Our Stay at Big Cedar Lodge, America’s Premier Wilderness Resort

Y’all, I have found a new slice of paradise for outdoor enthusiasts and families! Big Cedar Lodge in Branson, Missouri.

Billed as “America’s Premier Wilderness Resort”, BCL is on Southern Living’s South’s Best list for 2019. Brandon and I went there for a wedding this last May and there is outdoor recreation available for all ages and interests.

While there’s plenty to do for outdoor lovers, the accommodations are comfortable enough that the entire family can enjoy it.

  • 10 Hours from Austin, TX
  • 45 minutes from the nearest airport

Big Cedar Lodge was built by owner of Bass Pro Shops, so there are fish everywhere—either painted, welded, or engraved into nearly every flat surface on the property, from the parking lot stripes to the wood clothing rods in the closets.

The drive from the front gate to the main lodge is breathtaking and gets you in the outdoor spirit. It winds through the woods and has big views of Missouri’s lush green hills and the nearby lake. Most people I talk to are surprised to hear about how beautiful Missouri can be, but its very lush and especially charming in the Ozarks. I definitely would put a trip here on your outdoor “bucket list.”

Table Rock Lake

The resort sits on a hill above Table Rock Lake, where there is a marina, small beach, and a pretty walking trail on the edge of the lake.

On the morning of the wedding we booked a lake tour in a little wooden motor boat called the Goin’ Jessi, which was once owned by Waylon Jennings.

You can book it here: Table Rock Lake Marina or by calling the resort.

I was 5 months pregnant at the time, and it was sweltering, (there was no shade on the boat) but it was fun nonetheless. It was very affordable and it didn’t require much time, which was a huge plus given all there is to see and do at the resort!

What Not to Miss

The highest point of the property, “Top of the Rock” is a must-see and has a museum, restaurant, chapel, wine tasting room, and reception area and is absolutely stunning–a place you will not want to miss!

At sunset, they play bagpipes out on the lawn and it is magical. For my friend’s wedding, they fired off a canon as we all came out of the chapel.

Top of the Rock also has a huge Native American artifact collection to see if you’re into history.

Cabins

We stayed with some friends in one of the cutest log cabins I’ve ever seen! It looked like something out of a Ralph Lauren ad.

I can only imagine how charming it is at Christmas time, which supposedly is a great time to visit the resort. It had a fridge and a kitchen and would be perfect for a family to stay in.

(In addition to cabins, there are also rooms you can rent in the main buildings.)

Dogwood Canyon Nature Preserve

This is a separate property just a few minutes away from the resort, with a ton of wildlife to see (like elk and bison!) and plenty to do. I would set aside an entire day for this. The highlights would be the wildlife tram tour and the horseback rides. Other offerings:

  • Hiking
  • Trout Fishing (this is supposed to be excellent and EASY!)
  • Fly fishing academy
  • Biking

www.dogwoodcanyon.org/

Walking Trail

We enjoyed getting our morning coffee and strolling along the paved walking trail that connects the cabins and the main lodge. Its not too long and would be doable with a stroller.

Historic bridge on the property
View from the walking trail

Gift shop

The gift shop is pretty good, especially if you are looking for some cute outdoorsy themed things.

Fun Mountain

While the rest of the resort is all about doing things outside, Fun Mountain is the perfect place to go with kids on a hot or rainy day because it’s inside and air conditioned! There are bumper cars, a low ropes course, arcade games, laser tag, a golf simulator, and the most unique bowling alley I’ve ever been to.

Shooting Academy

Everything including the guns are provided!

Other Things to Do

It’s impossible to cover it all in one post! But there is golf, a cave to tour, bowfishing, yoga and other fitness classes, swimming, and archery. Don’t worry–you will not get bored!

How Long to Stay

There is SO much to do–I would allow at least 3 full days not including arrival/departure.

