From the Lost Pines area to the Pineywoods region of eastern Texas .
Note that we've never personally observed an alligator in this park,
mainly because all the times we've been here were between December and
February. Even on rare sunny, 70-degree Fahrenheit winter days the
'gators are in their excavated earthen dens or under the lake and swamp
water trying to stay warm. The rangers confirm their existence, however.
Good place for a gator to live =
bad place for Cody to get a drink
I've written a bunch of entries in previous journals (2008-2010) about the history of this park
-- it's another one
the CCC helped to build -- its terrain, trails, flora, and fauna, and
activities that visitors enjoy.
The CCC built the lodge (above) and the dam that
created Lake Raven.
I'm not going to repeat all that, just give you
current information about the campgrounds and our activities here the
last two weeks. If you aren't familiar with this park, click on this
link for an introductory video and lots
RV TRAVEL NOTES
Two weeks ago we left McKinney Falls State Park near Austin to travel
to Huntsville State Park so Jim can train
on the great trails here before the Rocky Raccoon 50- and 100-mile races
to be held tomorrow. Jim is entered in the 50-miler.
There is no direct route from Austin to Huntsville. We compared
distances and estimated times on our Topo software for various routes on
major two- and four-lane roads and chose the one through Bryan-College
Station that looked the best.
View of Lake Raven from the
Prairie Branch Trail as sunset begins one afternoon
Too bad we missed one of the turn-offs (we didn't program it into
Maggie, our Magellan GPS). Oh, well. A quick look at the AAA map I was
following showed about the same distance staying on four-lane US 290
longer and taking two-lane SRs 105, 90, and 30 through Navasota and on
to Huntsville. The total distance was 168 miles.
This is an acceptable route for RVs of any length, as long as you
don't mind going slowly through several towns. It was probably as fast
as going through the cities of Bryan-College Station. The roads were all
good and there were several picnic pull-offs along the way.
FEELS LIKE HOME
I've lost count of the number of times we've camped at Huntsville
State Park. That's why it feels like "home" whenever we're here. We
always return to the same campground and preferably to one of two sites
that have the most room for us.
Our campsite this time; we've been in it before.
We probably would have arrived earlier except for the deer hunts that
shut the park down to other visitors on weekdays from early December to
late January. Folks can come in on the weekends but have to leave during
the week. That doesn't do us any good until the hunts are over.
One of about twenty deer stands in the park
The hunts ended at noon on Friday, January 21. We arrived before that
and sat at the gate, first in line like we managed last year. Although
our two-week reservation didn't start until Sunday, we knew from past
experience that we could most likely get a campsite for Friday and
Saturday nights if we were one of the first in line.
Plan B was to spend
two nights at Walmart or the nearby national forest if we couldn't camp
at HSP until Sunday afternoon.
Our MO worked again. We had the choice of either of our two favorite
sites in the Prairie Branch campground and we've happily occupied it for
two weeks. Last winter we stayed two different two-week** periods of
time in a paved site across from the restroom.
Site next to ours that remained empty until race
This time we chose a quieter paved site at the far end of the
campground loop (above). Although there is one other site pretty
close to us, it has been occupied for only one or two nights. A couple
who were volunteering at the Rocky Raccoon start/finish camped there on
[** The longest you can reserve a site at most or all Texas State
Parks is for two weeks. As long as there are empty sites past that time,
visitors can usually extend their stay. A couple years ago we were able
to stay at Huntsville State Park for a month.]
SERENE LAKE VIEWS
Most of the campsites in this park are either next to peaceful Lake Raven
or have a view of it from higher parts of the campgrounds. We are camped about 100 feet from the shore. No
other campsites block our view or access to the water.
Our position near the lake
This is the view from my desk:
I can sit there or outside, mesmerized, and watch the waves ripple across
the lake. It's very relaxing. Sunshine glints and glimmers on each
little wave. Sunrises and sunsets magically bathe the water in beautiful
Since it's such a short walk down to the lake I often go out to
photograph the sunset -- unless I'm busy fixing supper and miss
it! Sunsets are early this time of year.
These photos are from sunsets two different evenings:
Sunrises are even earlier.
Ha! We're usually not up that early but I did get some photos of
morning fog rising off the water:
Huntsville State Park has very nice campgrounds that are usually
fully booked every weekend in January and February. The weekend crowd
starts coming into Prairie Branch on Thursday afternoon and peaks Friday
evening. Saturdays are full of people, noise, and activities in the
campgrounds, screened rooms, picnic areas, and trails.
By the 2PM check-out time on Sundays the campgrounds are nearly empty
again (below). By dusk the picnic areas and trails are deserted.
View of Prairie Branch CG from the site we occupied
last year; even it is empty most of the week.
We love it when we practically have the place to ourselves for
several days! That's when we enjoy our long runs, walks, and bike rides
Prairie Branch has generally shorter campsites than the Raven Hill
campground across the lake but it is close to the race start/finish and
trailheads we prefer. The sites at Prairie Branch also have bigger
"yards," providing more privacy.
View of Raven Hill CG from the main park road
When we were here last winter both campgrounds were undergoing
extensive utility work. Improvements at Prairie Branch included new
water pipes and the addition of 50-amp electrical service in all the
sites that have electrical hook-ups.
