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Texas state parks offer places for an overnight stay beyond your tent or RV.


State park visitors who long to extend their stay for more than a day have a variety of options when it comes to sleeping over. If you’re not a fan of tent camping, don’t despair — options at Texas state parks range from the comfort of Indian Lodge to the still-pretty-primitive screened shelters. What lies in between? Cabins, yurts and more.

My fiancé and I decide to explore state park lodging over one fun-filled summer. Like Goldilocks, we try every kind, looking for the one that was just right. Turns out, they are all “just right” in their own ways.

Huntsville_98A8491

 Sonja Sommerfeld | TPWD

Shelter with Amenities

Huntsville State Park

After a long day in the hot Texas sun exploring the town of Huntsville and its beautiful state park, air conditioning is what we crave. Good thing Huntsville State Park offers two shelters with just that and not much else, allowing us to keep up the illusion of camping.

We set up camp inside the shelter with its charming wood-paneled cabin walls and enough room for five or six to sleep comfortably. After turning on the A/C and laying out our mattress pads and blankets, we head back outside to see the sun set over Raven Lake, just a couple of hundred feet away. The pine trees are reflected in the still water, complemented by the orange-and-pink sunset sky.

It’s a modest sleeping arrangement, but it’s everything we need for a comfortable night in, away from the heat. Bathrooms are a short walk away, and the entire area is surrounded by pines and friendly campers in their tents.

After a restful night’s sleep, we decide to pack up and spend the morning hiking. We take the Coloneh Trail through the middle of the park, listening to the call of birds that remained out of sight. Then, we drive to the Raven Lodge on the shore of the lake, a group hall available for day use. It was built in 1942 by the CCC. Along the lake are benches meant for anglers, but we take a seat just to enjoy the view.

Insider tip: Bring your own bedding, cooking equipment, etc.

Huntsville_98A8491

 Chase Fountain | TPWD

Historic Cabin

Bastrop State Park

The sky is just clearing after a small storm when Jack and I pull up to Bastrop State Park, which experienced a devastating wildfire in 2011. The area has since mostly recovered; the trails now wind through hopeful seedlings amid the charred pines.

Luckily, firefighters were able to save the Civilian Conservation Corps-built cabins from burning, so we have a place to stay for the night — Cabin 5, to be exact.

Built in 1934, the cabin is one of six with walls made entirely of stone; the CCC workers soon realized how time-consuming and expensive it was, so they turned to wood for the remaining nine cabins. Drawing on the National Park Service's rustic design principles, architect Arthur Fehr used local sandstone, pine and cedar to make the cabins blend in with their surroundings.

Park ranger Jeane tells me she calls Cabin 3 a “hobbit home” because it’s actually half-underground — when you look out the bathroom window, your eyes are level with the grass.

We arrive at Cabin 5 after picking up a couple of maps and chatting with Jeane about the trails that await us, and opening the door is like opening a history book. The walls, pieced together with stone, seem so personally crafted and far different from structures we’re more accustomed to seeing. Jack, an amateur metalworker, marvels at the bathroom door’s handcrafted lock. The tile floors, robust air conditioning unit, near-full kitchen and surprising lack of bugs make the cabin a mix of modern and rustic that provides maximum comfort without compromising its heritage.

Once we’ve spent ample time exploring the cabin, we hop back in the car and head to Farkleberry Spur for access to the Scenic Overlook Trail. Thanks to the recent rainfall, it’s a cool 73 degrees by the time we get there. We traverse the rocky path toward the scenic overlook, the highest point in the park, boasting a beautiful view of assorted wildlife and a CCC-built pavilion.

We stand and listen to birdsong as the clouds move away to reveal the sun, then head to the Copperas Creek Camping Area to find the shade shelter Jeane had recommended.

“You can just imagine the CCC guys sitting over there with their morning coffee, or their evening drink — whatever that might’ve been,” she tells us.

We can imagine them sitting on the three layers of the stone coliseum-style benches around the fireplace, talking about their day, the family members they missed and probably some less reverent things as well. We head back to our cabin for dinner, a game of cards and a good night’s sleep.

Insider tip: If you’re planning to cook, remember to bring your own equipment. The park headquarters sells firewood and other supplies.

Huntsville_98A8491

 Sonja Sommerfeld | TPWD

Yurt

Abilene State Park

We pull into Abilene State Park a little later than we’d expected. It’s 10:30 p.m., dark enough to truly enjoy the stars but also dark enough that we have no clue where we’re going. After turning around in circles for a bit, we find our way to the circle of yurts — round tents used historically by nomadic groups in Central Asia — near the center of the park. A family enjoys a nighttime chat at the picnic table outside their yurt and waves to welcome us.

