The View from the Top of Enchanted Rock

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Love that pink Texas granite.

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

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

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

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

More posts about Enchanted Rock

My Favorite Parks in the Texas Hill Country

I’m a little partial to the Texas Hill Country, I must admit. So I realize I may be a biased when I say all the best state parks are in this part of the state!! The only other landscape that rivals it in terms of drama would be West Texas, but nothing spells natural perfection to me like limestone cliffs, cactus, and spring-fed creeks and rivers. My Austin peeps all know the glory of a swimming hole in July!

This list includes state parks, county parks, and a National Wildlife Refuge. There are so many great places that didn’t make the cut (feel free to remind me of them all in the comments) but these, in my opinion, are the best. Most dramatic and unique landscapes, prettiest water features, and most breathtaking scenic vistas.


6. Colorado Bend State Park

This park is probably the most “remote” feeling of all the parks on this list. It is surrounded primarily by ranches and the nearest town is a solid 35 minutes away, so the hills are pristine and the view is stunning. With civilization so far away, the stars are INCREDIBLE! And Gorman Falls, a highlight of the park, is like something out of a storybook. So why is this place last on my list? Well, the bathroom situation. It’s all compost toilets. Granted, the bathrooms themselves are pretty nice (they have a nice sink, mirror, and tile floor) but the fact remains that it is still a compost toilet.

5. Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge

This place gets major brownie points on my list because it’s so close to Austin, has great trails, and after your work out on the trails you can go to nearby Bluebonnet Cafe in Marble Falls and eat a delicious lunch and pie! And who doesn’t love that?

Other perks: If you’re wanting to train for an actual climb in the mountains out west (like Colorado) then this is a place you can go for some challenging terrain. A few of the trails go straight uphill!  But, there are PLENTY of flat trails with good views that a kiddo can do too.

Bring a swimsuit if you want to take a dip in the crystal clear creek that flows through it. The wildflowers in this area are pretty spectacular! Only negative: no pets. BOO.

4. Pedernales Falls State Park

This park is great because of the privacy of the campsites, cleanliness of the bathrooms, and drama of the landscape. Probably the easiest camping trip you can do in the Hill Country–all the sites are drive up and spacious, the bathrooms are nearby, and the most scenic part (the falls) are only a short walk.

3. Inks Lake State Park

The reason this park makes my list is the unique pink granite you’ll find everywhere, and the great views on so many of the trails. I don’t like slogging through a forest with no reward at the end, and at Inks Lake you don’t have to worry about that! Especially not when the bluebonnets are out, omg–it is simply beautiful to see bluebonnets against the pink granite. The trails wind around the lake’s edge and up over hills and around boulders, so you never get bored looking at the same scenery along the trail. While the campsites don’t offer much privacy, they are shaded by big oaks and located beside the lake.

2. Enchanted Rock State Natural Area

Ok, so this may be one of Texas’ most popular parks BUT it is for such good reason! I love it. Here’s why. A) the view from the top is amazing, B) the workout climbing to the top is exhilarating (short, but great), C) the campsites are private and secluded from the main road, (with the exception of a few), D) the trails all have interesting scenery (even the ones other than Summit trail) and finally E) (yes there is an E) there is so much to do in the surrounding area and nearby B&B’s if camping isn’t your thing! (Think shopping in Fredericksburg, visiting LBJ State Park, checking out charming Johnson City, etc etc.)

1. Lost Maples State Natural Area

Finally, the very tippy top on my list, Lost Maples State Natural Area. I have a soft spot for this place. It is exquisite, a real reason to have pride in our state, and if you ever get to go you will see why. The views are the most dramatic, its trails the most entertaining, and of course, its fall colors the BEST in Texas. The surrounding countryside, which you should take a drive one afternoon to see, is awesome. Warning: you must reserve your campsite early.

The hilltop trails hug the edge of a cliff so you are treated to this panorama nearly the entire time:

And there are charming smaller, easier trails on the “ground floor” for little ones:

The drive there is spectacular:

Random rock formations shaped like a monkey:

And of course, fall leaves:

Honorable Mention

Pace Bend Park, a Travis County Park on the banks of Lake Travis, gets honorable mention. I like their camping area for its spaciousness and last minute availability, love its proximity to Austin, and enjoyed the trails which hug the edge of the lake.

So like I said–you can’t go wrong with a park in the Texas Hill Country, it is one of the most beautiful parts of our state and we are so lucky to have these green spaces! Pack up the family–even if just for a day trip–and go check them out.

God bless Texas!

12 Tips for Camping in Davis Mountains State Park

Even though it is so dry and the conditions are so tough, the desert in the American West somehow manages to be incredibly abundant and beautiful—especially in an area called the Chihuahuan Desert. This is where several parks you’ve probably heard of, like Big Bend National Park, are found, and its beauty is definitely worth seeing.

