Garner State Park Checklist l 8 Expert Tips to Get Into Garner

Garner State Park Checklist l 8 Expert Tips to Get Into Garner

Our Texas State Park's pass has taken us a lot of places this year but none as deep and wide and as beautiful as Garner State Park.   The beauty of this State Park is not a well-kept secret.  The deep blue, crystal clear pools, dramatic riverside cliffs, and the thick, lush vegetation make this a highly sought after Texas Hill Country vacation destination.  While it may seem like an impossibility to land a reservation and get your family here, there are a few expert tips to gaining access and getting into this beloved and historical Texas State Park.

Fun traditions and beautiful scenery bring people back to Garner State Park time after time. Besides easy access to the Frio, the park offers many miles of hiking trails and camping options.

A quick glance at the online reservation schedule for Garner State Park will more than likely come up with a lot of zero's and no availability.  However, if you are determined, with a little planning and a few insider tips, you can masterfully land yourself a vacation weekend.  The Texas State Parks and Wildlife website allows reservations to be made exactly 333 days in advance.  The trick here is to know what date you want to vacation at Garner, 333 days in advance, get up early and beat the internet, reserving what you want before anyone else gets it.  You will need to do this for each day you want to have reserved and you will need to know if you would prefer a campsite, a shelter or a cabin.  A deposit of half the price is required to hold the reservation and is Non-Refundable if you can't make it.  

Swim in the Frio River or float its waters on an inner tube, operate a paddle boat, and hike 11 miles of scenic trails. You can also camp, study nature, picnic, canoe, fish, play miniature golf,  geocache  and ride bikes. And, of course, you can dance. Take a virtual tour with our  Interactive Trails Map . If you plan to swim or float at the park, read through our  swimming safety tips before you come.

Once you have your reservation, the hardest part is waiting for that date to roll around.  You may think all the hard work is done but there are a few more obstacles before you are actually in the park. On the day of your reservation, be sure to arrive as early as possible.  Check in 'starts at 2 PM'  but they start handing out numbers long before that time.  Gates open at 9 AM for day use and usually close again before noon at full capacity.  At this time they are calling numbers in batches of 5 or 10 for the overnight reservation check-in counter.  We received our number around 11:30 AM and we were granted admission at about 2:30 PM.  So even though check-in officially starts at 2 PM the early bird gets issued the number that will GET YOU IN at 2 PM.

The Frio Canyon has long been known for its abundant wildlife. Park visitors will see white-tailed deer, black rock and fox squirrels, raccoons and many other species. Rio Grande turkeys, mourning doves, black and turkey vultures, eastern bluebirds and several species of migratory birds reside here. Two endangered species nest in the park:  golden-cheeked warbler and black-capped vireo.

So be ready to tailgate at Garner State Park's entry gates!  It was a sight to see with family's pitching pavilion tents, lawn chairs, and grills for lunch.  There were a lot of people who knew what to do and what to expect and were packed and ready for the occasion in the parking lot.  Make sure to have plenty of food and water on hand and also, something to do.  There is limited space in the air-conditioned lobby and this space is already taken up by groups of people whose numbers are close to being called.  There are no chairs in the lobby, standing room only, full of people bursting with anticipation.

Bald cypress trees add grace and beauty to many Texas waterways, including the Frio. These trees can grow to 120 feet and live up to 600 years. Bald cypress drop feathery leaves very early in the fall and bud late in the spring, hence the name “bald.” Knobby “knees” push up from submerged roots. Bald cypresses provide nesting places, food and shelter for wildlife; slow floodwaters; and trap sediment and pollutants.

There is a small shaded patio and breezeway with a bathroom if needed during the waiting game.  From here you can get a glimpse of the lively Texas Hill Country views you are about to indulge in over the next few days.  Through these corridor arches, there are enticing previews of the elusive beauty waiting for you behind the gates of the admission shack.  We passed our time by serving lunch from our coolers, chatting about what we would do first upon admission and a little wandering.  Before we knew it, they were in range of calling our number and we felt obliged to move into the lobby to jump at the announcement.

Garner State Park is a precious jewel of the Texas Hill Country, a prize worthy of our protection.  Garner has been the most popular state park for overnight camping since it opened in 1941. That popularity has led to some problems, however.

This is where it get's really intense.  You're in, you have a chance of making it now.  Everyone in this room has their eyes fixed on the four or five State Park reservation attendants behind the glass and that electronic number on the wall, patiently but eagerly waiting for their number to be called so they can rush through the glass door to the next line to meet with an attendant.  At this stage, it's important to make sure you have your drivers license, form of payment, park pass if you have one, license plate numbers for any cars you want to drive in and an idea of which site you want to stay in.  Once your number is called and you are in front of the reservation attendant the process is quick and streamlined and if you have to run out to your car to check the plate while others are waiting, you might get a few unpleasant looks from the other weekenders.

Nearby towns like Concan, Leakey and Utopia are home to numerous cabins, as seen on They combine spectacular Hill Country views with amenities as simple as indoor plumbing and as lavish as an outdoor hot tub.

Once you have checked in,  given all of your information, and you choose the exact site on a map that will work best for you, your in!  This trip they issued us all wristbands that were required to be on the whole weekend and especially important if you wanted to leave the State Park and re-enter at any time.  The first time you pass the stop sign and the attendant gives you a thumbs up at the admission shack as you drive by, it feels like you have finally won the lottery and in a Hill Country way, you have.  The only thing you have to do now, once you are in, is settle into your accommodations, unpack a few things and hit the water!  Garner State Park has a lot of activities to offer once you are inside and I will go more into detail in part 2 of my coverage of this gorgeous historical park.  The activities list is just one more thing that sets this Texas State Park apart from the others and makes it a true gem of a family getaway.

With cool, clear water running through the Frio River, plenty of hiking trails and an outdoor dance floor, it's easy to understand why many Texans travel to Garner State Park each spring, summer and fall to enjoy its beauty.  But it's likely that not every visitor will be inclined to spend a night under the stars — cramped in a sleeping bag, inside a small tent, nestled among rocks, twigs, dirt and free-roaming wildlife.

Breathtaking Texas Hill Country views and pristine turqoise water.  What's your favorite family getaway, near or far?

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