On the first night of our visit to Tyler State Park, my traveling buddy, Emily ,and I stayed in one of its aptly named “limited service” cabins. “It’s cute on the outside,” said Emily as we stepped into the concrete-floored room outfitted with a queen bed, a mini-fridge, a microwave, a broom, and a table whose twenty coats of varnish, plus humidity, meant anything placed atop it would remain stuck there forever. After a long night of listening to the incessant drone of the AC unit, we were delighted to escape the shelter of four solid walls for a non-climate-controlled nylon bubble in the Red Oak Camping Area, a small, tree-sheltered, lakeside spot as picture-perfect as the rest of the park. (All was well until a midnight “visit” from what seemed to be a pack of Boy Scouts, their headlamps lighting up our tent like Christmas. I woke to find Emily, sitting upright, head swiveling furiously, righteously muttering about “quiet hours.” No merit badges for you.)

The State Park Grocery and gas station, right outside the entrance to the park, supplies essential items like gelato, eggs, sandwiches, Hot Pockets, and fishing worms. A six-minute drive from the park will net you a full meal you don’t have to cook, at Bodacious Bar-B-Q, where friendly folks load up Styrofoam boxes full of brisket, turkey, potato salad, pickles, and those little rounds of Longhorn cheddar.

Finally, as it is my sworn duty to apprise you of the nearest bastion of air-conditioned and chlorinated luxury, may I also recommend High Hill Farm, a retreat about thirty miles southeast of the park, where guests enjoy comfortable bungalows set amid acres of green grass, as well as a fine-dining restaurant and a pool.   

This article originally appeared in the August 2020 issue of Texas Monthly under the headline “Roughing It.” Subscribe today.