Davis Mountain State Park is a quiet Texas state park nestled in the Davis Mountains(surprise!). It has 100 sites, sites with water($15), some with water and electric($20), and some with sewer hookups and cable also($25). They also charge a $6 per day per person entrance fee. If you’ll be in Texas a while it’s well worth it to buy their state park pass which waves the entrance fees. The sites were fairly spacious and open with nice views of the mountains. The water and electric sites were back-in only while the ones with sewer were pull through. The odd thing about the layout was that the dump station was on the wrong side when leaving the campground. So you had to go around the loop to get it on the correct side and then go around the loop again to get out (weird). A small town with groceries, gas, restaurants etc. was only 5 miles from the campground. Be sure to pick up some Julio’s ”Hotter than hell chips” while in town for some of the best tortilla chips I’ve had.
There were a number of both hiking and biking trails. One of them ran from the campground 3 miles to Fort Davis National Monument. The fort was built pre civil war and a number of the buildings had been fully restored including furniture so you could see how the soldiers lived back then. If three miles is too far to hike you could also drive up skyline drive and take a shorter one mile hike or just drive the main road straight to the fort.
Skyline Drive was quite a nice scenic little road. It was very steep with a number of switchbacks like a hiking trail that took you to the top of two different peaks overlooking the campground and the town. It also allowed us to get the reception on our phones that was lacking down in the campground. It was a great place(and popular) to come and watch the sunset and then view the stars. We rode our bikes up the first night there and it had us huffing and puffing. Also available close by is the McDonald Observatory that offers star parties($15pp) on Friday and Saturday where you get to see what a REAL telescope can do.
If camping isn’t your thing they also offered rooms in an “Indian Lodge” along with a restaurant.
Five star scale rating
Scenery – ****
Campground – ****
Campsite – ***
Recreation – ****
After passing through the entry gate at Persimmon Gap, I felt as though I was driving through a National Geographic magazine. Picture purple, yellow and white wildflowers lining a long paved road, a desert landscape with various cacti in bloom and hazy, bronze mountains on the horizon. Such a beautiful setting in a harsh, unforgiving land.
With our 31 foot fifth wheel and 4 pound Chihuahua, our choices for camping were limited. Our only option was to stay in the Rio Grande Village campground. Regular camping is only $14 a night and with our America the Beautiful Pass admission was free (normally $20). All the sites are spacious, some are in direct sun, some have all shade. We chose a spot with a little of both since we needed our solar panels to get some sun. There are public restrooms but no showers. If you want to shower you can pay for one at the village store, $1.50/3 minutes. There are sites available with electric and water hookups but they were all taken. These sites are more costly at $33 a night and packed tightly together in a parking lot. There is another campground in the Chisos basin but you can’t go there with a trailer greater than 24 feet. For those without RV’s and not into “roughing it”, there is a lodge at the Chisos basin. There are a ton of sites for back country primitive camping as well which would have been awesome, but unfortunately we couldn’t do it since National Parks don’t allow dogs outside of the developed campgrounds. There are a couple gas/diesel stations throughout park, so no need to worry about running out of fuel if you want to see the entire 880,000 acres of the park.
The first day we planned to kayak the Rio Grande through the Santa Elena canyon. The renowned canyon is one of the highlights of the park and visited by many. The ranger suggested we put in at the Santa Elena boat ramp and kayak up river to the canyon and float back. I’m starting to see a trend here in Texas. Do Texans never kayak or simply not understand the logistics? It was our second suggestion to “just paddle upriver and float.” If the water is too low you simply cannot do it! Nevertheless, we didn’t give up like at South Llano, we were too determined to see and kayak through the canyon We had to portage the kayak at least 7 times. It was hard work but it was worth it in the end. Our point of view from the kayak was spectacular. The Rio Grande River, from what we saw, is very calm, narrow and shallow. Tim and I joked that it should be renamed the Rio Grande Creek. In the canyon, the only sounds are from little songbirds chirping and flying to and from their nests on either side the towering canyon. With the help of the current, only two portages were required on the way back.
