Balcones Springs is a Hill Country Haven for Adults and Children Alike
Founder and owner Christine Baskin welcomes guests to her family-run summer camp and high-end event space
By Genevieve Poist
The moment I step foot onto the pebble path of Balcones Springs, it’s clear I’m somewhere remarkable.
Tucked neatly off of Hill Country Road 1431, the summer camp/retreat/event space/outdoor mecca is both homey and romantic. Every inch of the 250-acre property is carefully detailed — a bright tablecloth, a bouquet of fresh cut garden roses, a western scene stitched onto the hem of a pressed quilt.
Simply put, Balcones Springs is magic. So it’s no surprise its owner is magic, too.
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Dust lifts in the late afternoon light as Christine Baskin eagerly welcomes us in with a wave. Her chinoiserie sundress sways in the breeze and three Toller Spaniels circle her ankles, tails wagging. It’s impossible not to soak in her energy. Owner, founder, director, designer and showrunner of The Retreat at Balcones Springs and Camp Balcones Springs, Christine is known for everything except sitting down. One moment, she’s playing with campers by the lake; the next, she’s on the phone planning with a bride-to-be. Later still, she’s in the kitchen, donning rubber gloves to help scrub dirty dishes with her team at 3 a.m. And yet, she looks completely unruffled. With flushed cheeks, she ushers me up the stairs of one of the lofted cabins. As we settle in, the dogs stretch across the cool Saltillo tile floor (You read that right. These cabins are equipped with AC units and Saltillo tile floors. This is not your childhood summer camp).
I lean in and ask Christine to start at the beginning. The very beginning.
She does just that. Unwinding the history of the property, Christine’s eyes sparkle as she shares stories of childhood adventures with her father and grandfather. A native of California, she describes an upbringing defined by the outdoors.
“That was all we did. We were outside every day you could be outside, which in California, is most days of the year,” she says. “ I think that’s why the idea of running a summer camp, even though I never attended one as a child, was so second-nature to me.”
Several decades and a move to Texas later, Christine and her family set out to purchase an existing summer camp, a feat they found was more easily said than done. “I didn’t realize how personal many of these places were. No one wanted to sell their camp,” she explains. “Now that I’ve been doing this for almost 30 years, I completely get it. It was very naive of me to think otherwise.”
So, they shifted gears. Considering the possibility of purchasing land, they scoured listings across the Texas landscape. Then, the phone rang. Christine’s extended family owned a lake house on Lake Travis just north of Austin, and a ranch down the road had unexpectedly gone on the market. The Baskins toured the property — at the time, called Hiney Ranch — the next day.
It was decided. They would set out to build a camp of their own.
That was 1992. The only things on-site at purchase were an old two-story ranch house, a storage barn, a small cinder block building and Lake Ted — a private, 10-acre lake dynamited by owner Ted Hiney when his daughter asked for a swimming pool. The family got to work right away. Thanks to previous research Christine had done on construction, they were able to move quickly, and Camp Balcones Springs held its inaugural summer camp session in the summer of 1993, just 8 months after making the property their own.
Three decades later, Balcones Springs now radiates its own singular charm. Doors propped open to the smell of live oak and juniper; dusty boots lined up beneath antlers hung on the wall; embroidered pillows tucked into corners of handmade furniture; sun-kissed shoulders against moonlit bonfire. The property has grown over the years — with 46 cabins, a dining hall, several pavilions, herb and vegetable gardens and event spaces. The lake and rolling fields are scattered with outdoor recreation, including a climbing wall and zipline, a fitness and yoga studio, horse barn with dozens of horses, goats and donkeys, tennis courts and more. And yet, more than half of the land remains untouched. Quiet spots and breathtaking views of neighboring Lake Travis nestle along the property’s hiking trails, just steps from the warm bustle of the Retreat’s central hub. This was an intentional choice, harkening back to Christine’s youthful days exploring the rugged nature of Southern California.
Come summer, Camp Balcones Springs, or “CBS,” welcomes hundreds of children, but this camp offers an adventure beyond typical Texas camps, with smaller camper-to-counselor ratios, air-conditioned cabins and specialized classes. While Christine acknowledges the value of more rural facilities, she wanted to create a program that would allow children to get the most out of camp by being well-rested and comfortable in their lodging.
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“Traditional summer camps without air-conditioning are wonderful in many ways. In Texas especially, however, the lack of AC can become a limiting factor,” says Christine. “Our aim has always been to create a summer camp environment that enables children to take risks and step outside of their comfort zone, and we’ve always believed that the best way to do that is when they are well rested when they begin each day. As a mother myself, it was important to me that my children eat healthy food and not melt away in the Texas heat. Luckily, I’ve found that other mothers, especially millennial moms, are beginning to prioritize the same things for their children.”
During the “school” year, the property transforms from summer camp into a peaceful, cozy and authentic glamping experience. All named after various Texas heroes and decorated by Christine herself, no two cabins are the same. Each possesses a distinct style with unique artifacts collected from her travels — from Mexico in the 1990s, to Texas flea markets and antique shows and work from her favorite local artists. This goes beyond the standard boutique hotel fare. Quintessential camp elements such as yellow pine interiors and magnificent Hill Country views are combined with refined comforts, like cotton percale sheets, individual temperature controls and en-suite bathrooms. The blend creates a “rustic luxury” experience that makes Balcones Springs what it is.
The rise of glamping has made The Retreat an ultimate destination for a wedding weekend.
“Couples come near and far to wed at The Retreat — Texans and even a few Europeans — you name it! Because the property has so much untouched nature, it provides a blank canvas for couples to bring their wedding weekends to life while avoiding all the headaches that come with a rustic wedding,” explains Christine.
And by this, she means the property has all the infrastructure needed to strike this perfect balance: nine venues, a full time staff, gourmet catering, endless activities and 46 onsite cabins for guests to stumble to bed after a night of dancing underneath the stars. It really is a one stop shop for a destination Texas Hill Country wedding.
As I speak with Christine, she shares details of events from over her thirty years, including hundreds of weddings, company retreats, family reunions and Adult Camps where 20 to 30-somethings live out their childhood camp dreams as adults, inclusive of programming, food and booze.
“What I never expected and am always so enamored with is how this place taps into your inner-child and encourages play, even for adults,” says Christine. “Of course, they’re enjoying wine and cocktails and ‘glamping’ in our boutique cabins, but this is after blobbing or cannonballing into Lake Ted. It is really beautiful to me to witness how much summer camp bleeds into each stay. I feel like people tend to see these sorts of activities and experiences as mutually exclusive — sort of like how certain types of vacation travel seemed off the table for families and kids — and it’s been my aim since day one to foster a space in which they can mix flawlessly. You shouldn’t have to choose between adventurous fun and a luxury stay. It’s possible for an experience to cater to both.”