I grew up north of Dallas and we’d go on family camping trips all over the state, but we always traveled outside of the metroplex.  I guess that’s why I was surprised to learn that Cedar Hill State Park was only about an hour from where I went to elementary school.

I had to be in Dallas for work on Saturday, so I drove up a day early to enjoy the park.

I packed my camping gear and borrowed a kayak to paddle Joe Pool Lake, then drove north.  When I got to the park, I was even more surprised to find out about a little gem called Penn Farm.


Penn Farm, I learned, was settled by John Anderson Penn in 1854.  A few buildings from the original farm and some recreations are open for the public inside Cedar Hill State Park.

After I set up my tent, I drove straight to the farm to check out what was there.

I saw a lot of old farm equipment along the path.



To my surprise, there were quite a few buildings.  First I saw a barn, an old house and a chicken coop.





The house and barn looked like they could’ve been original to the farm.  The house was locked up, but I could see inside the windows.  The interior looks very old.

Then, on the other side of the farm, there was a large, modern looking barn that I could wander through.



There was another house, a windmill and a few other barns on that side too.


I was completely inspired to come back at night, but more on that later.

The sun was setting, so I headed up to the highest point at the park, the perch pond.  There’s a board walk with a bird blind on that side of the park.  There’s also a small pond for fishing and, of course, beautiful views of the lake.




The sunset was breathtaking over the water.  I couldn’t believe what I had stumbled in to!

It was dark when I got back to my camp site, so I made dinner on my little camp stove by the light of my lantern.

This trip had become all about photos.  Can you blame me?  A gorgeous sunset over a lake, old barns begging to be photographed.  I wasn’t even close to finished shooting this place.

I packed up my food and grabbed my flash light and lantern, and went back over to the farm to do some light painting.

The ranger warned me about going over there at night.  There are no lights on that side of the park and it’s very very dark…unless there’s a full moon.  The moon was so bright it cast shadows.  I would’ve been fine without any light.  That being said, I saw a coyote walking along the camp road on my way over, so I was very cautious.

I walked straight to the large barn, since I knew I could put the moon in the background, then I took some photos inside.


Cedar1724  Cedar1726


I wandered outside and saw a very spooky looking tree, so, of course, I made it look spookier.


I had to get the windmill while I was there too.


The city lights made the sky light up purple.  If you look closely, you can see the lights on the horizon.

It’s funny to think about this place being so close to Dallas.  You can hear traffic throughout the day and see city lights at night.  You almost forget that you’re half an hour from down town, until you drive the park road and see views like this.


Nothing like a dozen cell phone towers to make you feel one with nature.  (Really, though, this is an amazing place!  Don’t let the proximity to the city fool you.)

I turned in for the night around 11 p.m. or so, after I was satisfied with my night shots.

That night was cold.  Temperatures dipped in to the 20s and I just simply wasn’t prepared for that.  I didn’t sleep well.

When the sun came up, I was still shivering, so I hopped in to my car, turned on the heater and drove over to the marina.  I tried to nap a bit once I got there, since my body temperature had risen to a more comfortable level, but I was too antsy.  I was staring at a bunch of boats in a marina with a kayak on the top of my car and I hadn’t yet been on the water.


I went back to my camp site and sleepily took the kayak off the car and dragged it down to the lake behind my tent.  (There are kayak rentals at the marina if you don’t bring your own boat.)

The temperature had risen to about 40 degrees at that point, but the water was ice cold.  Nothing like standing in knee-deep ice cold water before a paddle trip to wake you up!

Once I was on the lake, the sun was out and everything was great.

photo 3

photo 2

I meandered around the lake for about an hour or so, watching the early risers do a little fishing, before it got windy and difficult to paddle.

When I returned to my camp site, I was soaked in cold water.  I put on some dry clothes in my sun-warmed tent and suddenly felt very sleepy.  I had planned to hike a short trail before I left, but instead, I took a nap.

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The nap turned out to be just what I needed before packing up and heading to work.  I had about 8 hours of UIL state wrestling championships ahead of me.

If you live in the DFW area, this is a fantastic park to visit, even just for the day.  There’s so much to do!

Here are a few links to help you plan your trip:
Cedar Hill State Park  (TPWD web site)
Park Map  (shows how big this park really is)
Penn Farm Agricultural History Center  (more info on the farm)
Light Painting  (more info on how I light night photos)

  1. jp thomas says:

    thank you Ashley ,
    The sunset over the water was wonderful and the flowers in the field , the light painting was great .Sleeping in the cold weather and getting out to bring us wonderful joy again .

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