Best Campgrounds

Glamp to Your Heart's Content at Lake Houston Wilderness Park

Camp in style and comfort, only minutes from home.

By Morgan Kinney May 29, 2018 Published in the June 2018 issue of Houstonia Magazine

Lake Houston Wilderness Park is so close to the city, one can skirt out of his Montrose driveway after 7 p.m., hop over every pothole inside the Loop, weave through 30 miles of highway traffic, and skid to a screeching halt just before the gates swing shut at 8. (Yvonne, a lovely park employee, will be waiting there with a smile.)

We knew in advance the park was an oddball—roughly 5,000 acres of city (not state)–owned forest snatched up from a paper company in the ’80s and later smooshed together with an adjacent Girl Scout camp. And despite the name, the park is not located on Lake Houston.

But no matter; four other less-than-outdoorsy friends and I had hightailed it to New Caney for the $133-a-night cabins, a grouping of hotel-quality accommodations nestled amid the pine trees. From full bathrooms to air-conditioning, each boasts just about every modern convenience other than a Mr. Coffee (a deficiency Yvonne was sure to warn us of by phone). The cabins are even situated along the pond-like Lake Dabney, which at least softens the park’s eponymous lie.

As soon as our headlights shined on the cabin’s dramatic winged roof, we breathed a sigh of relief. Whereas most camping trips are bookended by an hour of setting up tents and building a fire, our group danced under the cabin’s vaulted ceiling, sprawled across the dark leather couches and queen-size beds, and stuffed our perishables in the fridge. Outside, a full moon added a cool glow to our campfire as we stared up at the startling array of stars. It wasn’t long before the fire’s heat turned oppressive and the mosquitoes grew dangerously bold, but that’s when we retreated to our climate-controlled refuge.

The next day, sunlight roused each happy glamper one-by-one without a plan for the day. Thankfully, Yvonne had provided a trail map, and the group inspected our options over breakfast tacos. It was agreed, given our robber-baron accommodations, that we must compensate by embarking on the longest trek available, the 7.6-mile AmeriTrail, which, at its southern terminus, promised a mysterious yet intriguing “Swamp Overlook.”

At first, the journey consisted of pancake-flat terrain as we hiked past trail runners and mountain bikers. We took breaks to dip our toes in the waters of nearby Peach Creek and lounge on the sandy banks. But soon the sun disappeared behind clouds, and the trail deteriorated gradually into a mud-filled canal. We had apparently overshot the swamp overlook and descended into the stagnant, stinking, ankle-high waters of the swamp itself. Yvonne had not warned us of this possibility.

Approximately five hours after we’d embarked, we staggered onto a service road, demoralized and disoriented. A vehicle was approaching, and after we desperately flagged it down, the chain-smoking fisherman behind the wheel nodded to the bed of his truck. Our group sat silently amid fishing poles and tackle boxes as we slowly bounced down the gravel road, picking up other bedraggled hikers who’d met similarly swampy conditions.

By the time we were deposited near the cabin, the only thing left to do was max out our tired legs as we raced for the first warm, mud-banishing shower. And as the winner, let me tell you: The water pressure was great, just like Yvonne said.

El Cosmico

Image: Nick Simonte

Four Other Glamping Options

Bastrop State Park

Hobbit-like cabins named after iconic Texans such as Sam Houston and James Bowie serve as a charming home base to explore Bastrop’s famed Lost Pines—6,600 acres of loblolly pine trees curiously separated from their East Texas cousins.

Scenic Hill

This rustic treetop cabin offers leafy vistas and country vibes only an hour out of Houston. In-cabin massages are available, and free samples at the Blue Bell ice cream factory await in nearby Brenham.

El Cosmico

To fully embrace the Instagram-seeking glamping stereotype, schlep out to the artsy desert enclave of Marfa, where the Mongolian yurts of this “nomadic hotel and campground” await. Visitors can alternately stare at the endless stars from the comfort of the site’s wood-fired hot tubs or wander the dusty roads by bike.

Walden Retreats

This brand-new spot is located on 96 acres of private land next to the Pedernales River, an hour north of San Antonio. Stay in a luxurious tent with its own deck and relax between fishing, hiking, and swimming excursions, or brewery, bourbon, and wine tours.

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