For many families, camping is a low-risk, budget-friendly activity that all ages can take part in amid pandemic fears. Offering both isolation and good old-fashioned entertainment in nature, camping checks all the boxes for those wanting to get away this summer.
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While Texas state parks are open again, some have limited availability for reservations due to the growing number of people interested in camping. So our family of five set out to explore options to relieve our cabin fever — outside the box. In two weeks, we visited 10 camping destinations in Texas that offer different levels of isolation, privacy and programming and learned that there is truly something for everyone, both recreationally and economically.
A slice of beachy heaven on the Llano River, this spot, privately owned by a very friendly and responsive host, is a little track of land with a singular RV electric hookup, one toilet facility and one tent camping area just a short walk up from the river. My kids loved this spot for its shallow creek bed appeal and its little pockets of deeper water with very tame rapids to make things a little exciting. I loved it because I could chill on the shore right by them and not worry about the conditions being too rough or dangerous. Just down the road is a more expansive river crossing on CR 102 that's fun for playing in small rapids, catching minnows and creek stomping, too. Pro-tip: Aqua Socks would be recommended for walking on the pebble/stone riverbed; sandals let the little stones between your toes, and barefoot is a little rough on the feet.
Info: Located 90 minutes from Austin. hipcamp.com/discover/texas/500-waves-on-the-llano-river
LAKE BASTROP SOUTH SHORE PARK
LCRA’s Lake Bastrop South Shore doesn’t hold back on recreation. With a huge covered pavilion, playscape, mini-golf, tetherball, indoor meeting areas, picnic areas, canoe/kayak rental, fishing and a small sandy beach area, you can tent camp, stay in waterfront cabins or connect to the RV hookups. The water is nestled among the pine trees and not very deep, even in the middle, making it a great spot to play and take photos. Pro-tip: The sandy beach is basically a boat ramp with a little sand area at the top just out of the water, so you may want to set your expectations accordingly, but the kids enjoyed it just fine.
Info: Located 40 minutes from Austin. lcra.org/parks/Pages/lake-bastrop-south-shore-park.aspx
MATAGORDA BAY NATURE PRESERVE
Matagorda Bay Nature Preserve, also part of the LCRA system, did not disappoint. Although the nature and science centers and mini-golf were closed, the beach just down the road was clean and not overly crowded. The park sits where the Colorado River meets the ocean, and we landed a baby blacktip shark while fishing there (released, of course). Hermit crabs are everywhere, and the beach is full of shells; this is our new favorite coastal getaway. You can also horseback ride on the beach, as we did with Travis Caffee and his traveling herd of rescue horses with Thunder Horse Outfitters. Pro-tip: Bring mosquito spray, and tons of it! Maybe it was just this time of year, but we experienced a lot of them at the RV camping area of the park.
Info: Located three hours from Austin. lcra.org/parks/Pages/matagorda-bay-nature-park.aspx
I could pretty much live at Krause Springs. I am convinced it is the most beautiful swimming hole in Texas. Nestled in the rocky Hill Country, this oasis is overflowing with lush vegetation long before you reach the water. Sprawling green lawns for camping or playing on the upper property are centered around a spring-fed swimming pool that turns into a waterfall to the natural pool below. Pro-tip: Hit the pools early or late; midday it does tend to get a little crowded, even with the limited capacity.
Info: Located 45 minutes from Austin. krausesprings.net
REVEILLE PEAK RANCH
Rocky dirt roads lead you down a path to a mountain biker’s dream destination. The miles of trails surrounding the spring-fed lake here are ideal for running, hiking and biking, and there are also some heart-pumping downhill riding sections for thrill-seekers. There’s even a pump track for the little rider in the family. This property has historically hosted Spartan, Camp Gladiator and other intense tactical competitions, so you’ll find gigantic iron obstacles and training course challenges all around. Pro-tip: Tennis shoes/boots and pants are recommended to enjoy parts of this property, which is privately owned.
Info: Located one hour from Austin. rprtexas.com
BLACK ROCK PARK
This LCRA park is now at the top of my family’s list for places to return over and over. We were shocked by the beautiful green lawns and widespread crushed granite beach — lakeshore swimming often comes with a muddy entry, but not here. The beach is very clean with tiny waves from passing boats and was great for the kids. Campers scattered about the property were playing frisbee, swimming, fishing, floating and canoeing. Adorable brightly colored cabins are available for rent, as is RV parking. Pro-tip: Bring a blanket for the beach, as the granite can be a little rough for sitting, and binoculars, because there’s an amazing panoramic view of Lake Buchanan.
Info: Located 75 minutes from Austin. lcra.org/parks/Pages/black-rock-park.aspx
MULESHOE BEND RECREATION AREA
This is a beautiful LCRA spot that features pristine lawns surrounding the lake, and small trees shade 34 campsites. Although it takes a little wading in muddy marsh to get into the water, you’re tubing, floating and relaxing in no time. Just watch out for spiky stickers in the grass. Camping is very spread out here, and there’s lots of room to roam via horseback, on foot or on your bike. Pro-tip: Bring floats and water shoes for protection from both the stickers and the muddy entry.
Info: Located 45 minutes from Austin. lcra.org/parks/Pages/muleshoe-bend.aspx
SHAFFER BEND RECREATION AREA
This LCRA park on Lake Travis with over 500 acres for horseback riding, swimming and hiking is definitely more rustic than the others, with fewer facilities and paved roads. If you are truly looking to get away from civilization, this may be your preference. Once you tackle the miles of gravel road crawl down to the water, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by a wide riverfront of natural sand beaches where you can dig in your toes. If you’re looking for a soft, sandy beach without the drive to the coast, this is the best we found. Pro-tip: Bring sand toys and a shade tent.
Info: Located one hour from Austin. lcra.org/parks/Pages/shaffer-bend.aspx
CANYON OF THE EAGLES
Home to nesting American bald eagles in winter, Canyon of the Eagles on Lake Buchanan has a unique beauty. Catching fireflies, enjoying expansive lake and hill country scenic views and sleeping under the stars has never been better. This quiet, privately owned resort offers a full restaurant and all kinds of fun programming and experiences with camping and RV sites as well. Lake swimming is off the dock (there is no beach), but they do have a pool. This property is beautiful and perfectly suited for hiking and bird-watching. Pro-tip: If your heart is set on the swimming pool, make sure and check to see if it’s open due to COVID-19 closures.
Info: Located 90 minutes from Austin. canyonoftheeagles.com
CAMP CARSON CREEK RANCH
Known for hosting iconic music festivals, this privately owned property is a convenient camping spot on the Colorado River. Aside from the planes flying overhead because of its proximity to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, it feels like you’re 100 miles from the city. If you need a close-to-home camping staycation, this is a really special spot. Texas-size tree swings, primitive camping spots, glamping tents and stretches of riverfront are available. Resident horses, cows and Buddy the dog will greet you and make you feel right at home. Pro-tip: If you’re swimming with kids, bring life jackets, because there is a slight current.
Info: Located in Austin. carsoncreekranch.com