Tips for Getting Better Sleep When Camping

Many women tell me that one of the biggest reasons they don’t like camping is the poor night’s sleep they get. Women like the comforts of home and don’t want to give those up for the great outdoors. But, I’m here to say that it is possible to be more comfortable at night and make your sleeping situation feel much more like what you have at home if you just make a few adjustments.

My Tips

Bring an air mattress or a cot.

One that can be plugged into your car to inflate. Or, bring a large cot. If you have kids, my sis-in-law recommends getting an extra-large cot, because kids almost never stay on their own cot the whole night. She loves the Teton Sports Outfitter XXL Camping Cot (<–Amazon). Cots don’t get holes like air mattresses do, which kids will undoubtedly break with their jumping.

Consider getting a mattress pad.

Cut it to fit your cot or air mattress. Suggestion: Rolyan Egg Crate Mattress Topper. (<– Amazon link.)

Bring extra blankets.

A large down blanket is our favorite to camp with! Even if you have a sleeping bag, a blanket is always essential when it’s cold.

Bring sheets, IF you have a thick mattress pad.

Sheets are more comfortable, however: if it is cold, the sheets won’t hold in your body heat and the air mattress will wick away every shred of warmth, leaving you shivering. The solution is to put down a thick mattress pad and make sure you have lots of blankets on top. But if you’re camping in warm weather, you’re golden!

Make sure there is good air circulation on warm nights.

Leave part some of your windows unzipped so air can get in, or bring a battery powered fan.

Do not leave any food out.

What does this have to do with sleeping? Well, critters will come along and make racket trying to snatch whatever food you have left out, and it will wake you up. Make sure everything is locked up tight in a plastic bin or your car. Or if you’re camping in bear country, put it in a bear proof locker or bin. (Those campsites will notify you if bear lockers are provided.) Not a problem for most parts of Texas.

On that note…

Try not to stress about the noises in the middle of the night.

I have a lot of friends who say that the sounds of the forest keep them up at night, and freak them out. Unless you’re camping in bear country, then you don’t have anything to be afraid of. At most, there are only a few raccoons here and there and they won’t harm you.

Make sure your tent and rain fly are staked down really well.

One thing that has given me many a sleepless night has been a flapping rain fly that the wind keeps whipping about. It can really drive you nuts. Stake it all down tightly, and you reduce the chance of this happening.

Check your sleeping bag and tent before you get in.

Make sure no spiders or other tickly critters made their way into your tent. I’ve never had this happen, but it will give you peace of mind. Then make sure your tent’s zippers are all closed tightly when you’re ready to go to bed. You won’t have to worry about a big spider (or whatever bug related fears you may have) attacking you in your sleep.

Do not put your head close to the tent wall.

Condensation can accumulate on the wall and you might get a tiny bit wet. It won’t be too bad–only a few drops–but still, it can disrupt a good night’s sleep. Condensation doesn’t mean your tent is leaking, it just means the laws of physics still apply.

Pick even ground for your tent and remove any rocks underneath.

Get a lot of physical activity during the day.

Remind yourself when climbing up a steep hill–the more I do, the more tired I will be and the easier it will be to sleep!

Take my advice for middle-of-the-night restroom runs.

Don’t go camping during rainy or extremely cold weather.

A drizzle here and there is okay, but a lot of rain can ruin your trip and prevent you from sleeping.

Bring ear plugs.

“For when a family of 6 pulls up right next to your campsite at 8:30 pm right after you got your baby to sleep and she’s up for the next 2 hours because they want to blast the radio,” my sis-in-law adds. (Why do people do that?!)

Extra Tips for Backpacking Trip Nights

Backpacking through the wilderness to your camp site (as opposed to driving up to it) means you can’t take an air mattress or cot, but it does mean you are so tired you won’t care what’s on the ground as long as you get to lay down!

Pack a Thermarest.

If you want to sleep well when camping, never go anywhere without your Thermarest. It’s a thin inflatable mattress that is ultra-light. (Amazon link to the one I have here.)

  • Don’t buy a 3/4 length one. Backpacking stores might try to sell you this because it is weighs less than a full size thermarest. However warning, you will feel like your feet are hanging off the bed all night long and I found it very uncomfortable.
  • Get one with a soft fabric-like surface. Some are made with a slick rayon-like surface and I DON’T recommend these. They will make a “swish! swish!” noise every time you move a muscle and it is so obnoxious. It’s worth going to the backpacking store and looking at them in person.

Invest in an inflatable pillow.

