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!

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:

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:

———————————————————–

  • 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.

Glamp Your Heart Out at this Texas Tipi Retreat

When Reservation on the Guadalupe asked me to come stay at their glamping retreat and do a review, I was more than happy to oblige. Me? Glamp? Why if I must!

This cute tipi-style resort was already on my list of places to visit. With pristine hill country surroundings to bask in, hammocks to swing in, the Guadalupe river to dip in, and one of my favorite Texas hikes nearby, this place has the basics of what my heart desires–and it is all within an hour from my front door in Austin.

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I grabbed my friend Cassandra, a jewelry designer and fellow Austinite, and we headed down there last week. I’m in love with this place and think you will be too!

First things first, on the way there we stopped in Gruene for a bite to eat.

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Gruene is a historic town, with a dancehall, water tower, and a general store. If you’re coming from Austin, Dallas, or Houston, you will pass by Gruene and it would be a shame to not see this quintessential Texas town.

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What to See In Gruene

We had a big plate of onion rings at the Gristmill and my day was made before I even arrived at the tipis.

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Mmm. Follow me on Instagram for stories from my travels.

After dinner, the entire drive from Gruene to the tipis was full of sunset views.

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(We may be a bit biased, but we think sunsets are better in Texas.)

Though we arrived at the tipis just after dark, I could tell this place was already right up my alley. There are eight individual tipis around a central area, each one complete with its own kitchenette, memory foam beds (hello), air conditioning, wifi, television, dvd player, and coffee maker.

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We had tipi #2, called Deer Run.

Cassie and I both love Europe and so we spent the remainder of our night watching A Good Year, which is set on a vineyard in France. Sigh.

Both Cassie and I run our own businesses–hers a jewelry company and mine this blog–and our noses are always to the grindstone, so we felt so spoiled getting to sit and watch a movie on a midweek vacation. It was a total break from adulting we needed.

See Cassie’s jewery line here: CassandraCollections

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The next morning we woke up and ventured down to the riverfront.

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This spot was just MADE for sipping coffee.

If you go, I recommend taking a good book and a cup of joe, and enjoying the peace and quiet of this serene spot before the day gets crazy. It will start your day off right.

That done, we finally got our much needed hammock time.

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Not bad for a Wednesday, eh?

On our way back home to Austin, we took the scenic route on River Road, which follows the Guadalupe River all the way back to Gruene.

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This trip was just the getaway we girls needed. I can’t wait to come back, and bring people! I see a Whit’s Wilderness reader glamp out in my future…

What We Loved

  • SUPER UNIQUE – Only a couple of places like this exist in Texas and so it’s truly something special
  • GREAT FOR GROUPS – With a big central open area and plenty of fire pits, picnic tables, and grills, this place just screams group getaway.
  • SUPER CONVENIENT — located between Austin and San Antonio just 30 min. off I-35
  • AFFORDABLE – $129/night on average, and each tipi can accommodate six guests
  • LAID BACK AND CASUAL – glamping hair don’t care
  • SEAMLESS AND STRESS FREE – There were no hills to climb, no people to impress, and no crazy hidden fees.
  • LOTS TO DO – See suggestions below
  • GOOD SLEEP – Memory foam mattresses make this easy!
  • STOCKED KITCHEN – Kitchenettes are well equipped with a mini fridge, utensils, kitchen tools, dish soap, etc.
  • TREEHOUSE community room – so cute, with sofas, chairs, and poker table (pics at end of post)

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Who Would Love this Trip

  • GIRLFRIENDS looking for a fun and affordable getaway (that’s extremely Instagram friendly)
  • COED FRIEND GROUPS who want to tube and hang out somewhere casual and affordable
  • MOMS looking for a quiet spot to sleep, read, and enjoy the peace and quiet
  • FAMILIES BIG AND SMALL looking for a place that is accessible by all ages with a great feeling of community.
  • KIDDOS WITH AN IMAGINATION – Your kid will feel like he/she’s staying in a fort or pretending to be Pocahontas for the weekend. Plus, there’s a tree house!
  • GIRL SCOUT TROOPS – all of the tipis are within eyeshot of each other and there are plenty of lessons in nature to be had, from building a fire to swimming to arts and crafts.

