As kids, we camped in the summertime at these state parks at one time or another. Then, as adults, we took our kids camping. We graduated from tents to trailers to RVs. I have fond memories of fun times with family and friends.
Pro Tips: You can purchase a Texas State Park Pass for free entry to more than 80 state parks for you and your guests for one year. Don’t forget that you do not need a fishing license if you fish off the dock or the shore in a state park.
Our favorite kid-friendly Texas state parks are here in no particular order.
1. Dinosaur Valley State Park
If your kids love dinosaurs, Dinosaur Valley State Park is a great place to explore the dinosaur tracks in the Paluxy riverbed, especially while the water is low. Wander around the giant dinosaurs while imagining what it was like when the beasts lived here millions of years ago. Just a short drive from Fort Worth, you can camp, picnic, swim, fish, hike 20 miles of trails, geocache, mountain bike, watch for wildlife, and visit the interpretive center. Forty-four campsites have water, electricity, a picnic table, and a fire ring or grill for your convenience. You can also access walk-in and hike-in campsites or group camps for 20 and 40 people.
2. Lost Maples State Natural Area
Kids will have fun stargazing at a dark sky, rated 3 out of 9 on the Bortle scale in Lost Maples State Natural Area, two hours northwest of San Antonio. You can hike along 10 miles of trails, including a loop leading to the top of a 2,200-foot cliff. Make a reservation for one of 30 campsites offering water and electric hookups, plus a hike to one of the primitive campsites. Fish in the Sabinal River or Can Creek, where you don’t need a fishing license. In the fall, the Lost Bigtooth Maples turn brilliant shades of orange, red, and yellow. The endangered golden-cheeked warbler and the recently delisted black-capped vireo make their home here. Download a birding checklist here.
3. Copper Breaks State Park
Lake Copper Breaks has a designated swimming area for kids but there are no lifeguards. Plus, you can fish here at the pier and use the fish cleaning station. Stargaze at this International Dark Sky Park and visit the Official State of Texas Longhorn Herd that lives in the park. Kids can hike the Juniper Ridge or Rocky Ledges Loop trails, explore Chris’ Link or MTB Loop on a mountain bike, camp, paddle, canoe, kayak, and pursue the Ranger programs. See spectacular sunrises and sunsets here.
4. Tyler State Park
Tyler State Park’s 64-acre spring-fed lake is an excellent place to swim in the summertime. Camp at water-only sites or full hookups shaded by 100-foot-tall trees. You’ll also find cabins and screened shelters. Explore the Pineywoods on Whispering Pines Nature Trail, mapped out more than 70 years ago by the Civilian Conservation Corps, plus 13 miles of hiking trails. Fish the East Texas lake on three fishing piers for bass, catfish, perch, or crappie. You can rent canoes, kayaks, paddle boats, stand-up paddleboards, jon boats, or rent regular boats year-round. The park store sells books, toys, gifts, souvenirs, snacks, fishing, and camping supplies.
5. Kickapoo Caverns State Park
Kids will love the guided cave tours every Saturday afternoon with reservations required for Kickapoo Cavern and Stuart Bat Cave, west of San Antonio. Watch the Mexican free-tailed bat flight every evening from Stuart Bat Cave from mid-March through October. Enjoy birdwatching, geocaching, hiking, and mountain biking. A panoramic view of the southwest area of the park is available via Armadillo Lookout Trail. There are five full hookup campsites for RVs up to 36 feet with a picnic table, fire ring, grill, and 10 campsites with water only for tents and smaller campers. Nearby, you’ll find restrooms with showers. Keep in mind that there is no trash disposal, so you must remove all your trash.
6. Caprock Canyon State Park
Kids enjoy swimming, fishing, and no-wake boating in Lake Theo at Caprock Canyon State Park. Plus, hike the trail to Clarity Tunnel to see a bat flight every evening during the warm months. You’ll see the Texas State Bison Herd in the park, descendants of bison calves saved by Charles Goodnight and his wife, Mary Ann. The park encompasses the Caprock Escarpment, a long narrow rocky formation as high as 1,000 feet. Streams carved the vast canyons as they flowed to the Red, Brazos, and Colorado Rivers. You’ll see wildlife like mule, whitetail deer, coyotes, bobcats, and some pronghorn antelope across the canyonlands.
