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Best Cabins in State Parks

How to take the rough out of “ roughing it.”

By Melissa Gaskill

A cabin in the woods. Just the sound of it relaxes me. In fact, the very word cabin — in the woods or anywhere else — brings to mind images like a comfy chair on a porch or a warm spot by a crackling fire.

Sixteen Texas state parks offer some sort of individual cabins, many that meet those nostalgic expectations. A number came from the hands of Civilian Conservation Corps workers, who were part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal program of recovery from the Great Depression. The CCC put unemployed men to work all over the country improving state lands in the 1930s, building structures from cabins to furniture, typically designed by National Park Service architects. Accordingly, workers used local resources such as stone and timber and followed a philosophy of blending with the landscape. This legacy accounts for the unique atmosphere of many state park cabins, from the mound-shaped structures in Bastrop State Park to those at Caddo Lake, inspired by real log cabins. Structures like these and their more modern counterparts offer a way to enjoy nature without roughing it too much. Hey, a little indoor plumbing and air conditioning can come in handy after a hard day of hiking, fishing or picnicking.

All our state park cabins offer a memorable experience, and each presents unique charms. At risk of offending fans of certain places, and missing entirely what appeals to them, here is an unscientific and completely biased selection of the best features of each.

Best Atmosphere

Bastrop State Park

The park is situated beneath the canopy of the Lost Pines, an isolated 70 square miles of loblolly pine and hardwoods in the midst of rolling, post oak woodlands. In their quiet shade lie 13 wood and stone cabins built by two Civilian Conservation Corps camps between 1933 and 1937. Fireplaces in each cabin sport substantial wood mantles on which CCC craftsmen carved quaint words of wisdom, such as “The beautiful is as useful as the useful,” “Old friends are the best,” and “A man is as big as the things that annoy him.” The largest cabin, Number 12, has four bedrooms and a screened porch overlooking a pond. The rest sleep from two to six people. All have heating and air conditioning, complete kitchens and outdoor grills. Linens provided. The park has a swimming pool, a golf course, canoe rentals, miles of trails and a scenic drive also good for cycling. (512-321-2101, www.tpwd.state.tx.us/bastrop).

Best Trees

Daingerfield State Park

Trees tower over the rolling hills of this park, and its three cabins. One two-bedroom structure overlooks a tree-rimmed lake the CCC created with an earthen dam. So does Bass Lodge, which has five bedrooms, two baths, a fireplace and backdoor steps leading right down to the water. These and two other cabins all have kitchens, air conditioning and heat, and bathrooms. The CCC also put in a swimming beach, picnic area and boathouse, where visitors can rent pedal boats and canoes. The lake holds crappie, perch, catfish and bass, and two and a half miles of hiking trails traverse wooded hillsides. Dogwoods, redbuds and wisteria paint these hills in spring, and sweetgum, oak and maple take over in fall, with pines doing their green thing year-round. Linens and towels furnished. (903-645-2921, www.tpwd.state.tx.us/daingerfield)

Best Variety

Lake Brownwood State Park

Three CCC companies used local timber and stone quarried nearby for an impressive roster of structures in this lakeside park. Today, nine two-person and seven four-person cabins with a variety of floor plans remain along a wooded ridge overlooking the lake. Other options are the two-bedroom Oak and Loma Vista Lodges, five-bedroom Fisherman’s Lodge, and behemoth Beach Lodge, two dormitory wings holding beds for 26 and two baths around a central kitchen and living area. Cabin renovations circa 1978 added air conditioning and heat, modern appliances, and new windows, but left the atmosphere intact. All cabins have kitchens, fireplaces, and outdoor picnic tables and grills. Linens provided.

Other NPS-design CCC structures scattered throughout the park include firepits, benches, culverts, picnic tables, and the Clubhouse, which originally housed concessions, a hardwood dance floor and park headquarters. Today it is a day-use facility popular for weddings and reunions. Possible diversions here include swimming, fishing, boating, hiking and picnicking among the oak, hawthorn and cedar elm trees. (325-784-5223, www.tpwd.state.tx.us/lakebrownwood).

