We have been in Texas for a month and it is really just so big. There are so many places to visit and so many state parks (over 90) to stay in. Recently we have visited and/or stayed in 6 state parks as part of our "Hill County Tour". Before I review these parks though, I have to recommend getting the Texas State Park Pass to anyone who is planning to camp or spend time traveling through Texas. All of the parks have daily use fees from around $5-$10 per person (which you have to pay even if you have a reservation to camp in the park). With the pass, all of your day use fees are waived PLUS the second consecutive night camping in any state park is discounted 50% (Nightly rates are $20 so the 2nd night is $10). The pass is only $70 dollars a year and it more than paid for itself within the first week using it and it just continues to save us money.
Based on our experience, reservations need to be made for all the parks and you are better off making them a little ahead of time. We did not really plan ahead (shocking I know) and two weeks of spring break in March made it very difficult to get into some of the parks we wanted to overnight in. Spring break is over now but since the weather is beautiful and flowers are blooming, people are out on the weekends so for more popular parks (like Mckinney Falls in Austin) getting a weekend reservation is still difficult.
1. Colorado Bend State Park
This was our first park in the Hill Country and we weren't able to get a reservation here but still wanted to go so we ended up at an RV park about 10 miles away. And so began the saga of the horrible RV park and breaking Wanda's slide.
WORD OF WARNING: Do NOT stay in Sulphur Springs RV park. Especially if you have a class A Motorhome. The roads getting into the park are treacherous: hilly, steep, full of potholes, completely unlevel dirt roads with loose rocks...it was terrible, we were both so stressed out, the dogs were so scared, the cabinets were flying open, dishes were breaking (you get the picture). Not to mention while it has pretty view the campground has zero amenities. No garbages, no showers, the "bathroom" is a shack with toilets but no stalls...yes just open toilets. The owner was nasty. All in all (putting aside it was the reason Wanda broke) it was just a terrible place to stay. While we try not to be too negative about places, we feel we have to warn you about this one.
Anyhow, back to Colorado Bend. This park tends to get crowded and they often close when it gets to capacity. So even for a day pass, you generally should make a reservation ($5 pp or free with the park pass day use is free). We headed there in the late morning but the park had reached capacity so we were told to make a reservation and come back for the afternoon entrance. I think they limit this due to parking, a smaller campground and to prevent overcrowding of the day use areas. While it's annoying if you don't plan ahead, it's nice that they don't let the parks get too crowded so you can still enjoy your time there.
We only did one hike, the most popular, to Gorman Falls. It was our first hike in real Texas terrain, rocky, arid with plenty of cacti (Sophie learned her lesson quick to stay away from these). It's about a 3 mile round trip hike and right before the falls it gets pretty steep and slippery. It's a bit of a rock scramble. While we knew Hayley could handle this no problem, it was Sophie's first time on a hike like this, but we're happy to report she did great too. Despite being pretty clumsy and goofy she pulls it together on a hike! The falls were very pretty, kinda almost looks like spanish moss in the pictures. There was a decent amount of traffic on the trail but since its a popular spot, that was to be expected.
We did drive around the campground area which made us sad that we weren't staying. Not too many sites but most of them are backed up to the Colorado River, so if you can get a spot take it.
2. Longhorn Caverns State Park
Longhorn Caverns is a day use only park which is right near Inks Lake State Park. Entry to the park is free but you have to pay for the walking tour. They do guided tours of the cavern through out the day which cost $18.00 for an adult and are about 90 minutes long. There are a few different areas or rooms that are highlighted along the tour, we liked Crystal City, the Hall of Marble and the Hall of Diamonds. We actually really like doing cave tours and really enjoyed this one. Pretty cool formations and the marble and crystal were unique elements which we haven't seen before.
3. Inks Lake State Park
Inks Lake is down the road from Longhorn Caverns and has campsites so if you are in that area make this your home base. There is a fishing pier, a huge lake, hiking trails and the RV sites are nice and big, it's seems like a great campground. Unfortunately we couldn't get a site because of spring break, so we just spent the day there. We took the longer trail to Devil's Waterhole, which is along the river and has no clear trail. There are tons of boulders and rocks to traverse so you have to kind of pick your own route, which was a fun challenge.
4. Enchanted Rock State Natural Area
Several people recommended that we visit this park and we can see why. It was another day trip for us because while the park has tent camping, it doesn't have RV sites. We had to make a reservation and we had a two hour window in the morning from 1030 a.m.-1230 p.m. to enter ($7 pp day use or parks pass). I think this may be because it was spring break but reservations are really never a bad idea. We hiked the loop trail which is about 4.25 miles around the centerpiece of the park, the Enchanted Rock. It was a nice hike, not very challenging but pretty landscapes and views, it is also the only hike that dogs are allowed on. Kevin also did the Summit Trail which was a pretty steep .67 mile up trail, me and the dogs opted to head back to Wanda.
5. Mckinney Falls State Park
Mckinney Falls is a perfect location to stay while exploring Austin. Not far from the cities main attractions like SoCo, Congress Avenue Bridge or Barton Springs pool yet you are in nature, in a quiet park with plenty of hikes and big sites to relax in. We spent 5 nights here (one of our longer stays) and really enjoyed it. The wildflowers are blooming like crazy now so between the blue bonnets and the waterfalls it was beautiful.
What was not so beautiful however was the mosquitoes which are legitimately the size of dinosaurs. Biggest things I've ever seen and they are ALL over. They don't really bite but they are really pretty gross.
We did a couple of hikes while we were here and saw both the upper and lower falls. We thought the lower falls were prettier. There are about 5 hiking trails throughout the park to keep you occupied when you are not exploring the city.
6. South Llano River State Park
This was a quick overnight stop for us on our way from Austin to Big Bend and we were pleasantly surprised. It a nice smaller campground and has several hiking trails and meadows of wildflowers all around. We hiked the west canyon loop and the overlook trail. There are turkey roost areas (although we didn't see any) and it is a popular birding park. There is also plenty of river to tube down. I wouldn't have minded staying there a bit longer.
While we are done with Texas hill country, I think we'll be staying in some more state parks before we leave Texas. With the locations, awesome hiking trails and the parks pass, you really can't beat it.
What is your favorite Texas State Park?
By: Ashley Quiambao