Reserve Park entry and camping fees online. You’ll find 10 campsites with 50-amp electricity and water, 25 campsites with 30-amp electricity and water, nine sites with water only along Lake Theo, picnic tables, grills, and restrooms nearby. 40 primitive walk-in campsites are 10 to 30 yards from the parking area, and 40 more primitive one-mile hike-in campsites have organic or composting toilets nearby. Please carry out all trash.
7. Texas State Railroad
Stay onsite at a historic railroad, a campground nestled in the Piney Woods near Rusk, where campers have access to depot amenities like a movie theater on train departure days, a gift shop, and lunch. Campsites are available with full hookups, water (may only be available with picnic tables), electricity, grills, fire rings, laundry facilities, and wi-fi hotspots. Plus, for your convenience, separate restrooms and showers are available. Besides riding the train, kids can play at a water playground or hike a quarter-mile nature trail. A campground office provides firewood, ice, and supplies for purchase.
Fish for small or largemouth bass, crappie, bluegill, striped bass, or catfish. Ride the 4-hour round trip historic train between Rusk and Palestine on Thursday, Friday, or Saturday through the summer and fall. Ride the polar express from late November through December. Book early, as the holiday experience books up quickly.
8. Caddo Lake State Park
Paddle among tall bald cypress trees dripping with Spanish moss as you venture mystic Caddo Lake, an East Texas gem named for the Native Americans who lived in the area. Rent one of 10 historic cabins that sleep two to six people, a screened shelter with restrooms nearby, or one of 46 campsites ranging from full hookups to water only. The 26,810-acre Caddo Lake hosts over 70 species of fish. Rent a canoe or bring your kayak or canoe and explore 50 miles of paddling trails. Hike the miles of trails while you avoid the alligators in the park for your safety.
In 1835, imagine riverboats traversing from nearby Jefferson on the Big Cypress Bayou down to New Orleans, LA. After discovering oil below Caddo Lake in the early 1900s, Gulf Refining Corporation dammed the lake to accommodate oil drilling equipment in 1914. On July 4, 1934, Caddo Lake State Park opened.
Enjoy the fishing pier and boat ramp. Kids can earn a Junior Ranger Badge by accessing the activity journal.
9. Pedernales State Park
30 miles west of Austin, at 5,212-acre Pedernales State Park, reserve your day pass for a picnic, an afternoon swim, or a hike. The swimming area is a quarter-mile hike across steep rock stairs with no handrail. Parents should closely supervise small children. Also, be cautious of quick rising water levels when it rains locally.
Make a reservation to spend the night at one of 69 campsites with hookups or primitive two-mile hike-in sites. Kids love to tube along the river in the summertime and watch for wildlife like deer, rabbits, armadillos, opossums, and raccoons at the bird blinds and butterfly garden. The endangered golden-cheeked warblers nest in the park and are protected. You can fish, mountain bike, geocache, or ride your horses in the park.
10. Garner State Park
I remember a song about Garner State Park by B.J. Thomas as a teenager. “Let’s go to Garner State Park; come along to Garner State Park. In the western part of Texas, 90 miles from San Antonio, there’s a place I go each summer when I get the urge to roam…” a song about a boy and girl who meet at Garner State Park and fall in love. The song ends with “I’ll be back again next year.”
Kids have the best fun floating the Frio River on an inner tube along a 2.9-mile river winding through 1,774 acres of hill country terrain. There are paddle boats, 16 miles of hiking trails, miniature golf, bicycles, canoes, and dancing to the jukebox at the park’s concession building.
Camp at New Garner at over 184 sites with full hookups and 75 sites with water. Old Garner has 39 full hookup sites and 49 sites with water only. Seventeen cabins with or without fireplaces offer kitchen and bathroom facilities, where you bring your linens, dishes, and utensils. A group camp that accommodates 40 people is available with five shelters, each with four sets of bunk beds sleeping eight. Kitchen facilities are available, and restrooms and showers are nearby.
These state parks bring back great memories of when I was a kid, my kids have great memories also, and now we are bringing my grandkids camping.
For more advice on traveling through Texas, check out these articles: