11 Texas state parks and historic sites decked out for the holidays
Roasting s'mores around a campfire under a starry sky sounds like the picture-perfect break from the holi-daze of December.
Texas state parks and historic sites are decking their halls — well, trees and structures and campsites — to welcome guests in search of a little socially distanced peace and quiet this month. There are campground decorating contests, drive-thru lights tours, and special winter hikes planned through New Year's Day.
Reservations for overnight stays can now be made for up to five months in advance, and up to 30 days in advance for day-long visits. For extra safety, capacity limits, cashless transactions, and other safety protocols have been instituted, as well.
Whether you need to use up some end-of-year PTO or you're in search of some fa-la-las in fresh air, here are some of the holiday happenings coming up at Texas parks. Check their website for even more.
Lake Whitney State Park
Decorate your campsite and help spread some Christmas cheer at Christmas in the Park. Guests can then drive through and see them for free between sunset and 8 pm on December 19. Come back January 1 for a First Day Scavenger Hunt Hike — don't forget your smartphone to snap photos of the treasures and turn them in for a prize.
Lyndon B. Johnson State Park & Historic Site
The 51st Annual LBJ Tree Lighting will be a virtual event, streaming on Facebook and Instagram on December 20. However, guests can still visit park headquarters and the Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm to view the decorations that will adorn the sites the week before Christmas. Don your mask and visit the gift shop for unique last-minute gifts.
North Central and East Texas
Tyler State Park
A Pineywoods Christmas takes place December 11-12. Stroll or drive through the Lakeview and Big Pine campgrounds of Tyler State Park and take in campers' elaborately decorated sites. Then mask up and stop in the Silver Canoe Park Store for discounts on one-of-a-kind holiday gifts from East Texas.
Daingerfield State Park hosts the eighth annual Christmas in the Park from December 16-19. The event hops on the biggest holiday trend of 2020: the drive-thru lights tour. Take a drive through the park lit up like Santa Land and marvel at the decorated campsites and lights. The event takes place 6-9 pm Wednesday and Thursday, and 6-10 pm Friday and Saturday. Free admission during those days and times only; otherwise, it's $4 per adult and kids are free.
Eisenhower State Park
Light Up the Park encourages campers to decorate their campsites with holiday cheer. Those who do will be allowed to camp for up to a full week for free. Setup runs December 14-17. Then on December 18-19, visitors can drive through and see the lit-up sites and drop off letters to Santa in a special "North Pole Mailbox." They'll waive the $5 entry fee if you bring an unwrapped toy for donation.
Lake Mineral Wells State Park
Wake up and start 2021 the healthiest way possible, with a First Day Hike from 10 am-12 pm January 1. You'll join a park interpreter on a strenuous walk, crawling and scooting through some of the most remote areas of the park's Penitentiary Hollow, including caves and rock crevices. Spots are limited and reservations are required. If you think you'll oversleep for the first one, the hike repeats at 2 pm.
Gulf Coast and South Texas
Goliad State Park & Historic Site
Stroll the history of Mission Espiritu Santo in the History in Lights event, running nightly from 6-8 pm through New Year's Eve. Lights and shadows bring the story of the site and its heroes to life as visitors walk the same path taken by Native Americans and Spanish Franciscan priests. Entrance fee is $4 per adult (free for kids); social distancing is required, and face coverings are encouraged.
Lake Corpus Christi State Park
Lighted Holiday by the Lake takes place December 11-13, and a Christmas Light Drive Through on December 12. Reserve a campsite in either the Javelina or Opossum camping loop for December 11-12, decorate it with Christmas lights, and your camping fees will be waived. Then take a free drive through lighted campsites on the night of December 12; to gain free entry, arrive any time between 6 pm and 9 pm that night.
Brazos Bend State Park
The whole family can take part in a self-guided, self-paced, ADA-accessible holiday hike at Brazos Bend State Park from 10 am-4 pm December 19. Pick up a guide at the Nature Center and then hit the Creekfield Lake Trail to learn about the the park. When you're done, head back to the Nature Center to share your findings and receive a holiday gift.
West Texas and the Panhandle
Abilene State Park
During Fa La La in the Forest on December 12, campsites, screened shelters, and yurts will be adorned with lights and decorations, and guests can drive through and see them. The Friends of Abilene State Park will be there to take monetary donations instead of entrance fees (suggested: $5 per car), and the park will also collect donations for Abilene Food Bank (canned goods only) Toys for Tots.
Hueco Tanks State Park & Historic Site
Bundle up and join the ranger-guided Home for the Holidays Hike at 11:30 am December 19. The family-friendly jaunt through the mountains near El Paso will introduce hikers to all of nature's wintery treasures in the area. Admission is $9 for adults, $2 for children. Reservations are required, and social distancing will be enforced.