Therm-a-rest Inflating Camping Pillow. (<– Amazon link.)

Many backpackers prefer to just roll up a jacket and use that as their pillow, but I personally like having a legit pillow to rest my head on. It won’t come unrolled in the middle of the night like a jacket does and it feels fresher and cleaner than the jacket I’ve been wearing all day.

 

Get a backpacking tent that has room near your head.

Backpacking tents are smaller than regular car camping tents because you have to carry them down a trail. Some backpacking tents have the peak in the middle, like over your waist when you’re laying down, but you want one that has the highest point of the ceiling over your head. This will allow you to sit up in bed, change easier, and prevent your head from hitting the tent wall in the middle of the night.

Hope this helps! If you have any tips feel free to share them in the comments.

PS. Don’t forget to bring a bed for your dog! 🙂

A Girl’s Guide to Using the Restroom in the Woods

Usually I avoid talking about using the restroom on this blog, but I think it’s time we address the topic of going to the bathroom outside. I hear way too many women say that the reason they won’t go camping is because they don’t like the idea of peeing in the woods. It makes them uncomfortable.

I get it, it’s not comfortable to hold a squat, going to the bathroom in the middle of the night isn’t enjoyable, and most of us aren’t used to not having a proper porcelain throne. But going to the bathroom outside should not be a reason to miss out on fun and scenic camping trips, okay? Especially if you follow some basic tips I’ll cover here.

In this post I’ll cover:

  • 3 most common bathroom options when camping
  • Tips for making your bathroom experience pleasant
  • Tips for midnight runs to the restroom

First,

The three most common bathroom options you’ll find when camping

The wild

It’s just you and beautiful nature. Think of it this way—you didn’t have to stand in line and there are no unsettling sights to shock you when you open a stall door.

All you have to worry about is not squatting over poison ivy. (See my poison ivy ID here.)

  • The key to comfort here is to hold onto a small tree with both hands, and plant your feet apart on either side.  Stick your hiney out behind you.  This is much more comfortable than squatting.
  • Avoid any tall grasses which might tickly your hiney. Whenever a blade of grass frisks me, it always gives me a shock! Stomp around on the grasses to make a flat, tickle-free zone.
  • Look around you to be sure you aren’t squatting near a thorny plant or a snake.

What to bring:

  • Toilet paper
  • Ziploc bag or grocery sack for storage (it’s probably not best to leave paper out in the woods, unless you’re in a really remote area).
  • Hand sanitizer

Campsite restrooms

Sometimes these can be really nice, actually. The bathroom at Pedernales Falls State Park and Bastrop State Park are good examples. There is really nothing to fear with these, except some scratchy toilet paper.

I like to bring my own hand towel and hand soap when I go just because the ones they provide aren’t very nice.

Optional: you could bring your own toilet seat covers if it gives you peace of mind.

Compost toilets

These are my least favorite. They are like giant port-o-potties that never get emptied. (Everything goes into a pit in the ground.) Because they don’t need running water or plumbing, you are more likely to see these in remote parts of parks or in areas that aren’t as developed. (Like Colorado Bend State Park.)

If this situation is unavoidable, I bring my own toilet seat covers and toilet paper. Call me high maintenance but these little things make me more comfortable!

Tips for making your bathroom experience pleasant

  • Before deciding what park to camp at, look at the website and find out what kind of restrooms are available. If your only option is compost toilet, and that makes you uncomfortable, choose a different park. Most of Texas’ popular parks have normal restrooms.
  • Bring your own disposable toilet seat covers.
  • Bring your own toilet paper. Always keep a little bit of TP in your day pack whenever you’re out hiking.
  • Bring a Ziploc or grocery sack to carry it back to a trashcan in. You can discreetly hide this in your daypack until you find a trashcan, and then toss this in the nearest bin.
  • Bring hand sanitizer or soap. If you don’t have access to a sink, you’ll want hand sani or some wet-ones wipes. (I prefer wet ones.) When you’re at a public restroom at a campsite, they don’t always provide soap.
  • Bring your own hand towel. When I’m camping at a park with restrooms, I also like to bring my own hand towel because it’s a nice little luxury from home, and it’s way better than the air dryers or brown thin paper towels provided. This obviously does not apply to backpacking—in which case, you won’t want to carry this.

