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March 05, 2018 | money-management

Texas Treasures: 5 Budget-Friendly Lone Star State Park Vacation Ideas

Looking for a memorable and activity-packed vacation that won’t bust your budget? Look no further than the exceptional state parks populating the Lone Star State.

The government has set aside some of the nation’s most beautiful landscapes for public enjoyment, and each one offers different geographical features and ecosystems. Conveniently, many also offer very reasonably priced accommodations, including retro-style motels and campsites that range from primitive to deluxe.

While everyone likely has a different favorite, here’s a summary of five of the most popular state parks Texas has to offer.

  • Davis Mountains State Park, Fort Davis: This 2,700-acre national treasure in the mountains of west Texas offers miles of nature trails for hiking, backpacking, mountain biking or (bring-your-own) horseback riding. An appealing campground is set into a valley, or visitors can relax at the historical 39-room Indian Lodge motel. Possible activities include geocaching, bird watching at the bird blind, visiting the interpretive center, picnicking, stargazing, traveling the 4.5-mile scenic mountain drive or visiting the nearby Fort Davis. Remarks one Google reviewer: “Easy access even for our 40-foot motor home. Sites are generous, paved and fairly level. Must do the Skyline Drive! Stunning views. Good hiking trails.”
  • Mother Neff State Park, Moody: The first state park established in Texas, this 259-acre area on the Leon River offers woodland trails, prairies, a limestone river basin and multiple campsites. Visitors enjoy hiking, picnicking, camping (one cabin is also available), geocaching, identifying wildflowers, exploring canyon trails and visiting the visitor center to learn about area history. “The terrain was diverse and beautiful,” writes a Google reviewer. “We loved all of the natural rock features and the small lagoons/ponds. We hiked for about four hours, connecting several trails as we wanted to see most all of the park. My daughter loved the rock tower that had stairs winding around and up it to a lookout point.”
  • Balmorhea State Park, Toyahvale: This 46-acre state park located on the San Solomon Springs draws some 52,000 visitors annually. The primary draw: The world's largest artesian spring-fed swimming pool at 77,053 square feet; it’s consistently 72 to 76 degrees in temperature and 25 feet deep in spots, allowing for scuba or skin diving. Throughout the park, people participate in geocaching, bird watching, playing on the playground, picnicking and exploring a restored desert wetland, which is home to several endangered species. Lodgings include 34 campsites or the 1930s-era motel San Solomon Springs Courts. Writes a Google reviewer: “This is an oasis in the desert, a natural spring turned swimming pool. While you're swimming you'll have tiny fish all around you ... you see turtles and big fish, if you're lucky. The temperature is always perfect."
  • Dinosaur Valley State Park, Glen Rose: This 1,525-acre gem next to the Paluxy River features authentic fossilized dinosaur footprints (weather permitting, as they’re in the riverbed) and two life-size dinosaur models. Fans also like the regular or backpack campsites, picnic sites, 20 miles of trails (including some for biking), river swimming and fishing, geocaching and horseback riding (bring-your-own or guided). Horse-drawn wagon rides are also offered. Writes one enthusiast on Google: “This would be a five-star park, even without the dinosaur prints. It's very peaceful with a lush and diverse landscape. There are walking and hiking trails for all ability levels."
  • Choke Canyon State Park, Three Rivers: This popular area on the shore of the 26,000-acre Choke Canyon Reservoir is used for year-round boating, bass and catfish fishing, swimming, beach and water sports, camping, hiking, basketball, tennis, soccer and observing wildlife (alligator safety tips are provided). Other lodging includes a shelter with air conditioning. Nearby is the 5,341-acre James E. Daughtrey Wildlife Management Area. The park is busiest in the spring, summer and fall. Reports one Google reviewer: “A great place to take kids, just keep them under supervision because of the wildlife. Great views, sunrises are gorgeous.”

We wish you a wonderful adventure exploring Texas' multiple park attractions!

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