According to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Park Ranger Wendy LaGrone, the parks and lake begin their busiest period after church lets out. Even at it busiest, the parks are not as crowded as some of their Highland Lakes neighbors.
Less than an hour north of downtown Austin and four miles upstream from Georgetown, the 1,310-acre lake on the North Fork of the San Gabriel River was built for flood control, LaGrone said. The dam was completed in 1979, the parks in 1981.
The four parks are assigned different recreational roles. Each one is well maintained, heavily wooded, and scenic. Cedar Breaks Park on the south bank is the only park that mixes camping and day-use facilities. The park has two fishing docks and the busiest of three boat ramps.
Jim Hogg Park, on the north side of the lake off FM2338, is dedicated to camping. There are 148 campsites with water and electricity. To make camping reservations, call 800/284-2267 between 16 and 90 days in advance. The campsites rent for $12 per night for up to eight people and $24 for a double site and up to 16 people.
Russell Park covers a peninsula of high bluffs overlooking the lake. The only designated swimming area on the lake is a gravel beach below the picnic area. Swimming is allowed anywhere on the lake, but LaGrone warns that sharp drop-offs are not uncommon. The park has a boat ramp and two group picnic shelters that can be reserved by calling 512/863-3016.
Russell Park and the fourth park, Tejas Camp, are off FM3405 between US183 and FM2338. FM3405 is a nice, but short, Sunday drive past old ranches and farms. Fortunately, the road has not been spoiled by development like that on FM2338 west of Georgetown. The drive gets even nicer when you turn onto County Road 258 to Tejas Camp.
Tejas Camp is the smallest and newest of the parks. Actually, the campground is on the San Gabriel River where it empties into the lake. With less than a dozen campsites spread out along the tree line of a small meadow, the park is very scenic. More visitors use the low water crossing at County Road 258 as a swimming hole than camp at the park.
One of the most unique features of the lake is the Good Water Trail that goes around nearly two-thirds of the lake shore. Due to the springs that flow into the river, the fertile banks, and the abundant game, Native Americans called this area "the land of good water."
Good Water Trail begins at Cedar Breaks Park and ends at Russell Park on the other side of the lake. LaGrone said most people who hike the entire 16.6 miles stop to camp at Tejas Camp. There are three primitive campgrounds along the trail that have four sites each and are used mainly by scout groups.
One of the prettiest places on the lake is Crockett Gardens, two and a half miles upstream from the Cedar Breaks Park trailhead. A spring tumbles down a moss-covered waterfall in a pecan grove. "You cannot get out on a cellular phone from there," LaGrone said.
LaGrone said fisherman never admit to finding a good fishing spot, but last
February a record
eight-pound, 14-ounce largemouth bass was caught. The state wildlife department stocked the lake with smallmouth bass this month.
The Corps has produced three brochures on the lake and the trail. Be sure to ask for all three at the gates. Day-use at the parks is free, swimming is $1 per person up to $3 per car, and boat launching is $2.
Coming up this weekend...
Watermelon Thump in Luling has been a summer tradition since 1954. Where else would they hold the World Champion Seed Spitting Contest? June 22-24. 210/875-3214.
Antique Machinery Exhibition in Stonewall is a great excuse to visit the vegetable stands and see how farmers used to work, June 24-25. 210/659-3742.
July Fourth Weekend can be four days long if you can talk your boss into Monday off. For longer trips, check out the 30th season of Texas in Palo Duro Canyon outside of Canyon thru Aug.19; 806/655-2181. The Texas State Railroad runs between Rusk and Palestine daily (except Tue. & Wed.); 800/422-8951. First Monday market days are going on around the state, including the granddaddy of them all, Canton, 903/567-2991. - Gerald E. McLeod
216th In A Series. Collect Them All.