It’s that special time of year between Thanksgiving and Christmas when the To Do lists pile up with gift shopping, meal preparing, house cleaning, party planning, seeing family and friends, traveling, eating and generally stressing.

When I go “home” for the holidays, I exhaust myself trying to see as many people and do as many things as I possibly can.  That was the case during the Thanksgiving holiday and I came back feeling completely overwhelmed.

Fortunately central Texas heated up for a few days, just long enough for me to have an escape to Buescher State Park near Smithville, TX.

I arrived at the park around 2:30 p.m. on a Tuesday.  I booked my camp site ahead of time and chose the Oak Haven Camping Area because of it’s lake access.  I was the only camper in that part of the park, so I had my choice of sites.  Site 22 is great because it had a little path to the water.


There are three mini-cabins in that part of the park.  Each one has bunk beds that sleep four, a deck overlooking the water, outdoor grill, A/C, heat, microwave, refrigerator and a table and chairs.  I was happy with my tent, but these little cabins are much nicer than I expected.

After setting up camp, I had about two hours until the sun set, so I drove over to the hiking paths.

There are a few options for hiking, but the 3.6 mile Pine Gulch Loop is the most scenic.  To get to the trail head, you can either hike 1.7 miles from the camping area, or you can drive north west on Park Road 1C (the road that connects Buescher and Bastrop State Parks) to a parking area.  I opted for the latter because of my limited time frame.

I hiked clockwise on the loop, taking the west side first and returning from the east.  It was a lovely hike, and would be a reasonably challenging bike ride if you’re an experienced cyclist.


As I walked, I thought about the holidays and daydreamed about a Christmas warm enough for me to camp and hike.  I walked along and saw all kinds of signs of the holidays.

I saw Christmas trees…






And other decorations…


I finished my hike just before twilight and drove back to my camp site to build a fire and make dinner.  It’s the first time in a while I was able to have a camp fire.  The burn ban was finally cancelled due to recent rain.

The sun sets earlier in the winter, around 5:15 or so.  It was too early to go to sleep, so I sat by the fire for a little while, then read in my tent.


A new sleeping bag and sleeping pad made me exceptionally comfortable that night.  I highly recommend getting a self-inflating sleeping pad if you don’t have one already.  I’ve been using my yoga mat, but for the same space and weight, the sleeping pad is much more comfortable.

I set my alarm for 6:30 a.m., knowing the sunrise would happen a little after 7 a.m.  Since I didn’t have a good view of the sunset on my hike, I wanted to capture the sunrise over the lake.

The next morning I opened my eyes and it was light out.  I looked at my phone.  7:20 a.m.?!  My alarm had been ringing for almost an hour and, despite it being right next to my pillow, I slept right through.

Outside it was cloudy and a little foggy.  I walked down to the water in my pajamas and snapped a few photos of the leaves in the water, but my hopes for the sunrise were gone.



I got dressed and ate some breakfast before the park office opened at 9 a.m.  Then I went down to rent a canoe from the ranger.

They have a couple of canoes and kayaks for rent for $5/hr to paddle around the little 25-acre lake at Buescher.  Fishing is allowed and the lake is stocked, but swimming is not permitted.



I packed up my camera and went for a paddle, snapping photos of fall foliage along the way.




After a loop around the lake, I headed back to the shore, where a photographer named John B. Chandler snapped a photo of me.

We chatted for a while about our shared interest and even grabbed a bite to eat at a local burger restaurant.  It’s great to run in to people like that on my travels!

I returned to my campsite around 2 p.m., packed up my stuff and headed home.  I felt so much more relaxed.  A little holiday get away was exactly what I needed!

Here are a few links to help you plan your trip:
Buescher State Park  (TPWD web site)
Park Map  (shows the main area of the park)
Trail Map  (NOT posted on the TPWD web site)
Friends of the Lost Pines State Parks  (conservation and activity suggestions)
Sleeping Bags  (Cabela’s choices)
Sleeping Pads  (Cabela’s choices)



  1. jp thomas says:

    Ashley , so happy you we,’re able to get out and show us this wonderful treat , I love the great photography and Bring able to by real look at this park.
    I thank you so much

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