The structure is both small and spacious, an open room with a bunk bed and futon that collectively sleep five or so. This modern girl is happy to see conveniences such as a mini-fridge, a microwave and an air cooling unit. Bathrooms with showers are a short walk away, and I spot a sign there advertising a Birding 101 expedition the next morning. Good thing we brought binoculars.

The night at the yurt is the closest I’ve ever gotten to glamping, that trend of camping in a glamorous fashion. The outdoors are right outside, but unlike tent or hammock camping, we have a sturdy structure to keep the outside, well, outside. The crisscrossed wooden structure of the walls continues the outdoorsy theme, and reminds me of the latticework in my grandma’s garden.

I awake rested the next morning but sad that our yurt adventure is soon to end. We walk outside to the bathroom to get dressed and ready for the birding excursion. Seeing our yurt in the morning light changes my perception. It seems small and delicate now, but from the inside it feels much larger and safer.

Insider tip: Bring your own bedding.

Huntsville_98A8491

 Chase Fountain | TPWD

Indian Lodge

Davis Mountains State Park

Although it’s well-known as one of the most luxurious stays available at a Texas state park, Indian Lodge still takes me by surprise as I pull in after a scenic drive through the mountains. The stucco buildings and wooden doors are both as rustic and as spotless as photos promise, and the surrounding mountainscape seems like it popped out of a fairytale.

Once we check in at the front desk/gift shop (with the most adorable hummingbird T-shirts and plush versions of local animals), we quickly head to the pool for an afternoon swim. It’s strange to me that the area is empty of swimmers — it’s Texas in July, after all! — but I also welcome the solitude. Throughout my midweek stay, I encountered only a few other guests; there are 39 rooms for rent.

The lodge’s Black Bear Restaurant is closed on Tuesdays, so we decide to head to town, just minutes away. When we reach the car, I notice a tire that seems a little low, and an older couple unpacking the van next to us offers to fill up our tire with a portable air compressor. Within 10 minutes, we’re all set.

After dinner and ice cream, we head back to the lodge, built, as was most of the rest of the place, by CCC workers in the 1930s.

We learn a lot from fascinating exhibits about the CCC era: Did you know baseball was one of their favorite after-work pastimes? We pick an old set of dominoes from the hand-carved game chest near the door, and although it’s missing a few pieces, it lets us enjoy our time away from screens. Looking up at the sky as we head back to our room, the stars shine brighter than any other time in my recent memory.

After a great night’s sleep, we settle in for breakfast at the Black Bear Restaurant. I fill up quickly on the broken yolk sandwich and a side of potatoes, while Jack enjoys a more traditional breakfast. Fueled by food and coffee, we’re ready to see what the park has in store.

What the park has in store is birds. Lots of them. We meet a group of birding volunteers near the interpretive center (which offers activities for children and adults and shows films on local wildlife, CCC construction of the park, conservation, hummingbirds and more), and they tell us to look out for the bright-yellow lesser goldfinch, the summer tanager and the black-chinned hummingbird, all of which I was fortunate enough to see.

The Davis Mountains are known for their hummingbird populations. There’s an annual hummingbird festival in the area over the summer. 

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 Aaron Bates Photography

 TPWD

Ranch House

Galveston Island State Park

Sitting on the bay at Galveston Island State Park are the Stewart House and the Ranch House, homes that guests can rent for a relaxing getaway among the beauty of the park. The word “relaxing,” however, doesn’t begin to describe the feeling from the deck of the Ranch House at sunset or the cozy sofas in the living room (which are both prime spots for a read, if you’re a bookworm like me).

We arrive at the spacious bayside Ranch House (sleeps six) on a sunny afternoon and head immediately to the beach, a short drive away. The sand under my toes, home to crabs, turtles and other creatures, is a reminder of the diversity of Texas landscapes. We watch as gulls scope the beach for fallen snacks and as shorebirds dive into the water for a quick shot at supper; we join them later for a dip to escape from the 95-degree heat.

Back at the house, we take a second to admire the carefully crafted wood furniture, new stainless steel appliances and tiled bathroom. It’s a home, pure and simple, and a spacious one at that, with three bedrooms and an open dining/living room. It’s so homey, in fact, that it almost keeps us from leaving in the morning, but the allure of the beach and interpretive nature trails proves too much to ignore.

We drive to the Clapper Rail trailhead and walk out toward the observation deck. From the top of the deck, we see the wildlife-rich coastal prairie land that is so vital to the local ecosystem. It’s a beautiful thing to be surrounded on all sides by an untouched piece of nature.

The beach side of the state park is closed for renovations until 2022, but the rest of the park (including the houses) and Galveston’s beaches are open nearby.

Insider tip: Bring your own bedding, cooking equipment, etc.

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