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!

St. Ed’s Park is Keeping Austin Wild

One day recently, I was surprised to turn off of loop 360 on my way to St. Edwards Park and all of a sudden be out in the country. It’s rare to find a nearby pocket of wilderness in any town, and even in “green” Austin most of our city parks are within eyeshot of urban world.

But not St. Edwards Park. Since St. Ed’s Park is one of the top rated parks in our city, a group of outdoorsy ladies and I investigated one day last Fall so we could bring you this report!

The Highlights

  • One of the highlights of the park is Bull Creek frontage.

The limestone cliffs are pretty and the creekside trail is flat and easy, so would be perfect for young kids. (And dogs who want to get in the water. 🙂 )

So scenic!

  • Trails are ample, so you can get a good work out in.

So ample, in fact, that you might get a little lost.

We got slightly turned around in the extensive network of trails and had to use Siri to get us out. Hi, I’m Whitney from a hiking guidance blog. I have gotten a group lost in the woods. Go me.

(This is my “whoops” face.)

Fortunately the park is small enough that you couldn’t get lost forever.

  • On that note, one highlight is that you still get cell phone reception, so if you’re needing to check a sports score, stay accessible to work colleagues, or Instagram your adventures, then this is a great place to be.
  • And the view!! The view from the top is so pretty. Can you believe this is urban Austin?

How spoiled we are.

  • The park is only 10 min from the Arboretum
  • Last but not least, the park has some steeper trails so if you’re eager to feel the burn, or are training for a tougher climb out in the mountains, you can definitely find it.

By the time we were done with our hike, we sure were happy to see the car again and crack open an ice cold La Croix.

Thanks to Wild Rose Apparel for outfitting us with hats and koozies!

All in all it was a good park and I will be returning eventually. In the future I will only stick to the hillside trails and not go along the creek bottom. I also want to check out River Place trail before returning here.  Have you been to St. Edward’s Park? Would love to hear from you!

FYI

  • The park has lots of brambles down by the creek, so prepare to feel like you’re bushwacking if you choose to hike in that area
  • There are no picnic tables, which is kind of a bummer…so plan for a “tailgate party” after your hike
  • After a big rainfall event (more than a few inches), it will be very muddy and there is a good chance some of the trails will be flooded, so I would avoid it
  • Don’t wear your fancy tennis shoes on the creekside trails, they will get dirty
  • Several of the hills are steep
  • There are no bathrooms

Have fun! Hashtag #whitswilderness if you check it out and want to be featured on my page. Happy hiking!

 

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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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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A Favorite Hill Country Hike: Canyon Lake Gorge

This is easily one of my favorite hikes in Texas. Not only is it beautiful, but its historically, hydrologically, geologically, and paleontologically significant. Not to spoil the surprise, but on this hike you will get to see dinosaur tracks, fossils, waterfalls, crystal blue pools of water, caves, and cliffs.

And, it’s all downhill. That alone makes it pretty wonderful, right?

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I ended up there several years ago, back in the beginning days of Brandon and my relationship. As my readers know, he is a water resources engineer, so I thought he would enjoy seeing it. My best friend Courtney wanted to meet him, and so this was our excuse for that to happen. Her husband is a hydraulic engineer so suffice it to say, this was their cup of tea.

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Awwww, look at young Brandon!

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Courtney dangles her husband precariously off the edge.

The most amazing part of the gorge tour experience is to stand at the bottom of the gorge and imagine the sheer force of water that carved it out in one single event–the flood of 2002.

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Before that time, the landscape was gently rolling hills, much like the landscape above the cliffs you see in this picture. There were no cliffs, no waterfalls, no gorge, and the dinosaur tracks were a good 25 feet underground.

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Then, in one week in the summer of 2002, the land upstream from the Guadalupe river received 34 inches of rainfall, nearly all of which flowed directly to Canyon Lake. The lake filled so quickly that it spilled over into the spillway, an area reserved for times of severe flooding.

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The spillway served as a kind of emergency outlet for the water, like a drain hole on the side of a sink. It had never been used before, so it was completely flat and forested.

