Avoid Garner State Park between Memorial Day and Labor Day, and you'll have a great nature experience
Garner State Park is the most visited site in the 93-park state system. I say that as praise and as a warning. If you can visit the scenic spot on the Frio River in northern Uvalde County any time other than a weekend between Memorial Day and Labor Day, then you will have a much more enjoyable nature experience. That is, unless you enjoy noisy campgrounds and crowded restrooms.
There are a lot of good reasons why Garner State Park attracts more than 400,000 visitors each year. High canyon walls surround a campground shaded by pecan trees. The chilly spring-fed river is lined with towering bald cypress trees. The concession building, built of native rock constructed in 1935 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, gives the park a historic feel. On busy weekends, the park can become a little city of barbecue smokers and pop-up campers.
Of course, there are lots of things to do in the park. Water-oriented activities are the most popular, but there are also several miles of paved road for leisurely bike rides. During the summer season, a concessionaire rents bicycles, paddle boats, and bright-yellow tubes. The park also hosts Saturday night concerts and dances on the outdoor dance floor that are a tradition begun by the CCC.
The park has nearly 10 miles of hiking trails, including a 400-foot rugged climb up Old Baldy. The sheer face of the mountain has always been a signature feature of the park, but it was just recently added to the state's property. The acquisition broadens the park boundaries to include nearly 16,000 acres and includes additional river access below the small dam.
If sleeping in a tent or in a recreational vehicle isn't in your plans, the park offers the luxury of several screened shelters. The park's 17 CCC-built cabins are currently being renovated as part of a $52 million package of repairs to the state park system that was approved by voters in 2007.
Fortunately for visitors to the Frio Canyon, the dozens of privately owned cabins, lodges, and guest ranches in the area are well prepared to handle the overflow of overnight guests. Whether you're in the region to float the river, take a motorcycle tour of some of the prettiest roads in Texas, or just kick back in the shade, there is lodging to meet almost any need or budget. Go to www.friocanyonchamber.com for a listing of what's available.
For information on the state park – reservations are strongly suggested – call 830/232-6132 or go to www.tpwd.state.tx.us/spdest/findadest/parks/garner. And if you can, wait until the offseason.
While you're in the area, take the opportunity to stop by the Lost Maples Cafe on Main Street in Utopia. Housed in an old stagecoach inn, the country diner offers delicious home-cooked meals. Save room for a slice of the made-from-scratch pies.
980th in a series. Day Trips, Vol. 2, a book of "Day Trips" 101-200, is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.