Meridian State Park | September 2021

As the transition of the seasons loomed on the horizon, we wanted to get one final summer camping trip in. We headed just north of Waco to Meridian State Park. One of many CCC parks in the state, Meridian was opened to the public in 1935 and is a great place for outdoor recreation. On land, you can bike, hike, camp, picnic, and enjoy some beauuuutiful overlooks! On water, you can kayak, fish, and swim. Unfortunately, the lake was closed while we were there due to a toxic algae bloom, but despite not being able to swim, we had a fabulous time. We were able to get our fill of swimming just a hop, skip, and a jump away at Dinosaur Valley State Park.

We wrote more about our visit in a guest post on the Wander Wheels TX blog! Check it out here!

Meridian | September 2021


Lake Mineral Wells State Park & Trailway | July 2021

As an early birthday celebration trip, we spent a weekend at Lake Mineral Wells State Park & Trailway. It was phenomenal. We met up with our usual camping crew, ate a lot of steak, and had a great time.

Lake Mineral Wells is a 640 acre lake located in Mineral Wells. The town is aptly named for the mineral rich water. The most famous well was called the Crazy Well, which got its name from the myth that an older woman drank the water and her mental illness was cured. There could be some truth in that, as the water is high in lithium (which is used to treat various mood disorders). When you're in the area, it is a MUST to stop by Famous Mineral Water Company to taste the Crazy Water that helped shape the city.

Mineral Wells is currently in a revival stage. The Baker Hotel is in the process of being renovated, there are colorful murals splashed through the area, and there's quite a bit to do and see. I really loved the area and have been fantasizing about buying a house there...

Just outside of town, Lake Mineral Wells State Park has a LOT to offer. More than 100 campsites with a variety of amenities, swimming, hiking, boating, stand-up paddleboarding, fishing, stargazing, and more. You could never leave the park and you would stay entertained for days at a time. Our campsite was right on the water, but it didn't look great for swimming. We saw a number of other people with sites on the water that had kayaks - I highly recommend a site on the water if you've got kayaks. You can launch right from your site and it's very convenient. We also saw people fishing from their sites - if you want to do this, just check those photos on the reservation system to check out what the vegetation looks like. Some sites were clearer than others.

The designated swimming area was amazing, one of the best that I've seen. It's very beachy and the lake bottom was sandy and not mucky. They do a good job of separating the fishing from the swimming so you don't have to worry about getting hooked or stepping on lost tackle in the water. The fishing area is on the opposite side of the land from the swimming spot. The Park Store is conveniently located right between the two. Buy souvenirs, snacks, and affordable rental equipment all in one place. Some folks in our group rented a kayak and a SUP (stand-up paddle board, for anyone not familiar with the abbreviation) and the kids loved it. I tried SUPing for the first time and it was nowhere near as hard as I always imagined it would be! It was a great way to fill a couple of hours.

The camping loops all looked very nice. We stayed in the Plateau campground. Our site was very shady and, as I mentioned before, right on the water. It was fairly wooded, which offered some sense of privacy from the sites around us but you could still definitely see your neighbors. The ample amount of trees gave us plenty of spots to choose from to hang our hammock. Be forewarned if you camp here - the raccoons are ruthless. As soon as the sun goes down, put your food away or keep it right next to you if you're eating. Even with a big group of people awake and talking, the raccoons were trying to get to the trash bag that was in the galley of my teardrop. They gave zero fucks that we were right there.

One other must-see spot in the park is Penitentiary Hollow. Forboding name, really really cool spot. It is one of the few natural rock climbing spots in North Texas. There are just these huge rock faces that are all congregated around this one area. It reminded me of the Ledges trail in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Penitentiary Hollow can be accessed in a couple of ways. You can opt to pretty much drive right up to (you still have to hike a short way down to get to the bottom) or you can choose to access it on the Red Waterfront trail. We did both and I recommend both.

With so many different activities to choose from (we didn't even hit the Trailway at all!), Lake Mineral Wells State Park is a playground for outdoor enthusiasts of all types. At only one hour(ish) away from the Dallas Forth Worth metroplex, it can be an easy day trip or a fun-filled weekend getaway!

Have you ever been to Lake Mineral Wells State Park? What is your favorite thing to do there?