Over 67,000 cubic feet per second gushed through, uprooting trees and shooting them 1.3 miles downstream towards the river. Once the trees were out of the way, the water started pummeling through the rock like a massive jackhammer.

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Boulders the size of cars were tossed up into the waves and bounced downstream like toys.

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For six weeks, the water dug through the limestone. In that time, over 1.5 times the entire amount of water in Canyon Lake flooded the spillway. Finally, the water retreated into the lake and left the gorgeous gorge in its wake.

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The devastation downstream, where the spillway met the Guadalupe, was extreme, but the silver lining in all of this is that now, the public is invited to see all of it!

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And it truly is remarkable.

As you walk down through the gorge, you pass through eras of history with every step. The water peeled back the rock layer by layer, creating a cross section of history.

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At one level, we saw fossilized waves from the time of the Permian Sea (when Texas was only a twinkle in God’s eye.)

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At another level, dinosaur tracks.

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At nearly every layer, we saw fossils.

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The place is a fossil lover’s paradise!

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One of my favorite aspects of the tour was that it is guided by an expert.

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By the time our hike was over, we felt we had certainly earned a lazy afternoon in the river.

The Canyon Lake gorge can be seen from South Access Rd. on the south side of Canyon Dam, but if you ever have time to pop in for a tour, I recommend it. You will not be disappointed!

Whitney and Brandon at the Gorge

Plan Your Visit

  • Location: Canyon Lake, Texas (1.5 hours from Austin and San Antonio)
  • Length: 3 hours
  • Difficulty: Medium
  • Fee: $10 (some exceptions–university, scout, and high school groups admitted free)
  • Guided by an expert in the site’s features and history
  • Reservations not required but highly recommended!
  • Website: www.canyongorge.org/tour

 

 

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South Austin Trail Gets Exercise Stations

Today I wanted to share a fun new development at one our Austin parks that is the result of a City Council member, Ellen Troxclair.

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I love this story because it involves two things I love–the outdoors and resourceful Texas women.

Back when Ellen Troxclair was running for City Council, I started following her campaign because I liked seeing a young, polished and articulate woman run for office.  She won the election, and has been holding her own in City Council.

At the end of last year, Troxclair announced that she had saved 10% ($30,000) of her office’s budget to reinvest in the district, and would be using it to revamp the fitness stations along a trail at Dick Nichols Park.

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I knew I liked her for a reason! One of the reasons I love outdoor activities is because they are a pleasant form of exercise, far more appealing than the gym, to me at least. Naturally, I love seeing these fitness stations along the trail.

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The park itself is located in South Austin; super convenient, relatively scenic, and dangerously close to a place that sells chips & queso. (Santa Rita on Slaughter Ln.)

Post workout snack anyone?

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So this Spring, South Austinites, make a date with Dick Nichols if you haven’t already!

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I’ve heard Ellen is looking for ways to better fund other Austin parks, and I’m behind her on this. Thanks Ellen for giving us a better space to get outdoors.

Plan Your Visit

  • Dick Nichols Park Website and Map: Click Here
  • Note: restrooms here get a D-. Go before you go!

9 Things to Love about Pace Bend Park on Lake Travis

Brandon and I spent the weekend at Pace Bend, a large park on the edge of Lake Travis near Austin. The lake was full, the weather didn’t go above 75 degrees, and we took our s’more making game to a whole new level with chocolate peanut butter s’mores. You could say it was a perfect weekend!

Brandon’s been working hard (and winning Young Engineer of the Year) and we were up for a little vacation.

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Trooper came too. Between the owls hooting all night, the pack of coyotes yipping at 4am, and the many other critters rustling around in the brush, he barely got any sleep.

Clearly, it’s an exhausting task being guard dog.

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As for us, we hiked, hung out around the campsite, napped, and watched a bike race go by. We had fun and found this park to be an easy jaunt from Austin. I’ve compiled a list of what I loved about this park below. Enjoy!

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What I loved…

Extensive Shoreline

Pace Bend has 9 miles of shoreline on Lake Travis. Need I say more! As readers will know, one of my preferences when I go to a park is a pretty natural feature to enjoy. This park is perfect for canoeing, kayaking, and swimming. It even has a boat ramp. One year ago, “Lake Travis Frontage” wouldn’t have been anything to brag about, given the lake being down 40 feet, but this year, after record rainfall, the lake is almost full and the shoreline is gorgeous. And I am a happy camper.

