Just as Bastrop and Buescher State Parks feature the "Lost Pines", Palmetto State Park near Gonzales, Texas could be said to feature the "Lost Swamp". This oasis in Central Texas is an unexpected find in this region, looking more like it belongs in deep East Texas near the Louisiana border than its actual location just south of Interstate 10 between Houston and San Antonio! We've had many folks tell us that Palmetto is one of their favorite state parks and we can definitely see why.
We stayed in campsite number 5 in the "Electric Area". This camping loop is reserved for RV camping only. Each site features a back-in asphalt parking pad, 30/50 amp electricity and water. Every campsite also has a picnic table, fire ring, lantern pole and either a grill or smoker. A dump station is located next to the loop restrooms. This entire park is heavily wooded, so be sure to let the park rangers know the size of your rig when you check in so they can help you select from sites that will work best for you. Most of the sites looked very level, most would fit larger RVs and all were in great shape! A separate tent camping loop offers all of the same amenties with the exception of electricity.
Our Campsite at Palmetto State Park
Since this park is so shaded and offers access to the San Marcos River, this is a great option for summer camping. However, the park is prone to flooding during periods of high rain. So you'll definitely want to pay attention to the weather. During our stay, we received a note from Mike T. via our Facebook Page warning us that a storm was headed toward the Texas Coast. That storm turned out to be Hurricane Harvey. We made it back home to Houston in time to prepare, but sure enough Harvey decided to wear out his welcome and the deluge of rain he brought with him caused several parks, including Palmetto, to temporarily close. We're happy to report that after a month of recovering from the flood, Palmetto State Park has reopened!
Since this beautiful park doesn't have a lot of campsites, it's best to make your reservation early for weekends March through November or anytime during the summer while the kiddos are out of school. During the off-season or during the week outside of summer, the park is a quiet oasis. This is especially true further away from the river recreation area. We visited from Sunday to Wednesday in late August. Most of the campsites were occupied and quite a few folks were enjoying the river when we arrived. But since schools had already resumed, most of the sites in the RV loop and all of the tent camping loop were empty throughout the rest of our stay. Since the park was quiet, we were treated to a lot of visits from the local wildlife.
Park-Hosted Eclipse Viewing Party
While we were setting up camp we were greeted by one of the park hosts who offered to help us with anything we might need assistance with. Shortly after that, we noticed a post from Palmetto State Park's Facebook page inviting folks to a solar eclipse watch party (the eclipse happened on Monday while we were there). Knowing that we would be camping at a heavily wooded park and not having the special glasses, we had assumed we would skip the eclipse watching experience. However, the park's party changed those plans. The next day we drove over to the scenic overlook and joined about 20 folks watching the eclipse with glasses provided by the park! What a great bonus experience for our trip!
Our favorite things about Palmetto State Park? This park was incredibly clean. There was no trash in our campsite or anywhere. The bathhouses were spotless. The trails were incredibly well maintained. It's clear that this park is very well cared for by the staff, park hosts and other volunteers. And y'all know we always enjoy visiting CCC-built parks!
What do we wish the park would add? Honestly, nothing comes to mind. The headquarters houses a small souvenir store, and the Luling Buc-cee's is 5 miles or so away if you need other items. You're close to the history in Gonzales and the BBQ trail in Luling & Lockhart so the location is great. The ecosystem is quite unique for this area, the shade is wonderful and the wildlife and bird watching is fascinating. Put Palmetto State Park on your list of places to visit. We will definitely be back!
