Pick one and go. Explore, camp, hike, geocache, bike, fish, hunt, watch wildlife, relax, enjoy a cookout, or use it as a base for other ventures. There are 102 state parks across the Lone Star State, with one or more likely within a short drive of your home.
You do not have to look far to find a state park in Texas, and with most all comes a wide variety of things to do. Big Bend Ranch State Park is the largest with more than 300,000 acres. Near Fredericksburg is Old Tunnel SP, an abandoned railroad tunnel turned bat cave, with some surrounding grounds making it one of the smallest parks at a mere 16 acres.
The majority have water recreation in the form of fishing, swimming, boating and possibly water skiing. Naturally the busy time of the year is summer when school is out. Yet fall, winter and spring are great times to enjoy Texas’ vast and diverse state park system.
A few state parks are simply historical sites to learn of the past and see how life was once lived. Many feature public hunts available through Annual Public Hunting Permits ($48) and/or selective hunts by computer drawings for various types of game. There are park passes for purchase designed to fit individuals and families, with discounts for seniors, veterans and the disabled.
INDIAN LODGE AND DAVIS MOUNTAINS STATE PARK
West Texas is almost a country by itself. Each season presents new life in every form imaginable as well as old, with stunning sunrises and sunsets offering gorgeous vistas and photographic opportunities. Nighttime is a star-studded event as the darkest sky in the Lone Star State presents itself.
Dating back 10,000 years the Davis Mountains gave sanctuary to Native Americans with its canyons and mountains. Water was plentiful via Limpia Creek. As settlers moved west, they needed protection from the Apaches, Kiowas and Comanches, thus an army post created by then U.S. Secretary of War Jefferson Davis was constructed in 1854.
In 1923 the Texas State Parks Board was asked about the possibility of the Davis Mountains area becoming a park destination. However, it was not until 1933 that the state park was established with land largely donated by locals.
Indian Lodge is part of the Davis Mountains State Park. Construction began in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Resembling a multilevel Pueblo Indian village, it opened to the public in 1939 with 16 rooms. Renovations and a major TPWD construction project in 1967 added more rooms and amenities, although the original structure is still visible along with many of the original furnishings.
That same 1967 undertaking added campsites to the Davis Mountains SP, thus opening a new setting for campers. Thirty-six campsites offer primitive camping to full service for RVs — water, electricity, and sewer.
Elevation ranges from 4,900 to 5,700 feet above sea level. The public can drive, hike or mountain bike up the five-mile Skyline Drive, a series of switchbacks within the park climbing to the top of a high ridge with a unique “picture window” structure framing an incredible view.
Highways 118 and 166 make up the Davis Mountain Scenic Loop. Not far away is the famous McDonald Observatory, home to weekend star-gazing parties. Make reservations ahead as spots fill quickly.
The cities of Ft. Davis and Alpine, home of Sul Ross University with its Big Bend Museum, and nearby Marathon have many worthy venues. Drive along the Rio Grande River from Presidio to Lajitas along the edge of Big Bend Ranch SP. Travel through chili-famous Terlingua into Big Bend National Park.
Keep a watchful eye for pronghorn antelope, whitetails and mule deer, javelinas, and aoudad and even desert bighorn sheep throughout your adventures.
P. O. Box 1707, Fort Davis, TX – 432-426-3254
On-Site: 39 rooms, $95-$150; Black Bear Restaurant; swimming pool
Campground: 36 campsites, primitive to full RV hookups, $8-$25
Nearby: McDonald Observatory, Ft. Davis Historical Site, Marfa Lights
Public Hunting: Draw hunts for mule deer, whitetails, javelinas, coyotes, aoudad sheep, feral hogs at Davis Mountains SP, Elephant Mountain WMA, Black Gap WMA, and Big Bend Ranch SP
Guide Services: Check with the Alpine and Ft. Davis CoCs for guides.
LAKE BROWNWOOD STATE PARK
Not far from the geographical center of the state is the city of Brownwood, home of Howard Payne University. A few miles away is Lake Brownwood State Park consisting of 538 acres situated along part of 7,300-acre Lake Brownwood. Many of the original park structures were built in the early 1930s by the CCC using native rock and timber.
This park offers an atmosphere that’s associated with numerous other state parks in its quiet, rustic beauty and serenity amid diverse shorelines abundant with birds and wildlife. More than two miles of hiking trails exist along with a five-mile nature trail. The plants and animals are a cornucopia of mixed habitats showcasing the Edwards Plateau, Cross Timbers, and Rolling Plains regions blending in the area.
Live oak and grasslands on level to slightly rolling terrain (Edwards Plateau) is joined with dwarfed post oak and blackjack oak woodlands (Cross Timbers) and shrubby vegetation in rougher areas (Rolling Plains). The overlapping of these three regions makes an outstanding place to study nature’s diversity.
White-tailed deer are abundant in the area and a common sight in the park. Brownwood is famous, too, for its mourning dove hunting as native and planted sunflower fields abound. The area is popular for duck, feral hog, turkey, and exotic hunting as well.