Tips for midnight runs to the restroom

  • An hour before bed, stop drinking. Get your required daily dose of water, just do it with ample time before bed so you are less likely to need to pee in the middle of the night.
  • Use the buddy system. Make a deal with your tent buddy that you will accompany each other to the restroom if you have to go in the middle of the night.  Trust me, this makes the whole experience much more pleasant. Furthermore, it’s safer.
  • Dress in something for bed that you won’t mind walking to the restroom in later.
  • If you wear glasses, set those out somewhere that you can easily locate in the middle of the night.
  • If it’s cold, set out your warm pants, fleece, hat, and moccasins/tennies next to your sleeping bag so you can just easily put them on when you wake up and have to run to the potty.
  • Keep a flashlight handy.

I hope these tips help you feel a little more comfortable with this angle of camping. Take it from my many years of camping, it’s really not that bad and you will get used to it!

The View from the Top of Enchanted Rock

One of my goals with this blog is to give you the chance to see pretty outdoor places around our state even if you can’t leave your office cube. So today, a view from the top of Enchanted Rock! We went up there in the middle of January with some friends from Austin. It was risky as far as weather, but we threaded the needle between two freezes, and got a 70-degree day.

Enchanted Rock, for those of you who’ve never been, is nestled in the Texas Hill Country just north of Fredericksburg, two hours west of Austin. It’s in a region where pink granite juts out of the ground everywhere you look, with Enchanted Rock being the largest chunk–a huge beautiful dome surrounded by other smaller domes and rocks. Kind of like the monolith Uluru in Australia, but a big pink Texan version.

It was insanely windy up at the top–50 mph! We all felt like we might blow away.

When you’re up on the top of Enchanted Rock, you are literally up with the birds. You’ll see them right at your level about a hundred feet away, soaring over the valley floor. None of them would stay in one place long enough for my pictures, but you get the idea.

The climb to the top, for those of you who have never been, is about 20 minutes straight up once you reach the base of the rock.

 

Of course, you can stop and take breaks–no shame in that–but man, it is a killer bun and thigh work out. A good thing to do in January when you’re trying to get back on the wagon!

Love that pink Texas granite.

When you get up to the top, there are caves you can go explore, or you can just sit and enjoy the view and give your legs a rest.

On a less windy day, I like to bring a pair of binocs up there and scan the countryside, but we felt like we would blow off the cliff at any moment so sought the wind-break of some nearby rocks.

Enchanted Rock now has a food truck at the base of the mountain, so when you come back down you can get ice cream. It’s glorious! Much needed! Delicious!

Enchanted Rock is one of my top 5 favorite state parks, and you’ll hear me talk a lot about it on this blog. So if you haven’t ever been, put it on your list.

More posts about Enchanted Rock

5 Reasons to Go Camping in January

Going camping in January/early February can be a toss up, because it will either freeze you out and you’ll be miserable or have to cancel, or you’ll get a perfectly beautiful day, with no crowds.

If you cancel, you might lose your reservation deposit (in Texas that’s around $10 per camp site), but if the weather is gorgeous…

Like it was when we went to Enchanted Rock last month, then you will be counting your lucky stars!

What I Like About Camping in January

1. By January, you’re probably itching to get outdoors and start your new years resolution of working out.

2. Fewer crowds. In January, you’ll practically have the park to yourself.

3. It’s campfire weather.

4. There’s less going on in January that would conflict with your schedule, like sports games, events, school deadlines, and the like.

5. You’ll have more choices for camp sites.

Usually your site assignment is luck of the draw–it depends on how early you check in, how many other people are there, and what is left for you. With fewer people camping in January, there’s a better chance you’ll have more to choose from.

Moral of the story: risk it and make a January reservation. If you have to cancel because of weather, the price is minimal but if the weather is great, the reward is incredible!

Shout out to our friends Blake and Erin for planning this January excursion and getting us out the door.

More posts about camping:

9 Reasons to Visit LBJ Ranch and State Park

A couple of weeks ago, I stopped by the Lyndon B. Johnson State Park and historic site while en route to Fredericksburg. It was so cute and worth the stop! I am glad to finally know the charming park behind the gates.

This ranch is where former President Lyndon B. Johnson was born and lived most of his life. I love that both President Johnson and former First Lady Lady Bird Johnson were advocates for the environment, and no doubt their childhood in the scenic Texas Hill Country was a huge reason for their love of the land. As First Lady, Lady Bird used her platform to promote the restoration of native landscapes across America, and President Johnson brought to pass many of the environmental policies we still have today. And in typical American fashion, they led a quaint little small town life, which you can see at the park.

Here’s what I loved:

1. It’s Free!

Woo hoo!

2. Nearby there is plenty of nice lodging.

This is quick trip from Austin or San Antonio and the area is known for its charming B&B’s. Check out this website for more info!