If you want to experience this unique landscape and escape to a place truly remote, Davis Mountains State Park is a great home base. From here you can see West Texas’ most famous landmarks within an hour and a half drive (think Marfa, Big Bend, Alpine, Balmorhea Springs), and you can camp while having the comforts of the small, quaint town of Fort Davis just minutes away.

More guidance for planning your trip to West Texas can be found here: A Girl’s Guide to West Texas.

1. Book 6-8 months in advance.

This is one of Texas’ more popular parks. See my guidance post, How to Make a Reservation at a State Park to see instructions for booking online or just visit http://texas.reserveworld.com/.

2. Get a campsite with shade.

I left my flip flops in the sun one afternoon and by the end of the day the soles had melted off. Even though Fort Davis is “the coolest place in Texas in July”, it can still get pretty hot in summer.

Request a camp site in the shade if you can, and still, plan to bring your own shade structure — like this one for $20 on Amazon. You will thank me later!

3. Beware of bees.

We made the tragic mistake of eating SYRUP outside (quelle horreur!) and were completely swarmed within minutes. The bees know where the camp sites are and aren’t shy about getting after anything sweet on your table. Here are my tips for keeping bees away from your campsite.

  • Keep your trash bag/can closed.
  • Keep the trash away from your picnic table and tents.
  • Do not eat maple syrup or honey outside.

4. Bring a hammer.

The soil is rocky and dry, and you will need a hammer to get your tent stakes in the ground.

5. Prepare for wind.

The wind in West Texas can be dramatic, so make sure your rain fly is clipped down and your tent stakes are secure in the ground.

6. Hike The Most Scenic Trail in Davis Mountains State Park.

My personal favorite trail in this park is the Skyline Drive Trail, it has incredible views all around and varied terrain so you never get bored.

On that note…

7. Be sure to watch the sun rise from the scenic overlook.

This is impossible to miss — just ask the ranger when you check in about the scenic overlook by Skyline Drive Trail and they will tell you. It is on the eastern end of the park.

8. Plan to have a meal at the Black Bear Restaurant.

This is at Indian Lodge, the iconic historic hotel on the property which was built by the CCC during the Great Depression. It is worth a stop.

There is a buffet but you can also order off the menu.

9. Bring a yard game.

This is a fun way to pass the time before dinner.

10. Allow several days for this trip.

The drive out to Fort Davis is so long that it’s not worth the effort if you have to turn around and come home two days later! Give yourself three to four solid days in the area (not including driving time), because there is SO much to see and do! (See my Girl’s Guide to West Texas for other recommendations.)

11. Plan to make a trip into town.

The town of Fort Davis is just ten minutes away, and has several cute stores and caboose turned ice cream shop that is pretty hard to beat!

12. Check out the interpretive center and attend a ranger show.

This is a cool spot. Literally–it has air conditioning! There are also games, hula hoops, and learning exhibits to entertain kids. AND a bird watching station where kids can see the wildlife of West Texas up close. The calendar at the visitors center and here online will show what ranger shows are taking place while you are there.

 

PS. The bathrooms are decent!

The bathrooms at Davis Mountains State Park are pretty decent, actually. There are two large family size restrooms or there are men and women’s restrooms with stalls and showers. There is not ample counter space but there is a little ledge under the mirror where you can put your toiletries. There are hooks for your towels. The restrooms are kept very clean too, thank goodness!

Hope you have a happy trip out west and be sure to tag #whitswilderness in your adventures.

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:

The 3 Best Hiking Trails of Enchanted Rock

Hello y’all! As you may have read yesterday, I just returned from a fun weekend of camping at Enchanted Rock and wanted to share with you the trails we hiked and loved. I hope you try them too.

If you have not been to Enchanted Rock, or if the last time you went was gradeschool (ahem), you need to get out there. It is such a beautiful place and I don’t think I appreciated it as much as it deserved when I was little. We are so fortunate to have this natural feature right here in Texas.

Read about my ladies camping trip at Enchanted Rock here.

Note: all of these trails are better seen in spring time when the wildflowers are blooming!

Summit Trail

Obviously, the first and most important trail to mention is the Summit Trail, which takes you to the top of the dome!

This is the most stunning part of your park experience — the pièce de résistance. Being up there is a wonderful feeling I think all Texans should experience.

Best time to go: Sunrise, when there are fewer people and the breeze is cool. This requires camping overnight in the park, which I highly recommend. Alternatively you could go about an hour before sunset and watch the sun sink below the horizon!

(Is this why they call our state “God’s Country”?!)

Difficulty: moderate. The trail is steep, however it is only 20 minutes long.