What to Bring

This is a very casual resort and you will be fine in your comfy clothes! I would be sure to bring low top hiking shoes or tennis shoes because you will do a lot of walking.

How to Get There

  • Drive — roughly 10 hours from Austin (we did it in 1 day)
  • Fly — you can fly into either Springfield or Branson. Branson is the closest and Springfield is about 45 minutes away.

We need one of these places in Texas but until that happens I will have to return to Missouri. I can’t wait to take my little boy and do all of these things when he is old enough!

Indian Lodge: a Must See in West Texas

Have you ever been to Indian Lodge? It is a charming, historic, and scenic lodge set amid the arid mountains of West Texas. A must-see on your next trip to this part of the state!

It even has a pool!

Indian Lodge has 39 guest rooms, but even if you don’t get a reservation (they book far in advance) you are welcome to check out the property.

Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps as part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal, it is steeped in history. Everything is handmade, from the chairs and tables to the mirror frames and bedside lamps.

I love how the CCC’s work so many decades ago has enriched our national and state parks with history.

Where to Stay Nearby

If you can’t stay at Indian Lodge itself, look into one of these neat options nearby:

Where to Eat

Black Bear Restaurant is known to be delicious! Expect hearty meals.

What to Do

Give me a good book and I could definitely sit here a while!

Scoop from a Whit’s Wilderness Reader

My friend Lindsey stayed here two summers ago, and you can read more about her trip here!

Atmosphere

Very quiet, serene, relaxing. Not a hopping place, but hey–that’s kind of the point of going out in the middle of nowhere, right?

Important things to know

  • Indian Lodge is closed for a major repair project through June 1, 2018 but the restaurant remains open.
  • Book far in advance (up to a year)

I hope you get to visit soon! Safe and happy travels, and be sure to tag me in your pics so I know if you were there!

Hunting the Rascally Turkey

Our turkey saga continues. As you may have read here, Brandon and I have been hunting down the wascally turkeys on our property since last fall, when we decided that 30 turkeys was enough for one ranch and we wanted to see how they tasted. Chapter 2 of the turkey hunt continues today.

A couple of weekends ago, I invited my friend Kristin (not a native Texan, but we’ll forgive her)—an expert turkey hunter, and lady of many talents—and her husband Adam down to the ranch for a little wild turkey hunting. As total newbies to this whole turkey hunting thing, Brandon and I needed advice and they were the people who could help.

I realize not everyone who wants to go turkey hunting has a Kristin or an Adam to turn to, so I tell this story and share their wisdom in hopes it serves you well.

Before Kristin and Adam intervened, here is the advice we had received from friends:

  1. Shoot the turkey in the hind quarters
  2. Shoot the turkey at the base of the neck
  3. Shoot it with a rifle
  4. Shoot it with a shotgun
  5. Be very quiet and still because they have very good eyesight and are highly skittish
  6. Don’t worry about being quiet, you can shoot it from a truck
  7. Wear camo
  8. Don’t bother wearing camo, it’s more important to be still
  9. If it doesn’t die right away you’ll need a machete to cut its head off.

Obviously, we were confused.

Adam and Kristin brought their guns, calls, dog, decoys, and even a frozen turkey for dinner in case we didn’t shoot one. Basically, we provided the land–they provided the party! As any good hostess knows, guests like that are always invited back.

Now, I have to say a word about Adam.

Adam is the quintessential outdoorsman. First of all, he looks the part.

Secondly, after hunting with him all weekend, I am convinced that if he were dropped off in a wilderness and forced to survive on berries, he would be the kind of man who could fashion a fish hook out of a twig and be completely fine. He does love his heavy artillery but if forced to live without it, I think he could manage.

In essence, he was the perfect turkey hunting guide.

(And they’ll be handy friends come the zombie apocalypse.)

Kristin and Adam also brought their very regal, very dashing collie Jane. Jane doesn’t walk—she parades. (She does have 7 AKC titles in agility and obedience to her credit.) She is a big sweetie. Trooper and she made for a very photogenic pair, but Trooper can be a snob so as to whether they will be best friends remains to be seen.