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Our Tips for The Best Vacation

  • Go in colder weather. Flannels, moccasins, blankets, and fire pits are the little joys of glamping and best experienced in cooler temps.
  • Get up before the day starts and enjoy the peace and quiet of the riverfront
  • Arrive before dark, the entrance can be hard to spot from the road at night
  • Bring your own towels
  • Bring slip on shoes to run to the bathroom
  • Don’t forget a flashlight!

What to Do in the Area

  • TUBE THE GUADALUPE – Rent tubes at the intersection of Hwy 306 and FM 2673 (5 min drive)
  • FLY FISH – Contact Gruene Outfitters for a list of guides
  • VISIT GRUENE – Shop, eat, stroll, dance, repeat (20 min drive)
  • HIKE CANYON LAKE GORGE – one of my favorite hikes in the Hill Country, you can see pictures here (5 min drive)
  • BOAT at nearby Canyon Lake (5 min drive)
  • SWIM / dip a toe in the water on the property – the paved landing by the water is perfect for little kids

To Reserve

  • Visit Reservation on the Guadalupe

When to Go

  • I recommend winter time. It can get a little hot and muggy in the summer.

A Word About Checking In

Before your arrival, Best Texas Travel sends you a link to an app which you will need for check in. At first I was annoyed about having to download another app (inevitably this means deleting something from my phone), but it ended up being one of the nicest parts of the experience. When I was packing, it told me exactly what to bring. On our way to the property, it gave us directions. And when we got there, it had our entry code to our tipi. Seriously made our trip so stress-free.

Room for Improvement

My complaints are fairly minor, I was definitely impressed overall.

  • The bedspreads were not as clean as they could have been. I’m a clean freak and so just pulled them back.
  • The towels weren’t either…eek! Bring your own.
  • No full length mirror
  • No water bottles – there’s a faucet and plenty of room for your own coolers instead

Everything else was tidy and wonderful, and I’m not just saying that because they comped my stay.

Remember this is still camping

Glamorous is a relative term. It is not glamorous compared to the Ritz, it’s glamorous compared to camping. As long as you go in with the same expectations you would have for camping, you will be beyond pleasantly surprised.

A Few Final Snaps Before I Go…

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The perfect set up in my book

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Path Down to the River

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Treehouse Community Room – with a poker table, sofas and chairs, a grill, and plenty of outdoor seating

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River views

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Our Bathroom

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Bathroom building

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ping pong table

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Views from River Rd.

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12 Beauty Products I Always Take Camping

One of the biggest misconceptions about women who like the outdoors is that we aren’t the “girly type.” I find that pretty amusing because most of the outdoorswomen I know wear make up on a regular basis (even if it’s minimal) and are just as in to fashion as their non-outdoorsy friends. Sure, there are women who don’t do those things. More power to them…I wish I looked that good naturally! But I can’t seem to shake my need for looking and feeling presentable even if I’m in the middle of nowhere.

Below I’ve listed some tips for how to look fresh while staying in the wild outdoors. This list is created with day hikes, overnight camp outs, and backpacking in the wilderness in mind.

Let me know if you have any tips others should hear about!

Skincare

  • Facial Wipes

Often campsites don’t have hot water, so washing your face is painfully uncomfortable. That is why I bring these fabulous Yes to Cucumber face wipes.

Yes to Cucumber Facial Towlettes

With these I can clean my face in my tent without having to go to the campsite bathroom or fetch water from the creek when backpacking. Plus after a long day of wearing sunscreen, it’s nice to freshen up with these when we get back to the campsite.

Also, you don’t have to pack an extra towel to dry your face, which makes life easier!

  • Tinted Moisturizer

This is a great time to use tinted moisturizer, since you won’t necessarily be going the full-on foundation route but will want some color. I love Oil of Olay because it has built in SPF.

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Oil of Olay Total Effects Tone Correcting Moisturizer

  • Lotion

Unless you’re camping somewhere humid (and if so, bless your heart) your skin is going to get drier than it does in the city. I definitely recommend bringing a small bottle of lotion.

Aveeno Daily Moisturizer

  • Vaseline

Not only is air in the wilderness often dry but it’s often windy, and Vaseline is my favorite for protecting your lips from the elements.

Vaseline Petroleum Jelly

  • Burt’s Bees Tinted Lip Balm

This is natural looking color I love!

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Burt’s Bees Tinted Lip Balm

Make Up

  • Small Mirror

The first thing I would pack in your bag is your own mirror.

