Once we left the Gulf Shores, our goal was to reach San Diego by December 17th. Our secondary goal was to spend a week visiting Big Bend National Park. After reading other travel blogs we decided it would be a good idea to wait until after Thanksgiving week to drop down into no-mans land as this is one of the busiest weeks for the park. We ended up spending nearly a month in Texas visiting six State Parks heading into and out of Big Bend National Park.
The Texas State Parks are incredibly well run. They are a little on the pricey side as they charge an average entry fee of $6 per person, per day, even when camping. I highly recommend purchasing the yearly pass for $70. The pass covers your daily park entrance fee and it also includes four, half-off on one night of camping when you stay for more than one night. Since we planned on going to six parks this was a great opportunity. The net cost of the pass was $30, which we used for more than $180 worth of daily entrance fees.
The extra cost to use the parks is well worth it. The parks that we visited are in great shape and are well run with a very friendly and helpful staff. All of the parks that we visited included an awesome network of trails that they documented in free topographical maps. Unique to us, all the parks had built bird blinds that allowed us to become birding Newbies.
Martin Dies Jr. State Park
Our first stop as we entered the Pineywoods area of east Texas was the Martin Dies State Park. We only had time to stay two nights, but wished we could have stayed a little longer. We had to time our visits to the State Parks for camping availability since most were completely booked for the November weekends. In addition, the hot weather had just broke in Texas with temperatures dropping down into the normal range and people were flocking to the State Parks in droves making weekend camping spots difficult to find.
The Martin Dies Jr. State Park is situated alongside the 10,687-acre B. A Steinhagen Reservoir.
The park has several hikes through the wetlands and if we had stayed another day, I would have loved to try one of the four paddling trails through the reservoir.
The area is unique in that it is near the beginning of the arid country so you can see roadrunners and alligators in the same park. We were told that there was a very large alligator population but that we should be more concerned about running into snakes.
We were not lucky enough to see either.
Pedernales Falls State Park
After a short stop in Austin, we made our way to the Hill Country and Pedernales Falls State Park. It’s quite amazing the variation in ecosystems you run into as you cross Texas. Two days earlier we were in alligator filled swamp country and now a couple hundred miles to the west we are in a much dryer, high desert, Juniper forest. Within another couple hundred miles west we will be in the Chihuahuan desert. I love Texas.
We arrived at the park early on a Sunday afternoon and the campground was already pretty cleared out from the weekend visitors. The campground is laid out really cool, with the camp sites set in between stands of Juniper trees, with plenty of space between the neighboring sites. Other than hearing a little noise, it’s hard to know if you even have neighbors.
The park itself is fairly small, only a 1 ½ miles wide by 4 miles long, but packs in several hiking and mountain bike trails with multiple stream crossings, water falls and panoramic views of the Hill Country. We went on two long hikes and two shorter hikes during our stay.
The first day we tackled the Wolf Mountain Trail, which meanders through a beautiful Juniper forest.
On this Monday, we felt like we had the park to ourselves. We only ran into a handful of people during the entire 7 mile hike. We didn’t see any wildlife but we did discover several crystal clear springs with nice little waterfalls.
The second day we rode our bikes down to the namesake waterfalls. This is an awesome place to scramble over rocks and work your way out to nice close up views of some of the drop offs. This is another area I would love to see after a heavy rainfall.
Let’s not forget, running water, as with panoramic views and a good campfire provide ample opportunities to contemplate your belly button.
On the third day we decided to get a little wet and hike the Trammell’s Crossing trail.
In order to get on the trail you have to cross the Pedernales River. We got across without any problem. The river was flowing a little slow on this day so it wasn’t a big deal. After a rainfall, this probably wouldn’t be the case.
The hike took us up to a nice overlook, but to get there and back you will go through some swampy areas, so be prepared to get a little muddy if there was a recent rain.
Our stop at Pedernales State Park provided a nice break from our “faster” pace. We actually stayed put for a whole 4 days! Our timing was perfect. We came in just after fall break for the local school system, so the park was fairly empty when we were out exploring. However, getting going early is always a good idea. There were daily school field trips that showed up, but we missed most of crowds of kids as they came later in the morning.
Stay tuned for Part II, where we visit South Llano, Seminole Canyon and Davis Mountain State Parks.