A Few of the Park's Namesake Palmettos
San Marcos River
The History of Palmetto State Park:
268 acre Palmetto State Park is named for the large numbers of dwarf palmetto plants that thrive here and play a big role in defining a landscape very unique to this part of Texas: swamp land! In fact, according to the Texas State Historical Association, this is the only palmetto swamp in the Southwest. Back in the day, the Ottine Swamp was full of active mud boils and warm springs. This, along with the occasional overflow of the San Marcos River, which runs through the park, made for a much more tropical environment than you would normally find outside of East Texas. Today, though the mud boils are extinct and the underground water table is lower, Palmetto State Park still feels like a tropical oasis. As is the case in many places, the path of the San Marcos River has changed over the years. Today, the park offers access to the river, as well as the 4-acre Oxbow Lake which was formed by erosion when the river changed directions.
The CCC Refectory at Palmetto State Park
CCC Built Water Tower
The park land was obtained by the State of Texas in 1933 from a variety of sources including the nearby City of Gonzales. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) arrived here in 1934 and began constructing the park road, a park residence (now the park headquarters), the low water crossing over the river, the water tower, refectory, retention dams, culverts, picnic tables, BBQ pits and two entrance signs. From 1934 to 1937, three CCC companies worked to build the park: companies 873, 1823 and 886 (who came here after completing their work at Lake Corpus Christi State Park). Today, several CCC structures remain in the park including the park road, low water crossing, headquarters, refectory, entrance sign, artesian well and pond, and the water tower. If you appreciate CCC architecture, you should definitely add Palmetto State Park to your list of parks to visit.
The CCC-built water tower originally provided water from the springs to the refectory, and we've heard, to the neighboring Village of Ottine. Today it operates with the purpose of providing the water necessary to maintain the tropical environment including the palmettos. CCC architects always worked with the goal of building structures that blended into and complimented the surrounding environment. In keeping with that goal here at Palmetto State Park, the refectory (also known as the CCC Pavilion) was originally roofed with 35,000 palmetto leaves harvested both locally and from as far away as Huntsville! This pavilion was named one of the most outstanding park buildings in the United States by the National Park Service.
San Marcos River Trailhead
Things to Do at Palmetto State Park:
Bird Watching: Palmetto State Park is located on the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail and is recognized as a "hot spot" for birding. The unique vegetation and riverside location attract a wide variety of year-round and migratory birds. More than 240 species of birds have been identified within the park.
Geocaching: Palmetto State Park is a great park for geocachers. There are four official park caches hidden here as well as a few others. The five caches we found during our stay were easy to access and well maintained. If you're not familiar with geocaching, check out our post "Discover Amazing Places By Geocaching" to learn more about this fun global game!
Hiking: This park contains approximately 5 miles of hiking trails all rated as "Easy" or "Moderate". Most of the trails are easy to access from the RV camping loop making this a very walkable park. There are not a lot of elevation changes within the park and the trails are well-maintained. Historically, this area was primarily swampy with mud boils and natural springs, and that swampiness can return to some of the trails during rainy periods. So some of the trails feature a good number of foot bridges. Points of interest around the park trails include the CCC Water Tower on the Palmetto Interpretive Trail and the extinct mud boils on the San Marcos River Trail. Folks tell us that the Oxbow Lake Trail can be a good spot for watching water fowl, especially during migrations.
Boat Rental Area
Fishing Pier and Fish Cleaning Table
Biking: The terrain at Palmetto State Park make this park an easy park to bike. You can ride on the roads and on all of the trails, unless they are specifically marked otherwise. But, please be extremely cautious on the main park road. It is a through street and traffic is not limited to folks solely visiting the park. Due to low areas and potential bogs, we would not suggest riding bikes off of the trails.
Fishing: A small fishing pier is available near the tent camping loop. You can fish from the pier or from the banks of the San Marcos River or in Oxbow Lake. No fishing license is required when fishing from a pier or bank inside a Texas State Park. If you do not have fishing gear, you can borrow some from the park.
Pedal Boating / Canoeing / Kayaking / Paddleboarding: Pedal boats, canoes, kayaks and paddleboards are available for rent in the park. If you'd prefer to tube, the park also offers tube rentals. The rental area is located near the tent camping loop next to the bridge. You can also bring your own equipment to enjoy the park waterways.