3. You’ll get the Texas ranch experience.

Without having to shovel manure or clean dead rats out of a barn! Cows, barns, old ranch structures, white picket fences, tall oak trees, and acres upon acres of rolling hills greet you as you drive around. This ranch is also home to part of the Official Texas State Longhorn Herd. Because this is Texas, y’all, and we have an official longhorn herd.

4. It’s next to 2 of Texas’ best state parks.

You can hit the trifecta of Hill Country Parks on your trip to this area. Pedernales Falls State Park and Enchanted Rock State Park are both within a half hour. If you’re a Texan, and you haven’t been to Enchanted Rock or Pedernales, you need to get in the car now!!

Enchanted Rock State Park

5. Extremely kid friendly–all trails are stroller friendly and the rest can be seen from the car!

I loved being able to see the highlights from my vehicle…the air conditioning and music was so nice.

6. Pretty views of the Pedernales River.

Perfect for a dip or for the fishermen and women in your crew.

7. Lots to do in the area.

If you like shopping, cute B&B’s, or brunch, then you are in luck! (And we need to be friends.) Nearby is Johnson City, a charming little town with a market and restaurants. Fredericksburg is just thirty minutes away and has lots of good shops and eateries as well, like the Fredericksburg Herb Farm (their brunch is fantastic.) And a discussion of Hill Country sites wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the area’s famous wineries and Texas Wine Trail! Get your nature fix at the park and then go find an excuse to dress up in Fredericksburg.

8. Great wildlife and wildflowers.

I saw bison, axis, butterflies, and tons of wildflowers. If you need pics in the wildflowers, this is your place. Heaven!

9. An Interesting Dose of History

The lessons that stick with us are ones which we relate to–that affected us, involved us, or told stories of people like us. Seeing President Johnson’s humble beginnings on a Texas ranch, and learning about his Presidency from that perspective, is an enriching history lesson. If you want your kids to learn about American history or political science, why not take them to see the country home of one of two Presidents from Texas? They will see how someone from a simple life grew up to be a great President and what could be a better lesson than that?

10. Lovely picnic area.

The picnic area has plenty of tables and room to spread out, so if you are looking for a fun lunch stop on your way to Fredericksburg then stop here.

Important Links

How to Make the Most of Your Visit to Enchanted Rock

This is part of my Girl’s Guide to Enchanted Rock series! Be sure to check out the other posts in this category before planning your trip.

Ladies, Enchanted Rock is a place you will love. I bet many of y’all have been there already and can surely attest to what I’m saying! You may think you have seen the best of Texas — but until you are standing on top of this rock, soaking in the 360-degree panorama of the Hill Country and enjoying a cool morning breeze, you don’t know how magnificent our state can be.

This park is truly a gem.

Here are some pointers for making the most of your visit!

Best Time of Year to Go

WILFLOWER SEASON! Late February through mid April – the last weekend in March was peak wildflower season this year and the weather was perfect.

NOTE: This is also Spring Break so it is insanely busy…just be sure you are there early in the AM for a day hike or have a camp site reservation.

Best Trails to Hike

When to Book a Campsite

  • For March: book by April of the previous year
  • For other times of the year: 10 months in advance

How to Book a Campsite

What Camp Sites Are Like

  • Walk in campsites recommended (break down of available sites here)
  • Each walk-in campsite has a shelter, picnic table, post for hanging your trash/food/lantern, a fire ring, and a charcoal grill
  • FYI not all the campsites are right next to the cars – you have to walk a little ways (about a quarter of a mile) to them
  • The campsites are VERY secluded which is nice!

  • They are not large, and can only fit 2 6-person tents so if you plan on going with a group or family, reserve 2 campsites and arrive early enough to get them together
  • You will be assigned campsites upon arrival so if you want pick of the litter, get there early.
  • Campsite 22 is awesome!!
  • 30 is impossible to find
  • 29 – 32 are really close together and not as scenic, I do not recommend. However if you have a large group these are great because they are very close together!

 

Suggested Itinerary

Friday

  • 2pm park arrival and check in
  • Afternoon – campsite set up, short hike before sunset on the loop trail to the frontside trail (described in this post)
  • Evening – Build a fire, cook dinner, hang out around the camp fire and ROAST S’MORES!!!
  • Late night stargazing before bed!

