A day after Valentine’s Day excursion led us to this little known state park just south of I-10 near Gonzales, Texas. Earlier in the week I was thinking it was time to try this little park again after 15 years. My Dad and I briefly drove through the park on the way home after a weekend at Garner State Park and we were not impressed. Well on this trip, Renee and I were glad we gave this one another shot!
Driving from our home in Kyle, it took us just over an hour and a half to get to the headquarters. We took a back road from Luling, Texas, which was a nice way to get to this secluded park. Take hwy. 80 south from Luling or Interstate 10 and then hang a left on Salt Lake Rd (about a 1/3 of the trip is on a well maintained gravel road). As the Crow Flies always take the road less traveled. Once you get away from the highway and on the gravel road you will find some mature pecan trees near the river. There are two places along the road where you can see the San Marcos River on your right. Take a moment to pull to the side and admire this pristine hill country river. The road will eventually run into FM 2091 or Park Road 11. Take a left and head for the headquarters on your left to get your day pass (unless you are wise man/woman and purchased your park pass)
Grab a park and trail map on your way out and drive across Oxbow Lake and over the San Marcos River. You will take a left on Park Road 11. Park in the first parking lot by the large CCC pavilion and unload your hiking gear. We packed our lunch to enjoy at the pavilion overlooking the San Marcos River. The structure was built in the 1930’s and it perfectly preserved. We decided to take the San Marcos River Trail so we could get the dogs in the river. The trail is an easy 1 ¼ hike along and above the river. There is lots of shade and the trail is very well maintained. The park staff has spent some time ensuring the trails are clearly defined and easy to hike. Be sure to take one of the few side trails to the riverbank. The river is clear and the current is fairly strong so be careful if you decide to swim. Many people enjoy paddling this stretch of the river as it is part of the San Marcos paddling trail. Checkout the park site for more details as a dam above the park failed in 2008 thus preventing a safe journey from Luling to the park.
Admire the many palmettos that appear throughout the park. Along this trail you will see a couple of spurs (Mossycup and Canebreak trails). Those trails take you back to the camping area. We wanted an extended hike so took the Mesquite Trail, which is a scenic hike away from the river. You will see more cactus and mesquite trees through this stretch of the park. Be sure to take the Ottine Swamp trail if you wanted to view a swamp habitat. Lots of well-maintained bridges take you across some awesome swamp bottoms. There were hardly any other visitors on these trails which made the hike even better.
Lunchtime! Find a picnic table at the pavilion near the parking lot and soak up the river below. Plenty of picnic tables to toss your food on and refill your tanks! After lunch head for the lower water crossing and enjoy the flow of the San Marcos River. Follow the road to the Oxbow Lake Trail and take a walk around what used to be the old river. You can rent a paddleboat from a park host if you care to take a break from your hike. We decided to scout out the best camping sites for you and our next camping trip. Renee and I agreed that site 34 is the best spot as it’s not close to anyone and you can set your chairs to face the river below. Sites 37, 36, and 35 are winners as well.
With the sun sinking lower in the sky we decided it was time to head home but no before stopping at Dairy Queen to get a world famous dip cone. Palmetto State Park was surprisingly refreshing with its well-maintained trail and strategically placed campsites. Lots of trees to protect one from the summer sun, plenty of real estate along the river to cool off, and nice trails to get away from the noise of life that clutters are mines Monday through Friday. Happy hiking and see y’all on the trails!