Last week, my wife Sherry and I went on a Christmas Break getaway to Stephen F. Austin State Park in San Felipe, TX which is about 45 minutes West of Houston. It’s a small park on the West side of the Brazos River which is the longest river in Texas. It is wooded with pines and cedars and boasts some of the nicest and well-maintained hiking and bike paths I’ve ever encountered in a park. The terrain is not difficult, and while there are a few hills, they are very small as compared to many other parks in Texas.
The views of the Brazos River are very nice and while the river itself is shallow, it’s a slow-moving river that provides tranquil scenes and gentle water flowing sounds.
We brought our mountain bikes and Tucktec kayaks with us and made use of both. The trails were exceptional, and my wife who usually isn’t a huge fan of mountain biking actually enjoyed the trails. She found them to be easy enough to enjoy with just enough challenge here and there to be interesting. I loved the twists and turns, and the few times there were dips and climbs, they were short enough to be fun without exerting too much energy.
The Brazos River was really a surprise. I’m used to faster-moving rivers, and the Brazos is almost lake-like. With the wind blowing from the South and the river flowing from the North, we were nearly stationary when not rowing, and the wind was strong enough to push us against the current of the river at times! The other big surprise is how shallow the river is; at some points, while over 30 feet from shore, the water was only 12-16″ deep! That meant our oars would often scrape along the sandy bottom of the river. At least we knew if we fell in, all we had to do was stand up!
The park amenities are very nice. The roads are all well paved, the paths well-marked, and the completed bathroom and shower facilities are among the cleanest and nicest I’ve seen. Near our camping site, the new bathroom/shower facility was under construction with an active crew that began work at 7:15 a.m. and they worked until aroudn 5:00 p.m. daily. They were what you expect from a construction crew: lots of loud noise and activity, but this is to be undstood, and there’s not much that can be done about this. Our campsite was directly across the road from this site, and had we known in advance that this construction was going on there, we would have likely picked another spot farther away from it.
Of all the parks in Texas we’ve been to so far, I rate this one very highly: 8/10. It may not be the biggest, it may not have the longest trails, and it may not have the most varied scenery, but it is very nice, the trails are amazing, the park is exceptionally clean, and the staff is very friendly. The campsites are well-manicured and well taken care of (the fire pits are swept clean before you arrive!). Our campsite had water, and I did see that the RV sites had electricity, as well. There are cabins available, but these are currently not in use, presumably due to COVID-19 restrictions.
If you live in the Houston area and are looking for a relaxing place to go for a hike, a kayak outing, a trail ride on a mountain bike, or to camp overnight, Stephen F. Austin State Park is a very nice park to visit. It’s far enough from I-10 that you don’t hear the traffic (a problem at Huntsville State Park), and the occasional wildlife sighting of deer, owls, hawks, and other birds make for a pleasant and refreshing time.
I recommend using the Reserve America website to secure a campsite well in advance. One of the realities of the world in COVID-19 is that more people are visiting parks and forests than ever, and unless you have a reservation, you will likely be unable to camp at a standard campground. We have been using Reserve America with great success since last year. It makes the reservation process easy and reduces the wait during check-in.