Best View

Palo Duro Canyon State Park

At 120 miles long and up to 800 feet deep, Palo Duro is the United States’ second largest canyon, carved by the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River about a million years ago. Dizzying views right out the windows await guests in three rock cabins perched on the canyon rim. The structures have dual indoor fireplaces and outdoor eating areas with picnic tables and grills. To better enjoy those aforementioned jaw-dropping vistas, be sure to ask about the Sorenson Cabin, featuring a large wooden deck that allows the sunrise and sunset to fill the dining area. The other two cabins are named Lighthouse, for the famous Palo Duro rock formation, and Goodnight, for the original rancher of the canyon.

Constructed by several CCC companies in the 1930s and remodeled some years ago, the cabins sleep four each, with heat and air conditioning, indoor bathrooms with shower, refrigerator, microwave and coffee pot. Linens, pillows and towels provided. While you could easily spend an entire visit just soaking up the scenery visible from your cabin, the park also includes a museum and store, horseback rides at Old West Stables, and hot meals and camping supplies at the Palo Duro Trading Post. The well-known Texas musical drama is performed in the Pioneer Theater during summer (June 4 – August 18, 2007). Visitors can also enjoy almost 40 miles of hiking trails and nearly 15 miles of equestrian trails through this geologic wonderland. RV, tent, primitive and equestrian camping and limited service cabins in the canyon. (806-488-2227, www.tpwd.state.tx.us/spdest/findadest/parks/palo_duro)

Best Porches

Caddo Lake State Park

Beneath tall trees, nine stone cabins form a semi-circle, each with a wide covered porch from which to enjoy the unspoiled view. Remodeled in 2001, they retain historic, CCC-built charm, including giant rock fireplaces (several of which have been converted to gas-burning, although most became merely decorative), built-in storage and substantial furniture. Two one-bedroom cabins sleep two, four two-bedroom cabins sleep four, and three two-bedroom cabins hold six (additional bedding required). Kitchens in all but the two-person cabins include refrigerators, microwaves and stoves; all have picnic tables and grills outdoors.

This heavily wooded, deep East Texas park curves around Saw Mill Pond, connected by Big Cypress Bayou to Caddo Lake. The swampy water reflects the droopy bald cypress trees rising from it, lending the place an eerily beautiful air. Fish from a lighted dock, rent canoes or sign up for a guided pontoon boat tour (903-930-0075) to explore the shallow maze of bayous and sloughs, or ford streams and clamber up slopes on hiking trails through the forest. (903-679-3351, www.tpwd.state.tx.us/caddolake)

Best Night Life

Garner State Park

Thirteen CCC-built cabins (plus four more built in the ‘50s) mimic the limestone architecture of early Alsatian immigrants to central Texas. They sit just a few boot-scoots from the park’s concession building, fondly known by many generations of Texans as the Pavilion, where on summer nights the jukebox fires up at dark and folks from 1 to 95 hit the dance floor. (Yours truly was first asked to dance right here, way back in sixth grade.) Many dancers take a break at the neighboring lighted miniature golf course, or grab a frozen lemonade or juicy burger in the snack bar. During the day, there’s swimming, tubing or paddleboat chases in the aptly named Frio River, along with hiking, fishing, bike riding, or just resting up for another night of two-stepping. All cabins have kitchens, attic fans and heat; 13 have fireplaces. (830-232-6132, www.tpwd.state.tx.us/garner)

Best Decks

Cooper Lake State Park — South Sulphur Unit

Cooper Lake is one of Texas’ youngest bodies of water. South Sulphur River water began collecting here in 1991; the park opened for boat access in 1992. It quickly became known for largemouth and white bass fishing, and as a popular destination for boaters, water skiers and other water enthusiasts, although low water levels have temporarily curtailed some of those activities.

Fourteen wood-frame cabins scattered on a thumb of the lakeshore sleep from four to six in one bedroom, with bathroom, kitchen, living area, air conditioning and heat. Raised outdoor decks have grills, picnic tables, and, thanks to the area’s rolling hills, views of the lake. Because the park is the only lakeside development, wildflowers cover those hills in spring and wildlife is abundant. The park also offers boat ramps and a sandy swimming beach (open when lake levels allow), hiking and equestrian trails, a playground, picnic areas, sand volleyball court, an amphitheater and a group pavilion that holds 100 of your closest friends. (903-945-5256, www.tpwd.state.tx.us/cooperlake)

