2.5 hours away from my front door is a historic state park that features amazing Civilian Conservation Corps buildings (my fave!), the Frio River, and the summit of Old Baldy. Follow along on my visit recap to Garner State Park.
I claim to live in the Texas hill country, but it isn’t until you head west from San Antonio that you really learn what that means. The elevation goes from flat ranch land to ranch land with ever-increasing hills in the background.
The view driving into Enchanted Rock SNA is similar, but that’s in a more central location. Driving into areas like Tarpley, Utopia, and Vanderpool, the land rises around you as you drive into a part of Texas that feels like a ‘rad’ state just north of New Mexico.
There are other amazing state parks in the area: Hill Country SNA and Lost Maples are also worth the drive if you’re looking for a nice change in scenery from wherever you live.
On this visit, I spoke with a couple that was going to check out Lost Maples because they were already in the vicinity and they figured, ‘why not?’.
Quick note: If you’re planning on visiting any of these state parks just know that cell service is non-existent for most users. Print out, or download, any maps you’ll need to get home if your car is not equipped with satellite navigation. I’m serious.
Reserve way in advance as the cabins go quickly
The camping map for Garner state park is actually hilarious. It reminds me of some of the menus I see at local diners. Useful info on one side, ads, and coupons on the other. This state park is loaded with camping options. Eight to be exact, and something for everyone.
|A||RIO FRIO||WATER/ELEC 50 AMP||$26/nightly|
|B||LIVE OAK||WATER/ELEC 50 AMP||$22/nightly|
|C||OAKMONT||WATER/ELEC, CABINS, 20-30 amp||$26/$150 2-night minimum.|
|D||PECAN GROVE||TENT/SCREENED SHELTER/RV, water only||$20/$35|
|E||PERSIMMON HILL||TENT/small RV’s||$15/nightly|
|F||RIVER CROSSING||WATER/ELEC, SCREENED||$22/$30|
|G||SHADY MEADOWS||WATER/ELEC, NO TENTS||$35/nightly|
From what I reckon, the cabins here go amazingly quick. You can pick a cabin with or without a fireplace, or go for a screened shelter once it cools off a bit. From what I saw, a lot of the screened shelters are fairly close to the river. So plan for Spring/Summer.
There are multiple convenience and gift shops at Garner state park; and Pecan Grove, Oakmont camping areas seem to be where all the action is. Here you’ll find the CCC pavilion, mini golf, the Garner Grill, and a candy shop.
The trees in this section cover the roads, and it feels like summer camp. Everyone just walking around and enjoying the view. From the parking lot, you can see Old Baldy smiling at you from above.
If you’re wanting to have river access definitely look for the Pecan Grove, Oakmont, River Crossing camping areas. These places have direct access to the water, but everything is fairly easy to get to. The Persimmon Hill campsite is going to be the farthest away from everything if you’re looking for a little more space.
The trail map reads like a Pollock painting
Ranging from Easy to Challenging the trails at Garner State Park offers something for all experience levels. There are 20 trails in total, and on my last visit, I was able to knock out three trails and a fun walkway.
|Old Entrance Road||.84 miles||20 minutes||Easy|
|Donovan Trail||.71 miles||30 minutes||Moderate|
|Bridges Trail||.65 miles||45 minutes||Challenging|
|Crystal Cave Trail||.62 miles||45 minutes||Challenging|
|Blinn River Trail||.53 miles||20 minutes||Easy|
|Old Baldy Trail||.53 miles||45 minutes||Challenging|
|Foshee Trail||1.66 miles||1 hour||Moderate|
|Ashe Juniper Trail||2.49 miles||1.5 hours||Moderate|
|Old Horse Trail||.48 miles||30 minutes||Moderate|
|Frio Canyon Trail||2.88 miles||1.5 hours||Easy|
I totally underestimated how many miles there were at Garner state park. I really just went for Old Baldy, and I’ll get to that in a second, but once I was here I really wanted to do more. (I don’t always like to look at the trail map in totality before I visit because I like to be surprised)
In addition to the 10 main trails, the trail map also has a few trails that aren’t on the trail list. Wilks Trail (1.02 mi.), Old CCC Trail (.49 mi.), White Rock Cave Trail (.3 mi.), Campos Trail (.68 mi.), Highway Trail (.62 mi.), Wild Horse Creek Trail (.48 mi, and ironically hiking only), and a few micro trails: Polly, Bell, Rim, and Bird.