Saturday

  • Sunrise hike to the top via Summit Trail
  • Explore Loop Trail on the way back to the camp site
  • Big brunch
  • Post-breakfast s’mores because, why not?
  • Relax around camp
  • Late afternoon hike or fishing in Moss Lake
  • Cook dinner on the Dutch oven
  • Campfire stories

Sunday

  • Another sunrise hike or fishing excursion (or sleep in!)Pack up the campsite and headed home

Alternative 1-night Itinerary

Saturday

  • Noon picnic in Fredericksburg (at Marketplatz in center of town)
  • 2pm check in and campsite set up
  • Afternoon – short hike
  • Evening – relax around campsite, cook dinner and make s’mores!

Sunday

  • Sunrise hike to top
  • Take Echo Canyon and Loop trail on route back to camp site
  • Lunch
  • Pack up camp site and head home

Alternative Non-Camping Itinerary

Spend the weekend in a Bed & Breakfast in the Fredericksburg area and do an early morning day hike Saturday or Sunday at Enchanted Rock! Spend the rest of your time shopping in Fredericksburg’s charming shops, eating good food, and driving around to see the wildflowers.

Official Park Webpage

Getting There

Here’s the Google Map to it: https://goo.gl/maps/mre61PrqB4Q2

  • From Austin: 1.5 hours — I recommend taking 290 on the way there and 71 on the way back, for a nice change of scenery
  • From San Antonio: 1.5 hours via I-10 to Hwy 87
  • From Dallas: 4 hours via Hwy 281
  • From Houston: 4 hours via I-10 to 290

Other things to do in the area

Other Notes and Tips

  • You can buy firewood there for $6 a bundle
  • No dogs on summit trail (Boo! No fun! So lame!) — dogs are allowed on other trails, however.
  • Arrival time: 2pm is check in but it is good to be there early for prime pick of campsites

Hope you enjoy your visit and have a fabulous time! If you have tips you want to share, leave them in the comments. We are fortunate to have such a stunning place in Texas, and it is definitely worth the drive.


Other posts in A Girl’s Guide to Enchanted Rock series:

A Girl’s Getaway to Enchanted Rock

This is the story from our camping trip — tips for visiting the park to come next, stay tuned.

This past weekend I took a group of girls on a camping trip at Enchanted Rock State Natural Area and we had so much fun!! If you have never been to this park before, you should stop what you’re doing and make a reservation.

Enchanted Rock is like a mini-Yosemite National Park – a smaller, pinker, Texas version of one of our greatest national park.  Yosemite is known for its rolling rocky slopes and waterfalls; Enchanted Rock has its own rolling hills of pink granite.

The landscape is varied – canyons one minute, summit views the next, and lakeside paths the next.

Except we have bluebonnets! Take that Yosemite…

En route to the park, we stopped in Fredericksburg for a picnic of caprese sandwiches and Thai chicken salad were on the menu! Only the best for these girls.

My goal is to show ladies that the outdoors can be fun, and inspire their appreciation for conserving nature here in Texas and around the world. So to me, every detail that makes our time outdoors better is important, down to the fresh mozzarella!

(Texas was REALLY helping me out by putting on a show of native wildflowers – WOW.)

One of the girls had never been camping before, so I was crossing my fingers she had fun. She is the last person you would think of as an outdoorsy person, but I’ve been working on her over the last few years!! Mwahaha.

The camp sites at Enchanted Rock are very secluded — so secluded in fact, that they can be hard to find, and finding ours was kind of an ordeal!

But that was a good thing. It was nice to feel like we were out in the middle of nowhere: just us, nature, and as many comforts of home as we could fit in our vehicles.

(Including this awesome folding hammock!)

The campsite may not have had running water or electricity but it did come with our own private pink granite hill and wildflowers pouring out of nooks and crannies.

Thanks to the seclusion, our neighbors were spared them from hearing our renditions of “Get low”, the “Star spangled banner”, “Texas Our Texas”, and many stories which will not be repeated on this blog.

What happens at Enchanted stays at Enchanted…

I did a little bit of Dutch oven cooking for dinner – Southwest cornbread and apple cobbler. It hit the spot!

Despite a middle of the night adventure that involved wild animals (story coming soon) we enjoyed an incredible starry sky and a good night’s sleep. We woke up early the following morning to take on the main point of our whole trip: hiking to the top of Enchanted Rock!

We headed out around 7:30, coffee in hand, just as the sun was rising, to be some of the first people on the top.

The temperature was still in the low 60’s and the morning sun was causing the granite to come alive in hues of pink, orange, and red. There was hardly a cloud in the sky so it glowed electric blue.

With the sun peeking through the bluebonnets and the pink granite as a backdrop, I felt like I was living in a travel magazine – or Heaven itself. I took photos but there is nothing like the experience of seeing it for yourself.

The hike to the top was pretty much straight up, and we felt the burn in our legs. But fortunately we didn’t suffer long – only about 20 minutes to the top!

We were rewarded with an endless panorama of the Texas Hill Country. We could see birds soaring over the surrounding hills at the same elevation as us, so it was truly like having a bird’s eye view of Texas.

I think we all enjoyed the tranquility of the moment and having the place to ourselves.

On the way home we took the Echo Canyon and Loop Trails, which were incredible and led us through a canyon and beside a lake, past hundreds of bluebonnets, buttercups, Indian paintbrush, and other wildflowers and more panoramic hill country views.

I would totally recommend these trails on your next visit!

I am proud to report my friend Katherine, the one who had never camped, not only survived her first weekend of camping but had fun! Or maybe she’s just telling me that…either way, I appreciate the grace.

The cap on our fabulous weekend was breakfast sandwiches on Texas toast and s’mores! The girls went to town with s’more combinations and ended up coming up with a new one: Croissant strawberry Nutella s’mores, which they report are amazing.

Perfect weekend in the books.

Thanks to all the ladies who came and made this camp out so fun, thanks to our park system for this amazing park, thanks to God for wildflowers, and thanks readers for coming back to the blog! Hope everyone has a nice week and I can’t wait to tell you more about this park in upcoming posts!

Stay tuned for:

  • The Best Trails of Enchanted Rock
  • Tips for Planning Your Visit and Suggested Itinerary
  • A Camping Menu for Enchanted Rock

XOXO

Ps. Affiliate links used.

Fun Camping Adventures at Bastrop State Park

We just got back from a fun weekend of camping with friends at Bastrop State Park! This park is a beautiful, unexpected pocket of pine trees about an hour from Austin, handy for day hikes and camping trips.

Helpful information for planning your visit to the park can be found at the end of this post. 

Some friends of ours joined us for the trip. Camping with friends is the way to go! You can split up the meals and chores, which makes planning so much easier. Not to mention they provide constant entertainment. (If you choose the right friends!)

These are the McCrackens, two friends we know through Texas A&M and church. Erin is a blog reader and so supportive of all my Whit’s Wilderness ideas, events and shenanigans! Not to mention she takes on the outdoors with joy and class, so is a true Whit’s Wilderness woman.

Blake is a true outdoorsman and has been everywhere and hiked nearly everything. Blake’s best quote from the weekend: “Once I figured out how to make Erin comfortable when camping, I knew things would be ok.”

These are our other friends, the Whitney’s. (Obviously, their name is a fit here in Whit’s Wilderness.) We know them through church as well. Drew and Brandon have bonded over their love of fishing and their shared opinion that Die Hard is a Christmas movie. Jessica is a joy to be around, and is new to Texas so I loved the chance to show her Bastrop State Park.

I picked my husband Brandon up on the way out there, and he was still in his pinstripe slacks when we arrived. Easily the snazziest camper in the park.

Our campsite was at the Copperas Creek campground, surrounded by pines, with electricity and water at each site.

We had campsite #55 and it was perfect, a lovely little spot with hills and trees surrounding three sides.

First order of business was setting up the tents. The McCrackens borrowed our tent last year for a long camping trip at Palo Duro Canyon, and on day 1 they watched, in horror, as it got picked up and ripped apart by a wind storm.

After that experience, they googled “Bomb proof tent” and found the tent you see in the above photo. It may weight 60 pounds, but no wind storm will ever ruin their camping experience again!

One of the things I loved about Bastrop State Park was the stars. Even though we technically could hear the highway and knew we were only 50 minutes from town, the stars put on a show as if we were hundreds of miles from civilization. Looking up into the starry sky was only made better by the pine trees that towered overhead and framed the night sky.

The next morning, the Whitney’s made us delicious sausage and egg tacos. Split up the meals if you ever go camping with friends! It makes life easier.

Another wonderful perk of Bastrop State Park is the Master Naturalist volunteers that lead guided hikes every weekend in Spring and Summer.

Check out the Bastrop State Park Facebook page for updated hike listings.

Being wildlife and nature-loving people, we joined up with the naturalist for a guided hike to see the beautiful pine trees.

About that….

Now would probably be a good time to mention that the largest fire in our Texas’ history occurred here in 2011. It was so hot that flames rose into the air for over 100 feet and melted vehicles and machinery into metallic puddles. Embers, so tiny they were imperceptible to the naked eye, floated through the air and spontaneously combusted whatever they touched.