Best Access to Water Sports

Possum Kingdom State Park

The wide-open, clear-blue waters of this 20,000-acre lake beckon. Answer the call with your ski boat, bass boat, personal watercraft, canoe, kayak, raft, scuba gear or just your swimsuit. If you don’t have any of those, a privately operated marina in the park rents non-motorized and motorized boats, including a 24-foot, 16-person pontoon boat. Reservations are recommended for rental of motorized boats and marina slips. There are six four-person cabins and a two-bedroom Longhorn Lodge, which sleeps eight. All are close to the water, and have kitchens, bathrooms, air conditioning and heating, and outdoor grills and picnic tables. When you need to dry out, try the two miles of hiking trails, playgrounds or fishing pier, or look for the dozens of species of birds spotted here, including hummingbirds that pass through in early spring. (940-549-1803, www.tpwd.state.tx.us/possumkingdom)

All state parks have entrance fees. Pets and smoking are not allowed in cabins or other park buildings. Cabin rental fees are subject to local hotel taxes and some restrictions, such as requiring rental of both weekend nights during peak seasons. Cabins with kitchens typically do not include cooking and eating utensils, and linens are not provided unless noted. Call (512) 389-8900 for information and reservations.

Limited Use Cabins

These generally newer structures accommodate sleeping only — with minimal or no kitchen and separate bathroom facilities. There is often room for small trailers, pop-up campers or tents next to the cabins, allowing you to bring the whole family.

Buescher State Park
Three cabins sleep four people each; two have accompanying camp sites. Connected to Bastrop State Park by scenic Park Road 1C, and also graced with Lost Pines, this park offers an alternative (though with fewer amenities) to Bastrop’s hard-to-book cabins. Enjoy fishing or non-motorized boating in a small lake, hiking and biking. (512-237-2241, www.tpwd.state.tx.us/buescher)

Inks Lake State Park
Twenty-two lakeside cabins have two sets of bunk beds, dining table and chairs, air conditioning and ceiling fans. Grills, fire rings and picnic tables outside. What to do here? Biking, hiking, boating, fishing, swimming, scuba diving and even golfing. (512-793-2223, www.tpwd.state.tx.us/inks)

Lake Bob Sandlin State Park
Located in far northeast Texas, not far from Daingerfield State Park, this woods-encircled lake hosts eagles during winter months and has impressive fall colors. Eight primitive air-conditioned and heated converted screen shelters have beds for five and allow eight persons. No electricity available for campers. (903-572-5531, www.tpwd.state.tx.us/lakebobsandlin)

Lake Colorado City State Park
Eleven nearly new stone structures line an inlet of Lake Colorado City, each with refrigerator, microwave, air conditioning and heat, ceiling fans and two bunk beds (bring your own bedding for up to eight). Spacious covered porches shelter a picnic table, and each has a fire ring and grill. The park has a four-lane boat ramp, a designated swimming area, two fishing piers and a covered fishing barge. (325-728-3931, www.tpwd.state.tx.us/lakecoloradocity)

Martin Creek Lake State Park
Each of two ranch-style cabins have a/c and heat, one bedroom with two double beds, bathroom, kitchen, living/dining area, and screened porch with picnic table, outdoor barbecue and fire pit. No pop-ups or trailers allowed, although tents are. This park also has two converted screened shelters with a/c and heat and five beds. Bring additional bedding for up to eight. The wooded, power-plant-warmed lake provides great fishing year-round. (903-836-4336, www.tpwd.state.tx.us/martincreek)

Martin Dies Jr. State Park
This heavily forested park near the edge of the Big Thicket has two mini-cabins (in the Walnut Ridge and Hen House Ridge camping units) with heat and a/c, bunk beds and a screened porch, and an outside fire ring, grill and picnic table. Canoe rental, fishing and swimming are popular when lake levels permit, plus hiking, biking, wildlife and birdwatching are popular year-round. (409-384-5231, www.tpwd.state.tx.us/martindiesjr)

San Angelo State Park
Six log cabins have two bunk beds in one room and one double bed in another, with covered front porches overlooking O.C. Fisher Lake. The park is home to some members of the official state Longhorn herd, hiking and biking trails, and equestrian trails. Outdoor grills and picnic tables allow for cooking with a view. (325-949-8935, www.tpwd.state.tx.us/sanangelo)

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