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(That was, actually, my first time to say “happy camper” on this blog.)

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Boat ramp!

Endless Hammock Options

There are so many beautiful shady oak trees at this park, it is really ripe for hammocking.

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Can anyone guess the total number of hammock location options in this picture?

Scenic Trails

Nearly everywhere you turn, lake views greet you. While there are dozens of trails, the rangers still invite you to bushwack cross country and find your own. For the Hill Country, these trails were nice, with big views and diverse terrain.

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Trail Names

I thoroughly enjoyed reading trail names like “Tapeworm,” “Wookie Way,” “Straddle Your Saddle,” and “Chicken Foot.” Whoever named these had a sense of humor.

Fortunately, so far, no signs of tapeworm after hiking that trail.

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And my favorite…

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I’m not even sure what happened with that name.

Ample Picnic options

Whoever put in the order for picnic tables must have added an extra “0” by mistake, because there are more picnic tables than there are people to sit at them. All of the tables are numbered, and at one point I noticed one numbered “257.” Just…wow.

And nearly all of them are located in a beautiful setting.

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Campsites with a View

If this park wasn’t made for hammocks, then it was made for camping. There are hundreds of campsites. A set of twenty “improved campsites” with water and electric are located at Levi Cove, which is where we stayed. The rest are primitive (meaning no electric) campsites are strung along the 9 miles of Lake Travis frontage. There really isn’t a bad seat in the house, as almost all of the campsites are on the lakeshore, have phenomenal views, beautiful trees, and a decent amount of privacy. I really loved this feature of the park.

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(I want this one next time.)

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Here’s a peek at the bathrooms!

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They were…okay. The sink is tiny and there’s hardly any counterspace. But they are kept very tidy.

Proximity to Austin

Only 45 minutes from Austin, Pace Bend is convenient and handy for a short, spur of the moment getaways.

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Availability

As I mentioned, Pace Bend has plenty of campsites so availability is rarely an issue unlike some state parks.

Starbucks on the way home

Sometimes all I want after a campout (and campfire coffee) is Starbucks, and there is conveniently a Starbucks about 1/3 of the way back to Austin.

Last but not least, what was my favorite thing about Pace Bend?

The puns.

Pitching this tent was as easy as copy and PACE.

I can’t wait to get some quality Pacetime with you this weekend.

Smile! I’m posting this one to Pacebook.

Pace on earth.

We go together like Pace and carrots.

I’ll stop now.

All in all, I give this park a gold star. I hope you enjoy it if you ever check it out!

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Things to Know

  • Online Reservations: Click Here
  • Park Website: Click Here
  • Distance from Austin: 45 minutes
  • Best Trails: Wookie Way, Graceland, Post Oak/Rosenbush Loop up by the coves
  • Cell Reception: Perfect

Where to Kayak In Austin (And What to Eat Afterwards)

The most popular place to kayak in Austin is Lady Bird Lake, which runs through the center of our city. Kayaking on Lady Bird is perfect, because the lake is beautiful, wide, and doesn’t have a strong current. There are ample places to explore via boat. Paddle up Barton Creek, and enjoy the crystal clear waters that afford excellent views of passing turtles and carp. (I love this little jaunt.) Paddle down to Longhorn Dam at the end of the lake, and get your workout in. Or, paddle as far up as Red Bud Isle, a charming island where you will see labs bellyflopping in the water and chasing after tennis balls.

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How cute is this guy?

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Given the lake’s perfection for kayaking, there are several businesses that can cater to your paddling needs and today I’ll tell you the ones I have tested and approve.

Option 1 – Texas Rowing Center

The first and probably the easiest to find is the Texas Rowing Center. This is the best choice if you want to be in the middle of the action on the lake.

(Which can be a lot of fun, and can be hectic. If you don’t like crowds, then wait for my second and third options.)

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How to Get There

Park at Austin High, at the intersection pf Mopac and Cesar Chavez. The TRC sign is just around the bend from the tennis courts.