Wildlife Viewing: Wildlife was everywhere during our stay! We saw several white-tailed deer, armadillos, rabbits, squirrels and a variety of birds. The San Marcos River Trail was a great wildlife viewing hike during our visit. We came across several deer on the riverbank. We also saw an owl while hiking the Mesquite Flats Trail. Friends warned us to be on the lookout for snakes (and the park has signs posted throughout with the same warning), but we didn't see a snake during our stay.
Ranger Programs: While we were at the park, the rangers hosted a viewing party for the solar eclipse. The park even provided glasses for everyone! Check with the headquarters to find out what programs are being offered during your stay.
Swimming: Swimming is available in the San Marcos River within the park. While we were there, most folks were accessing the river near the tent camping loop. No lifeguards are on duty. Swim at your own risk.
CCC Built Artesian Well and Ponds
Scenic Overlook at Palmetto State Park
Other Amenities at Palmetto State Park:
Scenic Overlook: Located on Park Road 11 between the Park Headquarters and US Highway 183, you'll want a vehicle to get from the camping areas to the scenic overlook. You'll pass through the Village of Ottine on the way. The scenic overlook is where we watched the August 2017 solar eclipse.
CCC Structures: This park is full of CCC history! During your visit be sure to check out the water tower, refectory, and artesian well all built here by the CCC between 1934 and 1937.
Rinse Station: If you'd like to rinse off your pup, your kids or yourself after a swim, hike or bike ride, Palmetto State Park offers an outdoor Rinse Station at the entrance to the RV camping loop (basically between the bathhouse and dump station).
Playground: Families with kids will enjoy the playground located next to the tent camping loop. Picnic tables are also in this area.
Contact Palmetto State Park:
Park Address: 78 Park Road 11 South, Gonzales TX 78629
This camping area is reserved for RV campers only. All RV sites are made of asphalt, and they all looked to be in good shape during our visit. Each RV site has a picnic table, a BBQ grill or smoker, a lantern post and a fire ring. Many of the sites can accomodate larger rigs (max length = 65 feet). Sites are shaded.
There is a bathhouse with showers located in the loop. It was very clean during our visit. The dump station is located next to the loop's bathhouse by site number 2. It is easy to access, but folks using it are parked on the main loop road during that time.
Tent Campsite at Palmetto State Park
Low Water Crossing on the San Marcos River
Tent Camping at Palmetto State Park:
Water Only Loop
Campsite Numbers: 20-40
Total Campsites: 19
Water at Each Campsite
Park at Campsite
Each tent camping site has a fire ring, grill or smoker, lantern post and a picnic table. Parking is on asphalt at each site. Sites are shaded. Some have a water view. The tent loop has a bathhouse with showers and is located near the playground, pedal boats and fishing pier.
Palmetto State Park's Cabin
Cabins and Shelters at Palmetto State Park:
Limited Use Cabin
Air Conditioned Cabin: 1
Water at Site
Park at Cabin
Cabin site has a fire ring, smoker, lantern post and a picnic table. Inside is a refrigerator and a microwave oven. Parking is on concrete at the site. The cabin shares the tent loop bathhouse.
Visiting Palmetto State Park For a Day:
Day Use Areas
Picnic tables are located near the Artesian Well, playground and CCC pavilion. Day use visitors have access to the boat rentals, fishing pier and all park amenities.
Palmetto State Park Information:
Year Opened: 1936
Discount Passes Accepted: Texas State Parks Pass
CCC Park? Yes! Visit the CCC Pavilion, Water Tower and Artesian Well.
Park Store? Yes.
Lodging Options at Palmetto State Park: RV Camping, Tent Camping, Air Conditioned Cabin, Group Camping
Disclaimer: These details are accurate to to the best of our knowledge. We try our best to provide accurate information, but we are human and sometimes details change. Please check with the park directly to confirm current information.