Growing up, my husband, Chris, was an Eagle Scout. I was in cotillion. His idea of a blowout sale takes place at REI semi-annually; mine, at Nordstrom. But in the same way he has grown to love wearing the tuxedo he bought for our first date, I have become more open, anyway, to outdoor activities. Pushing ourselves a little outside of our comfort zones, I believe, brings us closer.
After conquering hiking and foraging on multiple glamping trips, actual camping—in a tent, with a sleeping bag, without a shower—was the next step. So, with our golden retriever Max in the backseat and Chris’s new tent—the one I’d put off using for a year and a half—in the trunk, we set off for his favorite campground at the 1,200-acre Inks Lake State Park in Burnet County, next to Inks Lake on the Colorado River.
After a three-hour drive through the outskirts of Austin and the beginnings of the Hill Country, we arrived at our campsite, which looked out over the surprisingly beautiful, crystal-clear lake, with homey lodges on the other side. Civilization was in sight! We had a fire pit, water, and a picnic table, canopied by oak trees. As the dog took in all the new smells, Chris went into full-on scout mode—this time as troop master. “We’ll walk to the bathrooms first, so you won’t be afraid of them at night,” he said. “Then we’ll buy our firewood, and then set up camp.” The Eagle Scouts’ motto, after all, is “be prepared.”
We slid the bendy poles through the canvas of our tent and popped it into place with ease. After we’d spent an hour or so swimming and playing fetch just steps away from our tent, the sun melted into the lake. It was time for dinner. We flipped burgers, stoking the fire as Max chomped on his prize stick from among the reeds.
The peaceful repetition of it all—the breeze off the lake, the sizzling of the skillet, the crackling of the branches under both the fire and our dog’s molars—put me into a hypnotic daze as I realized there was nothing left to do but sit idly by the fire with my ultra-prepared partner and keep Max from taking a late-night swim. We went to bed early, snuggling in our sleeping bags and resting up for a nine-mile hike.
The next morning, we walked through red rock and granite covered in fuzzy teal foliage. On Lake Trail, we passed Boy Scouts hiking and fishing on the shore before ascending a rocky, isolated, 1,000-foot path to reach the low-lying Woodland Trail, where, as instructed, we kept an eye out for deer, turkeys, and armadillos among the oaks. The dog seemed to keep the wildlife at bay, save a squirrel or two, which was probably for the best.
We looped back through rock-ribbed terrain, snacking atop a boulder and passing yet another troop of scouts, before hopping in the car and driving to the other side of the park to check out the Devil’s Waterhole, whose precipitous drop makes it a popular destination for daredevils come summer. Chris fondly remembered jumping off it himself during childhood campouts.
The next day, as the sun began to rise, I awoke to a silence I’d never experienced, accented by the soothing calls of two owls hoo-hoo-ing back and forth. I thought to myself, “This really is amazing.” And then: “I did it.”
At the end of the weekend, emboldened by the success of the trip, with legs tired and sunburn a-blazing, I did have one request—a pit stop at Perissos Vineyard and Winery. On this excursion, I would be the troop master.
A Day Trip from Inks Lake:
While this geological wonder doesn’t offer overnight camping, at about 20 minutes away, it makes for the perfect excursion and a cool change of scenery for campers staying at Inks Lake. Texas Parks & Wildlife offers walking and wild cave tours, as well as geology and photography programs in the limestone cavern, which stays at a crisp 68 degrees year-round.
Inks Lake is home to wineries at both its north and south entrances, boasting gorgeous views and a number of wine varietals. Torr Na Lochs offers cheese plates and small bites for visitors looking for a meal away from the campfire, while Perissos is pet-friendly. In addition to the wine, which isn’t allowed in the park, both offer live music.
Other Area Camping Destinations:
Connect with nature while staying within Austin’s city limits. Only 13 miles from the state Capitol, this park along Onion Creek surprises campers with its waterfalls and swimming pools, as well as its remodeled cabins and historic Texas landmarks.
More advanced campers can enjoy over 5,000 acres of lush landscape along the Colorado River in Bend, two hours northwest of Austin. The park boasts 35 miles of hike-and-bike trails, the 70-foot Gorman Falls, spring-fed swimming holes, and exotic bird species. Campsites here are more primitive.
For more scenic water views, head to the Pedernales River, about 40 miles west of Austin, where water cascades over layers of limestone that are part of the Marble Falls formation. Campers and day visitors can float the river when water levels are high enough, or ride horses through 10 miles of trails.