In this guide we’re sharing everything you need to know before visiting Garner State Park in Texas, including how to get there, where to stay, and the best things to do!
While we both grew up in Texas and had often heard how incredible Garner State Park was, we never made it out to the park. At around 3 hours one way from Austin, it always felt a bit far away for a weekend trip when we lived here full time. But while spending time in Texas at the beginning of 2021, we decided we better finally make it out there and see it for ourselves.
And WOW, we had been missing out…Garner State Park lives up to the hype! The park is nestled in the hill country, with incredible views of the surrounding hills, that almost look more like mountains. Then throw in the gorgeous, crystal clear waters of the Frio River, unique hikes, and fun activities in the park, and you have yourself a Texas masterpiece!
Our weekend at Garner State Park was one of the best weekends we have had in a long time and further proved one of our biggest travel beliefs: some of the best adventures can be in your own “backyard.” We have often overlooked places in Texas in search of further away places, but Garner State Park very quickly showed us how much beauty we have had close by for so long.
And we can’t wait for you to experience it for yourself! In this guide we’re sharing all of the best things to do at Garner State Park, plus when to visit, where to stay, and more. We hope this helps you plan an amazing adventure in the Texas Hill Country!
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Leave No Trace Principles
Before embarking on your adventure, please review the Leave No Trace principles to ensure you leave every place better than you found it, so that others can enjoy these beautiful places for many years to come!
- Plan ahead & prepare. Make sure you research and prepare for every adventure so that you know the rules, stay safe, and to minimize resource damage.
- Travel & camp on durable surfaces. Stay on the trail and only camp in designated areas, as well as the required length away from water sources.
- Dispose of waste properly. Whatever you pack in, pack it out! Make sure to carry out your trash, as well as any trash you find. If you have a dog, please do not leave poop bags on the trail. For human waste, use a trowel to dig a hole far from water sources or use a wag bag (sometimes required).
- Leave what you find. Do not take any items from the trail with you, including rocks, plants, or artifacts.
- Minimize campfire impacts. Know the rules of where you can and cannot have campfires and if allowed, use designated fire rings. Use local firewood to prevent bringing any pests or diseases to the area you’re visiting and make sure to fully extinguish your fire.
- Respect wildlife. Keep your distance from wildlife, control your pets on the trail, and never ever feed them! Make sure to keep your food stored properly as well (we like this bear canister).
- Be considerate of other visitors. Be respectful to others on the trail. Hikers going uphill have the right of way on hikes and it’s always courteous to let those quicker than you pass. Avoid playing music out loud, talking loudly, and having your pets bother others.
Note: this guide contains affiliate links, which means that if you use the links provided and make a purchase, we get a small commission at no extra cost to you. We will only ever recommend products we truly love, actually use during our adventures, and think you can benefit from too!
About Garner State Park
Garner State Park is a Texas State Park located in the heart of the beautiful hill country of Central Texas, near the towns of Concan and Leakey.
And while the park is very well loved today, the land now known as Garner State Park has been used for over 10,000 years. First with prehistoric people, who hunted in the area, used stone for tools, and relied on the water source, and then by the Native Americans.
Eventually, German immigrants began to descend on the area, including the Magers family, who owned some of the land now known as Garner State Park. In the 1920s, as camping became a more popular pastime, they opened up some of their land to campers.
The land then got into the hands of the Civilian Conservation Corps, which was a program created by Franklin Roosevelt to provide jobs after the depression, focusing on developing national and state parks. Between 1935 and 1941, the CCC worked on building Garner State Park and it officially opened on June 1, 1941, named after Vice President John Nance Garner, who was native to the area.
The park is now a total of 1,774 acres and provides a wide variety of things to do, with some of the most popular activities revolving around the Frio River, or Rio Frio (cold river). This river is 200 miles long, with 3 miles running through Garner State Park, and is lined by gorgeous Cypress trees. The river has the clearest water we have ever seen in Texas and provides endless kayaking, tubing, swimming, and fishing adventures.
There is just something magical about Garner. Whether you hit the water, hit the trails, or hit the dance floor (more on that in a bit!), it’s hard to not fall in love with Garner State Park.
Getting to Garner State Park
While distance is what kept us from Garner State Park for so long, don’t let it keep you from exploring this gem!
If you’re coming from out of state, the closest airport you can fly into is San Antonio International Airport, which is about 1 hour and 40 minutes from Garner State Park. Most major airlines fly in and out of San Antonio including American, Delta, Southwest, and United with many non stop flights from major cities across the US including Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York, and Seattle.
Driving from somewhere else in Texas? Garner State Park is a beautiful drive from some of the major cities in Central Texas, like Austin and San Antonio. Here’s how long it takes:
Austin: 3 hours 12 minutes, 176 miles
San Antonio: 1 hour 40 minutes, 93.5 miles
Houston: 4 hours 32 minutes, 286 miles
Dallas: 5 hours 41 minutes, 364 miles
When to visit Garner State Park
Garner State Park is great to visit anytime of the year, but your overall experience may vary by season depending on what activities you would like to do. Here’s a rundown of what you can expect in each season:
Average High: 92-95ºF
Average Low: 70ºF
Visit in the summer if: being out on the water is your biggest goal!
