Central Texas Campsites: 4 Pitch-Perfect Places to Take Your Family This Fall
Plan an autumn excursion to these lesser-known parks
Story and photographs by Pam LeBlanc
It’s officially fall, or so the calendar says, so we hereby grant you permission to plan the first camping trip of the season.
Tired of the usual suspects? You’ve got options. Take a pass on Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, Pedernales Falls State Park and McKinney Roughs State Park this time and look to these lesser-known places to pitch a tent (or rent a cabin or trailer) this season.
603 FM 1441, Bastrop | 512-578-4816
Entry fee $5 adults, free ages 12 and under; $2 seniors. Campsites $22 per night; Airstream trailers $225 per night
Tall, swaying pines and twisty oaks surround a reservoir perfect for canoeing, fishing or swimming. The Lower Colorado River Authority manages this 182-acre respite where you won’t find crowds, but you will find five shiny Flying Cloud Airstream trailers lined up along the shore and available for rent. (Want to go old-school? The park also has eight campsites with just water and 11 with water and electric hookups for RVs.) If you opt for an Airstream, you can cook up dinner in the trailer’s tiny kitchen, or toss something on the outdoor gas grill. The trailers come equipped with TVs, a DVD player and stereo system, a small shower, toilet, two single beds and a queen. Outside, flip on strands of twinkling lightbulbs, light a fire in the pit, settle onto an Adirondack chair and toast some marshmallows. When the sun rises, you can meander down 10 miles of trails, including a waterside path that leads all the way to the other side of the lake.
78 Park Road 11 South near Luling | 830-672-3266
Entry fee $3 adults, free 12 and under. Camping $12 to $20; cabin $65
This park feels out of place against its surroundings. Clusters of dwarf palmettos with fan-shaped leaves look like they were air-dropped here from a jungle, and small ponds of tea-colored water add an almost spooky vibe. The 300-acre park offers camping, fishing in a small stocked lake, and boardwalks that let you explore the park’s unique wetlands without getting your toes wet. There’s even a tall tale to send shivers up your spine – old-timers say a swamp monster with glowing eyes once hid in the underbrush here. No telling if that’s true, but we can confirm that gar and snakes occasionally appear in the San Marcos River, which bisects the park. Campsites are well-shaded, and the Civilian Conservation Corps-built pavilion is worth a gander. The river is popular with paddlers – and it’s fun for swimming, too. If you don’t feel like roughing it in a tent, rent the no-frills cabin with a sprawling porch but no plumbing.
West of Lampasas, near Bend | 325-628-3240
Entry fee $5, under 12 free. Camping $10-$15
Lush, mossy Gorman Falls gets all the attention, and it’s definitely worth the short hike to see it, but don’t miss the spring-fed pools of water at the other end of the 5,300-acre park. Some 35 miles of trails crisscross the property, and more than 300 caves pockmark its underbelly. In recent years, the park has become a popular mountain biking spot, and the rocky and sometimes technical terrain is good for trail running, too. Bring a canoe or kayak, and fisherman appreciate the white bass run that occurs each spring.
1921 Park Road 14, near Moody | 254-853-2389
Entry fee $2, free 12 and under
This park, one of the earliest in Texas, is named for Mrs. Isabella Eleanor “Mother” Neff, mother of Gov. Pat Morris Neff. She willed the original 6 acres of land for a park when she died in 1921. Because there was no state park system at the time, it operated as a community park until the State Parks Board was formed. It officially opened as a state park in 1937, and today the shady property along the Leon River is a favorite for family reunions. We love the historic Civilian Conservation Corps structures, including an old rock tower, road culverts and a concession building. Flooding has repeatedly damaged the park’s lower camping loop, but four years ago crews built a new one above the floodplain, not far from where the original CCC workers’ encampment stood. Wander the shady trails and save some time to drop by the new visitors center, which includes an exhibit about the park’s interesting history.