Tent Camping on Texas Lakes and Rivers

A 2018 report found that 77 million U.S. households enjoy outdoor camping, an increase of 2.6 million over 2016.  Millennials and Gen Xers make up three-quarters of all campers.

Tent camping gives you the feeling of being in the middle of nature, allowing you, family and friends to get away from all the stress of modern life. While camping is a way to get away from it all, the study also found that people still want to have the option to stay connected and most campers (97%) actually bring some type of technology with them.

Its no surprise that Texas is home to some of America’s greatest recreational lakes, scenic hiking vista views, wild life observation and lake-side tent camping state parks. Tent camping today has evolved from simple canvas coverings with bare-bones accessories only a few years ago, to tackling some of the many traditional over-night hardships with many new modern-day, weather-ready shelters and conveniences.

Below, we review five of Texas’ best tent camping state parks, their amenities and ‘things-to-do’ while you’re there.  In general, peak tent camping season begins each year in the spring, carries on throughout the summer and finishes in the fall.  Camp site availability may be limited at some locations depending on dates and location.

Inks Lake State Park

Inks State Park is about an hour northwest of Austin and located in the Texas Hill Country.  The park has nearly 200 campsites including many that are lakeside or have easy access to the lake. Several have playgrounds nearby.

On the water, you can swim (no lifeguards on duty), boat, water ski, scuba dive and fish. There’s also a large, no-wake zone for paddling and paddle boats, canoes, one- to two-person kayaks, life vests and paddles are available for rent at the park store.

The park has two fishing piers, fish cleaning stations, and a boat ramp and you do not need a fishing license to fish from a pier or the shore in the state park. Fish include sunfish, catfish and several species of bass.

In addition to camping, you can go hiking and backpacking, play volleyball, picnic, and walk nature trails.  Inks Lake has 9 miles of hiking trails through shady forests and across rocky hills.

Possum Kingdom Lake

Possum Kingdom Lake, an hour west of Dallas, is located in the rugged canyon country of the Palo Pinto Mountains and Brazos River Valley in North Texas.

The lake is known for its crystal clear, blue water. And, the Possum Kingdom State Park is famous for its striking, scenic views approached by road or hiking trails.  Many of the parks campers go geocaching which is a modern-day treasure hunt experience! People hide geocaches everywhere including Possum Kingdom and other Texas state parks.

Campers can choose between sites with water and electricity, water only or primitive walk-in sites.

The fishing on Possum Kingdom lake is also great!  You can fish for largemouth, striped and white bass; channel and blue catfish; and white crappie. The park also has a boat launch, fishing pier, and fish cleaning station. And, you do not need a fishing license to fish from shore in the state park.  Possum Kingdom State Park Store and Marina rents canoes, boat slips, wakeboards, kneeboards, water skis and tubes. They also sell some grocery, camping and fishing supplies.

Learn about full or part time living on Possum Kingdom and several other Texas lakes here.

Purtis Creek State Park

Purtis Creek State Park is an hour southeast of Dallas and includes a 355-acre lake that is has become known is a bass fishing destination. Tent campers also come to swim, canoe, explore nature or relax.  Tent camping choices include 59 campsites with water and electricity, five walk-in tent sites, or 13 primitive hike-in sites.

Up to 50 motorized private boats are permitted on the lake at a time with an ‘idle only’ speed limit and no-wake policy. Paddleboards and kayaks are available for rent at the park shop.  In addition to renting boats, the park store sells supplies, outdoor equipment, bait, gifts and ice.

Campers also enjoy hiking and biking on the four mile Wolfpen Trail. A 1.7-mile Beaver Slide Nature Path takes you along the lakeshore or for something shorter, many campers explore easy Solar Trail along the dam.

For a larger lake side excursion, consider visiting nearby Cedar Creek Lake, only about ten minutes away from Purtis Creek.  Also, a must do is the Texas Fresh Water Fishery about ten minutes away on nearby Lake Athens!

South Llano River State Park

South Llano River State Park, on the southwestern edge of the Texas Hill Country provides refuge for wildlife and people for hiking, swimming, camping and outdoor adventures.

Most camp sites have water and elec­tric hookups, and a restroom with show­ers nearby. Six walk-in sites have water and a restroom with show­ers nearby, while five prim­i­tive hike-in sites have a chemical toilet nearby, but no water.

The South Llano River is spring-fed and slow-moving – great for family water fun.  The park has two miles of river front­age, and multiple put-in and take-out points for tubers along the way.  Tubes may be rented or you can bring your own.  One location is a designated place for paddlers to park and put-in.  You can bring your own canoes or kayaks and rent locally.

You do not need a fishing license to fish within the park boundaries.  And, you can ask at Park headquarters about borrowing fishing gear to use while in the park.

Whether on two wheels or foot, campers will enjoy the 22.7 miles of trails.  Trails range from easy to dif­fi­cult, and cross river bottoms, steep ridges and wooded areas in between.  Rugged back country trails offer solitude even on the busiest weekend. Whether you’d like a moderate hike or a more challenging mountain bike ride, expect great views and a very different experience than in the park’s lowlands.

Both large and small birds are all over the park.  The park is home to one of the largest turkey roosts in Central Texas. Turkeys roost from Oct. 1 through March 31. The day use area is only open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. during these months, so that humans don’t disturb the roosting turkeys.

Lost Maples State Natural Area

Just two hours northwest of San Antonio on the scenic Sabinal River is the Lost Maples State Natural Area.  There, tent campers will see abundant wild­flowers, steep canyon walls and beautiful vista views of the Sabinal River.

You can choose from 30 campsites with water and electricity or backpack to one of the six primitive locations.  Fishing is permitted the Sabinal River and you do not need a fishing license to fish from shore or pier in the state park or natural area.

There’s an abundance of tent camping activities here including hiking & backpacking, fishing, bird watching and hunting for geocaches.  In the park, Lost Maples protects a special stand of Uvalde bigtooth maples. Many campers come here to see colorful leaves on these and other trees in autumn. The colors vary depending on weather conditions. The natural area contains steep and rugged terrain. (Note: Cell phone service is not available in the Natural Area.)

The park has over 10 miles of trails including a loop that takes you along the top of a 2,200-foot cliff.  This area is home to a wide variety of birds, including two endangered species: black-capped vireo and golden-cheeked warbler.


Leave a Comment