Tucked into the beautiful Pineywoods of East Texas, near the towns of Tatum, Longview, Marshall and Kilgore, you'll find the only state park in Texas with tent camping on an island... yes, we said an island... and no... this is nowhere near the coast. But that's not all you'll find at Martin Creek Lake State Park! This smallish state park is full of surprises.
As we explored Martin Creek Lake State Park, we felt like we were in one of our historic Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) parks. This park has the look and feel of a classic CCC park with stone accents along the roadside, but it wasn't built during the CCC era of the 1930s and early 1940s. Martin Creek Lake State Park was built in 1976.
Our Campsite at Martin Creek Lake State Park
Martin Creek Lake State Park also reminded us of some of the river authority parks we've visited around Texas. River authority parks are typically built on a man-made lake constructed to cool a power plant. And that is the case with this park and its namesake, Martin Creek Lake.
While the power plant across the lake is often in sight (and lets out an often noticeable hum) it is the reason that this body of water and the state park exist.
Spring was a really nice time to visit Martin Creek Lake State Park. The trees were green, the wildflowers were beginning to bloom, the weather was nice, the birds were singing and the animals were active.
Our Experience at Martin Creek Lake State Park
Hiking at Martin Creek Lake State Park
Being a smaller park, Martin Creek Lake State Park is not one that you hear a lot about. So we didn't really know what to expect from our visit.
We were scheduled to spend a week in a 50amp electric and water campsite in the Bee Tree Camping Loop. When we arrived, we asked the park ranger if there were possibly any park host campsites available that were not being used during the week. Lucky for us, Site 26 was open in the Broken Bowl Camping Loop. We were able to upgrade our reservation to this site which had full-hookups.
During our stay we enjoyed hiking, listening to the birds, watching deer and visiting nearby Tatum, Texas for their annual Tatum Pecan Pie Festival! The park felt a million miles away from just about everything. It was extremely well-maintained. The campsites were tidy and mowed, the restrooms were spotless, the trails were in good shape. The entire park was incredibly clean. And the staff and volunteers were all really nice and helpful.
Our favorite hike was the Island Trail hike. It was well-marked and wooded with views of the lake. But what really made it special is its location... on an island. There aren't many places we've been to that offer a hike on an island. To our knowledge, the only other Texas state park with island hiking is Martin Dies Jr State Park (which we visited many years ago and need to get back to). The only other one that comes to mind for us so far was Elk Island in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming! While this island isn't as spectular as that one, it was still a really nice hike.
CCC Looking Stonework
Our Favorite Things About Martin Creek Lake State Park
There is so much we like about this park. We've mentioned that the people here are fantastic and the park was very well-maintained. Those are definitely two of our favorite things about this park.
We love the classic look and feel of the park. It definitely feels like the designers gave a hat tip to the men of the Civilian Conservation Corps who built so many parks during the Great Depression.
We also really enjoyed how peaceful it was during our stay. We visited in April 2021. During the week, there aren't a whole lot of folks in the park. (Spring Break and Summer are likely exceptions to that.) The park states that their busy season is Spring and Summer. With all of the water activities, it's easy to see why.
But even during the Summer, we don't think heat would be a big issue at Martin Creek Lake State Park. And that leads us to our other favorite feature: the shade! Remember, this park is located in the beautiful Pineywoods of East Texas. The trees here are tall and provide a great amount of shade which absolutely makes the campsite feel a lot cooler.
And More Wildflowers
The History of Martin Creek Lake:
Martin's Creek is named for Daniel Martin. Martin and John Irons settled the this area where they built a small fort and trading post in 1833. The community known as Harmony Hill, located on the Old Henderson-Shreveport trading route near the present town of Tatum, was originally known as Nip-n-Tuck.
Harmony Hill reached its peak with a population of about 100 residents in the 1880s and 1890s as an agriculatural community on the trade route. It was designated as a flag stop when the railroad came through in 1888, but it was mostly bypassed by the railroads in favor of Tatum. A tornado destroyed much of Harmony Hill in 1906 and the town never recovered. The historic town cemetery sits just outside of Martin Creek Lake State Park.