The night before our hunt, we scouted the turkeys—where they were roosting and where they were grazing, so the following morning we would be in position to intercept them.

That is, possibly intercept them. Turkeys are very rascally this way—one day they do one thing, and the next, they do something else. I’m inclined to think this isn’t so much survival instinct as it is forgetfulness. They remind me of a loud party in a restaurant. In a world where nearly all wildlife has evolved to blend into their environment for survival, turkeys don’t just stick out, they seem to delight in a lack of camouflage.

The following morning, we sat under a tree and Adam set decoys about 25 yards out in front of us. Our objective was to call the turkeys in to within 40 yards, and shoot one of the male turkeys (also known as toms.)(Hunting the females in Spring is illegal.)

Why would we want to shoot a tom? We wanted to eat it for dinner, and we have a healthy population to pull from.

We were completely decked out in camo—face paint and all. In case I didn’t already feel legit following Adam the Outdoorsman through the woods, with face paint and a weapon I felt like the Jason Bourne of turkey hunting.

That morning started off slowly—fun fact: turkey hunting involves a lot of silence, patience, and sore buns.  You pick a spot, sit down, and you do not move, no matter how much your derriere aches. If turkeys have one defensive asset, it is their eyesight.

Adam called the turkeys using calls like this periodically, starting once the sun had risen and doing one call every 20-30 minutes. He was keen to not seem too eager. Turkey hunting is a lot like dating: you put yourself out in the field, make yourself available for the right chap, play hard to get, and then the best display of feathers wins.

Around 8:30 the action started happening, and despite the fact I had barely been turkey hunting before, I knew this was a scene out of a turkey hunter’s dream. We had been hearing the turkeys cluck near us, but because of the brush all around, we could only see one to two turkeys at a time. Adam’s calls were working though because they started coming around the brush to check out our decoys.

A young male turkey strutted out into the open. Kristin was the closest and had her gun up. BOOM! She took the shot and the sky turned black as a dozen turkeys took flight. They had been all around us but we couldn’t see them due to the brush. She hit the turkey square in the head and he died instantaneously.

Adam advised we stay put, and within a few minutes a big male tom, emboldened by the site of our decoys and feeling very proud of his feathers glided around the side of a cactus just thirty yards from us. He was beautiful, and he walked as if he knew it. It’s funny how these birds can be gangly and awkward one moment, but once they splay their feathers they walk majestically.

Brandon took a shot, missed, and the turkeys flew off again—this time officially done with our decoys.

We moved locations a few times after that, trying to call in more turkeys, but to no avail. But we had our bird—and we had the experience of calling in a big gorgeous tom.

Adam and Kristin made turkey piccata for dinner that night and it was delicious. I had heard wild turkey wasn’t as good as the kind you buy in the grocery store, but whoever told me that was wrong!

We hunted that evening and the following morning, and saw a few more turkeys but nothing in range. Mostly the hunt consisted of sitting in the wildflowers and enjoying the rare cool weather.

We split the meat, and Kristin and I both saved a bunch of feathers for art projects. I can’t wait to have a chance to make these gorgeous feathers into something pretty.

We learned a lot about turkey hunting, and feel so much less confused than we did when we started. Lessons coming soon in another blog post. Hope you feel inspired to go afield and hunt a turkey next season! Happy hunting!

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.

My 9 Best Outdoor Experiences of 2016

Every time I have a really great experience outside, I file it away in a “Best of” category to share with you at the end of the year. Here’s my list for 2016 of the outdoor experiences that could not be beat. I hope it inspires you to get outside!

1. Snowmobiling in the Rockies

I went snowmobiling for the first time ever on a girls trip to Telluride last February, and I left wondering, “How have I never done this before?!” Snowmobiling allows you to explore pristine winter wilderness you might not otherwise see, while sitting back on a comfortable seat. The only downside is it does get very cold.