Distance: 20 minutes, 1 mile to summit

Bring some binocs and plan to sit up there for a spell and enjoy the view. There’s no place like it in Texas!

FYI: No dogs allowed (“Lame,” says Trooper.)

Echo Canyon Trail

This juts off from Summit Trail and is a fun addition to the summit trail as you are coming back down. Hang a right on your way down at the Echo Trail sign, and the trail will lead you down a valley, beside boulders, and to Moss Lake. From the far side of the lake, you can get beautiful pictures of Enchanted Rock!

Be Aware: Echo Canyon is for sure-footed folks, as it requires balance and stability as you make your way down through the small canyon. It doesn’t require any rock climbing — just a helping hand from a hiking buddy every now and then!

Best time to go: on your way down from Enchanted Rock

Difficulty: moderate

Distance: 0.67 mi

Loop Trail

I LOVED Loop Trail!! Personally this was my favorite, 2nd only to the Summit Trail. This was nice, wide, flat, and downhill. (Downhill?! Yes please.) It also affords you dozens of panoramic hill country views, pink granite boulders, wildflowers (in Spring), and a scenic overlook to stop at. I definitely recommend this one!

Best time to go: Any time is good, but I recommend making a loop with Echo Trail and Summit Trail.

Difficulty: easy

Distance: it depends — the entire loop is 4.25 miles but the section we did, from Moss Lake to the trailhead on the southern end of the park is only about 1.8 miles.

Connecting Trail to Frog Pond

This is shorter and still very scenic – we spent about 45 minutes exploring this area but could have spent longer. Tall oak trees, gorgeous wildflowers, rolling hills, and creeks all grace the area and it makes for a very lovely jaunt!

Loop trail intersects here – not to be confused!

Oh, Texas, just STOP! You so pretty!!!

Gorgeous.

Difficulty: easy

Distance: 0.57 miles; 1.12 if you take the Frontside trail back to the trail head

Enchanted Rock is one of my favorite hiking experiences in Texas – the trails are just the right length, the scenery is jaw-dropping, and when everything is covered in spring green and wildflowers it’s simply divine.

GO!!! Do it! Please, for me. Make a reservation. You will not regret it!

A Girl’s Getaway to Enchanted Rock

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

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

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

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

Except we have bluebonnets! Take that Yosemite…

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Including this awesome folding hammock!)

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

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

What happens at Enchanted stays at Enchanted…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I would totally recommend these trails on your next visit!

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

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

Perfect weekend in the books.

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

Stay tuned for:

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

XOXO

Ps. Affiliate links used.

Fun Camping Adventures at Bastrop State Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About that….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The rolling terrain was a great work out.

My favorite stop was the scenic overlook.

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

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

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

Whatever I said, Trooper must have found it interesting…

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

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

(All recipes coming soon!)

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

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

Happy camping!

Plan Your Visit

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

Sunrise on the Texas Coast

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

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

powderhorn-700px-edited-11-of-51

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

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

powderhorn-700px-edited-15-of-51

powderhorn-700px-edited-1-of-51

powderhorn-700px-edited-4-of-51

powderhorn-700px-edited-10-of-51

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

powderhorn-700px-edited-7-of-51

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

powderhorn-700px-edited-14-of-51

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

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

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

A Sneak Preview of Texas’ NEW State Park!

A big ranch on the Texas coast has just been set aside as our NEWEST state park, and guess what?! Today you get a sneak preview of it here on Whit’s Wilderness! I’m excited to share it with you because A) it is gorgeous, and B) I have a feeling it’s going to be one of our most popular state parks, and you need to be in the know.

The good news is it’s not coming online for another five years, so you have plenty of time to renovate an Airstream trailer and become a professional outdoorswoman before it opens. 🙂

powderhorn-700px-edited-6-of-51

The park is called Powderhorn Ranch, and it is located near Port O’Connor, Texas just up the coast from Rockport on Matagorda Bay.

We were there on a camp out with Stewards of the Wild, a group for young people in their 20’s and 30’s who are into the outdoors and conservation. This is a GREAT group to join, they always have fun activities that show a “behind the scenes” look at Texas Parks and Wildlife happenings.

powderhorn-700px-edited-41-of-51

At 17,000 acres, Powderhorn is pretty sizeable (Memorial Park in Houston is 1,400 acres, for comparison) and it’s right on the beach in prime fishing, hunting, birding, and kayaking territory.

powderhorn-700px-edited-16-of-51

We got to camp right on the water, with the soothing sound of the waves to put us to sleep and a killer sunrise to wake up to the next morning.

powderhorn-700px-edited-7-of-51

We felt totally spoiled to get to see this park before it opened to the public, and had so much fun driving around looking at wildlife, kayaking, and fishing on the coast.

powderhorn-700px-edited-12-of-51

The lodge on the property has a huge wraparound porch, and will be open for group reservations in the future. (You will want to get in on this!)