Public hunting opportunities are available via public drawings. Lake Brownwood State Park offers draw hunts for deer, with unlimited feral hogs included. Nearby Muse WMA offers whitetails, coyotes, and feral hogs in addition to spring turkeys. There may be private lands permits for dove hunting so check with TPWD.
As with most any Texas body of water, Lake Brownwood has an abundance of fish. Largemouth bass, white bass, white crappie, freshwater drum, and flathead, blue and channel catfish make up the most popular species. September through May is best for largemouth bass, while the white bass action typically spans May to October.
Lake records get broken regularly, although some have been in place for years. The top largemouth bass was taken April 22, 1990, at 12.65 pounds, while the white bass record stands at 1.64 pounds since February 1, 1997. Brownwood’s best channel cat was taken March 21, 2017, at 11.09 pounds; blue cat March 5, 2016 at 25.9 pounds; and a 41-pound flathead catfish was landed April 4, 2016.
If you’re fishing from a state park shoreline or pier, no fishing license is required. However, all state fishing regulations apply. Lake Brownwood offers a tackle loaner program where you can borrow rods, reels, and tackle boxes with hooks, sinkers and bobbers for up to seven days. And Junior Ranger Packs are available for kids.
200 State Highway Park Road 15 – Lake Brownwood, TX 76801 – 325-784-5223
Campground: 16 cabins (2-4 people), $80-$90; 4 lodges (4-26 people), $100-$290; 10 screened shelters, $30; 87 campsites, $12-$25
Nearby: Lake Brownwood Wild Duck Marina, Howard Payne University, Martin and Francis Lehnis Railroad Museum
Public Hunting: Draw hunts for deer, spring turkeys, coyotes, and feral hogs at Lake Brownwood SP and nearby Muse WMA
MARTIN DIES, JR. STATE PARK
East Texas has an abundance of state parks, wildlife management areas, and even national forests and preserves. Martin Dies, Jr. State Park is 730 acres located alongside the 10,687-acre B. A. Steinhagen Reservoir between Jasper and Woodville. Originally obtained as a long-term lease from the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers and christened Dam B State Park, it opened in 1965 but was later renamed in honor WWII veteran, state senator, and Chief Justice Martin Dies, Jr.
Like so much of Texas, the area is rich in history with archeological evidence dating back thousands of years. The Neches River, abundant in fish, ducks, deer, turkey and black bears, was a major artery of commerce as Anglo settlers moved into the region. A vast variety of fruit- and nut-bearing trees and shrubs provided food. Living off the land was a way of life that sustained people in East Texas well into the 20th century.
The park is three separate units: the Cherokee Unit in Tyler County, and the Henhouse Ridge and Walnut Ridge units in Jasper County. Its remarkably diverse ecosystem sits at the forks of the Angelina and Neches rivers on the northern edge of the Big Thicket. Angelina-Neches/Dam B WMA is at the north end of the B. A. Steinhagen Reservoir. With the lake, rivers, state park and WMA, many exploration adventures await.
Recreational activities abound beginning with more than 200 campsites available for tents, shelters, or RVs. The extreme biodiversity of the park and the surrounding area makes for abundant wildlife. The footbridge on the Walnut Ridge Unit is a popular location for spotting wildlife — birds, mammals and reptiles. Alligators are plentiful so be sure to read up on the park’s alligator safety tips.
The park offers an amazing pine/hardwood forest, perfect for studying the immense variety of trees, plants, birds, mammals, reptiles and insects. Martin Dies, Jr. State Park’s own Nature Center has various hands-on programs for children and adults including geocaching, nature hikes, campfire and star parties, night hikes, and cultural and natural history programs.
Seven boat ramps are available for launching your craft of choice. Scenic sloughs are perfect for kayaks and canoes with the park offering guided trips for those desiring a bit of leadership from a specially trained volunteer. Reservations are required. The park rents kayaks and canoes on a first-come, first-served basis.
Several lighted piers and bankside fishing are close at hand. Remember, a fishing license is not necessary from the shore or a pier in a state park with daily entry permit. Bass, perch, crappie and catfish are the most common species.
Eight miles of scenic trails traverse the park’s forest for both hikers and bikers. Single-speed cruising bikes can be rented but are for use only on paved surfaces, not park trails. Wildlife viewing and birdwatching are two more activities to enjoy.
634 Park Road 48 South, – Jasper, TX 75951 – 409-384-5231
Campground: Limited-use cabins, $55; shelters with AC, $45; and screened shelters, $30; 1 group hall with kitchen (for up to 100 people), $150; 173 campsites $14-$20.
Nearby: Alabama-Coushatta Indian Reservation, Big Thicket National Preserve, Angelina National Forest, Sam Rayburn and Toledo Bend Reservoirs.
Public Hunting: Draw hunts and Annual Public Hunting Permits for various game at several East Texas parks and WMAs