2. Best Day Trip Ever: Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge and Bluebonnet Cafe in Marble Falls

Back in warm Texas, I took a fun day trip with my niece and sis-in-law. It just so happens that one of the largest preserved wildernesses near Austin is just down the road from a delicious diner called Bluebonnet Cafe, which serves breakfast and pie all day long. Walking our legs off and then filling up on pie was definitely a highlight of 2016!

3. A Backpacking Trip Like No Other

Probably my crowning moment outdoors this year was the three-day backpacking trip with my brother and Brandon through the Sierra Mountains near southern California. Wow. All I can say is wow. I’ve never seen more scenic countryside or felt more physically exhausted in my life, and this was an experience I’ll never forget. If you’re going to backpack one place in your life, do this trail. (How to do it: A Guide to my Favorite Trail in the Sierra.)

4. Getting outdoors in Truckee, California

On the heels of our backpacking trip we drove over to Truckee, California to have down time in the mountains. It was an outdoor lover’s paradise, with two lakes (Tahoe and Donner), a national forest, a street festival with art and music, and plenty of rec centers for everything from swimming to tennis to keep us occupied. I couldn’t believe a place like this was real and so affordable. Just don’t tell anyone because then it will get crowded!

5. Glamping on the Guadalupe River

Topping my list of Texas adventures was this CUTE glamping destination on the Guadalupe river. I went here on a whim recently with my friend Cassandra and we felt like we were in a story book. Eight tipis ring a common area and the Guadalupe river is only a short walk away. The charming town of Gruene is nearby and of course, we stopped there and got onion rings at the Gristmill. It would have been un-Texan for us not to. This is perfect for reunions, camp outs, overnight trips with friends, and the best part is it’s only an hour and a half from Austin and an hour from San Antonio. LOVED it.

6. Horseback Riding in the Rockies

For our 30th birthdays, my college girlfriends and I decided we needed to do something big to celebrate. So, we went to the Rockies with our husbands and stayed in a house in Breckenridge. The highlight was a horseback ride one of the girls put together up in the mountains. Having just hauled a pack all over the Sierra mountains, let me tell you it was a serious treat to sit on a horse and have him do all the work! We rode through aspen groves and came out on top of a mountainside with panoramic views of 14,000 foot peaks all around. I would definitely recommend this to anyone visiting the mountains in the summer. We used Gore Ranch Outfitters out of Breckenridge, Colorado.

7. Spending Thanksgiving at our Newly Renovated Farmhouse

If you have been following this blog you know I have been restoring my grandfather’s old farm house in South Texas. Finally, the project has come to a stopping point and we got to enjoy the holiday there. Woo hoo!

8. Visiting Texas’ New State Park

Last but definitely not least, the year was capped off with a huge treat: the chance to see Texas’ new state park BEFORE it opened! I’m here to tell you that it is gorgeous and you’ll want to be quick on the reservation trigger when it opens so you can go. More pics and details on it can be found in my post here.

9. Lost Maples State Park

One more! Lost Maples was AMAZING! It’s my new favorite state park…you must go if you haven’t been.

That’s all! How was your year? What did you do? I hope you got outside at least once, if not–make it your goal for 2017. 🙂

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. 🙂

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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9 Reasons to Make Truckee, CA Your Next Summer Vacation

This summer after our big backpacking excursion, my family spent a few days in Truckee, California, a cute mountain town near Lake Tahoe. After sleeping on the hard ground for days on the trail, it was a treat to sleep on a mattress and have internet! I also fell in love with this town for other reasons, which I’ll talk about here. This is the PERFECT vacation spot for a family so I hope you enjoy!