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When you get to this sign, you’ll know you’re in the right place, because you will see paddles, boats, boards, life jackets, and dozens of people in Chacos.

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Go down these steps to the shack on the left. First you must sign a liability release and then you take the form up to the cashier and tell her what you want to rent.

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What to Rent

They have one person kayaks, two person kayaks, stand up paddleboards, and canoes.

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How Long To Rent

You can either rent for an hour or for the whole day. I prefer more than an hour.

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How to Integrate Delicious Food into this Experience

Pack some charcuterie in your lunch sack. A little smoked gouda never hurt anyone. Kayak up to Red Bud Isle, get out, and have a picnic. Or, kayak up Barton Creek, and take a breather while you eat lunch, and let the current carry you downstream. I’m all about the picnic, can you tell?

Option Deux – Austin Rowing Club

Another option is to go to Congress Avenue Kayaks at the Austin Rowing Club at Trinity St. and Cesar Chavez. I used to row with a crew here and love this boathouse.

This option is great because you can rent the boats for a half day (four hours), which I deem to be the perfect amount of time for a satisfying kayak experience.

Shout out to our friends Kevin and Lindsay. Kevin gives ARC a thumbs up.

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How to Get There

Park near the intersection of Trinity and Cesar Chavez, and walk south on Trinity Street until it dead ends at the boathouse. Parking can be a nightmare in this area. Austin Rowing Club boathouse is two floors, and you will take the stairs down to the lake level to find the kayak kiosk. Kayak kiosk. Kayak kiosk. (Say that ten times fast.)

How to Integrate Delicious Food into This Experience

The ARC boathouse is a beauty, and perhaps the classiest looking place to rent a boat on the lake.

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Grab a glass of wine or cup of joe and a sweet pastry from Alta’s coffee shop, in the boathouse, and sit out on the patio one afternoon…you won’t regret it.

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How Long to Rent

If you are planning on kayaking to Barton Creek from ARC, you will want to rent your boat for a half day. The creek is a little ways away. It’s not strenuous or exhausting to get there, you just can’t do the round trip in an hour without hustling.

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Bonus – People Watching!

One benefit of renting from ARC is that you can easily get downriver, across the I-35 bridge, to our city’s new boardwalk, where you’ll see people biking, walking, running, and pushing strollers.

This section of the river is less crowded, too—another perk.

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Option Trois

Continuing on down the lake, there is The Expedition School. Out of the three options, this offers the most diversity of classes and events. They host everything from a full moon paddle potluck to wilderness first aid. If you ever want to have a lesson before you get out in the boat, this is the place to go. See their website here for a full list: www.expeditionschool.com.

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Nothing like a good haiku to start your paddle off right!

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Pro Tip

Call before you go and make sure that they’re available. One year I called and I said I want to stand up paddleboard, and they said, Come on down! When do you want to come? And I said, Well, I’d like to come this Friday. Do I need a reservation? and they said Nope! Just show up! So I did, and had a great day on the water. Then this year I showed up there without a reservation, and they had classes all day and couldn’t rent me a board.

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Why choose the Expedition School?

One perk of TEDS is that it sits on a lagoon, away from even the slightest current. (Translation: much easier to balance on a board!) Once you have your sea legs, you can head out into the main stretch of the lake.

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However, in all honesty here, from a person who is neither coordinated nor daring, there’s nothing to fear in kayaking or stand up paddling for the first time. It’s not as hard as it looks, and I think SUP-ing looks really hard!

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One thing I like about The Expedition School over TRC or ARC is that you can paddle downstream to Snake Island (sounds creepier than it looks) near Dam Longhorns—ahem, I mean Longhorn Dam—sorry—and have a picnic there.

How to Integrate Delicious Food Into This Scenario

After you’re done paddling, go get some pizza at Bufalina. Or, get tacos and queso fundido on the patio at Takoba! You will have earned it. Like I said, anytime you can integrate food into something, it’s much more fun.

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Have fun out there! Leave your questions in the comments.

