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Tips for RVing in Texas State Parks

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While we’re currently on our boat in north Florida, we’re starting to make preps and plans to store the boat and return to our bus this winter. Out bus is currently stored in Texas, which is where we’ll pick that adventure up – which got me reminiscing today about one of our favorite state park systems.

I thought I’d produce some of the video content we filmed on our last RV trip to keep sprinkling in this boating season, and share some of our tips for RVing in the Texas State Park system.

So, first the quick video version of this:

Our app ‘State Lines’ for iOS and Android tracks state laws that change. Including state park policies.

If you’ve been following our content for long, you’ll likely notice that we stay in state parks a LOT. They’re one of favorite kind of RV stays – they get us more out in nature, usually have larger sites than many RV parks, provide some hook-ups and are generally pretty darn affordable.

But each state park system is different in what they offer and how they operate. Some charge entrance fees, reservation policies vary and amenities can be all over the map. That’s because each state operates their parks their way.

We track some of these variances in our mobile app State Lines to help make travel planning a bit easier.

One of our favorite state parks systems has always been Texas. And that’s not just because I grew up in Texas and was my first introduction to state parks. They just have excellent parks that get you out exploring the state’s natural features.

As Texas is a pretty big state and takes a few days to get through – you’re likely to cross through there at some point.

So here’s some things we’ve learned about the state park system over the years that might help you better plan your stay:

Reservation Booking

Currently, the Texas State Park system hosts their own reservation system at https://texas.reserveworld.com. It’s kinda archaic to navigate, but it’s functional.  You can also call in to their hotline.

What I love about the current system is that at most parks you don’t book a specific site – you just reserve a site suitable for your RV size and hook-ups needed. Your site is actually assigned when you arrive.

Current reservation system – you just reserve a site.

This system sucks for those who have a favorite site they want to snag or are trying to coordinate booking several sites near each other – but overall, this system is super flexible.

It actually allows for us nomads wanting more than a weekend stay to stand a better chance at a longer reservation because we’re not trying to compete for ‘the good sites’ that usually have weekends booked out.

When you arrive if you have a favorite site, you can request it. And the rangers are usually pretty flexible in letting you either pick out the site you want or even switching sites if you find one you like better.

We’ve even kept our eye on prime sites in a park for when they’re vacated and requested a site switch to get an upgrade.

Unfortunately, the Texas State Park system is working to switch reservation systems to a site-specific reservation system – so this could be changing state wide. But until it does – use the flexibility to your advantage. We’ll definitely miss this feature of the current system.

By the way, Georgia State Park systems work similarly.

Pricing & Entrance Fees

Picking up a state park pass is worthwhile if you’re staying in the park system more than a few nights.

Texas State Parks camp site fees are pretty darn reasonable – they’re usually in the $15-25 range per night, including water & electric hook-ups (some of their rare dry camping sites are under $10).

But what’s not included is the state park entrance fee – which is charged per person per day.

As an example, our video above was filmed at one of our all time favorite parks – McKinney Falls State Park in Austin, TX. The per night fee is $20, but the entrance fee is $6.

For the two of us, that would make the site $32/night.

Still a bargain given other options in the area.

But the way around this is getting a Texas State Park annual pass. They’re $70, and it waives the entrance frees for all occupants in the vehicle (and includes both your RV and tow/toad). And it gives you 4 coupons for 50% off your second night of any unique reservation.

It’s a pretty good deal – IF you’re going to be staying in the state park system more than a few nights.  For us we figure it’s worth picking up on our first stay if we’re planning to be in the park system more than a few nights in the next 12 months. And allows us to bring in visitors (if we’re in the vehicle with them) without paying entrance fees.

You can pick up your park pass at any check in counter, and it’s good for 1 year from purchase date (it actually expires at the end of the month – so you might get some bonus time).

We got ours this past February on our first stay this year – and have already redeemed two 50% off coupons (saved $20) and stayed 14-nights in the park system (saved $168).  So we’re already well ahead of the park pass purchase price. We’ll be planning some additional stays as we head west this winter as well.

Refunds on Unused Nights

We actually only learned this trick this past year – thanks to a Texas State Park ranger who filled us in.

First of all, like most public campgrounds – there is a 14-night limit in each park.

When you book your site, you’re only asked to make a 1-night deposit. And the cancellation fee is pretty darn reasonable (I believe just $10). And when you arrive on site, if there’s availability, you can usually adjust your reservation if your plans have changed. We’ve often checked in a day or two early or extended our stay. We’ll sometimes calls the park in advance to know if early arrival is possible, and sometimes a small change fee is charged.

When you arrive you pay the balance of your stay.

But if you leave early, and request it, the park office will refund your unused days – with no change or cancellation fee charged.

This makes our reservation planning better mesh with our no-schedule philosophy.  We’ll book a stay for the period of time we think we’ll need to ensure we have a spot in popular parks (especially over weekends!) – and even pad in extra nights to give us flexibility to extend. Then we can solidify things once we’re onsite – even up to the day we leave.