I know many of my readers are looking for places where their family can enjoy the outdoors while not having to forego all of life’s little luxuries. We want wifi, comfortable accommodations, and plenty to do, and we want it all for an affordable price. Nowadays most vacations require you to plan months if not years in advance, and once you get to your destination, it’s often crowded and full of tourists. I don’t know about you, but planning years in advance ain’t always my cup of tea.

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But this is.

Even though Truckee is near Lake Tahoe, and even though it is beautiful, it is neither crowded nor touristy. Truckee has wide roads that are free from traffic and potholes. There is plenty of parking and no lines to get in anywhere. We did not make a single plan or reservation before we got there and still were able to do what we wanted! All without bribing a sole. Oh, did I mention it’s in California? So you get that cool California weather, too.

I think Truckee must be California’s little secret.

How to Do Truckee

  • Rent a house on Tahoe Signature Properties (in Tahoe Donner location). We stayed at this one and LOVED IT: Three Pines Cabin…we will definitely be coming back.
  • Be sure to rent a house that includes Tahoe Donner recreation membership cards if you can. (It will say in the description.) This is not required to use the amenities I describe below but strongly recommended.
  • Utilize the Tahoe Donner Association recreational facilities. (See below.)
  • Fly into Reno and rent a car. It’s a 35-40 minute drive to Truckee.
  • 4+ days recommended
  • Go to the Trout Creek Recreation Center the day you get in and pick up their activity guide for the latest info on what’s going on in the area

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What You’ll Love

1. Swim, kayak, fish, sunbathe, and boat on Donner Lake

The central feature of the Truckee area is Donner Lake. While not as large as nearby Lake Tahoe, Donner is a 5 minute drive from town and much more intimate. You can rent kayaks at the Tahoe Donner Marina Beach Club, or you can walk your dog, picnic, or swim at the parks around the edge. If you get on-the-ball early enough in the day, you can commandeer one of the docks for picnicking and sunbathing, and THAT looks like the way to spend the day.

The Beach Club Marina’s guided kayaking tours are also rumored to be fun.

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Donner Lake

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Our kayaks

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A stud in a hat!

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the crew

2. Hike a nearby trail or keep up your exercise regime at Trout Creek Recreation Center

Work out by day, pizza by night, am I right? That sounds like vacation to me. Between the many trails in this area and all of the work out opportunities, you don’t have to feel too guilty about stopping at The Treat Box Bakery for doughnuts or going to Full Belly Deli for lunch.

The Trout Creek Rec Center has fitness classes as well as a full gym.

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If you want to feel the burn but also get some fresh air, the trails are ample in this area. I loved the Summit Lake Trail. Between the Tahoe Donner Land Trust and the Tahoe Donner Neighborhood Association, over 7,000 acres of the surrounding landscape has been purchased and preserved for hiking and mountain biking, keeping the views pristine and opening up miles of trails for the public.

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Summit Lake Trail

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Summit Lake Trail

3. Drop your kids off for trail rides, hikes, archery lessons, and other kids camps offered in Tahoe Donner.

Your littlest ducklings can go to Kids Camp at the Trout Creek Rec Center playroom.

The kids camps might be the only thing you need to reserve in advance. See the Tahoe Donner website closer to summertime for details. Here’s a brief overview of what is offered:

  • Equestrian Center: trail rides, horsemanship lessons, pony rides
  • Golf Course: Junior Golf School, Junior clinics, Glow Golf family parties
  • Trout Creek Recreation Center: archery clinics, kids night out, geocaching, adventure days (includes hiking, crafts, archery, and games)
  • Swimming: swim lessons
  • Beach Club Marina: water kids club, pirate treasure hunt
  • Day camps: 9-noon/9-2pm depending on age. Includes activities mentioned above.
  • Tennis center: Junior tennis program
  • Mountain biking: “Bike Like a Girl” bike camp,
  • Sailing: Junior sailing camp

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Playground at the Tennis Center

Since there are so many kid friendly activities, there are plenty of adults in the 30’s and 40’s age range. So….