The sites in Raven Hill got these improvements as well as sewers.
In a journal entry last winter I showed one or more photos of the
trenches and conduit pipes in our campground. It's nice to come back and
enjoy the results of all that work this year.
No sign of utility trenches any more; this is our
As cold as it's been, we've really appreciated having the option of
30 or 50 amps so we can run both electric space heaters and some
appliances at the same time. We use an indoor/outdoor extension cord to
plug one electric space heater into the 30-amp socket (the cord runs out
the corner of the slide closest to the electrical box outside). We plug
the other heater into one of the outlets in the baseboard in the
kitchen. It is on the same circuit as the microwave, coffee pot, and
water heater. The main electrical cord that controls these appliances
goes into the 50-amp socket outside.
We can safely run the heater and all these appliances at once with 50
amps. With only 30 amps, we can use only one device at a time. Ditto for
use of the air conditioners in hot weather.
The only downside to these improvements is that campground fees went
up as soon as the work was completed last spring. Water and electric
sites increased $4 to $20/night; the 23 W/E/S sites in Raven Hill
went from $20 to $25/night. Sixty water-only sites in Coloneh campground
View of our campsite from another part of the
The good news is that the park still has off-season weekly rates
(seven nights for the price of six) from December to February for the
screened shelters and the campsites in Prairie Branch and Raven Hill. We paid $30 for our first two
non-reserved nights ($20 each, minus $10 for one night with our last
half-price camping coupon) and $120 x 2 for the two weeks we reserved.
You can see all the fees charged by the park at this
link. Visitors with valid state park
passes do not have to pay the $4 entry fee per adult per day that is
charged in addition to the campground fees.
Tall pine trees along Prairie Branch Trail
Huntsville State Park is fairly convenient to the services we need when
we are camping. The campground is three miles off I-45. It's about ten
miles total from our campsite north to the city of Huntsville, which has
a Super Walmart, Target, post office, laundries, source for propane,
historical sites, etc. We drive about twenty miles south to Conroe for a
very nice YMCA, Sam's Club, another Walmart, a bike shop, and about
anything else we could ever want.
We have decent phone and internet MiFi access at HSP with two Verizon bars
but our standard TV antenna on the camper gets only CBS and PBS in the
campground (and a bunch of Hispanic stations we don't want). Jim found a
couple places in the park where he could get a good WiFi signal when he
wanted a faster connection.
SAM HOUSTON NATIONAL FOREST TRAILS & CAMPING
Huntsville State Park lies in the western part of the very large
Houston National Forest, which covers 163,037 acres north of Houston.
Here's a map of the forest. Click this
link to see a larger version. I marked
the Cagle Recreation Area with a red arrow:
Each time I've visited Huntsville I've been intrigued by mention
of the 128-mile long Lone Star Trail. It is marked on the map above with
a red dashed line. There is a spur from the
state park that connects the Dogwood Trail to the Lone Star Trail. There are
so many blow-downs on that path, however, that I've never gotten more than a
quarter mile on it before giving up.
In addition, the national forest has another 85 miles of multi-use
trails for hiking, cycling, and horseback riding.
One of our ultra running friends, Don Adolph, motivated us to do some
further investigation this time into not only this extensive trail system, but
also some nice national forest campsites. The past two weeks he
has been alternating running and camping at Huntsville State Park and in the national
forest as he winds down his training for the Rocky Raccoon 50-miler.
Campsite near Lake Conroe at the
Cagle Recreation Area campground
Earlier this week we visited the RV campground he recommended in a
section of the national forest called Cagle
Recreation Area (see map above) Two fairly new campground loops are located on the shores of Lake
Conroe, five miles west of I-45 at exit 102 (HSP is located a little farther
north at exit 108).
There are 47 attractive, shaded, full-service RV sites with water,
electricity, and sewer hookups. In our experience, sewer connections are unusual in
NFS sites. I'm guessing these have sewers because they are so close to
the lake and the Forest Service doesn't want to run the risk of campers
dumping their grey water at their sites.
Some sites can be reserved ahead of time and some are first come,
first served. We found several that are large enough for our camper. We
saw several good-sized 5th-wheels and Class As in the campground.
Many of the sites are large enough for medium to
also somewhat unusual in a NFS campground.
The campsites at Cagle are $20/night. Our cost with Jim's national park
senior pass would be only $10/night, which is very good for a site with a sewer.
There are two other developed campground areas in the national forest
-- Stubblefield and Double Lake NRAs.
Cagle is a good alternative for us if we can't get into Huntsville
SP at some point in the future. The trails and phone/internet
connectivity are both better at Huntsville, however, so the state park remains our first
choice for camping in this area of Texas.
We drove back to a couple of the trailheads for multi-use trails in
the national forest but didn't go out either of them because of the inclement
weather and lack of time on the day we visited. These trails and the
Lone Star Trail appear to be much more primitive than those at Huntsville SP.
Maybe we'll be more motivated next time we're here to explore them if
they aren't so muddy.
Next entry: enjoying Huntsville State Park's great trail
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the Ultra Lab
© 2011 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil