Why you should consider an LCRA park for your next outdoor adventure

The Lower Colorado River Authority operates upwards of 15 parks throughout Central Texas and the Gulf Coastal Plains region.

By Alexandra HartApril 2, 2024 3:01 pm,

If you’ve taken a trip to one of Texas’ many state parks recently, you may notice you weren’t the only one to have that idea. Attendance at parks has been booming over the past decade, with Texas Parks and Wildlife estimating that around 10 million people visit their facilities each year.

If your favorite state parks are feeling a little too crowded for your liking, there are other options: The Lower Colorado River Authority operates nearly 20 parks from Central Texas to the Gulf Coast.

Pam LeBlanc wrote for Texas Monthly about why Texans should consider these parks for their next outdoor adventure and spoke with the Standard about what to expect.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: Specifically, you write about the Lower Colorado River Authority, which frankly, I have seldom thought of in terms of parks – more in terms of water management and big engineering projects and that sort of thing. Tell us about the parks.

Pam LeBlancL Yeah, it is kind of surprising, but LCRA, which is a public utility, also operates 42 public parks between San Saba and Matagorda Bay. Most of them are along the Colorado River; a few of them are on lakes like Lake Bastrop. But they’re great places to go if the state parks are booked.

How do these parks work? Do you make a reservation online?

You can go online and book a campsite, but some of them you can really just drive up to and get in. It depends on the place and the weekend and how good the weather is. But there are some great options out there.

One of my favorites I just went to a few weeks ago, it’s called Shaeffer Bend. And state parks I love, but these parks also have amenities that state parks don’t, like yurts that you can camp in, safari tents, zip lines, Airstream trailers. So it’s a little bit of a different, kind of fancier experience, I guess you might say.

I don’t think I’ve ever stayed in a yurt, but that sounds like it would be a fun thing to to experience. So tell us a little bit about your own personal experiences. Have you gone for an overnight at one of these parks?

Yes, I’ve been to a lot of them, actually. I’ve stayed in a cabin at Lake Bastrop North Shore Park, or I stayed in an Airstream there. I love to camp; I love to set up my own tent – but at Lake Bastrop, you can go and check in to an Airstream trailer that’s already set up. It has everything. The bed is made, there’s a little toilet and a shower in the actual trailer, so it’s super easy. You just bring your food.

I went and stayed in a yurt at Shaeffer Bend, which was very, very luxurious. And I’ve camped in a tent at some of the other parks as well.

So how do they stack up? I mean, you talk about the differences in some of the amenities, and it sounds like you can do a little bit more glamping at some of these facilities.

Yeah. I mean, it depends on what you’re looking for. And each of the LCRA parks kind of has its own personality. They’re a little bit different.

And some of them are more geared toward glamping, like Lake Bastrop. Some of them are geared more toward tent camping. So you can still do those things that you would do at state parks, at some of the LCRA parks. It just depends which one you’re going to.

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Any surprises? Anything that intrepid campers might need to be on the lookout for, they might expect in a state park but not find in an LCRA park?

Crowds. You won’t find the crowds there, which is a good thing, right?

But the amenities are just different. Some of them may not have the infrastructure. It depends on which one you’re going to. You might not find big giant campgrounds. You might find just a few campsites, that sort of thing.

And I guess that each different park tailors to a different kind of camper as well. I mean, some people like to drag along something behind the car, but others like to like to do the tent.

Exactly. And I like to do a little bit of both. And that’s what’s so great about the LCRA parks to me, is you can still go to Texas state parks, but if those are full, you can pick these out.

I guess one thing I would say that some of these parks don’t have the marquee attractions, like, say, of an Enchanted Rock State Park. Some of them are wonderful, but some of them don’t have the, you know, marquee thing that people go to take their Instagram picture in front of.

Totally get that. Well, so how did you discover these parks in the first place?

Well, I’ve been writing about parks in Texas for years and years and years, and I just love to get outside and explore different places, and just probably wandered into one a million years ago and just learned about more online. LCRA has a website that has information about all of their parks, and you can go there and learn more about each one.

You know, we haven’t talked cost here.

I believe the admission admission fee is $5 for adults to get in, so it’s a reasonable entry fee. Some of the campsites cost more.

And this is not cheap – if you’re staying at a yurt or a cabin in some of their parks, you’re going to pay a lot more. And some of them have like a two-day minimum stay.

They just opened some new cabins down at Matagorda Bay, which are super nice. But this is not state park prices if you’re going to stay in one of the overnight facilities. Those do cost more than a cabin stay at one of the state parks.

 And who funds this? I mean, other than obviously the camping fees.

Well, I guess it’s profits from the public utility pay for some of those amenities. It’s actually really amazing, like the cabins and the yurts that I’ve stayed in.

When I went to Shaeffer Bend, they opened a new yurt there, and I stayed overnight. And it has like a kitchen in there, a really nice bed, a lovely bathroom, a shower, a firepit outside, a hot tub outside. And you get the use of electric bikes while you’re there.

And you can arrange to have a chef come cook you dinner, which we had. You can also have the chef come drop off a kit so you can grill your own steaks and stuff, but they bring all the food, and that was amazing.

But that one specific yurt that I’m talking about was really expensive. It was, I can’t remember, like $200+ a night for that – but you can also stay in a tent at a campsite at the same park there.

But this yurt, that doesn’t even sound like camping. That sounds like cheating. 

It is cheating. Yeah, it is not camping. It’s like going to a hotel. It is not camping. It is not roughing it by any stretch of the imagination.

But if you want to rough it, you can.

Exactly. You just have the choice. And the parks are all different, so it depends on what you want.

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