Stillhouse Hollow Lake glistens in the sunlight with foggy blue hills marking the distant shores. In the bright sun only a couple of slow-moving fishing boats break the calm surface. From Overlook Park, between the dam and the Corps of Engineers headquarters, the scenic lake looks strangely quiet.
Nestled in the hills of the Lampasas River Valley eight miles southwest of Belton and northwest of Salado off I-35, Stillhouse Hollow Lake is a secret spot to Central Texas fishermen and boaters who take advantage of the abundant wildlife and relative solitude. Even on holiday weekends the lake is rarely crowded.
Before the lake was opened in 1968, the rugged river valley was home to several farms and ranches. Legends surrounding the region say that moonshiners often hid their stills in the canyons cut by the river.
Created as a flood control and water storage lake, all of the land around the lake is public property and includes seven parks and six wildlife management areas covering 11,830 acres. The lake covers 6,430 acres with 58 miles of shoreline. The water line reached its highest flood level in March 1992 when it was 44 feet above normal. Since being filled, the lowest the lake has dropped has been 12 feet below normal.
"There are so many pretty places around the lake, it's hard to pick the prettiest," says Greg Pope, lake manager for the Corps of Engineers. His favorite place to watch the sunset is from the picnic tables at Overlook Park.
Pope's assistant, Melissa Millickan, likes the nature trail in Chalk Ridge Falls Park below the dam. The trail winds through the heavily wooded bottomland and crosses a suspension bridge. The small waterfall is beautiful and there are good swimming spots below the dam, she says. No pets or alcohol are allowed on the nature trail. Melissa added that the best swimming spots are at the beaches on the lake.
Of the parks, Dana Peak on the north side of the lake off US190 and FM2410 is one of the most popular. One of only two parks on the lake that allow camping, the park has 25 campsites. Each campsite has a covered picnic table, grill, water, and electricity. The peak that gives the park its name is visible from around the lake. There are also hike, bike, and horse trails in the park as well as a boat ramp, fishing dock, showers, and a group picnic shelter.
On the south side of the lake, Union Grove Park is the other park that allows camping. The campgrounds have been built in the last few years and many of the new trees offer little shade. Union Grove offers many of the same facilities as Dana Peak Park, but does not have trails or a group shelter. It does have 37 campsites and a model airplane field that is buzzing on most weekends. Camping at the parks is $14 a night and no day-use only users are allowed in the two campgrounds.
Camping at the lake is on a first-come basis, but with the low usage of the lake it shouldn't be hard to find a campsite on most weekends. Pope says that fall and winter are the slow periods for the campgrounds. "That's the best time to go camping, if you ask me," he says. The Corps of Engineers is working on a central reservation service for all of their campgrounds that is scheduled to come online by October 15, 1998.
Finding a grocery or convenience store close to the lake can be a problem, especially on the south side. The two closest stores are at US190 and FM1670 on the north side and at FM1670 and I-35 on the south side of the lake. It is best to plan your supplies before making the long trip to the campgrounds.
There is a marina, restaurant, and bait shop at Stillhouse Park on the northeast end of the lake. The day-use only park is a scenic corner of the lake with one of the lake's three unnamed islands just off shore. The park is popular for picnicking and swimming with a large playground ideal to keep the kids busy all day. There is a $1 per person fee to the park.
Pope says that all of the wildlife management areas are open to the public, although there are no maintained trails through the areas. Hunting for mourning dove, quail, and waterfowl is allowed in the management areas according to state and federal game laws.
Stillhouse Hollow Lake is about 80 miles north of Austin. For more information, call the local Corps of Engineers headquarters (which also oversees nearby Lake Belton) at 254/939-2461.
Coming up this weekend...
Oktoberfest in Fredericksburg celebrates the Hill Country harvest time and the area's German heritage with polkas, schnitzels, strudels, and wurst at Market Square and at Ft. Martin Scott, Oct. 2-4. 940/997-8515.
"Come & Take It" Days in Gonzales commemorates the first shots fired for Texas independence with a weekend of fun and dancing, Oct. 2-4. 830/672-2157.
Hell-Hath-No-Fury Ladies State Chili Championship & Chili Ball in Luckenbach started in 1970 because the men wouldn't let the women cook at Chilympiad. Some say the women do a better job than the men at putting together a chili cookoff, Oct. 3. 830/997-3224.
Bob Marley Festival in College Station at Wolf Pen Creek Amphitheater offers a variety of world music, Oct. 3-4. 713/688-3900.
Autumn Trails in northeast Texas are centered from Winnsboro, where they'll be having all kinds of special events before you start following the maps to the backroads to see the fall colors, every weekend in October. 903/342-3666.
John Lennon's Birthday Jam in Olmito just north of Brownsville brings out Valley musicians to honor the late working-class hero in John Lennon Park, Oct. 9-11. 956/350-9714.
Turkeyfest in Cuero brings the carnival, art & crafts show, and food booths to Municipal Park, Oct. 9-11. Don't miss the annual running of the local turkey, Ruby Bagonia, against a Yankee challenger on Saturday. 512/275-2112.
Seafair in Rockport celebrates the coastal waters with music, food, and a boat show at Festival Grounds, Oct. 10-11. 512/729-2180.
Hike The Rim, a guided educational trek along the hills and valleys of Fossil Rim Wildlife Center in Glen Rose, takes visitors to areas of the park not normally open to the public, Nov. 7. 254/897-2960.