days there are Living History events at the George Ranch, a turn of the 20th century ranch about 20 miles north of the Park, and Houston is about an hour away.
Logistics: The park offers back-in campsites with water and 30/50-amp electric hookups; bathhouses and flush toilets are near the camping areas. There are a dump station and a laundry room in the park, as well.
Fees: FHU, $25/night; Water/Electric, $20/night. Day Use fee is $7/person.
Getting There: Take US-59 / I-69 southwest from Houston. Exit at the Brazos River at Crabb River Road / FM 762 and turn south. Follow 762 for 25 or so miles. The park entrance is on your left.
South Texas Plains
Further west and south lies Goliad, located between San Antonio and Corpus Christi, is the site of the signing of the FIRST Texas Declaration of Independence (in 1812 – a valiant but doomed attempt), the first battle of the successful 1835-6 Texas Revolution, and, later, one of the bloodiest massacres in that war. When the Texans at San Jacinto shouted, “Remember the Alamo!” as they won their freedom, many also included “Remember Goliad!”
Mission Nuestra Señora del Espíritu Santo de Zuñiga (Mission Espíritu Santo) a beautiful Spanish Colonial mission dating back to the mid-18th century, is the central attraction of Goliad State Park and Historic Site.
Goliad State Park and Historic Site
In its early days, around 1750, the mission was the first large-scale cattle-ranching operation in Texas. It eventually failed, was secularized, and fell into ruin. The CCC restored the complex in the early 1930s, and it is now a State Historical Site. About half-a-mile away is an 18th Century Spanish Fortress, Presidio Nuestra Señora de Loreto de la Bahía (Presidio La Bahia), which originally protected the Mission. It houses a a beautiful, and beautifully preserved, chapel and museum, and holds several Living History events every year – reenactments of the Goliad massacre as well as displays of lifeways of the period.
Campers at the State Park can wander or tour the Mission complex and its museum, as well as the Presidio and several other historical exhibits in the area. (There’s a separate admission fee for the Presidio; it doesn’t belong to the State.) Campers can also wander the woods, watch birds, fish and paddle the San Antonio River, and relax .
Logistics: Goliad State Park offers water/electric and FHU sites with pull-through access. Dump station, showers, and flush toilets are available. Access is good; the ground is level and the roads paved.
Fees: FHU $25/night, water/electric $20/night, $4/day entrance fee.
Getting there: Goliad State Park is just south of Goliad on US 183. Presidio La Bahia is a bit further south on the same road.
Website link: https://tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/goliad
From Goliad, it’s easy to head north, up into the Hill Country.
Central Texas – The Hill Country
The “Lost Pines” are an area of loblolly pine and hardwood forests which shouldn’t be there at all. The area was originally part of the East Texas Piney Woods ecosystem, but the climate changed thousands of years ago and the area became unsuitable for those plants. This comparatively small patch was preserved by peculiarities of the soil composition and terrain in the area, and the plants have adapted to the area’s unique conditions. So, there they are, “lost,” over a hundred miles west of where they should be able to grow.
Bastrop & Buescher State Parks
A with so many Texas State Parks, are CCC creations, put there strictly for rest and recreation and to preserve a little of this unique “Lost Pines” ecosystem. There are forested hiking trails, a small lake, and nature education programs. Although the park is sometimes crowded, people who camp in these places tend to be low-key and friendly, so it’s very easy to find peace time.
Logistics: The park offers full hookup and water/electric sites (back-in and pull-through), as well as full bath houses and flush toilets. There’s a dump station, as well as CCC-era swimming pool and dining hall/refectory facilities with fireplaces and historic exhibits. There are frequent programs relating to the history of the CCC and the ecology of the Lost Pines and Texas in general. And of course, there’s Bastrop and Austin.
Fees: FHU sites $25/night, water & Electric $20/night; daily fee $5. (This park also offers extended-stay rates, rare in Texas state parks)
Getting there: From Bastrop, take State Highway 21 east for a mile or so to Park Road 1. From the east, pick up State Highway 71 in LaGrange and go north on State Highway 150 to the Park Road 1 turnoff.
