The first time we visited Lake Livingston State Park, we were still Texas camping novices.
We had bravely ventured out to explore some of the parks in Southeast Texas, taking our first trip out to the Sam Houston National Forest region four months after we finally moved out of our camper and into our house. We spent our spring break with a few days on the Texas/Louisiana border and we had checked out Goliad. But we were still very much the northerners convinced that September would bring cooler, tolerable camping temperatures.
Not so much.
We took off for an early September trip during the start to a rainy fall. Humidity saturated the air, the nights didn’t cool, and the recent storms had hatched a new crop of mosquitoes. We did our best to enjoy the weekend, taking advantage of a ranger program, attempting a canoe ride on the lake, and eventually finding an ice cream shop about ten minutes away from the park which helped us cool off. We were thankful that we had air conditioning for sleeping, but it was not everything that we had hoped for with a “fall” camping trip. Still, we enjoyed the park and saw the potential in repeat visits, especially since it is less than 90 minutes from our house.
Last September, two years after our initial visit, we made our first return, taking Jeff’s parents with us on a camping trip that was a true test of the new Imagine. We had spent a miserably hot trip a couple of weeks before at probably the worst state park we have stayed at, but we brushed that trip off as just a test run with the new camper so that we could see if everything was working just right. We found a couple of issues, we had filed them with the dealership, and we would take it in after we returned from our weekend trip with one-half of our Michigan-based parents.
The weekend had been hot, but we were expecting that. Torrential rains had been in the forecast all week, but Jeff and I decided that we were going to do it anyway. Our family desperately needed a weekend out of town and in nature and we wanted to take his parents on their first-ever Texas camping trip. We ended up having a wonderful (albeit hot) weekend of biking, taking a volunteer-led hike, and fishing. Our second night at the state park we watched lightning and storms all around us, but they never touched the park, and we managed to sneak in a kayaking date and late-night shake date with the help of the visiting grandparents.
Lake Livingston State Park was officially on the top of the list for close camping trips.
When we finally had our camper back in August, we decided we wanted to sneak in one more camping trip before the madness of Saturday soccer games and Michigan football took over our weekends. Since we had been to Huntsville for Memorial Day weekend, I chose Lake Livingston and Jeff made the reservations. When we had to leave Sea Rim early, we were comforted by the fact that we would be heading back out the next weekend for our last trip for the next six weeks.
With the help of our new radios, we once again parked quickly and easily. While we set up, the kids took off, heading off into the bushes towards the lake to explore the woods along the shoreline. From the map I was certain that we would be able to see the lake from our camping spot; we were close but not that close. I was ready to start dinner when our son came back and begged us to see their new hideout that they had discovered along the water. Jeff and I followed him to see what they had found: a pretty spot to look out over the water and walk along the narrow shore. (I eventually posted an Instagram video of their hideout.) It was a short night and we eagerly crawled into bed to rest up from the previous week.
After breakfast the next morning, I rode my bike over to the camp store to get the Junior Ranger backpack full of the standard explorer goodies and gave the kids a chance to split everything up while I prepared water bottles for a hike. While we had done the walk/hike the year before, we still hadn’t had a chance to explore one of the many trails in the state park. September is still hot and getting out before the sun and humidity make it unbearably uncomfortable is tricky.
Later than I had been hoping, we finally drove to the parking lot that met up with two trails. I was optimistic, hoping that we would be able to combine parts of two trails on our hike. We started out on the Pineywoods Boardwalk Trail, stopping to see side trails along the way. Early in the hike, Jeff told us to look up. We saw an elaborate web with a large garden spider right in the middle. The kids and I jumped back away from the web and then looked up over our heads. There was another web with another large garden spider hanging out in the middle. All throughout the hike, we saw spider web after spider web, tarantula-sized spiders hanging out to the right and then left.
But the heat of the day, even as we hiked in the shade, weighed us down. We decided to not take the split to the Bakba Trail, choosing instead to complete the one-mile boardwalk trail and head back to our campsite for lunch. We made it back to the camp store/nature center in just enough time for the kids to do the nature craft (a creation of turtles using sticks and leaves), explore the small nature center that we had discovered was completely renovated for our visit the year before, and then take a quick swim in the lake. While the lake doesn’t have a beach near the nature center, it does have ladders leading into the water. We had to tread water for a short period of time, but it was enough to temporarily cool us off.
We returned to the ice cream shop we had visited three years before, thankful for a refreshing treat, and then decided to check out Livingston Trade Days. Although it was close to closing hours, we had fun checking out the booths and walking around. Somehow I lost my iron resolve (I’m very good at saying no to requests from our kids) and ended up buying our daughter a bracelet set from a nice older woman who smoothly talked me into the purchase.
When we finally returned to the site, the kids headed to their fort and eventually came back to play game after game of checkers, Racko, and Memory inside while Jeff untangled fishing poles and I made dinner. We made it down to the docks just in time for sunset; Jeff headed down to the pier with the kids to set up their fishing equipment and I headed up to the top of the observation tower to take photos of the quickly setting sun, which had hidden behind the clouds long before we parked our truck.
Fishing is not my favorite activity, never has been, but Jeff enjoys it and the fact that our kids want to fish with Daddy makes both of us happy. I read on the dock until I had no more light and then guiltily resorted to paging through my phone with limited service. Like I had the year before, I watched as distant lightning and storms brewed around us, only to enjoy the peaceful sounds of wildlife all around. While no one caught a fish, but both kids enjoyed the quality time with their dad, and I enjoyed watching them enjoy the time outside.
It was the reset our family needed. Sea Rim had been enjoyable, but Lake Livingston proved to be relaxing and refreshing. The kids played non-stop, I got to read and finally got to hike an actual trail, and we spent quality time together as a family. It was just what we needed before six straight weekends of soccer games and school responsibilities. This really hit home when I read what our kids wrote in the mini camping journals we purchased for them at the camp store. It was clear to me how important our determination to take just one last late summer trip actually was.
We miss fall camping up north. We miss the cool fall temperatures that would hit us in mid-September and make for comfortable nights and roaring campfires. (We couldn’t even have one in Lake Livingston because of a recently imposed burn ban.) But Lake Livingston State Park has become a place we can return to multiple times and not feel like we’ve done it all before, regardless of the time of year that we go. Maybe next time we’ll have to go there for Memorial Day instead.