As kids, we used to camp in these state parks sometime during the summer. Then, as adults, we took our kids camping. We have switched from tents to caravans to motorhomes. I like to remember good times with family and friends.
Pro Tips: You can purchase a Texas State Park Pass that gives you and your guests free entry to more than 80 state parks for a year. Remember, you don’t need a license when fishing from the dock or shore in a state park.
Our favorite kid-friendly Texas state parks are here, in no particular order.
1. Dinosaur Valley State Park
If your kids love dinosaurs, Dinosaur Valley State Park is a great place to explore the dinosaur tracks in the Paluxy Riverbed, especially when the water is low. Wander around the giant dinosaurs and imagine what it was like when the beasts lived here millions of years ago. Just a short drive from Fort Worth you can camp, picnic, swim, fish, hike 20 miles of trails, do geocaches, mountain bike, watch wildlife and visit the interpretive center. Forty-four campgrounds have water, electricity, a picnic table, and a fire pit or grill for your convenience. You also have access to walk-in and walk-in campsites or group camps for 20 and 40 people.
2. Lost Maples State Natural Area
Kids will have fun observing dark skies rated 3 out of 9 on the Bortle Scale at the Lost Maples State Natural Area, two hours northwest of San Antonio. You can hike 10 miles of trails, including a loop that leads to the top of a 2,200-foot cliff. Reserve one of the 30 campsites with water and electricity hook-ups and a hike to one of the primitive campsites. Fish the Sabinal River or Can Creek where a license is not required. In fall, the Lost Bigtooth Maples turn brilliant shades of orange, red, and yellow. Home to the endangered golden-cheeked warbler and the recently delisted black-capped vireo. Download a birding checklist here.
3. Copper Breaks State Park
Lake Copper Breaks has a designated children’s swimming area, but there are no lifeguards. You can also fish here at the pier and use the fish cleaning station. Gaze at the stars at this International Dark Sky Park and visit the official State of Texas Longhorn herd that resides in the park. Kids can hike the Juniper Ridge or Rocky Ledges Loop trails, explore Chris’ Link or MTB Loop on a mountain bike, camp, paddle, canoe or kayak, and participate in ranger programs. See spectacular sunrises and sunsets here.
4. Tyler State Park
Tyler State Park’s 64-acre spring-fed lake is an excellent spot for swimming in the summer. Camp on pure water sites or on full-size ports under the shade of 100-foot trees. You will also find cabins and screened shelters. Explore the Pineywoods on Whispering Pines Nature Trail, created by the Civilian Conservation Corps more than 70 years ago, and 13 miles of hiking trails. Fish for bass, catfish, bass or crappie from three fishing piers on East Texas Lake. You can rent canoes, kayaks, pedal boats, stand-up paddleboards, jon boats or regular boats all year round. The park store sells books, toys, gifts, souvenirs, snacks, fishing and camping supplies.
5. Kickapoo Caves State Park
Kids will love the guided cave tours every Saturday afternoon. Reservations are required for Kickapoo Cavern and Stuart Bat Cave west of San Antonio. Watch the Mexican free-tailed bat excursion from Stuart Bat Cave every evening from mid-March to October. Enjoy bird watching, geocaching, hiking and mountain biking. The Armadillo Lookout Trail offers a panoramic view of the southwest area of the park. There are five fully serviced campgrounds for RVs up to 36 feet with a picnic table, fire ring, grill, and 10 water-only campgrounds for tents and smaller RVs. Nearby you will find toilets with showers. Keep in mind that there is no garbage disposal, so you must remove all your garbage.
6. Caprock Canyon State Park
Kids enjoy swimming, fishing, and no-wake boating on Lake Theo at Caprock Canyon State Park. Plus, hike the trail to the Clarity Tunnel to see a bat flight every evening during the warm months. You will see the Texas State bison herd at the park, descendants of bison calves rescued by Charles Goodnight and his wife Mary Ann. The park includes the Caprock Escarpment, a long, narrow rock formation that rises up to 1,000 feet. Streams cut the vast canyons as they flowed to the Red, Brazos, and Colorado Rivers. You will see wildlife such as mule deer, white-tailed deer, coyote, bobcat and some pronghorn in the Canyonlands.