The Texas Hill Country runs from just south of San Antonio north and west. The topography and many cultural and historical attractions, as well as the pleasant climate, make it a popular vacation area. There are lakes and streams, fishing, boating, wildlife, nature, history, photographs, culture… all within a few hours’ drive.
When in the southern reaches of the Hill Country I prefer to camp at the San Antonio KOA campground, because San Antonio is, the best city in the USA. and the KOA there is centrally located, spacious, shady, and well set-up, and far less expensive than any hotel room I’d rent.
San Antonio has a thick overlay of Spanish and Mexican culture, well-preserved history as a center of Spanish, and later Mexican, Texas, mariachis, ballet folklórico, recreation, a developed tourist infrastructure, and, most importantly, the best TexMex FOOD to be had. Austin, the state Capitol and the music capital of the southwest, is an hour up the road.
Logistics: The KOA has full hookup sites, electric and water sites, non-hookup sites, tent sites, cabins. It’s flat and level and the roads are paved. There’s plenty of green space and shade. Amenities include bath houses with private showers and ADA-compliant facilities; a laundry room; a dump station; propane and firewood sales; a snack bar; a swimming pool; wifi; cable TV hookups; a dog park; bike rentals. The office includes a small camp supply and c-store.
San Antonio municipal bus line #24 stops at the front gate. San Antonio has one of the best public transit systems in the US, so there’s no need to mess with traffic or parking. And of course you’re “inside the loop” in one of the larger urban areas in the state, with all the conveniences, including restaurants, grocery and hardware stores and shopping. And with all that the city still feels like a small town – strangers will smile at you and welcome you to their place.
Fees: Sites run from about $35 to about $80 a night. Reservations are a good idea, especially during tourist seasons. Discount programs are available through KOA.
Getting there: The KOA is located at 602 Gembler Road on the east side of downtown. Access from any of the major highways is easy; the roads are good and clear and there’s a very clear map on the campground’s website.
Garner State Park
If you want outdoor recreation AND lots of people, you can head about a hundred miles west of San Antonio to Garner State Park. Located on the Frio (english “cool or cold”) River, Garner is notoriously the most crowded camping park in the Texas State Parks system, and frequently fills to capacity by mid-morning, making advance reservations an absolute must-have. Don’t ever count on showing up and finding an open campsite; it probably won’t happen.
Garner’s been mentioned in movies and music as a great place to hang out, and draws large crowds of tourists, plus locals and college folk from both Austin and San Antonio. Both Austin and San Antonio have multiple residence universities, hence large populations of students looking to unwind. The park has a long tradition of summer evening jukebox dances in the CCC-built pavilion, but the chief attraction is the river, a flat, slow-moving watercourse where visitors can go tubing, paddle-boarding, boating, fishing, or swimming, or just paddle around the river and cool off, cooling off being a major Texas thing during summer, which runs from March until Thanksgiving. Or Christmas, sometimes.
(I don’t drink beer, so I’ve never set foot in the place, but hears it’s a lot of fun if you don’t have the hermit gene in your DNA.)
Logistics: Garner offers a dozen FHU sites, 200+ Water and Electricity sites, and 120+ water only sites (20-foot and smaller RVS allowed; generators permitted except during quiet hours 22:00 – 06:00.) Some sites are reported to be unshaded, and the toilets serving the “new” areas (which includes all FHU and some of the other types) are closed for renovation as of this writing. There are multiple dump stations near all the camping areas.
Amenities: Onsite grille, c-store, laundry room, ADA-compliant showers and toilets. Onsite miniature golf. A concessionaire rents tubes, canoes, and other flavors of water and outdoor toys and offers a shuttle service..
Fees: FHU: $35/night; Water & Electric: $22-26/night; Water only: $15-20/night. Day use fee, per person, $8.00.
Getting There: From San Antonio, take US90 west to Sabinal. Head north on SH 127 to US 183. Continue north on 183. Turn East on SH1050 to the park entrance.