The Madrone walkway (.55 mi) lets visitors access north to south without walking on the road. It cuts through some of the prettiest parts of the park and parallels the Blinn River trail which you can access from the CCC pavilion.
The Blinn River Trail is right along the Frio river, and you can access the water at a few different points. The pristine water conditions here are a sight to see but make sure you make it enjoyable for everyone else by taking only memories.
The Old Entrance Road Trail was a last-minute decision after I sucked down some Honey Stinger Organic Gels. I was actually walking back to my car when I decided I could put my thighs through just a bit more suffering.
As the name implies, it’s the original entrance road built by the CCC. Once the park became more popular the entrance was rerouted to the northern part of the park to alleviate traffic concerns.
There is a scenic overlook about halfway up the hill that gives you views of the Frio Canyon, but overall there isn’t much on the trail until you get to the end. The stonework left by the CCC is still visible from a few spots as it marks the gates that are now blocked off.
If you’re new to the hill country this trail does give you some amazing plant life featuring lovely flowers, oaks and mesquite trees, and some birds flying above the vast hill country.
Old Baldy Trail
Do your stretches
The reason for the visit was, of course, Old Baldy.
It’s by no means a landmark elevation point for Texas, but at over 1800 feet of elevation the .53 miles represent a very quick upward trajectory.
As opposed to the climbs at Hill Country SNA, the way up smacks you in the face right after you walk through the trailhead sign.
The rocks turn into a stone staircase, and your first opportunity at flat land to catch your breath is about 45 yards up. I was in disbelief as the wind was knocked out of me from the beginning.
I had to rethink my pace as I tend to hike quickly no matter the terrain, so slowing it down and taking one step at a time was the obvious way to go.
Have you ever been to Enchanted Rock SNA? There’s a false summit that gets new visitors every time. You can turn around and see people’s faces go from joy to dismay in a matter of seconds once they realize they still have a ways to go.
It wasn’t so dramatic on Old Baldy, but the first scenic view, albeit remarkable, lets you know that you’re not quite there.
Trekking poles are highly recommended on this trail. The rocks can get a little steep and a good pole will help you balance your weight going up, but certainly coming back down. You can read my trekking pole recap here.
There are plenty of resting points, and spectacular views, so don’t rush it. Along the way, you’ll also see yellow trail blazes shaped like footprints to help you along the way. It’s easy to get turned around on this trail, so look for these markers to help guide you.
The summit is announced by a pile of rocks with the United States flag waving as to greet you at the end of your hike. It’s a fairly flat peak that circles around the flag offering 360-degree views.
Going downhill is a bit tricky, so try and stay on the path as best as you can. Because if you don’t you’ll quickly start making your way down boulders that are much larger than you remember. Leaping down from mini cliffs, with your legs shaking to hold you up for each step-down. All of that only to realize you’re escaping from a trail made from water runoff, only realized after walking past a sign that says, “Caution, keep out”.
Should you visit Garner State Park?
The answer is: Yes. Yes, you should.
Plenty to see and do, Garner state park is really built as a top tourist destination. Not just for spending time out on the trails, they’ve really done a lot to give this a resort-feel to it. With all of the accommodations for spending the night, the park has built into it great conveniences for your stay.
And when things are back on track you can cut some rug on one of Texas’s oldest dance floors, or just drop some quarters in the jukebox.
Listen on the Texas Trailhead Podcast:
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