Kayaking Lady Bird Lake

More info on where to rent kayaks can be found in this post: Where to Rent Kayaks in Austin (and Where to Eat Afterwards)

One of the things I do in my free time is mentor a George W. Bush Institute Women’s Initiative Fellow. The fellowship is a yearlong leadership training program for women from North Africa and the Middle East, and I have been paired up with Insaf, a bright and confident Tunisian woman. Insaf is starting an initiative to increase recycling in her country. I will have to tell you all about her some time! But for now, I want to tell you about the time we kayaked Lady Bird Lake together.

Insaf (pronounced just as it is spelled) visited me in Austin one weekend this past March. We ate Mexican food, went to a SXSW film screening, and shopped till we dropped. We got some work in too. But, no tour of Austin would be complete without a little time on Lady Bird Lake, so I took her kayaking.

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Insaf had never been kayaking before. When I first proposed the idea during one of our Skype dates, she seemed a little dubious. However, she said she trusted me to make her time in Texas worthwile and whatever I thought we should do, she would do. (No pressure.)

I had 72 hours to fill her up with as much love for my home state as I had, or at least–that was something I could shoot for.

One morning during her visit, we drove down to the lake to the Texas Rowing Center, a straightforward and affordable kayak rental shop. I was certain that I wanted us to rent two single kayaks, as opposed to one two-person kayak. Singles are smaller and more maneuverable, and you don’t have to rely on another person to paddle. (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten stuck in a boat with someone who doesn’t paddle. It’s like they’re trying to summon The Force and move the boat with their mind.)

When I suggested we rent individual kayaks, there was instantly a look of fear in Insaf’s eyes. It occurred to me then that she might actually be nervous about setting off on her own. Having grown up around boats and fording down rapids in kayaks, I hadn’t considered this possibility. But I wanted her to love her time in Austin, so a two-person kayak it was!

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We loaded our sunscreen, water, and other gear into the boat and gingerly pushed away from the dock. As we paddled towards the Mopac bridge, Insaf turned around and asked in a weak voice, How deep is it here?

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Oh, just a few feet, I lied, recalling previous times I’d tested the depth with my oar and found that it was at least one oar length, if not more.

Maybe we can go more this way, she replied, pointing towards the shore.

I can’t see the bottom,  she said later, her voice thick with fear.

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After I convinced her it really wasn’t that deep, she got more comfortable and took our her camera. She loved the turtles and was snapping pics of them right and left.

I usually take the sight of turtles at the lake for granted; it’s amazing what you notice about your city when seen through a foreigner’s eyes.

We headed towards the Mopac bridge, hugging the shoreline. Insaf was paddling away–in between selfies and photos of turtles–and I was glad she wasn’t a slacker!

During the boat ride, Insaf let me practice my French speaking skills on her. This was quite a charitable act on her part, I must say.

We crossed over to the other side of the river, turned around, and headed towards Barton Creek. I love making this detour because the water is much shallower and clear enough to see to the bottom. There are also usually a lot of birds, fish, turtles, and other wildlife hanging out along the creek too.

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The wildlife were out in force that day and Insaf, my fellow environment enthusiast, was loving it.

I’m not going to lie, it is a huge joy to hang out with someone who loves wildlife and the outdoors as much as I do. You both can just nerd out all day long and know you’re not boring the other person, and not being looked at as weird. Rather, you can just embrace the experience together.

By the time we turned around and started to head back to the dock, Insaf was all smiles.

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I had been doubting whether she was having fun, and could not see her face since she was sitting in front of me. But as I glanced at this selfie before stowing my phone away in a dry bag, I saw that smile and knew I had hit a high note with this expedition.

When we got out of the boat at the boathouse, she turned to me and said, in her French accent, Whitney, this was the most fun part of my trip. Thank you for taking me.

Score!

Maybe I am doing this mentor thing right after all. I smiled back at her with a combination of relief and pride.

She later told me that she knows of a kayak rental place back home in Tunisia and she said she would try it when she got home.

She also said she had been told by a program leader that she would find her mentor to be such a kindred spirit, and that she would find she and her mentor to be very alike and have much in common. She said that had all proven to be so true. Knowing how much I admire her, it was a touching compliment.

So, it had been a successful day on the water, after all!

