We have our favorite local Texas state parks. We have our list of “must see” Texas state parks that we are slowly working our way through, selecting them for longer weekends, Spring Break, or Campsgiving.

Then there are the rest.

The Texas state park system is vast and as diverse as the state itself. We’ve rarely been disappointed by a night’s stay at one of the many parks and sometimes we’ve even been surprised.

Such was the case with Martin Creek Lake State Park.

We didn’t plan to start our Spring Break travel until Sunday, the first day of the week. We had planned ahead in case our son had soccer or we needed an extra day to prepare for a five-day trip. When we discovered that our son was playing in the early afternoon, we looked at the over 400 miles we had to travel to east Arkansas and decided it would be best to cut our first two days in half.

That halfway point was Martin Creek Lake State Park, just to the west of the Louisiana border.

We pulled into the park at dusk and backed into the only available spot in the small park. Our Bee Tree loop site overlooked the lake and the nuclear power plant on the other side of the lake. After a quick, late dinner, my husband and I walked around the loop while our kids unpacked and settled in for the night, the hum of power production and the lights from across the lake serving as the backdrop for our evening.

We woke up the next morning with the threat of rain and a time change to Daylight Savings Time that didn’t change our noon check-out time. We still had to get out of our site at 12:00, even if our bodies still said it was 11:00 AM.

The state park has only three hiking trails and the kids and I needed to get some exercise in before getting on the road for another four hours. We had time for only one trail. Since two of the trailheads started in our camping loop, we chose the Harmony Hill trail, 1.5 miles through wooded terrain with muddy spots that threatened to suck in our hiking shoes as we darted around puddles. The trees were starting to bud and the landscape gave us some much needed time outside before sitting in the truck. The most exciting part of the hike was when our son picked up a long stick and decided to treat it like a light saber…until swarms of ants came out of the stick and started biting his hand, requiring some prompt distribution of Benadryl once we returned to our site.

We were all sad that we couldn’t do the Island Trail, a 1.2 mile trail that would have taken us on the island in the middle of the lake and given us a closer view of the nuclear power plant, but there wasn’t an easy way for us to pull into the parking lot and out again while towing our camper. We had to settle for one last look as we drove past and headed on our way to Arkansas.

Martin Creek Lake is the perfect example of the pleasant surprises that wait for us when we make visiting state parks over private campgrounds a priority. While it may be easier to look for one of many parking spots along the highway or interstate, the state parks that are often just a little bit off our planned routes can give our families affordable escapes from the busy world and force us to commune with nature, even if it is only for an 18-hour stay.

And I would definitely put this one on the “give it a try” list.

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10 Replies to “An Overnight Stop at Martin Creek Lake State Park”

  1. Growing up, we always camped at camp sites or just randomly picked a spot in the PNW forest to “get the true experience” according to my dad. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I stayed at my first state park. I loved all of the amenities. It felt like the best of both worlds, camping but also access to recreational activities and plumbing!

Thoughtful and nuanced responses welcome!