Panoramic beach views and an entire row of posts just for hammocks make it simply heavenly. Brandon tested out the hammock situation just for you all, and he reports that it is up to his napping standards.

powderhorn-700px-edited-35-of-51

While a lot of land along the coast is flat and marsh-like, this ranch has such diverse scenery, from freshwater ponds that the birds and alligators love, to oak thickets, tall grass prairies, and beautiful grassy coastline.

powderhorn-700px-edited-25-of-51

powderhorn-700px-edited-42-of-51

It was seriously so pretty.

In the future, a huge portion of this land will be used for public hunting and about 2,500 acres of oceanfront property will become the state park.

The prime part of the coastline is going to be the heart of the state park, and campsites are going to be strung out along the waterfront.

powderhorn-700px-edited-4-of-51

I think this is going to be the part of the park that makes Texans fall in love with their state all over again.

The sunrise from this point is simply beautiful and there’s not a building for miles to ruin the view.

powderhorn-700px-edited-14-of-51

You will want to bring your kayaks (or rent them from the park) because the fishing and sightseeing along the coast is something out of a magazine.

powderhorn-700px-edited-28-of-51

{This coastline is Stewards of the Wild tested and approved!}

powderhorn-700px-edited-30-of-51

powderhorn-700px-edited-27-of-51

powderhorn-700px-edited-26-of-51

powderhorn-700px-edited-31-of-51

As a wildlife lover and so was avidly photographing all of the deer, herons, pelicans, and shorebirds.

powderhorn-700px-edited-45-of-51

Texas is a huge haven for migrating birds, and given how large our coastline is, we are a major part of their migratory route. They love the freshwater ponds and estuaries along the coast, and after a long gulf flight they love hanging out here and refueling on the fish, plankton, and plants in marshes and wetlands before continuing on their journeys.

powderhorn-700px-edited-48-of-51

One morning I watched about a dozen pelicans dive-bomb their breakfast of fish just under the surface.

powderhorn-700px-edited-37-of-51

powderhorn-700px-edited-38-of-51

Later that day I made everyone apple cobbler on the dutch oven and it hit the spot.

powderhorn-700px-edited-43-of-51

We had a big bonfire on the beach that night, and I was reminded how much I love beach bonfires.

powderhorn-700px-edited-44-of-51

Beach bonfires are the best.

But of course, not every camping trip is perfect. Ha. A huge thunderstorm pelted us with rain and wind Saturday night and we made a fun little discovery that our tent was not “waterproof” at. all. Water came through the roof and puddles formed around the edge of our tent, soaking our belongings. We layed awake from about 2am to 5am as the thunder and lightning passed overhead.

But despite it all, we had such an incredible time and I once again was wow-ed by the natural beauty of our state. We are so lucky to have places like this to enjoy and I am so excited for the many Texans who will get to visit this ranch and make memories in years to come.

powderhorn-700px-edited-18-of-51

One day I’ll get to tell my kids, “Your father and I came here before it was a state park, before there were restrooms, roads or any of these fancy amenities!” We’ll tell them about how we got stuck in a thunderstorm and how we had sticker burrs in our sleeping bags. I’m sure they will roll their eyes. But I still can’t wait to share this slice of pristine Texas coastline with them.

powderhorn-700px-edited-17-of-51

How YOU Can Go to This Park Before it Opens!

  • If you are between 21 and 45, and live in San Antonio, Austin, Houston, or Dallas, you can join Stewards of the Wild. They will be making one last trip to Powderhorn next year and you can join them.

Things to Know

  • Location:

powderhorn-map

  • 3 hours from Austin, Houston, and San Antonio
  • Lots of sticker burrs, beware! Bring a tarp to put under your tent. We had sticker burrs and thorns poking through the floor of our tent.
  • Bring bug spray
  • It can be windy

A Bit About the Public Hunting

I personally can’t wait to sign up for public hunting down at Powderhorn. Public hunting will open in 2018, before the rest of the park is open to the public. Those of you looking to put wild game on your table can look forward to that! See my instructions for how to hunt Texas park land here.

Where the Name Comes From

A “powderhorn” is what they used back in the old days to hold gun powder, and was typically a cow or buffalo horn with the ends sawed off and stoppers at both ends. It was worn around the waist/cross body. The lake near Powderhorn Ranch is shaped like a powderhorn, hence the name.

What to Do in the Area

Thanks to PBS’ The Daytripper for these tips!

I hope you all get a chance to enjoy this beautiful park some day! Until then check out our many great state parks on the coast, like Mustang Island and Galveston Island.