Fishing and Camping in Texas

Camping’s not for everyone. It takes a certain type of individual to enjoy a visit to the great outdoors. One might argue that all the modern accessories like fancy tents, strong lighting and portable grills that let you throw a getaway BBQ diminish the ‘wild side’ of things. But still, there’s just something about the whole experience – being so far away from civilization, at the mercy of all those animals, bugs, beetles, snakes, the elements… Many would rather shack in a cozy cottage and enjoy the view from inside.

If you can’t give the wildling side of you a rest, here are the top 7 places to camp in Texas. Proceed with caution, and remember to bring your portable TV, smartphone and a beer container of at least medium size… Come on, those are just the bare necessities!

#1: Palo Duro State Park

If you’ve got a thing for the prairie, this is a great camping spot that’s been called the ‘Grand Canyon of Texas’. It’s a little far off, sure, but every time you exit your tent, you might get a feeling like you’re in one of the classic Western movies – can’t put a price tag on that!

#2: Padre Island National Seashore

This is one of the more ‘civilized’ camping spots you’ll encounter, and also one of the more unusual – it resembles a trip to the beach more than anything else. Still, if you like swimming and fishing and want to know the struggle of newborn turtles reaching the ocean first-hand, this is a great place to be.

#3: Dinosaur Valley State Park

If you’ve always had a thing for those lovable and misunderstood creatures named dinosaurs, this is where you’ll want to set up tent. You’ll be able to see actual dinosaur tracks frozen in time as well as kids-friendly sculptures of the great beasts – the nature around the place isn’t too shabby, either.

#4: Enchanted Rock State Natural Area

This ‘park’ gets its name from the strange pink rocks throughout the area. While there is certainly something enchanting about the rocky terrain and the nature below, you won’t have access to any camper’s relief – nothing but raw nature wherever you look.

#5: Fort Parker State Park

Some other spots on the list have a primal feel to them, but not this one – it’s a family-friendly park that lets your bring your RV and enjoy the wildlife on the premises. Be wary of the alligators, though…

#6: Lake Somerville State Park

This is another great spot for families – kids, in particular, will love this park. Instead of making you go native, this is one spot where you’ll feel free to whip out the portable grill we talked about before. Did we also mention horseback riding is a thing here?

#7: Big Thicket National Preserve

This park will make you work for it, but you’ll find it to be well-worth the effort. Most people make their way into the park using some form of water floatation device, so make sure you’ve got a little bit of that adventurous spirit in you before picking this as your vacation destination.

Where to Kayak and Fish Near Helena

While there aren’t nearly as many opportunities for kayaking near Helena as there are in other parts of the state, one outstanding exception is the Gates of the Mountains, a river surrounded by 28,000 acres of roadless, undeveloped wilderness. This natural preserve is located halfway between Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks, just twenty miles north of Helena.  It advertises its goals as “to educate, protect, and allow for its visitors to explore one a  great place.” The Gates of the Mountains has a marina with 150 private boat docks and a publicly accessible boat ramp, as well as a boat tour serving over 30,000 visitors a year. There you can follow in the pathway of Lewis and Clarke either by taking a boat tour or solo kayaking.

Tours

The tour-hour boat tour, which costs $16, takes you past towering cliffs, with ancient rock paintings, and a multitude of flora and fauna, including bald eagles and goats. The boat captain is praised by visitors for his expansive knowledge and for running a tight ship.

Among the many stories retold during the cruise is of the Mann Gulch Fire. On the afternoon of August 5, 1949, a wildfire was reported in the gulch. A team of fifteen smoke jumpers was parachuted in to fight it. However, the fire literally “blew up” and covered over 3,000 acres in very quickly (in about 10 minutes), killing 13 firefighters, including 12 of the smokejumpers. Three of the smokejumpers managed to survive. The fire continued to burn for 5 additional days before firefighters were able to control it. This devastating wildfire is responsible for the federal implementation of several modern firefighting techniques designed to avoid a recurrence of the incident.

For a riveting account of the Mann Gulch Fire, read Normal MacLean’s 1992 book Young Men and Fire. MacLean, one of Montana’s most prominent novelists, was an English professor at the University of Chicago for many years and is best known for his novella A River Runs Through It, which was made into a film by Robert Redford. Young Men and Fire was published posthumously  with help from Norman MacLean’s son John MacLean, who has himself published four books dealing with different devastating wildfires around the country.

Kayak DIY

If you prefer to go kayaking alone, you can rent kayaks and equipment at The Base Camp at 5 W. Broadway in Helena: http://thebasecamp.com/paddling/

The fee for using the public boat ramp is $5. Visitors recommend kayaking on a weekday, to avoid the weekend crowds, and recommend an early start to avoid the heat; and they recommend bringing sun screen, a good hat and plenty of water. They report having been passed by eight or nine motorboats, including the tour boats, on a weekday. They report that most motorboat drivers are courteous and safe, but that you should be aware that an occasional rude driver can throw up a big wake. It’s an easy paddle from the marina to where the tour boats have their base, taking about fifteen minutes. From that point on you can paddle as far in as you like, but o course should keep in mind your return travel time. Headwinds sometimes come up in the late afternoon.

The view from a kayak is spectacular, since you paddle past 1,000-foot limestone walls and can get closer to the wildlife than the tour boats allow. You can expect to see hawks, eagles, deer, and fish jumping.  You can stop wherever you like to picnic or explore. And aside from the occasional screech of a hawk, the silence is complete and nourishing to the soul.