Into the Wild

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Central Texas is home to some of the state’s most beautiful natural playgrounds, for all ages.

Texas has more than 100 state parks from border to border, top to bottom. I’ll admit that I’m 100 percent biased in the following statement: Central Texas has the best ones. Where else can you hike, bike, swim, jump, rockclimb and camp—all within an hour’s drive?

With day passes around $7 per adult, admission to a state park is often cheaper than packing up your family and taking them to a movie. What’s not to love? So load up your cars, strap the kids in, and hightail it to one of these beautiful Central Texas parks. You won’t regret it.

Enchanted Rock

g-may-june-2013-retreat-3Pictures don’t do it justice; you really have to see it for yourself. Located just north of Fredericksburg (about two hours away from Austin), Enchanted Rock State Natural Area is home to one of Texas’ most popular camping spots. Historically, Native Americans believed that Enchanted Rock had sacred, mystical powers and claimed to see mysterious flames flickering atop the rock in the night. Whatever the case may be, the rock is indeed enchanting and almost begs to be climbed.

This is a great place for beginner and veteran hikers alike; the gentle slope of the main rock is a relatively easy climb. If you take it at your own pace and stop for snacks along the way, a hike up Enchanted Rock can provide enough entertainment to last a weekend. Nearby bluffs can provide a safe, challenging hike for more adventurous tweens and teens who want to venture off the beaten path. Just be warned—the view from the top will definitely take your breath away, so be sure to set aside plenty of time for admiring the beautiful Texas hill country after your hike.

Pace Bend Park

Well known for its rocky bluffs and beautiful, clear water, Pace Bend Park is just a hop, skip and jump away from Austin proper. The park is located on Lake Travis, and while the drought has forced closure of its two boat ramps, Pace Bend’s scenic views and limestone bluffs are still stunning. Because it is best known for its cliff jumping, this park is recommended for older kids who are fully comfortable taking an adventurous leap, but at their parents’ discretion.

If cliff diving isn’t for you, Pace Bend is also home to extensive hiking and biking trails, as well as a flat beach for the little ones. Canoers and kayakers are also allowed to launch from various points around the park. Because of the varying geography, each camping trip to Pace Bend is different, so try camping both in the woods and near the shore for a new take on the same park. There are showers and bathrooms on-site, as well as barbeque pits and picnic tables throughout.

Krause Springs

Located just south of Austin in Spicewood, Krause Springs is a calming getaway for parents and a fun place for kids of all ages to swim and explore. A trip to these springs is far less rugged than a typical camping excursion. In addition to natural springs, which bubble at a constant temperature year round, there is also a spring-fed aboveground pool near the campsites for those who don’t feel like hiking to take a dip. The springs are a great day trip, but they also offer primitive camping and some RV hookups, in addition to a well-maintained bathhouse.

The springs themselves, while beautiful, come in a close second to the location’s expansive butterfly garden. Huge wind chimes, a water fountain and benches are set throughout the garden, providing a peaceful place to kick back and relax. Krause Springs’ seclusion is both a blessing and a curse, as it can be a bit tricky to find— the drive to the site will have you wondering if you read your directions right. Trust your GPS—it will be well worth the trip.

Pedernales Falls

Imagine Disneyland, but comprised completely of nature, and you have Pedernales Falls. The park’s Epcot is its falls, certainly, but it also has the Teacup Ride and the Tower of Terror. If you’re seriously interested in taking your family on the ultimate camping experience, take them to Pedernales. The park has a borderline overwhelming number of hiking trails, as well as plenty of options for cyclists. If you have young ones in tow, the walk from the parking lot to the falls is a quick six minutes down a gravel path.

The falls are breathtaking and will keep you and your kids occupied for hours, and the swimming location is a quick drive up the road. There is also an enclosed bird blind that provides a great opportunity to see birds as well as other friendly moochers that come in from the wild to eat.

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