Where it is: 33 miles north of Uvalde
What you’ll do: Float, eat, and dance
Where you’ll sleep: The cabins and campsites in Old Garner are much sought-after. Book early—but bring earplugs
What you’ll learn: The proper way to two-step
Garner State Park’s charms are no secret. In fact, it is arguably the jewel in the crown of the state parks system. But its popularity is the key to its appeal—where else can you so easily find the pleasure that arises from shared enjoyment of the holy trinity of Texas summer activities: tubing, grilling, and two-stepping?
After what can be a long time waiting in line to get into the park, the first thing you’ll want to do once you get set up is jump in the river and cool off; the Frio River lives up to its name, with water temperatures generally in the 70’s even in the hottest months. The park concession rents tubes and runs shuttles up to the FM 1050 bridge, and depending on the river’s flow, it can take two hours or more to reach Old Garner, as the southern end of the park is called. This period is known as decompression, and it won’t be long before any jangling of the nerves fades away. As it approaches the dam, the river slows to a gentle crawl, and your tube will drift almost imperceptibly down the wide turquoise avenue under a canopy of lofty cypress trees. Time begins to stand still, and the shouting of rope-swinging teenagers, the laughter from families sitting in camp chairs waist-high in the water, the smell of meat from fifty grills, the warmth of the sun, and the sound of Tejano music all blur into one indelible impression of summer, stamped onto generations of Texans. After a day of swimming, eating, and perhaps some putt-putt, join the dancers who gather at the park pavilion at dark-thirty to two-step to the sound of a jukebox playing country favorites old and new. Many of the chairs around the dance floor have been inscribed with the owners’ names and remain there for the duration of their visit.
A hike to the top of Old Baldy, the iconic bluff with an excellent view of the park and the surrounding countryside, or an hour riding the mountain bike trails provides some escape if you need time away from the crowds. Still, if you want peace and quiet, Garner State Park will disappoint you. But if you like to have fun with friends and family at one of the prettiest swimming holes in Texas and big trucks blasting Kenny Chesney don’t drive you crazy, this could become your family’s favorite summer getaway.
TRIP TO TOWN: Take a scenic drive through the most gorgeous section of the Hill Country and check out other nearby swimming holes on the way. Follow FM 1050 to City Park, in Utopia, on the bank of the Sabinal, and then take FM 470 to Texas Highway 16. Turn left and look for Peaceful Valley Road, which crosses the Medina River. In Medina turn left onto FM 337, a beautiful drive through Vanderpool to Leakey, where you can pick up U.S. 83 back to Garner.