Huntsville

Photograph by Kenny Braun

Where it is: 6 miles southwest of Huntsville
What you’ll do: Relax and unwind under the East Texas pines
Where you’ll sleep: Claim your spot in one of five serene camping areas
What you’ll learn: Want to fish but don’t know how? Register for one of the TPWD’s Go Fish! events

Leave the skyscrapers of Houston in your rearview mirror, and in an hour and a half you can be in your bathing suit, sunning yourself on the diving raft at Lake Raven. Huntsville State Park features some of the most beautiful and pristine pine forest in East Texas, making it an ideal escape from the roar of the city.

The sandy beach draws a crowd, but swimming is just one of many ways to wind down at this park. The trefoil lake is stocked with a mix of bass, crappie, catfish, and perch. If you don’t have your own craft, you can rent a canoe or a paddleboat, but take note: Alligators as long as twelve feet have been seen gliding through the brown water.

The wooded shore and the lapping waves are a calm backdrop for the camping areas, of which my favorite is Coloneh, on Little Chinquapin Creek, far enough from the day-use areas for a modicum of peace and quiet. There are practical reasons why a pine forest makes for the best camping—soft sandy soil, less undergrowth—but it also has something to do with less mundane matters such as shafts of light and soothing breezes. Under the towering canopy there’s a chance to slow down and appreciate the delights of nature. There are plenty of these along the park’s Chinquapin Trail, a 6.8-mile circle around the lake. Take the time to wander along the western part, which drops down from high pine forest into hardwood bottomland and over the marshes at the lake’s north end, and as you walk, notice how each environment has its own range of wild inhabitants.

The park’s Lone Star Trail connects with the better-known Lone Star Hiking Trail, which runs for 130 miles through the Sam Houston National Forest from Cleveland to Richards. You can camp anywhere along the route, but the trail is designed to be wild and deliberately lacks any kind of facility. Paved and off-road paths make this an inviting destination for bicyclists, and equestrians can experience the tall pines from the saddle on an hour-long trek organized by 2E Stables. That’s a far cry from sitting in traffic on 610.

TRIP TO TOWN: In the newly designated Huntsville Cultural District, you can take in “East of Austin—The ­Paper Show,” an art exhibition at Crazywood Gallery (1416 Sam Houston). Then stop by Sam Houston’s grave (Ninth and Ave. I) and visit the Texas Prison Museum (491 Texas Hwy. 75, ­ txprisonmuseum.org).

Read more about our ten favorite state parks vacations.

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