And, because we earned it, because she was on vacation, and because I was just trying to be a good mentor, we headed straight to South Congress and ordered burgers at Hopdoddy’s. No trip to Texas would be complete without a loaded burger.

Burgers are a universal language.

Info to file away for later: How to Do Lady Bird Lake

  • Parking: Austin High School
  • Kayak rental: Texas Rowing Center
  • Cubbies available with fee
  • Must see: Barton Creek
  • Cost: around $20, depending on rental

Trail Report: Gorgeous Day on the Greenbelt

Welcome back from the holiday, everyone. I needed an extra cup of coffee this morning to get going. Why does the first day back from a holiday always have to be so hard?

Brandon and I stayed around Austin for the 4th this year, getting caught up on household tasks and watching movies. It was low key, and lovely in that regard. One of the highlights of our weekend was touring the Greenbelt, a city park in Austin that follows Barton Creek all the way to its entrance into Lady Bird Lake.

To get there: We headed south on MoPac from downtown and took the 360 exit, continuing south until we came to a pull-off area on the west side of the frontage road, where we parked behind a long line of cars. (For more detailed parking instructions, see map at end of this post.)

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There were a lot of people out, partially thanks to it being a holiday weekend, and partially due to two nearby swimming holes: Twin Falls and Sculpture Falls.

The start of the trail is clearly marked and easy to find. Just follow the masses.

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At the start of the trail, you enter a juniper canopy where the elevation is slightly higher and there are beautiful views of the surrounding greenbelt.

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We had no idea where we were going, having never hiked this part of the trail before, but we followed the kids holding rafts and surfboards. They looked like they must be heading towards water.

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And sure enough they were. As you hike lower and lower towards the creek, the trail widens and the creek comes into view. If the creek is flowing well, you can begin to hear the rush of water as you make your descent. Austin has gotten unusually high amounts of rain lately, and our creeks and rivers and lakes are full, and Barton Creek was coming on strong.

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The water was just the right temperature for wading and I was glad I wore my water shoes.

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I had a little fun with my aperture settings here…

Barton Creek Greenbelt

I can’t fully describe how gratifying it was to see the creek full and flowing. After the past few years of drought, the sound of rushing water is like music to my ears.

The point in the pictures above was about a half a mile down the trail from the parking area. After a little bit of wading, we pushed on until we came to the first of the swimming holes: Twin Falls.

Barton Creek Greenbelt

This spot was wildly popular, and everyone and their mother was out enjoying the holiday. My recommendation would be to get here early and stake out your spot on the rocks before the rush!

We didn’t stop here but kept hiking down the trail, watching the water get deeper and form crystal pools surrounded by limestone. This woman had brought her snorkel gear and was scanning the riverbottom. It looked like a great way to enjoy the water!

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We pressed on from here and eventually came to these falls and pool. Trooper was in the mood for a swim.

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His facial expression while he’s swimming always cracks me up. It is simultaneously joy-filled and deathly fearful.

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He loves swimming, and for someone with such short legs, he’s pretty good at it. But every time he looks up at me, there is fear in his eyes.

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Mommy, save me!

Eventually we came to Sculpture Falls, the trail’s pièce de résistance.

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Two miles from the parking area, this is a perfect place to take a rest and have a picnic. That had been our plan but the park was so crowded we had to forego this plan…and not to mention, Trooper was in special form.

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Getting out and seeing the countryside–albeit, in the middle of the city–was a great way to spend the holiday and celebrate our nation and this land we call home. In total we hiked over four miles, which was a delightful way to earn our 4th of July ice cream. And being the dutiful patriots that we are, we had to have ice cream–to not eat ice cream on the 4th of July would be un-American.

Info to file away for future use:

  • Parking: off Mopac frontage road by 360 exit
  • Best swimming hole: Sculpture Falls
  • Best picnic spot: Sculpture Falls
  • Time required: 1-2 hours
  • Distance: 2 miles to Sculpture Falls; 4 miles round trip

PS. One thing I really liked about this trail was that it was shady, and I didn’t need as much sunscreen.

Here are some maps of the area:

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Hope you get out and enjoy this one day if you haven’t already.