4. Go to One of the Parties for Adults

Party time! Woo hoo! One of the fun perks of the Tahoe Donner facilities is the parties they throw for adults. They take place at the various facilities, and include everything from barbecues to tennis round robins. One of the most appealing to me was a bratwurst and tennis round robin party (two of my favorite things in life combined). I also saw a Cowgirls and Cocktails party that looked fun, a Pancakes and Ponies party (this one included kids obviously but hey, where’s the adult version?!), trivia night, family movie night, and a private Euer Valley dinner….just to name a few events from this summer!

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Fire ring at the equestrian center

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Tennis center

5. Don’t Miss Truckee Thursdays Downtown

The charming downtown is blocked off every Thursday night in the summer for a street festival. You can buy lobster rolls, fresh bread, jewelry, art, ever-important coffee mugs, and plenty of strange hippie dippie things if you so desire. Food trucks line up and the boutiques are open late. There’s usually a band and at the very least a street act. It’s people watching at it’s finest.

(PS. Everyone in Truckee is fit and dressed in outdoor gear. I guess that’s what happens when you mountain bike all day.)

*Park at the Trout Creek Recreation Center and take the free shuttle, as downtown is just about the only place in Truckee with limited parking.*

6. Truckee’s Gorgeous Golf Course

The best part of golfing is the courses you get to play on, am I right? This one is beautiful.

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There’s a putting green and driving range right by the Lodge restaurant, and we had a fun afternoon eating and putting. (I get more excited about golf when food is involved.)

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View of golf course from The Lodge restaurant

On that note…

7. Dinner at the Lodge is a must!

This place has a chic and romantic vibe at night. Get a patio table if the weather’s nice! We sat on the patio and gorged ourselves on the delicious food…I can’t remember what we ate, it was one big delicious blur, but I remember being incredibly happy with it.

8. The view from Donner Pass

Outside of town is Donner Pass, which can be accessed by car. The views up here are awesome and not to be missed!

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Justin, mom, and me at Donner Pass

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Donner Lake

(After my backpacking trip I was all for whatever we could see by car. 🙂 )

9. Lake Tahoe is right nextdoor

You MUST drive by Lake Tahoe on your trip! Tahoe is such an incredible sight. It’s immense, and the fact that it is naturally formed (i.e. not formed by a dam) makes it a true wonder. 900 feet deep, pure glacial blue…so lovely. I’ve heard the boat rides offered there are fun, but the place that will be on my list next time is this Scandinavian Castle built on the shore of Lake Tahoe in the 1920’s era by a woman named Lora Knight.

Other Things to Know about Truckee

  • I said it above but it deserves another mention: Full Belly Deli is where it’s AT!
  • You might want to stop in Big Truck hat shop and get a hat…it’s kind of the uniform around these parts. (Conveniently next door to Full Belly Deli.)
  • Tahoe National Forest is nearby and stunning

I hope you have the chance to see Truckee one day and enjoy it as much as I have! Who knows, it could be a family tradition in the making.

A few last parting images from our trip…

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Tahoe National Forest

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This lake has been sent to the lab for testing

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Swimming at Trout Creek Recreation center

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Equestrian center and its many offerings

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Mountain bikes for rent

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Monarch butterfly sippin’ on some pollen on Summit Lake Trail

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Mi familia…very happy

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Sunrise in the Sierra Mountains

One of the most majestic sights to see in the Sierra mountains will always be a sunrise or sunset. I’ve never seen another mountain range that is as filled with light as the Sierra, and it’s no wonder that when the writer and hiker John Muir called it “the Range of Light”, the term stuck.

{See A Guide to my Favorite Trail in the Sierra to plan your own trip.}

“The mighty Sierra…it seemed not clothed with light but wholly composed of it, like the wall of some celestial city….”

— John Muir, The Yosemite

On our recent backpacking trip (post here) my brother hung himself out of the tent one morning and captured these images, all while still tucked comfortably in his sleeping bag.