The park suffered over 90% tree mortality, devastating to the once beautiful stand of loblolly pine that had inhabited this area for over 18,000 years.

But there is good news! It just so happens that an Aggie had saved a bunch of Loblolly pine seedlings from this area for research. At the time of the fire, he was storing them in a local grocery store refrigerator.

So when the fire happened, guess where all the new seedlings came from?

Thank God for professors and their research projects! Already, thousands of baby pines have been planted and more are springing up from the ground naturally.

By now even wildflowers are returning, and dotted the trails along our route.

Would it have been more beautiful to see this land covered in pines? Yes. But seeing unhindered Mother Nature at work, both in the magnitude of destruction and the remarkable rebound was an experience I couldn’t replace. So many of our gardens and parks are pristine, man made, or controlled, and it can be hard to remember that nature is inherently wild. It’s good for us to see parts of the world that are still wild.

Despite the fire, there are STILL gorgeous parts of the park.

The rolling terrain was a great work out.

My favorite stop was the scenic overlook.

(There is only one and it is indicated on park maps.)

We could see for miles, and there was a bit of history there too! The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), one of President Roosevelt’s first New Deal programs back during the Depression, built beautiful buildings, fences, wells, dams, and other structures in parks across our nation. Here at Bastrop, you can enjoy the shade of a pergola built in the 1930’s by the CCC out of stone found in the park.

It just so happens that we ran into a crew of students from Texas State University interviewing people for Texas Parks and Wildlife TV. I got interviewed, y’all!

Whatever I said, Trooper must have found it interesting…

If it makes it on TV I will let you all know.

Lots of hiking means lots of eating, and so I cooked venison mac ‘n cheese in the Dutch oven. We followed it up with s’mores and I have some new break throughs in the world of s’mores that I’m excited to share. We took them to a whole new level this weekend, y’all.

(All recipes coming soon!)

Last but not least: the bathrooms were AWESOME, so clean and pretty.

I couldn’t have asked for a better camping crew. We’re grateful for the regrowth and rebirth we saw in Bastrop. Trees that were planted 5 years ago are already 5 feet tall, and I know we will be showing these desolate pictures to our grand children some day. They won’t believe that the pine forest they know was once a desolate, barren land of burned logs. Nature is always adapting and reforming itself and we are fortunate to watch the natural beauty unfold.

Happy camping!

Plan Your Visit

  • When to book: 3-6 months in advance
  • Recommended time: 2-3 days/one weekend
  • Official TPWD Website: http://tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/bastrop
  • Must-sees in the park: Scenic overlook
  • Recommended campsites: #55 in Copperas Cove
  • Nearby awesome stops:
    • Buc-ees, an awesome gas station/shop that you MUST see! (5 minutes from park)
    • Bastrop Historic Downtown
    • Roadhouse, just outside the entrance of the park: GREAT burgers and chocolate milkshakes!

10 Popular Outdoor Experiences You Have to Book Early

What’s on your outdoor “bucket list”? Is rafting the Grand Canyon? What about camping Yosemite National Park or going on an African safari? My list is never ending…

It seems insane to me how early you have to book some of these adventures, but then again, our national parks and natural wonders are popular for a reason. They’re incredible!! Booking a year or more in advance is required to secure a spot among the millions of people who are also in line to visit these iconic places. Unlike a city, where there is essentially no limit to the number of people that can visit, parks and guided expeditions are limited by capacity. Here are the deets on what needs to be planned early and when.


You’ll need to book one year or more in advance for:

  • National and State Park Campsites
  • Backpacking trips in Wilderness Areas and National Parks
  • Guided expeditions in popular parks and wildernesses
  • Guided hunts
  • Note: Spring Break requires even further advance planning due to popularity

NOTE:

There is still plenty to do in national and state parks that do not require special reservations–day hikes, scenic drives, ranger programs, picnicking, and fishing to name a few–as long as you have lodging outside of the park.


1. See the Wildflowers in Texas and Stay in a Local B&B

Seeing the wildflowers bloom in Washington County is something every Texan should do once in their lifetime! It’s too far for just a day trip so book a local bed and breakfast. You have to book early because Brenham and the rest of the county is hopping in the Spring thanks to the wildflowers and a massive antique show that takes place each March.