  • Urban Decay Eyeshadow Primer Potion – tinted

I’m a huge fan of this stuff and wear it every day, whether I’m doing eyeshadow or not. It makes your skin tone around your eyes look a lot more even, and it doesn’t require precision, which is nice when you’re doing your makeup in your tent. When I’m camping I usually just use this by itself or with a light eye shadow on top.

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Urban Decay Eyeshadow Primer Potion

  • Light colored shadow

Applied evenly across your lids

Other essentials:

  • Mascara
  • Eyebrow brush so your eyebrows don’t look like they’ve spent all night in a sleeping bag! 🙂

Other Toiletries/Cosmetics to Pack

Aside from the usual toothbrush/toothpaste and other basic items I recommend packing:

  • Fingernail clippers
  • Tweezers – for removing splinters or thorns
  • Purell
  • Hand soap – there is no hand soap at most camp site restrooms
  • Hand towel – I would take a small hand towel that is saved exclusively for your makeup/skincare needs
  • Dry shampoo

I prefer to keep my time in the communal restroom to a minimum, so I do as much of this regime as possible at my camp site.

One note: if you’re traveling in bear country these items all need to go in your bear canister. Bears are attracted to the oil and scent in these products.

Hope this helps you feel a tad more glamorous on your next camp out! These products are also great for day hikes. Enjoy!

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The Great Outdoors in Austin’s Backyard

One of the things I love about living in Austin is our proximity to the great outdoors. I can scratch the outdoor itch just about any time I want at a number of the nearby parks, swimming holes, and hiking trails within an hour’s drive.

One of my favorite nearby getaways is McKinney Falls State Park, a place that will give you a dose of real nature only 20 minutes from downtown. McKinney Falls is most popular during the dog days of summer, thanks to its swimming holes. But it’s equally nice–or even better in my opinion–in the Fall. Fewer people, cooler weather, and some Fall colors. So if you’ve got a spare afternoon this year and haven’t checked out McKinney Falls, put it on the calendar!

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The best thing about this park is that it’s easy–easy to get to, easy to park, easy to find an available campsite. Why make life difficult when there’s McKinney Falls at hand?

There’s a little something for everyone there so here’s a quick overview.

Picnicking and Fishing

One of the most beautiful spots in the park are the picnic tables along Onion creek. The tables near the big swimming holes can be pandemonium on a busy weekend, but follow the path away from the falls at Upper McKinney Falls and you’ll find some peaceful tables with creek access, which are much more pleasant.

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Pack a picnic and let your kids run around in the flat open area while you fish or read a book. This would be a great place to bring a hammock, as there are plenty of trees. There are taps with running water every fifty feet or so, which is an added convenience.

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Follow the path in the picture above for some secluded picnic tables.

Swimming

Swimming is definitely the most popular activity during the summer. I mean, can you blame everyone? Look at these swimming holes.

Lower McKinney Falls

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Upper McKinney Falls

Texas should be the swimming hole capital of the world, if it’s not already.

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Can we start a petition? If there’s a state that’s willing challenge us, I’d be very curious to know.

Hiking

The hiking is great because it’s easy and flat, but the trails are long enough to get your step count in.

Well, at least some of us get our step count in. The others get carried the last half mile.

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Painted buntings are one of the prettiest things you can look for on your hike, as their colors are so vibrant and their songs so sweet. Their call is one of the most lyrical I’ve ever heard and will catch your attention even if you’re not listening for it. (Listen to this Youtube video to hear their lively melody.)

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Painted buntings and Roseate spoonbills are some of my favorite Texas birds. Next to roadrunners and quail.

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We love the creekside loop at Upper McKinney Falls in terms of ease. (Moms: this can definitely be done with a stroller.) However there are many other trails worth exploring so I advise checking it all out for yourself.

One trail plus a picnic is the perfect combo in my opinion for a quick afternoon getaway from the city.

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Camping (or Glamping!)

After scoping out the campsites I have decided this would be the perfect camping destination for the following reasons:

  • Close to town
  • Flat
  • Plenty of privacy
  • Not highly trafficked

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Airstreams get me every time. They are just so darn cute.

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Reserve campsites online via Texas Parks and Wildlife Department here: TPWD Reservation System.

See my tutorial on how to reserve campsites online here: How to Make a Reservation at a State Park

There are a lot of grand places to visit in this world, but some of the sweetest are the ones at home. If you live in Austin, whether you own property or not, McKinney Falls State Park is YOUR backyard, so get out and enjoy it.Save

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