State Parks: Your Natural Neighbors
One of the many benefits of living in the Texas Hill Country is the country itself. State parks punctuate the landscape, offering a wide range of recreational opportunities. Lakes and rivers give residents plenty of opportunities for water sports, and hikers have an incredible variety of terrain to explore. There are countless campsites, trails and overlooks for day and overnight guests. Texas state parks provide residents with plenty of opportunities for getting out of the house and away from the stresses of everyday life. We’ve put together a list of some of the best to help you plan your escape.
Texas State Parks: Natural Wonders, Right Next Door
The best part of living in the Hill Country may just be the natural beauty that surrounds us. Rivers, streams and lakes provide cool places to play. Limestone caves, rocky cliffs and maple-filled forests give us unique and fascinating places to explore. Texans recognized the need to preserve some of these natural treasures as early as the 1860s, passing laws to protect some species of fish and wildlife from commercial exploitation. In the 1920s, the State Parks Board was created to preserve these natural areas for future generations.
Blanco State Park
Opened in 1934, this 104-acre park was a regular stop for explorers and settlers, drawn by the cool Blanco River. Today, folks still come here to enjoy the water and all it has to offer — boating, fishing, kayaking, tubing and, of course, swimming. The park is popular with camping families that want to take a day or two to escape the city, as well as picnic-minded folks who just need to get away for a few hours.
Pedernales Falls State Park
This park is mammoth — 5,211 acres — and runs along the banks of the Pedernales River. The Falls form a focal point; swimming and tubing are popular summer pastimes. This is a great spot for mountain bikers and horseback riders, who take advantage of miles of trails winding through beautiful Texas terrain. Campsites with water and electricity are available as well as plenty of picnic sites. Bird watchers can use a covered bird viewing station with feeders and a drip bath to spy on feathered friends, where they may spot any of 150 species of birds. Fishers may catch catfish, bass, perch and carp.
Enchanted Rock State Natural Area
This 1,643-acre park surrounds an enormous pink granite exfoliation dome rising 425 feet above the surrounding terrain. Covering 640 acres, it is one of the largest exposed underground rock formations in the United States. When you visit, you’ll be joining a long line of human tourists to the area; traces of ancient inhabitants going back 11,000 years have been unearthed. Like them, you can enjoy camping, hiking, rock climbing, picnicking and star gazing while listening for the ghosts that were said to live on the top of the rock. (If you hear something groaning in the early evening, don’t worry — it’s the sound of the granite cracking and popping due to the heating and cooling of the stone during the day. But you can keep that fact to yourself if you decide to tell ghost stories around the campfire.)
LBJ State Park
Step back in time at the 717-acre LBJ State Park, where you can learn about the Native Americans that lived here, followed by Spanish conquistadors and, finally, the German settlers whose descendants live here still. The visitor center is a good place to start your tour, where you’ll see artifacts from our 36th President as well as the Danz family log cabin, which dates back to the 1860s. A bus tour will take you to the one-room schoolhouse that LBJ himself attended and the Johnson family cemetery where he is buried. The Sauer-Beckman Farmstead is a “living history” farm where you can see folks dressed in period costume doing the daily chores of yesteryear and get a sense of what life was like in the early twentieth century.
Guadalupe River State Park
Running along the banks of the Guadalupe River, this 1,938-acre park gives visitors a chance to canoe, fish, swim, tube, hike and camp. Mountain biking and horseback riding are available on a new 5-mile equestrian trail. This is an excellent park for nature lovers, and a two-hour guided tour is given each week that provides the naturally curious with a chance to learn about the geology and history of the area, as well as the plants and animals that live here.
Garner State Park
Named for “Cactus Jack,” (John Nance Garner) who became the 32nd Vice President of the United States, this 1,419-acre park winds along ten acres of the Frio River. Visitors come to swim, tube, boat and hike. The concession building is a great place for dancers of every age to meet and swing to songs on the jukebox. Camping is available, as are cabins. There’s even a miniature golf course for those who want to get in a miniature round.
Lost Maples State Park
During the last ice age, a large number of maple trees took up permanent residence in this 2,174-acre park. Today, these magnificent “lost maples” (able to grow due to a unique microclimate formed by the geology of the area) put on a show of rampant color during the autumn months. Folks come here to fish, swim, camp and take photographs of some of the most beautiful scenery Texas has to offer.
Kickapoo Cavern State Park
This park was opened for daily access just recently — June of 2010 — and facilities are still somewhat limited. But for those who are willing to hike a bit, the rewards will be spectacular. A primitive, guided tour of the wild caves is hosted each Saturday. In the glow of lanterns and flashlights you’ll see beautiful mineral formations (two light sources per person are required) and, in the evening, the stunning flight of 500,000 Mexican free-tailed bats.
Longhorn Cavern State Park
Dedicated in 1932, this natural wonder is the result of water’s effect on limestone over long stretches of time. Used as a secret place to manufacture gunpowder during the Civil War and (legend has it) as a hideout for outlaws, today it serves as an incredible addition to the Texas State Park system, and a draw for thousands of tourists each year. A 1.5-hour walking tour gives visitors a chance to see magnificent crystal formations, stalagmites and stalactites, and rooms where Indians once held council. More adventurous (and messy) visitors can take the “wild cave” tour where crawling, climbing and squeezing are primary modes of transportation. Tours for amateur geologists and photographers are also available. There’s even a special tour for ghost hunters — make sure to bring your proton pack!
Sidebar of Related Information
A Zoo in the Backyard
Many Hill Country residents don't have to leave home to appreciate its treasures. Several species of exotic and native wildlife roam freely on the hills surrounding Brushy Top, and a wildlife management program helps to protect and monitor these magnificent animals.
- Elk — One of the largest land mammals in North America, this species of deer feed on grasses, leaves and bark. Males grow beautiful new antlers each year, which they use for sparring during the mating season.
- Sika Deer — Originally from East Asia, this species is on the brink of extinction in many areas, but have been introduced in dozens of central and southern counties in Texas. They do well here, feeding on live oak, hackberry, wild plums and mustang grapes.
- Blackbuck Antelope — Originally from India, this is one of the fastest of all land animals; they can reach speeds of 50 miles per hour. Males have black and white coloration, and grow long, twisted horns that can contain from one to four spiral turns.
- Axis Deer — Found in the forests of India, these deer are easy to spot — just look for the spots on the coat (they are also known as spotted deer). They are grazers, but will also stand on their hind legs to pluck fruits and leaves from the branches of trees.
- Scimitar-Horned Oryx — Long, thin horns identify this species, which once occupied all of North Africa, but which is now considered extinct in the wild. Adapted to the harsh desert climate, they can survive without water for several weeks. The largest population in the world today exists here in Texas.
- Lechwe — These members of the antelope family are primarily found in marshy areas, where they eat aquatic plants. Originally from Africa, they grow long, spiral-structured horns that vaguely resemble a lyre.
- White-tailed Deer — A native of North America, the white-tailed deer survives in many different environments and has been found as far north as Canada, and as far south as Peru.
- Wild Turkey — Long loved for its participation in traditional holiday meals, the wild turkey is a truly beautiful ground-feeding domestic game bird, with feathers that include red, purple and green colors as well as gold, copper and bronze tones.