By Melissa Gallegos
Camping: a word synonymous these days with visions of mosquitoes, discomfort, and an incredible amount of work for what seems to be little or no benefit. In addition from all of those negative thoughts, native Houstonians cannot bear to think of taking a vacation in the great outdoors while dealing with the sweltering heat that plagues our great city. Growing up close to downtown didn’t give me too many opportunities to test the waters in the outdoors. Every vacation I took involved a hotel and driving around a new city completely lost while relying on a GPS to get us to our destination. It seems that families are forgetting of an old but simple pastime and sticking to vacations breakfast buffets and air conditioning are in abundance. However, camping has taken on a new sort of twist. You and your family don’t have to pitch a tent to enjoy the sights and sounds of nature. You also don’t have to spend a ton of money to fill your days with endless activities and finding something for everyone to enjoy. The possibilities are infinite with plenty of parks located in every inch and corner of this great state. Texas State Parks offers you and loved ones an opportunity to reconnect with the land and to each other.
Camping is not only a way to bond with your family, it has other benefits as well. University of Minnesota reports that when researched, camping improves: self-esteem, environmental awareness, peer relationships, values and decisions, and independence among the youth. Also camping promotes an activeness that other vacations do not offer. Take a morning run and enjoy the scenery or spend an afternoon kayaking while the sun sinks down. Camping doesn’t cost much either. Children 12 and under get into the park for free and adult entry is only four dollars. If you want to know what a park is like but don’t want to camp just yet, pack a lunch and stay there for a day to see what it has to offer.
If you are ready to take the leap and plan a weekend stay, you have a lot of choices in how you do so. Parks offer a combination of ways to lodge but some vary so to be sure, check online at the Texas Parks and Wildlife website to see what is offered for the park you are interested in. Here’s the rundown on some ways you can stay at the parks:
Cabins are for those who aren’t quite ready to rough it. Private cabins can be reserved by phone only and cost about $100 per night. However, they offer so much more than a hotel room. Guests can invite up to 8 people per cabin. Usually cabins have multiple beds, full kitchen, full bath, living area, air conditioning/heat and television if available (though you probably won’t need it). Every cabin has locked doors and windows with areas to grill outside as well. Some parks also offer group facilities for family reunions or whatever the occasion calls for.
Screened Shelters are one step down from cabins but a little more comfortable than tent camping. These typically cost about $30. Essentially screened shelters have concrete floors, four walls/roof, screen windows, and a locked door. Although this type of lodging doesn’t have air conditioner it still has electrical outlets/lights and running water for convenience. Most families choose to bring a fan to cool during the day and either bring sleeping bags, air mattresses, or cots. These are also going to be close to the nearest bathroom and shower facility that is used by all guests in the area. Be sure to bring flip flops and all the toiletries that you may need when you make your way to the facility. These are cleaned daily and some have air conditioning/heat for comfort.
Campsites cost about $20 per night and really give the full experience. These sites offer guests an area to pitch their tent, running water, and usually a picnic table for eating. Some offer electrical outlets to charge cell phones or hook hanging lights. These sites also come with a grill pit for cooking and are also located in areas close to bathroom facilities.
While camping in the parks guests can participate in many activities. The park can rent equipment to guests for a small fee or guests can choose to bring their own. Depending on your location and time of the year, there are endless opportunities for fun such as:
- Bird watching
- River floating
- Horseback riding
- Rock climbing
Some parks have entertainment events during the season for the whole family and even have day activities, crafts, and educational projects to do with the little ones. Every park is secure and park rangers monitor activity and alert guests if there is area of concern. You can rest easy that your family and friends will be safe during your stay.
As city dwellers it may be hard for some to get out of their comfort zone and venture to the outskirts of major cities. With technology running our lives’ we often forget about sitting down and connecting with the people who mean the most to us and the land that provides so much for us. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department was created in order to preserve the natural and natural and cultural resources for present and future generations. Teach your children to enjoy the outdoors and treasure what nature has given them. After giving it a chance, I’ve grown to love getting away from the traffic and loud atmosphere of the city for a weekend. If you want more info on any of the parks, how to reserve, what to pack, or anything else go to http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/ to navigate the website.