Lake Mineral Wells | July 2021


Lake Whitney State Park | July 2021

At the beginning of July, Lily had a doctor's appointment in Temple so we decided to make a camping weekend out of it. We picked Lake Whitney State Park, as it was only a little over an hour away from Temple and would be a relatively easy commute.

Lake Whitney is only about an hour away from DFW and is a 23,500 acre lake fed by the Brazos River. There are over 100 campsites in numerous camping loops the state park. We were in the Roadrunner Loop, which isn't really a loop at all but more just a road with a culdesac at the end. Our site was nice enough and actually had a shade shelter (something I have found a lot of sites don't have!). The shelter came in handy multiple times. First, there was pretty much zero other shade at our site. I found myself staring longingly at a site a couple sites down that had a huge oak tree and a ton of shade. Secondly, we ended up having a storm blow through and the shade came in handy to keep us somewhat dry. At least until we had to take cover from shitloads of lightning in a vehicle.

Since it is the middle of summer in Texas, we spent most of our weekend swimming. The first afternoon, we swam in the designated swimming area at the end of the park. The water was warm and felt like bathwater, but it was better than cooking in the sun. The next day, we decided to stay near our campsite and walk down to the lake area to give that a go. It was far superior to the swimming area. The water was cooler and clearer and it was more convenient. We stuck with this spot for the rest of the trip.

In addition to swimming, we also did a short hike on the Two Bridges trail. It was easy and gave us a chance to see the wooded areas of the park instead of just staying on the water. Of course, it ended up raining on us during the hike but we made the best of it!

Once we were back at the car, the rain was really coming down. We didn't want to pack up camp in the rain so we decided to participate in the scavenger hunt that the park had going on that weekend. We had a list of things that we had to locate and take our picture with. We found what we needed and went to HQ to receive our prize - Tootsie Pops. Womp womp. They are the worst type of candy in existence! But Lily enjoyed it.

Overall, I'd say our time at Lake Whitney was enjoyable, but I don't think we will be back anytime soon! The staff was great and the park is pretty, but in my opinion there is just better swimming in Texas, specifically even in the same area. No offense, Lake Whitney!

Lake Whitney | July 2021


Palo Duro Canyon State Park | March 2021

Palo Duro Canyon is way the hell out there. It's like going to Big Bend, it's got to be purposeful. It's not one of those parks that can be (or should be) popped over to for a day trip. It should be intentional and extended. There is so much to explore that even camping for three nights, we felt robbed that we didn't get to see enough. 

Driving up to the canyon is pretty amazing. Flat flat flat flat HOOOOLY SHIT there's a canyon. We made our way down into the canyon, winding around the switchbacks, until we reached our site. We stayed in the Hackberry campground. It was a perfect spot for us - close to the bathrooms, pretty centrally located in the park, ample wildlife viewing, and within walking distance to multiple trails. It was a good choice.

Lily and I have put our heads together and come up with the top 10 things to do during a visit to Palo Duro!

    #10 - Go through a tornado

Totally kidding, but this did happen to us. The weather was questionable our second day there so we got our hiking done early and then headed up to the rim to explore in the afternoon. We were swiftly informed by park staff that the area was under a tornado warning and we were to seek shelter in the visitor center. We ended up sheltering in there for over an hour as a tornado hit park headquarters and completely blew the fee booth away. Quite a story to add to our experience!

    #9 - Visit the Visitor Center & the overlook on the rim

The Visitor Center and a gift shop are located near the historic CCC cabins on the rim of the canyon. The exhibits were decent, with some taxidermy animals behind glass in staged nature scenes, information about geology - the usual stuff you'd find in an exhibit area in a park. There is a gift shop in the building, as well, but it definitely wasn't our style. It was more jewelry, southwestern style items. We much prefer crappy stickers and t-shirts!

    #8 - Grab a meal or shop at the Trading Post in the canyon

This store was our jam. It's run by a concessionaire and not only do they have a lot of great souvenirs (and a fabulous shirt selection - I'm all about the shirts!), but they have a grill and area that has some basic necessities, too. We spent an embarrassing amount of money in the store. After our hike to the Lighthouse, which was Lily's longest hike ever at around 6 miles, she was rewarded greatly with a stuffed skunk, deer, and bald eagle from the gift shop. She earned it. Pro-tip: buy the Copper the Coyote book - it's written by a man who works at the Old West Stables!