West Texas – Big Bend Country
Big Bend State Park
One of the best places to stay here to explore the National Park is in the park itself, which has four “developed” campgrounds.
The “Back-Country” sites scattered through the park aren’t recommended for novices or first-time campers.. The roads aren’t necessarily RVable, and in the Bend, you’re not only off-the-grid, you’re damn near off the MAP. If you get stuck or broken (tires, axles), emergency backup and service can be hours away and incredibly costly. Avoid the more remote spots until you’ve learned your way around.
The park and the campgrounds are open year-round, but sane people avoid the area between Memorial and Labor Days. Really sane people leave at Easter and don’t come back until Halloween. Or maybe Thanksgiving. The desert gets hot and dry enough to endanger lives. Our correspondent denies being over-cautious, preferring “respectful as all hell,”, but says he never goes out of sight of his vehicle without at least a gallon of water, a pocket emergency shade, and a big hat. The Bend defines “hostile terrain,” and when you run out of water and shade, you’ve run out of life.
Enough with the scary stuff. Where do we sleep?
UPDATE: A recent fire destroyed part of the Castolon Historic District and damaged other areas. The Castolon store was reported to be burned out. The Castolon District and the Cottonwood Campground are closed until further notice. Contact the park or check the website for updates. (https://www.nps.gov/bibe/planyourvisit/camping.htm)
The Chisos Basin Campground is 5400 feet up in the Chisos Mountains. Camping here is best left to tenters. The sites themselves are small and the roads steep (15% grade) and tightly curved. The park strongly discourages trailers above 20 feet and RVS above 24 feet and there are no sites suitable for anything longer.
If you must, though, be aware that facilities are minimal. There are water and flush toilets in the campground, and a dump station. Generators are allowed at the Basin for a few hours morning and evening.
Cottonwood, on the west side of the park, is more accessible to RVs and trailers but even more sparsely set up. It has water at the campground, and pit toilets (which are generally clean and surprisingly inoffensive throughout the park), but no dump station. No generators are allowed.
The Castolon store, which carries some basic supplies and park souvenirs, is within driving range.
Rio Grande Village, in the southeast part of the park on the Rio Grande, has “amenities” on par with the other NPS campgrounds – running water and flush toilets, and a nearby dump station. Generators are allowed from 8am – 8 pm. Showers and a camp store aren’t far off.
Fees for all three NPS campgrounds are low – $14 a night. Park admission is low as well. You’ll pay $15 a head for a week’s admission, and $30 a week per vehicle. There are discounted passes and annual passes, however. It’s worth looking into those.
If you want a bit more “luxury”, there IS a concession campground within the park. With full hookups. (The Bend is not totally uncivilized.)
Rio Grande Village RV Park, near the Rio Grande Village campground above, offers full hookups – water, electric, and sewer. There’s also some shade. There’s an adjacent camp store and fuel station. During the busy season, definitely make reservations – there are only 25 sites and only 5 are held for drive-ins. 1-877-386-4383, or 432-477-2293.
Fees for RGV RV Park only: $33/night for double occupancy; $3/night per extra person.
Website link: https://www.nps.gov/bibe/planyourvisit/rgv_hookups.htm
Getting there: Big Bend National Park is over 800,000 acres. It’s hard to miss. Take US 385 south from Marathon or State Highway 118 south from Alpine or east from Terlingua/Study Butte. The Park headquarters is at Panther Junction, where those two roads meet. You’ll need to check in there first to pay your fees and register, as well as get current information about road and camping conditions and site vacancies. (Don’t skip this step. Campsites fill quickly and roads can be problematic. Being stuck out here is not pleasant.)
Website link: https://www.nps.gov/bibe/planyourvisit/basicinfo.htm
Once you get out west of the National Park, there are options. West of Terlingua on highway 170, in Lajitas, is Maverick Ranch RV Park, which is a nice resort-style RV park which can be a good base for poking around the area.
Logistics: Maverick Ranch has full hookups and a long list of amenities, including golf, hiking, mountain biking, several kinds of shooting sports (This IS West Texas), swimming pool, a clubhouse, laundry facilities, and private showers, and a view of more stars than the universe can possibly hold.
