Copyright © Shannon D. Blackburn
Location: Hill Country State Natural Area (Bandera, Texas)
Time of Year: Mid-June
Weather: Sunny and humid, highs in the upper 90’s
Activities: Camping, hiking, birding, photography
This visit was inspired by a severe case of “camping withdrawal”, having not camped since a January visit to Bastrop State Park. After a crowded visit to Garner State Park in early June, Hill Country State Natural Area, with over 5,000 undeveloped acres and 36 miles of hiking, mountain biking, and equestrian trails was the perfect antidote.
Hill Country SNA is an ideal park for individuals willing to forego the usual conveniences of other Texas state parks or natural areas in favor of a more peaceful outdoors experience. Arrived to the park midday on Friday, June 13, and set up camp in the developed West Verde Creek camp. In this case, "developed" means you get a fire ring and picnic table! Potable water is not available in the park.
A local radio DJ reported the weather would be "hot and sticky" for Friday, June 13 and the coming weekend.
"Sultry" is the polite word for the weather during our stay at the park. The mere act of pitching the tent in the near-100 degree heat made me wonder if I had both lost my sanity. Of course, I seem to have a knack for planning camping trips during the seasonal extremes. The Bastrop camping trip in January fell in between two severe winter storms, one of which brought snow to nearby Kerrville.
After unloading the bulk of the gear, I donned my backpack and attempted to hike the Pasture Loop (Trail 9), aborting the attempt within about .4 mile due to dense vegetation. Had I been on horseback, the trail would have made a pleasant jaunt. Instead, it turned out to be a chigger haven.
Returned to camp and explored the surrounding area until evening approached. Drove to the Trailhead Camp around 5 PM and began a sunset hike to Cougar Rock (Trail 1 to Trail 5C) which is one of my favorite vantage points in the park. The heat and humidity were oppressive, but each step rewarded with the beauty of Hill Country’s towering hills and flowering fields.
Trail 5C climbs approximately 130 feet within .5 mile, reaching an altitude of 1,680 feet at the summit. From atop Cougar Rock, the Twin Peaks to the northeast are an impressive sight; each peak has an altitude in excess of 1,870 feet. For backcountry campers, the primitive Wilderness Camp is just a short hike from Cougar Rock.
Lingered atop Cougar Rock for approximately a half hour before beginning the return hike to the Trailhead (equestrian) Camp. Reached the car around 7 PM and returned to camp and a well-earned dinner. Watched fireflies, Northern cardinals, turkey and black vultures, and several white-tail deer from the campsite that evening. Insect repellent is highly recommended not just for hikers, but campers as well.
Alternative hike: For an impressive view of the park, and a challenging hike, take Trail 5A between the Twin Peaks, detour to West Peak (Trail 5B) for an awesome overlook, then continue on Trail 5 to the west; Trail 1 will complete your loop around the highest of the two peaks.
The night brought little respite from the heat and humidity of the day. Even my well-ventilated tent could not hide the fact that it was at least 85 degrees and extremely humid. The wildlife didn’t seem to mind, though; a scraggly, old raccoon visited our campsite during the night, and a doe and fawn passed by early in the morning.
Spent Saturday, June 14 birding and photographing the West Verde Creek area. Due to heavy rains the past several months, the park’s creeks and ponds are all faring quite well–a marked improvement from their condition this time last year. For peace and natural beauty, Hill Country State Natural Area is difficult to beat!