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RVers find easy escape to Texas parks

Category: Travel
Source: The Dallas Morning News, TX
Publish Date: Thursday, April 24, 2008
Summary: We're proof that RVing doesn't have to be a major production of planning and prep before you hit the road.

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By KEVEN ANN WILLEY / The Dallas Morning News

We've gone rustic, with no hookups, and we've gone luxurious (one state park included water, electricity and sewer connections plus cable television access and free WiFi).
But where we've really gone with our small RV is to dozens of Texas' 120 state parks and to both of its national parks – in some cases, more than once.In the six months we've had our 17-foot travel trailer, we've put 8,000 miles on it. We've discovered that RVing is fun, easy and cheap, and that Texas is a great place for getaways with your own home-away-from-home.

Pulling our Texas-built Casita recreation vehicle, we've opened the door to wonderful hiking and biking, fabulous birding and opportunities to meet fascinating people from around the world.

Nearly one in 12 U.S. vehicle-owning households owns an RV, according to a 2001 University of Michigan study commissioned by the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association, and the number is growing. Not just retirees, the typical RV owner is 49 years old and married, with an income of $56,000.

My husband and I are empty-nesters but not yet retired, so we do much of our RVing on the weekends at places we reach quickly and easily. (This also reduces the pocketbook pain of escalating gas prices.)

We're proof that RVing doesn't have to be a major production of planning and prep before you hit the road. We live in downtown Dallas, park our trailer nearby and are always ready to head out.

More than a dozen state parks are within a two-hour drive of Dallas, and we've been to nearly all of them. Indeed, Texas' most-visited state park is Cedar Hill, not 30 minutes from downtown Dallas. That park chalked up more than a half-million visits last year. It's lovely and large, with loads of boat ramps and campsites (water and electricity only). We've hiked and biked there many times. I've even commuted into work midweek from a campsite there.

In fiscal 2007, Texas state parks experienced more than 9 million visits. (It's difficult to know how many people that is because until this year, the state parks counted only "entrances" into the parks, not actual bodies.) Numerous private parks are scattered across the state, and there's ample opportunity to "beach camp" your RV along the coast.

RVing in Texas isn't just for Texans. Paul and Debbie Kant of Tucson, Ariz., have been making regular weeklong pilgrimages to Galveston, where they've checked their 35-foot fifth-wheel travel trailer into a private park every March for nearly a dozen years. Last year, they added Big Bend National Park and Seminole Canyon State Park to their Texas RV repertoire.

"You never know who you're going to meet and what interesting people you can chat up next to you," says Mr. Kant, 62, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and Vietnam veteran. "There are enough RV spots in Texas to last a lifetime."


Big Bend National Park – Scenery rivals that of the Grand Canyon, and this is our favorite part of the state. Hiking and biking are great. Ten to 12 hours from Dallas but worth every second on the road.
South Llano River State Park – Beautiful riverside park on the southern edge of Hill Country. Several outstanding bird blinds, hiking trails, wild turkey nesting areas. Water and electricity only. Campsite No. 1 is among the best. Five hours from Dallas.

Davis Mountains State Park – Camp in a mile-high spot near Fort Davis, the state's highest-elevation city. Water, electricity, sewer, cable. Fine dining in the adjacent Indian Lodge dating from the 1930s. Join a "star party" at nearby McDonald Observatory. About nine hours from Dallas. Site 44 was fabulous, complete with inquisitive deer.
The Willey-Badoux 17-foot camping trailer pauses roadside in Big Bend National Park.
View larger More photos Photo store

Lake Mineral Wells State Park and Trailway – This one has it all: boating, fishing, hiking, biking, birding, even rappelling on the cliffs. Just two hours west of Dallas, it's several degrees cooler than Dallas in the summer. The 20-mile-long old railroad right-of-way from downtown Mineral Wells to just northwest of Weatherford has been converted into a multi-use trail. We biked up and back one October day. Water, electricity only. Site 60 was enjoyable.

Lost Maples State Natural Area – The hiking is fabulous, with both long and short trails, especially gorgeous in fall. Campsites are a little tight for our taste, but scenery and setting are unbeatable. Water, electricity only. Five hours from Dallas.

Hueco Tanks State Historic Site – Forty minutes east of El Paso, this oft-overlooked state park is named for the natural rock basins that capture rainwater. Pictographs. Water, electricity only. Sites 4 and 8 among the best. About 10 hours from Dallas.

Palo Duro Canyon State Park – Hiking to the iconic Lighthouse rock structure takes you through a sea of waist-high, bright purple thistle. Time this trip for summer so you can enjoy the flags and fireworks of the Texas Legacies outdoor musical drama. About six hours from Dallas and a half-hour outside Amarillo.

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area – I became a birder here when a painted bunting sat just 20 feet away and preened like a rock star. About four hours from Dallas.

Possum Kingdom State Park – One of the best places to enjoy the songs of the northern cardinal. Less than two hours from Dallas.

Galveston Island State Park – We enjoy meeting people, and here we encountered French Canadians. About 4 ½ hours from Dallas.


Reference books

•Texas State Parks Guide. This free, 112-page paperback booklet is available at visitor centers statewide and at all state parks. It summarizes each park's attractions and facilities and is organized by geography. Updated annually.

Camper's Guide to Texas Parks, Lakes and Forests, Where to Go and How to Get There by Mickey Little (Taylor Trade Publishing, $19.95). Describes public, private and municipal campgrounds across the state.

Hike Texas by Laurence Parent (Globe Pequot Press, $12.95).

Birds of Texas Field Guide by Stan Tekiela (Adventure Publications, $16.95).

Roadside History of Texas by Leon Claire Metz (Mountain Press Publishing, $18).

Roadside Geology of Texas by Darwin Spearing (Mountain Press Publishing, $20).

Guide to the National Parks of the United States (National Geographic, $19.95).


•Texas Parks & Wildlife Department: www.tpwd.state.tx.us. Information about outdoor activities statewide.

•National Parks Service: www.nps.gov www.nps.gov.

•Casita travel trailers, 903-326-4717; www.casitatraveltrailers.com www.casitatraveltrailers.com.

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