Archaeological studies of Martin Creek Lake State Park have identified nineteenth and twentieth century farmstead sites and townsite remnants. Historians also believe that this area was likely inhabited by people as much as 13,000 years ago, including the Caddo people beginning around 1,200 years ago. The indigenous hunter/gatherers, as well as Cherokee and Shawnee peoples and European and Spanish explorers are thought to have lived here until the early 19th century.
Martin Creek Lake was impounded in 1974 to provide cooling water for the power plant that was built across the lake from what would become the state park. The lake encompasses almost 5,000 acres and has a maximum depth of 35 feet.
In 1976, the Texas Utilities Generating Company deeded 286 acres to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Martin Creek Lake State Park opened to the public later that year.
Fishing Pier and Power Plant
Things to Do at the Martin Creek Lake State Park:
Hiking: Martin Creek Lake State Park is home to three hiking trails: the easy-rated 1.5 mile Harmony Loop Trail, the moderate-rated 1.2 mile Old Henderson Road Loop Trail, and the easy-rated 1.2 mile Island Trail.
The Old Henderson Road Loop Trail follows a section of an historic trade route between Henderson TX and Shreveport LA. The Harmony Hill Loop continues with a touch of history by touching the Nationally Registered Historic District of Harmony Hill. The cemetery dates to the 1840s. And the Island Trail... well it's completely unique because it is on an ISLAND!
Boating: Boat ramps are located in the Day Use Area of the park. A large parking lot is right next to the ramps. Water skiing is allowed on the lake.
Paddling: Bring your own kayak/canoe or rent one from the park.
Biking: All 3 hiking trails in the park are open to bicycles. Bikes can also be a great way to get around the park. This park is not a huge park, so it's easy to move around from point-to-point within the park by bicycle.
Ranger Programs: Check with the Events Page of Martin Creek Lake State Park's website or the park headquarters for a list of scheduled Ranger Programs. Ranger programs include guided hikes, fishing programs, art classes, night sky programs, campfire talks, coffee discussions, wildlife and birding classes.
Day Use Area
Fish Cleaning Station
Fishing: Because Martin Creek Lake was built as a cooling lake for the power plant, the lake water is warm all year round. Fish in the lake include largemouth bass, crappie, channel and yellow catfish, sunfish and tilapia. Night fishing is available to non-campers for an additional fee. Bait is available at the park headquarters.
Martin Creek Lake State Park features shore and lighted pier fishing and a fish cleaning station near the boat ramp in the day use area. You do not need a fishing license to fish from the shore or from a pier in a Texas State Park. You do need a fishing license to fish from a kayak, canoe, boat or other watercraft in Martin Creek Lake.
If you don't have fishing gear, you can borrow some from the headquarters.
Birding: Between the lake and the pine-oak forest, Martin Creek Lake State Park can be a great bird-watching destination. Depending on when you visit, you might see Bald Eagles, Ospreys, Herons, Egrets, Hawks, Cuckoos, Hummingbirds, Woodpeckers, Swallows and a ton more! Check out the free birding resource: Birds of Martin Creek Lake State Park Field Checklist for a ton of information about the local birds.
Wildlife Viewing: Martin Creek Lake State Park is home to armadillos, squirrels, raccoons, rabbits, possums, beaver and white-tailed deer.
Geocaching: A few geocaches are hidden throughout the park and quite a few in the area between the park and the city of Tatum.
Swimming: Lake swimming is available in the Day Use Area of the park. No lifeguards are on duty.
Other Amenities at Martin Creek Lake State Park:
Park Store: A small souvenir store is located inside the park headquarters.
Amphitheater: The park amphitheater is located next to the restrooms in the Bee Tree Camping Loop. Bench seating is available.
Special Events: Martin Creek Lake State Park plays host to many large fishing tournaments throughout the year and Christmas in the Park each December.
Firewood Sales: Firewood is available for purchase via vending machines within the park.