Combined with sites not being assigned in advance (ie. no one has your site reserved should you be able to extend), this makes navigating the Texas State Park system super flexible.

Alcohol Policy

All Texas State Parks forbid public alcohol consumption OR display.

You are allowed to drink within your own RV- that is not considering public, but your private accomodations.

Some park rangers are also lenient on drinking alcohol at your campsite (not considering that public) – as long as it’s not obvious.

Put your wine or beer in a plastic cup instead of drinking right out of the bottle or using an obvious wine glass. You might want to confirm with the specific park before assuming (or be careful to not call attention to your drinking) – not all are lenient on this. Especially in some of the more restrictive areas of Texas.

The fines can be stiff for being caught drinking in public.

And definitely don’t walk around the campground drinking alcohol, no matter the container. That is for sure public.

Some of our favorite Texas State Park Stays over the years:

So there you go – we love the park system and try to integrate in stays at new-to-us parks on each pass through Texas. It’s a big state and a lot of parks available in amazing locations. We’ve found each to be fairly unique and offering so much to explore and learn.

Enjoy!

 

Ps. For those following along in ‘real time’ – we are currently still in Jacksonville, FL and had no impacts from Hurricane Florence here.

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12 Comments - Still Plenty of Room for Yours!

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  1. We agree, the Texas system is awesome for nomads, but can be a mixed blessing for hosts. We hosted at Pedernales Falls, and liked that we had time to prep sites after campers left, but some days, particularly on weekends, it felt like one of those sliding block puzzles. “Site 37 would like to change to 42, site 44 would like to change to 10, and site 22 would like to extend their stay another night.” All the same, one of the best state park systems we’ve encountered in our travels.

    • I can only imagine the extra hassle it is for hosts and rangers. I do like the way the GA Park system handles it – they give you a tag for your classification of site you paid for, and you just hang it on the pedestal. Want to move to another site? Just move your stuff and your tag.

  2. Yeah, for the life of me I just don’t understand why most all states have a site-specific reservation system. It is just a real shame to arrive at a state park early in the week for a week-long stay and have to wistfully look at the best sites sitting empty because they are reserved only for Friday and Saturday night.
    When making a reservation at a hotel, one is not assigned a specific room. The same system should be used at campgrounds. You would have a reservation for a spot and you should get to choose which spot you want to camp in when you arrive. For those who arrive earlier in the week, they will get the best spots. This is as it should be as they are better customers (spending more) than two nighters.
    Seems like Texas has it right — except for them assigning spots upon arrival — what’s up with that??
    Too bad they are changing to the worst system possible.

    • I can see from a local’s perspective about wanting to be able to reserve specific favorite sites – the parks are a state public resource.

      As a nomad however, I truly appreciate the flexibility the no site selection provides. And would think it opens up more income generation for the park system by being able to accommodate more folks overall.

      A combo system would be nice… have some popular sites reservable for weekends, and have some set aside for more-than-weekend stays only.

  3. Hope to see where y’all end up camping (we are in the Austin area). My favorite Texas State Parks are Gorman Falls, Lost Maples (but go around the long way if you have a large vehicle! Hairpin curves!) and Pedernales Falls. Are ya’ll going to do a State Park Meetup? That would be fun. Happy Travels!

  4. We love TX SP as well, and like you guys, prefer SP to most others (although city and regional parks are great as well) for the same reasons. We also like them because we tend to meet more locals.
    However, TX SP are changing their reservation system the end of this year to allow for SOME site specific reservations. We ran across it in NC on our way north this year and found that it was both good and bad. It seemed that in some parks the site specific ones were not the nicest ones. Had we known how empty the parks would be we would have left it to chance. I don’t know if you book a specific site if they will let you change to a nicer one if the park is not busy. Remains to be seen.
    And we also love the SP pass in TX. We also got one in NM which was more expensive but allowed us to stay for “free” or pay a small surcharge is we wanted electricity. BUT we found that they could not accommodate our 35′ MH in many of them and/or we were not going to the area where the park was. We much preferred TX system even with our ability to use federal lands for 50% off due to our “advanced” ages. 🙂
    And we loved McKinney but I think our favorite was either Balmorrhea (closed right now) or Davis Mountains.

  5. I couldn’t agree with you more about how nice it is to stay in State Parks, and that’s true of almost all I came across during my recent 9000 mile trip from So Cal across the Mid-West down the East Coast and back across the South & Southwest. One of the most beautiful stops was in Martin Dies Jr State Park in East Texas.

    But if you find yourselves in small towns in far west Texas, a number of them have free camping with hookups often adjoining city or area parks. They may not be the most scenic but the people are among the nicest anywhere.

  6. Don’t know if it is still in effect, but I was in the parks last year, winter ’17, and some parks have a weekly rate. If I remember, one was the park outside of San Angelo. Can’t remember if there were any others. I think each park ranger can make the call on a discount weekly rate.

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