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By Louie Bond

You can practically taste it. Hanging before us like a perfectly ripe plum on a low-hanging branch, the honey-sweet days of endless summer are never more highly anticipated than on a warm and breezy May evening. If you’ve got children or are a student or a teacher, you’re no doubt planning some type of escape, a getaway from your everyday life.

Dear readers, you are cordially invited to come visit us at a Texas state park!

Can’t afford airfare, hotels and theme park tickets? A state park vacation is easy on the bank account. Kids 12 and under get free admission at more than 90 Texas state parks.

Preparation is always the key to a great summer vacation, and state parks are no exception to the rule. Who wants to sit in a long line at a popular park with kids anxious to get out and start having fun? Nobody. While many summer memories have been kindled on the sugary beaches of jam-packed Galveston Island State Park, many of us seek a bit more isolation. After all, that’s why we’ve chosen a place of wild natural beauty, right?

So here are some simple tips for the perfect summer vacation at a Texas state park.

Start with a little research, but share the fun of planning with your kids or friends. When you pick the location, activities and food together, you get all the fun of anticipation plus a better chance of satisfaction for all. Let everyone dream aloud about s’mores, campfire songs, swimming in the river and collecting seashells. Then go to the Texas State Parks Official Guide app to find a place that offers something for everyone.

Refine your options online. Each park webpage (most have social media, too) can help you refine your choice. If your top pick is crowded every summer (like Enchanted Rock or Balmorhea), think about trying a place that’s not on the top of everyone else’s list.

Get with the programs. While you’re looking up those parks, check out pages on Texas state park programs that enhance any vacation. Maybe you’re a bit overwhelmed at the thought of camping and kayaking and hiking and fishing. We can help you with that! TPWD’s Texas Outdoor Family program offers how-to-camp workshops at state parks all over Texas. These popular programs fill up fast.

Make a great catch. Did you know that more than 70 state parks have places to fish: creeks, ponds, lakes, rivers and the Gulf of Mexico? You can fish without a license from the shore or a pier at a state park, and many parks have loaner fishing equipment for you to use. We also host “learn to fish” programs year-round.

Plan ahead for simple activities that are fun on a campout. Bring a ukulele and a songbook, or some kazoos and a sense of humor. Pack some paper and watercolors, or nature journals with pens and markers. Bring a kite and your bike, checkers and dominoes, hula hoops and fishing poles, a good novel and a bird guide.

Electronics? Maybe. Sure, you can even get in a little screen time at some parks. Bring nature apps like iNaturalist, where you can actually contribute to scientific research and conservation by submitting your observations and photos. Maybe you’d enjoy geocaching, a digital treasure hunt.

Life’s better outdoors. After spending time outside, your kids may be inspired to pay more attention in science class or continue painting wildlife. We truly believe you’ll return home more tightly bonded as a family, with memories to share at family gatherings for decades to come.

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