Twin Oaks Amphitheater
Bridge to the Island
Martin Creek Lake State Park Details:
Open Year Round? Yes
Reservations Available: 6 Months Prior to Camping Date
Check-In Time: 2:00 pm
Check-Out Time: 12:00 pm
Park Gate: Yes
Gate Open Hours: 6am - 10pm
RV Campsite Lengths: 47 - 60 feet
Total RV/Tent Sites: 60
Total Tent Only Sites: 12
Total Screened Shelter Sites: 19
Total Cabin Sites: 4
Contact Martin Creek Lake State Park:
Park Address: 9515 County Road 2181D, Tatum TX 75691
RV and Tent Camping at Martin Creek Lake State Park:
Broken Bowl Camping Area
Total Sites: 13
Site Numbers: 22-34
30 Amp Electricity
Electric and Water Hookups
Site Lengths: 50-57'
Campsites include a picnic table, lantern hook and fire ring. Sites are paved. Most sites are shaded. Some sites have lake views. A bathhouse with restrooms and private showers is shared with the Shelter Camping Area.
Bee Tree Camping Area
Total Sites: 47
Site Numbers: 35-81
30/50 Amp Electricity
Electric and Water Hookups
Site Lengths: 47-60'
Campsites include a picnic table, lantern hook and fire ring. Sites are paved. Most are shaded. Some sites have lake views. Some have shade structures over the picnic table. A bathhouse with restrooms and private showers is located in the loop.
Bigger rigs should check with park rangers for recommendations regarding sites easier to back into. Some sites are more level than others, and some have trees closer to the parking pad.
Trash dumpsters and overflow parking spaces are located near each bathhouse.
A very nice double dump station is located between the 2 RV camping loops.
Primitive Island Campsite
Broken Bowl/Shelter Bathhouse
Additional Camping at Martin Creek Lake State Park:
Primitive Camping Area
Total Sites: 12
Site Numbers: 1-12
Primitive Camping - No Electricity
Parking Across Footbridge
These primitive tent sites are located on an ISLAND! Parking is approximately 200 yards away from nearest campsite. Restrooms without showers are located near the parking area across the footbridge. Nearest showers are located between the Shelter Camping Area and the Broken Bowl Camping Area. Campsites include a picnic table and lantern post. Some have a fire ring.
Cabins at Martin Creek Lake State Park:
Total Sites: 2
Site Numbers: 1-2
Air Conditioned and Heated
Water and Electricity
Restroom and Kitchen Inside Cabin
Parking at Cabin
These cabins include a furnished living room, kitchen, bathroom, bedroom and a screened back porch with ceiling fan. Bedroom includes 2 full beds. Bathroom includes toilet, sink, shower and bathtub. Kitchen includes electric range, oven, refrigerator, microwave, sink and k-pod style coffee maker. A picnic table, fire pit and grill are included. Bring your own kitchenware and linens.
Cottages In Shelter Area
Total Sites: 2
Site Numbers: 2-3
Air Conditioned and Heated
Water and Electricity
Restrooms With Showers Nearby
Parking at Cottage
These cottages include 2 sets of bunk beds with 3 twin beds and 1 full bed, a picnic table, fire ring, and lantern post. Bring your own linens. No kitchen. Bathhouse with restrooms and showers is shared with the Shelter Camping Area and Broken Bowl Camping Area. No pets allowed. Water spigot is outside.
Tents are allowed at these cottages.
Shelters at Martin Creek Lake State Park:
Shelter Camping Area
Total Sites: 19
Site Numbers: 1, 4-21
30 Amp Electricity
Electric and Water
Parking at Shelter
Pets are not allowed. Each Shelter includes a picnic table, lantern post and fire ring. Some shelters have lake views. Water spigot is outside. Parking is on pavement. A bathhouse with restrooms and showers is shared with the Broken Bowl Camping Area.
Visiting Martin Creek Lake State Park For a Day:
Day Use Areas
Bring a picnic and spend a day boating, fishing, swimming, biking or hiking. You'll find the park's Day Use Area (with 2 sets of public restrooms) on the shores of the lake near the front of the park. A walk across the bridge will take you to the Island Trails. Day Passes can now be reserved up to one month in advance. Day Pass Reservation information is available through Reserve America.
Please Note: 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.