Getting there: Maverick Ranch is in Lajitas, off Highway 170, west of Terlingua. It’s well marked and easy to find.
Davis Mountain State Park
Once you’ve seen enough nothing to hold you for a while, head north to Fort Davis, a frontier-era military post built to protect settlers in the area from the natives. It’s been restored and is a national historic site. A handful of miles away is Davis Mountains State Park, another jewel of the Texas State Parks system.
The chief attraction here is, of course, Texas. Davis Mountains SP features woods, trails (hiking, biking, equestrian), birding, stargazing at nearby McDonald Observatory, learning about desert ecology at the Chihuahua Desert Nature Center in Fort Davis, and learning the history of the Texas frontier at the Fort itself. And bear watching, if you’re lucky. (This IS a big deal; they were once indigenous to the area, and the fact that they have reappeared from Mexico says that efforts to restore the ecoysystem here are working.)
Note that this is another spectacularly beautiful camping park; reservations are STRONGLY recommended. The Park fills up regularly.
Logistics: Davis Mountains offers 26 full hookup sites, a mix of pull-through and back-in, and34 water/electric sites.
Amenities: There are ADA-compliant showers and toilets, and a dump station. Also, there are bears in the park again.
Fees: $25/night for FHU; $20 for water/electric, plus $6 daily park fee
Getting there: Take SH 118 from Alpine to Fort Davis, then stay on 118 to the park itself, which is up in the mountains a few miles past town.
Website link: https://tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/davis-mountains
North – Panhandle Plains
Palo Duro Canyon State Park
From Davis Mountains, if you head back east and turn north once you’re past New Mexico, you’ll find Palo Duro Canyon State Park just south of Amarillo. (Settle in; it’s a longish run, at about 400 miles.)
Palo Duro Canyon is another Texas epic, one of those places most non-Texans (and quite a few Texans) know little about beyond a little dot on the map…. But that little dot is an incredibly beautiful natural sculpture about 120 miles long, carved out of the Staked Plains (Llano Estacado on the maps) by a patient and determined river over the course of a few million years, the second largest canyon in the US. It’s now home to all manner of interesting flora and fauna, incredible rock erosion formations and insane color patterns. The indigenous peoples lived, hunted, and farmed there for thousands of years, since time out of mind, and the legendary cattleman and rancher Charles Goodnight and his partners had a ranch there from the 1870s until Goodnight sold his interest in the late 1880s.
Palo Duro Canyon State Park is also the home of TEXAS!, a musical, mythical presentation of Texas history and the frontier, which is presented in the park amphitheater Tuesday through Sunday nights during the summer.
Logistics: Palo Duro offers about a hundred water-and-electric sites, some with 50A power. ADA-compliant sites are available, and rigs up to 60 feet can be handled, this is another busy park; reservations, especially for big rigs, are a very good idea.
Fees: Water and Electric sites: $24-26/night; $8/adult daily fee
Amenities: Giant, stunningly beautiful canyon visible from campsites. ADA-compliant showers and toilets, dump stations, wildlife watching and blinds, equestrian trails and camp areas (Bring Your Own Horse…)
Best time to go: Spring and fall. The area gets COLD in winter and HOT in the summer… and that’s by Texas standards.
Getting there: The park is about 35 miles southeast of Amarillo. Take I27 south to SH217, then go east to the park.
These are my favorite camping sites
However, as I say, Texas is a BIG place, and despite having lived there for nearly sixty years, I’ve only seen a small portion of it. Future plans, places still on his Must See list, include Balmorhea State Park, Lost Maples State Natural Area, and repeat visits to Seminole Canyon State Park, Fort Parker State Park, and Pedernales Falls State Park… among many others. (I also want to canoe Caddo Lake again (I was last there in 1987 or so and loved it; it’s the only “natural” lake in Texas) and watch the bats at the Devil’s Sinkhole… )
I hope you enjoyed this as much as I enjoyed sharing this, let us know what you thought of the Epic Texas camping spots in this great State of ours.