    #7 - Walk along the river

This is such a relaxing, enjoyable thing to do. The first evening we were in the park, we unwound with a short sunset hike on the Paseo del Rio trail. It was within walking distance from our site, but you can also park at the Soapberry Day Use Area and pick up the trail from there. There was plenty of parking, picnic tables, and restrooms there. The river was very soothing and with the quiet of the park, we were able to fully enjoy the sound of the water running along its path, heading I don't know where. It's a really easy, flat walk and is only one mile (not a loop though - keep that in mind!). Highly recommend this for younger kiddos, less active people, or just to meander after a busy day of exploring.

    #6 - Walk around at night & listen to the coyotes

About an hour and a half after our walk on the Paseo del Rio trail, Lily decided she wanted to go for another walk so we opted to just walk around the campground loop. As we did, we could hear a pack of coyotes off in the distance, yipping at each other, speaking some language so foreign to us but clear to them. It freaked Lily out a little bit, but after assuring her that she was perfectly safe, she relaxed and instead of fear, the chorus created a sense of wonder & curiosity in her.

    #5 - Horseback ride

Ugh, this is the one thing on this list that we didn't do. I poorly planned and forgot that this was even an option and by the time I looked online for reservations, they were fully book until the day after our vacation ended. BUT - I have done this before the last time I was in the canyon and it was pretty neat. It's all walking, but they talked about the canyon and it was cool being on horseback down in there. It's like $80ish bucks for an hour, but if you have a daughter that is absolutely fucking obsessed with horses, it's worth the money. I've already promised to bring her back to ride. We still stopped by the outfitter's shop, got Lily's Copper the Coyote book signed by the author, and said hi to the horses before they departed on their trail ride.

    #4 - Stargaze

Ohhhh the stars. Damn, they were bright out here. It was really nice to be laying in the teardrop and look up through the window and see them sparkling. Bring a star wheel to help orient yourself!

    #3 - Hike the Upper Comanche Trail

Okay, so... hiking this trail was a happy accident. We had headed out for a hike before dinner and I had mapped out a route that I anticipated would take about an hour. Well, one wrong turn later and we ended up on the wrong trail. We turned back and got ourselves on the right path, only to make yet another wrong turn and end up going in the completely opposite direction than intended on the Upper Comanche trail. Lucky for us, though, we found it to be the best trail we hiked. We didn't see another soul the entire time we were on the trail. We did, however, get lucky enough to see audads.

4ish miles and 2.5ish hours later, we finally got back to the campground. No regrets. Well, maybe I regret not bringing more water.

    #2 - Camp

Camping is part of the experience! First of all, there is way too much to see for a day trip. Second of all, the park at night is half the fun. Dark, quiet, stars, coyotes. Do yourself a favor and park your trailer, pitch your tent, hang your hammock, do whatever floats your boat but hunker down for a couple of days. It'll be worth it!

    #1 - Hike to the Lighthouse

To be honest, I hate that I'm putting it as #1 because it really isn't the best trail (in our opinion). But, that being said, it is the iconic image that Palo Duro is so well known for so naturally you've got to do it. Pro-tip: if it's muddy, step very gingerly if you want to climb up the Lighthouse at the end of the trail. My clumsy ass fell and got mud all over my pants and bruised my ego because I definitely fell for an audience. Oh well.

This is not a difficult hike with two exceptions: the distance and the last 0.10 miles. Most of the trail is flat or with only slight grades. If you can hack the distance, you're golden. The only challenging part of the hike was at the very end, when you have to make the final climb up to the Lighthouse (pro-tip: go left at the picnic table so you don't get lost like we did). It's a steep scramble up a bunch of rocks and it will really remind you how out of shape you are.

So that's it! It's also important to note that we visited in March & the Texas! outdoor musical wasn't available - it only goes on during the summer. I have never seen it, but it very well may take a place on this list. Guess we will have to put that on our agenda for next time! Palo Duro easily has taken the #1 spot on my list of favorite parks and we will absolutely be back as soon as we are able.

 

Palo Duro Canyon | March 2021