The Great Outdoors

8 picturesque Central Texas parks to camp and commune with nature

8 Central Texas parks to camp and commune with nature

The Big Rock of the Devil's Waterhole in Inks Lake State Park
Devil's Waterhole in Inks Lake State Park is one of the best swimming holes in Texas. Courtesy photo
canoeing in Bastrop State Park with cabin in back
Though damaged in the 2011 wildfires, most trails and amenities have reopened at Bastrop State Park. Photo courtesy of Texas Parks and Wildlife
Sunset over Lake Somerville
Lake Somerville provides the perfect fishing getaway for Texans. Photo courtesy of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
bluff in the Guadalupe River State Park
Like many state parks, Guadalupe River State Park offers a wealth of natural beauty and activities.  Photo courtesy of
bluff in Pace Bend Park
Pace Bend Park offers a beautiful stay in the wilderness close to Austin. Photo courtesy of
Hill over water in Garner State Park
Garner State Park is gorgeous and a good choice for anyone planning a weekend trip in the San Antonio area. Photo courtesy of
base of Gorman Falls in Colorado Bend State Park
Gorman Falls are just one of the many breathtaking attractions in Colorado Bend State Park. Photo courtesy of
The Big Rock of the Devil's Waterhole in Inks Lake State Park
canoeing in Bastrop State Park with cabin in back
Sunset over Lake Somerville
bluff in the Guadalupe River State Park
bluff in Pace Bend Park
Hill over water in Garner State Park
base of Gorman Falls in Colorado Bend State Park

Sometimes you have to leave the hustle of city life and enjoy the great outdoors. And we’re not just talking about swimming a few laps in your backyard pool.

If you want to head out into the wilderness to reconnect with nature, these are a few of our favorite Central Texas spots for a weekend camping excursion.

Inks Lake State Park: Burnet
One of the best — and most picturesque — camping sites is Inks Lake State Park, which offers primitive campsites (meaning no water or electrical hookups) as well as cabins with various amenities. More important, the park is located close to many outdoor attractions such as Inks Lake, which stays at a constant level and is open to activities such as swimming, boating and fishing.

But the park’s highlight is certainly Devil’s Waterhole. This deep pool can be enjoyed either with a park ranger-guided tour, or you can just dive right into the cool waters. Aspiring geologists will love nearby Longhorn Cavern State Park.

Lake Somerville: Somerville
Located about 10 miles northwest of Brenham (meaning you can make a stop at the Blue Bell Creamery on the way there, back or both), Lake Somerville is one of the better fishing lakes in the Central Texas region. It has has stable populations of various species of bass, catfish and crappie.

Camping sites with various amenities are near the lake, but if you don’t feel like spending time out on the water, there are still great activities. The Lake Somerville Trailway connects the Birch Creek and Nails Creek segments of the state park with 13 miles of trails for hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking and a prime wildlife viewing area near Flag Pond.

Pace Bend Park: Spicewood
Travis County’s Pace Bend Park is normally a popular spot for boating, but low lake levels have left only one boat ramp open. Still it promises fun. Although most of the park is easily accessible from a paved road that loops around it, the interior (which is a wildlife preserve) can only be accessed by foot, bicycle or horseback.

Less traffic means you’ll have a better chance to view the local population of whitetail deer, foxes, ringtail cats and numerous bird species. Primitive and improved campsites are available all around the lake with impressive vistas and several coves open only to swimmers.

Garner State Park: Concan
Already one of the most popular parks in Texas due to the nearby Frio River, Garner State Park is perfect for a bona fide city-dweller in need of a weekend outdoors. A bit more developed than other spots, Garner State provides shelters and cabins in addition to various campsites.

When you’re not floating the Frio, you can take the time to study nature, canoe, fish and even dance. Yes, Garner State Park has been famous for its summer evening dances since the 1940s, with guests gathering at the park’s concession building for an old-school jukebox dance.

Colorado Bend State Park: Bend
You will gain a new appreciation for the beauty of the Texas Hill Country with a visit to Colorado Bend State Park. Considering all of its campsites are primitive, it makes the perfect place to truly escape civilization.

But you won’t feel like staying at camp for long. The park offers over 32 miles of multiuse trailways, and rangers offer guided tours of one of the hidden gems of the Hill Country, Gorman Falls. The Wild Cave Tour offers spelunking most Saturdays, giving you the chance to get into the belly of the earth and see what lies beneath the Colorado River.

Guadalupe River State Park: Spring Branch
Just north of San Antonio, Guadalupe River State Park is a gorgeous park located on a nine-mile stretch of river (including four miles of river frontage). Guests can enjoy spending the days tubing, canoeing, fishing, swimming and hiking. The park has also recently opened up a new five-mile equestrian trail that’s also available to mountain bikers.

Guided tours are available at the nearby Honey Creek State Natural Areas. Note that though July, all campsites with water and electricity will be closed for an improvement project.

Bastrop and Buescher State Parks: Bastrop County
Though they are two separate parks, Bastrop and Buescher parks are less than four miles apart and are connected by a scenic park road. Both are about a 45-minute drive along State Highway 71 from Austin.

Although Bastrop State Park and many of the surrounding pine trees were destroyed in the 2011 wildfires, the historic cabins were saved, and most trails and campsites have reopened. Take the guided “Field Trips on Wheels” on the road connecting the parks, and you’ll start to see how the area is recovering from the disaster. Make plans to return each year and witness the slow rebirth of this Central Texas gem.