We made it through another desperately hot — yet freezing inside — Texas summer. Cooler weather means a decrease in the amount of mosquitoes, the main thing that kept me from lounging in my backyard for the past four months. Fall gives us a chance to again appreciate the warm sun and be grateful for the respite during the evening with brisk nights perfect for sleeping outside. This time of the year is ideal for a quick jaunt from city center for some easy camping.
Here are some simple tips and tricks to get your family outside during the next few weeks.
1. You don’t need expensive gear to go camping. A high-quality camp sleeping pad costs more than $100 but I’ve never owned one. I use a $25 sleeping pad but mostly rely on all of my old blankets to provide a soft cozy bed. Tents are super expensive as well, and the only time we break out the tent is if it’s raining or there are mosquitoes. Otherwise, you can find us under the stars in a blanket loaded truck bed. Check the weather, pack the blankets and head out the door.
2. There are a few essential items that will make your trip a bit more pleasant. Toilet paper. Most of the camp areas around here keep their bathrooms extremely clean and well stocked with TP, but this is something you don’t want to live without. It doubles as tissues and, if needed, fire starter. Pack a bit of newspaper to help you get your fire started, it will save time and works better than TP. Most camp bathrooms don’t provide soap or towels, so unless you want dirty hands and armpits for a weekend, pack a towel and low scent bar — more scent attracts bugs if they’re out. A book or magazine and a percolator — none of these are necessary, but a cool fall morning at a campfire with a cup of percolator coffee and a good story can solve most city life problems.
3. Reserve a campsite ahead of time if possible. Good campsites in the area book early and spots can be reserved online in advance, but don’t let no reservations deter you from a spur of the moment trip. Most places don’t fill up — call before leaving to find a park with open sites. Many of the local park gates are open until 10 p.m., allowing plenty of time on a Friday after work to arrive. Going to be later than that? No worries; call in advance, reserve a spot and they provide a code to get in after hours.
If you have no interest in packing any of these supplies, let someone else do it for you. Texas Outdoor Family (run by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department) host camping workshops for people with zero to little camping experience and provide all of the equipment. The next workshop held close by is Oct. 7 at Tyler State Park. Reserve your spot online at tpwd.texas.gov.
There are several other parks in the area with camping opportunities. My recent favorite is Mineral Wells State Park, about two and a half hours west of Dallas. The park has standard camping with plenty of lakeside shade, screened in shelters (perfect if you don’t have a tent), RV campsites if you are the glamping kind, primitive campsites that are a 2.2 miles hike from your vehicle and equestrian campsites (sleepover with your horses). In addition to many camping options, you can fill your days with more than 12 miles of hiking trails, 20 miles of flat trail way, biking, boating, kayaking, fishing, swimming if the days are warm enough and, for the experienced adventurer, natural rock climbing. On the east side of the lake, Penitentiary Hollow is one of the few natural rock climbing areas in North Texas.
Most people complain about the weather in Texas being too hot or too cold, but in the next few weeks you have no excuse to not get outside. The weather is going to be fantastic, the parks are nearby and you don’t need many supplies. Make some memories with your families and take a break from the hustle and bustle (ie: traffic, noise pollution, etc.) of the city.
As seen in the Katy Trail Weekly.