Camping for Christmas

Texas parks beckon with festive events and outdoorsy escapes through the holidays

Texas parks beckon with festive events + outdoor escapes for holidays

camping holidays state parks
Deck the tent with boughs of holly. Photo courtesy of Texas Parks & Wildlife

If fa-la-la-ing in forest and caroling around a campfire sound way better than battling crowds at a mall or facing "out of stock" icons online, maybe you need to gift yourself an outdoorsy getaway.

State parks around Texas have packed the holiday season with special events — specifically, 80 events at 47 parks and eight historic sites — from Thanksgiving trots to Christmas light boat tours to New Year's Eve hikes in the dark. Most events are family friendly, but some sound ideal for solo adventurers who might want to pack a tent and escape to the woods for a night or two (tipping our cap to you, retail workers).

Reservations fill up quickly, so be sure to visit an individual park's website before you head out. And check the Holidays in the Parks page for many more fun options, pricing information, and more information.

Dallas-Fort Worth-area parks

Tyler State Park
Start with the 14th Annual "Walk Off the Bird" Bird Walk, a 2.1-mile hike along the lake shore, at 9 am November 26. Bring your camera for a Fall in the Savannah fall foliage hike at 2 pm that day, or the Fall Colors Lakeshore Photography Hike at 9 am November 27. Head back December 10-11 for A Pineywoods Christmas, when you can stroll or drive through the Lakeview and Big Pine campgrounds to take in campers' elaborately decorated sites and take a Nature Wonderland Hike.

Lake Tawakoni State Park
Drive through or stay there and decorate your campsite with your favorite Christmas decorations to receive your second night of camping free during your stay. There will be a decorating contest, complete with awards, as well as a reading of The Night before Christmas — all part of Twinkle Tour 2021, 5-8 pm December 4.

Daingerfield State Park
The annual Christmas in the Park drive-thru lights tour takes place December 15-18 (times vary). Take a drive through the park lit up like Santa Land and marvel at the decorated campsites and lights. Santa himself will be there, but there'll be no picture-taking with him this year.

Eisenhower State Park
The second annual Light Up the Park drive-thru lights event takes place December 10-11 and will feature candy canes and DIY treats for the kiddos and a certain visitor from the North Pole.

Cleburne State Park
Enjoy a Pancake Breakfast with Santa, hosted by Cleburne Veterans of Foreign Wars, 9-11 am December 11.

Cedar Hill State Park
Explore Christmas at Penn Farm on December 11: Learn about the history and pioneers the Penn Family and the farm they built 150 years ago. The event will conclude with an evening of caroling around a campfire with sweet treats and hot chocolate.

Lake Mineral Wells State Park
Experience Christmas, cowboy style, at Cross Timbers Cowboy Christmas, December 11. Park ranger and cowboy poet David Owens will gather guests around the campfire for an evening of cowboy culture through songs, stories, and poems. It'll be held at the Lone Star Amphitheater.

Dinosaur Valley State Park
As a little twist on the New Year's Day "First Day" hikes that many parks host, Dinosaur Valley is doing a First Day Midnight Countdown Hike on New Year's Eve. The group will hike (in the dark) to the scenic overlook in the park and ring in the new year outdoors. It takes place 11 pm-1 am.

Austin/San Antonio-area parks

Bastrop State Park
#OptOutside on Black Friday with a 3-4 mile guided hike, dubbed Gobble Till You Wobble, 11 am November 26. The next day at 11 am, kiddos can join "Ranger Madalyn" for a reading of the autumn-appropriate Fletcher and the Falling Leaves, then make an easy leaf-tracing craft or color and write a letter to Santa. Each day in December, follow the ornaments with clues through the park in the Fa La La Through the Forest Scavenger Hunt.

Lyndon B. Johnson State Park & Historic Site
Attend Deck the Halls, 10 am-3 pm November 27 to explore how early Texans at the Sauer-Beckmann Farm got ready for the holidays by stringing popcorn and decorating cookies to hang on their Christmas tree; learn how to make wreaths out of local cedar and dip candles as the farm staff get ready for das Weihnachten (Christmas). Then return 5:30 pm December 19 for the 52nd Annual LBJ Tree Lighting, a holiday tradition started 52 years ago by President and Mrs. Johnson. 

Garner State Park
Friends of Garner hosts its annual Christmas Open House, featuring cookies, old fashioned wassail, and pictures with Santa at the Visitors Center, 10 am-2 pm November 27.

Buescher State Park
On the Fa La La in the Forest Scavenger Hunt, you can follow the ornaments with clues through the park to secure a prize at the end, December 1-January 1.

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area
Christmas in the Park, 10 am-1 pm December 5, brings a holiday-themed scavenger hunt, as well as a chance to create a holiday greeting card to send to family, friends, or someone in need. Return for Campfire Carols, 6-7 pm December 11, which includes hot cocoa, stories and music with park rangers.

Hill Country State Natural Area
Play games, make festive crafts, listen to a Christmas story, and learn about the Hill Country at Holiday in the Hill Country, 1-4 pm December 11.

South Llano River State Park
At Christmas at the Ranch, 2-5 pm December 4, guests can warm up with hot chocolate and cider, listen to live entertainment, enjoy crafts and cookie decorating, and anticipate Santa's visit while taking in the twinkling lights and Christmas decorations at the historic Ranch House that now serves as Park Headquarters.

Houston-area parks

Brazos Bend State Park
Holiday in the Park is an all-day affair on December 11. Events include a self-guided "Elf Hike," Christmas crafts, "Pup Parade," s'mores, and more.

Goliad State Park & Historic Site
Every night in December, visit the “History in Lights” exhibit and experience how lights and shadows tell the story of the historic site by walking the same path taken by Native Americans and Spanish Franciscan priests so long ago.

Sea Rim State Park
Santa and Mrs. Claus will ride in on an airboat, then invite visitors to join them for hot cocoa, Christmas crafts, and photo opportunities as part of A Very Marshy Christmas, 3-5 pm December 18.