The second day, we hiked to Emory Peak, the highest peak in the park at 7,825 feet. A 10.6 mile hike round trip from the basin with a 2,000 feet elevation gain. It was our first day hike in the desert. We each carried 3 liters of water and lunch. We passed a few hikers that were hiking to their primitive camp, carrying with them gallons of water for dry camping. Water is scare here so you have to carry a gallon a day for primitive camping. Nearly every plant has thorns, so you have to always be careful about brushing up against something. Reaching the peak was anti-climatic. I was expecting a plateau with a 360 degree view of the park. Yet after a 30 yard scramble to the peak, there was no where to comfortably hang out and have lunch. On our descent we saw a deer, which Tim thought was a donkey at first because they are more grayish toned here than brown. We also saw a small flock of Western Scrub Jays. We finished in only five hours. What’s the best way to end the day after a strenuous hike? A soak in a natural hot spring! FDR believed them to be healing. I agree, or perhaps it was the extra strong white Russian I had prepared for myself….it was pretty amazing. The experience was special for us since it was both of our first times in a HOT spring. The temperature stays at 105 degrees Fahrenheit, unlike the cooler Springs in Florida that stay at 72 degrees year round.
South Llano was awesome, but Big Bend definitely surpassed my expectations. I purposely did not use the internet to get a sneak peek of Big Bend because I wanted the first time I saw it to be through my own eyes. I literally couldn’t stop taking pictures because I saw beauty every where I looked. The mountains change color throughout that day. We were told by many locals that we were lucky. Because of the extra rain the area had received earlier in the year, the wildflowers and cacti were thriving more than usual. All in all, our stay at Big Bend was truly an unforgettable experience.
Five Star Scale Rating
Scenery – *****
Campground – ***
Campsite – ***
Recreation – *****
South Llano River State Park is a complete vacation package. A quiet campground with a river in the mountains. All of the sites are large and roomy, but the best sites are the last numbers on the outer edge. These sites face a large field that white tailed deer visit every evening. If you need supplies, Junction is only 5 miles away from the park. Sites with water and electric hookups are $20/night. There are hot showers in the restrooms. There is an entrance fee of $4 per person per day you have to pay even if you are paying to stay the night. I was told that all the parks in Texas do this. So if you are planning on vacationing in Texas for a while, it’s worth it to buy a Texas State Park pass. It is $70 for one year, waves all your entrance fees and includes 4 coupons for half off the nightly rate.
There is plenty of wildlife to view from deer, jackrabbits, ground squirrels and many species of birds. I’ve never been a birder nor have I ever really cared about birding, but this park opened my eyes to the calming hobby. There are two bird blinds that you can comfortably sit and watch the birds come to take a bath and peck at seed. I saw at least 10 different species after just sitting for a couple minutes. Another nice thing about the park is the effort to save land for the Texas turkeys. They have large roosting fields available for them that they do not allow visitors to enter. While we were here, the turkeys were still in mating season so we didn’t get to see any in the roosting fields. While driving, we saw a hen cross the road and on one of the hikes I heard a Tom gobble, one of my favorite animal sounds by the way. Other reasons to come here other than birding, how about a natural fresh water lazy river? You can rent a tube for $5 and float down the river. Be sure to check the water level before planning this as the river was too low when we attempted to kayak. The ranger didn’t seem to know because she suggested kayaking upriver and floating down. Unfortunately we only made it half a mile and after two portages we gave up. There’s miles of mountain trails to bike or walk, with the highest elevation at 2,100 feet. We saw many mountain bikers so it must be a popular spot.
We had only intended to stay two nights here but I fell in love with this park, so we stayed three. There are a lot of nice parks in Florida, but this was the first park that I’ve experienced this ecosystem. I love that I am able to have these new adventures. I’m so far away from everything I’m used to and yet I feel comfortable. I can’t wait to see more mountains and deserts in Texas at Big Bend.
Five star scale rating
Scenery – *****
Campground – ****
Campsite – ****
Recreation – ****