Reserve park entry and camping fees online. You will find 10 campsites with 50 amp electricity and water, 25 campsites with 30 amp electricity and water, nine campsites with water only on Lake Theo, picnic tables, grills and restrooms nearby. 40 primitive walk-in campgrounds are 10-30 yards from the parking lot, and 40 more primitive 1-mile walk-in campgrounds have organic or composting toilets nearby. Please carry all rubbish.
7. Texas State Railroad
Stay locally at a historic railroad campground in the Piney Woods near Rusk, where campers have access to depot facilities such as a movie theater on train departure days, a gift shop and lunch. Campgrounds are available with full hookups, water (may only have picnic tables), electricity, grills, fire pits, laundry facilities, and WiFi hotspots. Separate toilets and showers are also available for your convenience. Children can not only ride the train, but also play in a water playground or hike on a 400 m long nature trail. A campsite office offers firewood, ice and supplies for sale.
Fish for smallmouth or largemouth bass, crappie, bluegill, striped bass or catfish. Ride the historic train on a 4-hour round-trip journey between Rusk and Palestine on Thursdays, Fridays, or Saturdays during summer and fall. Ride the Polar Express from late November to December. Book early because the holiday experience fills up quickly.
8. Caddo Lake State Park
Paddle among tall bald cypress trees dripping with Spanish moss as you explore mystical Caddo Lake, an East Texas gem named for the Native Americans who lived in the area. Rent one of 10 historic cabins sleeping two to six people, a screened-in shelter with nearby restrooms, or one of 46 campgrounds ranging from full hookups to water-only. The 26,810-acre Caddo Lake is home to over 70 species of fish. Rent a canoe or bring your kayak or canoe and explore 80km of paddling trails. Hike the miles of trails while dodging the park’s alligators for your safety.
Imagine 1835 riverboats crossing from nearby Jefferson to New Orleans, LA on Big Cypress Bayou. After discovering oil below Caddo Lake in the early 1900s, the Gulf Refining Corporation dammed the lake to accommodate oil drilling rigs in 1914. On July 4, 1934, Caddo Lake State Park opened.
Enjoy the fishing dock and boat ramp. Children can earn a Junior Ranger badge by accessing the activity journal.
9. Pedernales State Park
30 miles west of Austin, in the 5,212-acre Pedernales State Park, reserve your day pass for a picnic, afternoon swim, or hike. The swim area is a quarter mile hike up steep rock steps with no railings. Parents should closely supervise young children. Also watch out for rapidly rising water levels when there is local rain.
Make reservations to spend the night at one of 69 campsites with hookups or primitive 2-mile hikes. Kids love strolling along the river in the summer and spotting wildlife like deer, rabbits, armadillos, possums and raccoons in the bird screens and butterfly garden. The critically endangered Gold-cheeked Warbler nest in the park and are protected. You can fish in the park, mountain bike, do geocache, or ride your horses.
10. Garner State Park
I remember hearing a song about Garner State Park by BJ Thomas as a teenager. “Let’s go to Garner State Park; Come with me to Garner State Park. In western Texas, 90 miles from San Antonio, there’s a place I go every summer when I get the urge to roam…” a song about a boy and girl meeting at Garner State Park and fall in love The song ends with “I’ll be back again next year”.
Kids have the most fun tubing down the Frio River along a 2.9-mile river that meanders through 1,774 acres of rolling hills. There are paddle boats, 16 miles of hiking trails, miniature golf, bikes, canoes, and dancing to the jukebox in the park’s concession building.
Camp in New Garner at over 184 sites fully hooked up and 75 sites with water. Old Garner has 39 full hookup locations and 49 water only locations. Seventeen cabins, with or without a fireplace, offer kitchen and bathroom facilities where you can bring your linens, dishes, and utensils. A group camp for 40 people is available with five shelters each with four bunk beds for eight people. Kitchen facilities are available, toilets and showers are nearby.
These state parks bring back great memories from my childhood, my kids have great memories too, and now we’re taking my grandkids camping.
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