Like the good outdoor blogger I am, I was sound asleep. Thank goodness this blog doesn’t depend on me.

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The sunrise show is about to begin…

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A trickle of light comes over the neighboring peaks…

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A trickle more. All the heart eyes emojis here.

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This color! Over the course of the night, the wind had died down and the waters turned into glass.

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“And after ten years of wandering and wondering in the heart of it, rejoicing in its glorious floods of light, the white beams of the morning streaming through the passes, the noonday radiance on the crystal rocks, the flush of the alpenglow, and the irised spray of countless waterfalls, it still seems above all others the Range of Light.”

— John Muir

I still pinch myself that this was real. Add this to your outdoor bucket list and when you get there, be sure you are awake for the sunrise. Obviously, it’s worth it.

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Two Gorgeous Swimming & Sunbathing Stops in Yosemite

As y’all may have seen here, earlier in August I went on a backpacking excursion in California with my brother and my husband, the two main men in my life other than my dog. The day before we started the hike, we happened to be camping a short drive away from Yosemite National Park and it would have been a shame if we didn’t visit.

As a Texan, whose only national park is 6+ hours away, it was strange just “stopping by Yosemite” for the afternoon, but I definitely could get used to it.

The beach and swimming hole we saw there are two must-see stops to add to your agenda for Yosemite National Park. And if you’ve never been to Yosemite, you MUST go! It’s the American thing to do.

Tenaya Lake

After seeing this lake, I’m convinced that Yosemite is the perfect vacation for those who can’t decide if they’re beach people or mountain people.

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It’s also perfect for couples and families who are split on this important issue.

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I would never have expected to need my swimsuit in the mountains, but what do you know.

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This beach has sand, so a sand castle building kit would be in order.

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Note: the path leading to the beach is stroller friendly but very short.

How to Get There

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This is located along Tioga Road (the main road going through Tuolomne Meadows) and the lake is visible from the road. Park at the northern end for the beach.

Another handy map can be found here: Summit Post Puppy Dome Map

Swimming Hole by Puppy Dome

Ladies, there is a place on this earth called Puppy Dome. Finally, someone is naming landmarks after things that make us happy. On the other hand, there are no puppies here, so that’s lame.

This swimming hole is located at the base of Puppy Dome, on the Dana Fork of the Tuolomne River.

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Sunbathing here is prime! Look at that rock. It’s begging for some sunbathing.

This was a very quiet spot when we were there. The water is crystal clear and perfect for swimming, and there are big flat slabs of granite around that are perfect for a picnic. If this were Texas, there would be swarms of people around going for a swim.

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One convenient thing about this swimming hole is that it is away from the main road so it feels remote, but it’s not a long walk from the parking lot, so you can easily bring your gear with you for fishing, lounging, and picnicking.

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Occasionally there will be rock climbers scaling Puppy Dome which is fun to watch.

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How to Get There

To get there, drive east on Tioga road from the Tuolomne Visitors Center and park in the parking lot on the south side of Tioga Road beside the Tuolomne lodge. (After Lembert Dome it will be on the right.) Park by the lodge and follow the trail past the boulders at the base of Puppy Dome. You will go probably a quarter mile through the trees until you encounter the Dana Fork of the Tuolomne River and boom! There are the falls.

Note: this is not stroller friendly.

What to Bring

You’re going to want plenty of time to enjoy these locations, so plan accordingly. Allow an entire day and be sure to pack food.

And your mother says don’t forget your sunscreen!

  • Towels
  • Folding chair
  • Book/magazine
  • Swimsuit
  • Tevas or Chacos
  • Picnic Lunch
  • Jacket

It can be a little breezy so I would recommend bringing an extra layer just in case.

Neither locations are far from parking so hauling a cooler, baby equipment, etc. is not a problem.

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I hope you save this info for your trip to Yosemite and enjoy these places as much as I did!

Happy swimming.

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