2. Camp at Popular Texas State Parks

Most popular parks:

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  • How to Make a Reservation at a Texas State Park
  • When to Go: February through November, I would avoid August
  • When to book: November/December for Spring reservations and December/January for Summer to Fall reservations
  • May be booked up to 333 days in advance
  • Exceptions:
    • Spring Break: book in June of the previous year
    • Lost Maples State Natural Area: Reserve eleven months in advance for an electic/water site. Primitive sites are still available in January but unless you have a tent that’s under 10 lbs I don’t recommend this because these sites require hiking in 1.5+ miles. (Read my review here.)
  • Cost: $20/night reservation fee
Lost Maples State Natural Area

3. Hike the Wonderland Trail in Mount Ranier National Park

This is a stunningly gorgeous 93 mile loop in Mount Ranier National Park that can be hiked in anywhere from 10-14 days.

Photo credit: WonderlandGuides.com

4. Hike Paria Canyon and The Wave

Photo credit: Mowry Journal

5. Camp in Yosemite

  • When to go: April through September
  • When to book: Campground reservations are available in blocks of one month at a time, up to five months in advance, on the 15th of each month at 7 am Pacific time.
  • See this website for more information
Yosemite National Park

6. Backpack in Rocky Mountain National Park

7. Backpack my favorite trail in the Sierra Nevada

This was insanely gorgeous, I can’t recommend it enough!! (You can read my story here.)

  • When to go: late June to early August
  • When to Book: January and February, up to 6 months in advance
  • Exceptions:
    • About half of available permits are reserved for walk-ins. How to get one: The day before your desired departure date, arrive at 10am at the ranger office closest to the trail head and request a permit. This is rather risky if you live in Texas and travel all the way to California, so book a less popular trail as a backup. This is how we got our permit for the most amazing trail EVER in the Sierra (which you can read about here) though it was stressful.
Our camp site in the Sierra Nevada

8. Raft the Grand Canyon

One of the most incredible outdoor experiences you can have is a Grand Canyon rafting trip. Western River Expeditions is amazing!

  • When to Go: Season is April 1st – September 30th, though I’d suggest going in the earlier months as the river will still be green and pretty. The later you go, the more runoff gets into the river from the rainy season.
  • When to Book:
    •  For April dates: Book in November of two years prior (for example, for an April 2019 trip, book in November of 2017)
    • All other dates: Book in January of the previous year–ie, January 2017 for a Summer 2018 trip
  • FYI: Busy months are May, June and September; least busy month is August
  • Cost: $3000 for 6-7 day trip; $1500 for 3 day trip

9. Camp by Havasu Falls

Imagine white waterfalls cascading over red sandstone cliffs into green pools, all set in the Arizona desert. The outdoor bloggers I surveyed for this post loved this destination so I wanted to include it!

  • When to Go: May through August
  • When to Book: February 2nd by phone, usually sells out within first two months of the year.
  • How to Book: Click here for details
  • Not accessible by road; hike in required

 

Photo Credit: Marshall Foster, www.marshallfosterphotography.com

10. Hunt Wild Game

More detail to come in a later post, because this is a whole different beast! (Literally.) In general these book one to two years out depending on the animal and location. Opportunities can be limited due to landowners and the government setting limits on huntable animals and seasons, to ensure sustainable hunting.

  • When to book Texas hunts: 6 months to 1 year in advance
  • When to book domestic hunts: 1 year in advance, pulling permits is often required
  • When to book international hunts: 2 years in advance

It seems crazy to book so far in advance, with all of the variables that can affect travel. But just remember–it’s a lot easier to cancel if something comes up than to try to get a spot late in the game. I hope you have many happy travels to these majestic places.

Sunrise on the Texas Coast

As you may have seen here, I’m kind of in love with sunrise pictures. In my mind, the sunrise just might be better than the sunset, because the rest of the world isn’t up yet and there is still some peace and quiet to be had.

That said, waking me up in the morning is akin to raising the dead, and so it’s not all that often I get to enjoy a good sunrise. But in theory, I love them!

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A few weeks ago I got to watch the sunrise at Powderhorn Ranch, a new state park that will be opening to the public in a few years. The sunrise alone makes the trip worthwhile.

Powderhorn sits on Matagorda Bay, and faces the sunrise head on.

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The rays were coming over the water and lighting up the meadow in hues of yellows and oranges.

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As if the scene couldn’t get any more magical, pelicans and birds of every sort were waking up and heading out to the water to fish.

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I happily took my coffee down to the water and sat for a while. Here’s a video:

All in all it was one of my favorite sunrises yet! Where have some of your favorite sunrises been?

PS. See my pics of a sunrise in the Sierra mountains here.