Summer is considered to be the “best” and most popular time to visit Garner State Park. With a lot of activities revolving around the Frio River, Texans flock to Garner in the summer time to go tubing, kayaking, swimming, and more!
While this may be the best time if you want to be on the water, it is a very hot time to visit the park (and Texas in general) and will be very busy, so be prepared to not have much solitude. The daytime temperatures will be in the 90s, so if you want to enjoy a campfire or go for a hike, things may be a little more uncomfortable. But the Frio River will be crazy refreshing!
Average High: 73-90ºF
Average Low: 47-66ºF
Visit in the fall if: you want to hike and enjoy the Frio River
One thing that is good to know about Texas is that the weather loves to have extremes. One day it can be 80ºF out and the next it’s snowing. While the fall may be a bit riskier in terms of weather, it could be summer-like or it could get very cold, this is a great time to visit the park.
The summer crowds have died down, the weather will likely be better for hiking the trails (without sweating buckets!), and if you catch the park on a warmer weekend, you can still enjoy water activities without freezing.
Average High: 63-69ºF
Average Low: 37-47ºF
Visit in the winter if: you want solitude!
We visited in the winter (January specifically) and we cannot recommend it enough! This is the least busy time of the year to visit the park and while there were a decent amount of campers, we hardly ran into anyone on trails or on the water.
Note: It did help that COVID reduced the park’s capacity, but it also likely has encouraged more people to get outdoors, so we can’t say for sure how the crowds compared to a normal January.
While we have had a strange winter in Texas this year (we currently have inches of snow in my parent’s yard), we got very lucky with the PERFECT weather at Garner. The mornings were cold, but during the day it was in the 50s-60s with full sunshine.
We were able to hike without dying from the heat and we went out on the Frio River in our new inflatable kayak. We barely saw anyone on the river and were still able to enjoy kayaking, despite it not being 90 degrees.
If you’re like us and prefer solitude, visiting Garner in the winter is a great choice!
Average High: 78-87ºF
Average Low: 49-64ºF
Visit in the spring if: you want to hike and enjoy the Frio River
Similar to the fall, spring in Texas can range in temperature, but for the most part, it’ll likely be pretty warm, without being miserably hot, and the crowds will be lower (except for Spring Break). You can still enjoy the majority of the things to do at Garner State Park during this time!
Where to stay at Garner State Park
There are a variety of options when it comes to where to stay when visiting Garner State Park, both inside the park, as well as outside the park.
Accommodations in Garner State Park
If you solely want to explore Garner State Park and don’t mind roughing it a little bit, there are quite a few options of places to stay inside the park.
There are 7 campgrounds in Garner State Park with a variety of features, including full hookups for RVs, campsites with electricity and water, and campsites with just water. These campsites range in price from $15-35/night, plus your daily entrance fee.
As we mentioned above, we recommend booking these early, as the campgrounds do fill up, especially in the summertime!
Screened in shelters
Another option you have in Garner State Park are campsites with screened in shelters. These would be perfect for those hot summer days! Both Old Garner and New Garner have sites with screened in shelters and they are priced $35 and $30 per night, respectively. Be aware that no RVs are allowed at these sites, they are for tents only.
Cabins in the park
If you want to stay in a cabin in the park, you’re in luck! There are two cabin options, 13 with fireplaces and 4 without fireplaces. A cabin with a fireplace is $150/night and without is $130/night, plus a $100 cleaning deposit due when you check in. A minimum of a two night reservation is required for any cabin you choose.
The cabins sleep 4 people and come with two double beds, shower, A/C, heat, kitchen sink, toilet, microwave, refrigerator, and stove.
Accommodations outside of Garner State Park
Prefer to stay outside of the park? There are quite a few places offering cabins and RV spots, with most also having their own private river access. Here are a few good options to look into!
4J Riverway Cabins and RV
4J Riverway Cabins offer a variety of different cabin sizes to choose from, ranging from $89-$280 per night during the peak season, which goes from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend. All cabins come with A/C, dishes, pots and pans, coffee maker, outdoor grill and table, and WiFi. There is a 3 night minimum reservation during the peak season.
They also have RV sites, all of which are $58/night. And you can access the river from the property!
Zubers River Camp
Want to stay on the Frio River in the shadow of Old Baldy? Then Zubers River Camp is prime real estate. They offer 12 cabins, 6 shelters, and 31 full RV hookups, with prices (ranging by season) for a variety of budgets. And the best part? It’s located right across the river from Garner State Park!
There is a 3 night minimum reservation during the peak season, which is Memorial Day through Labor Day.
River Rim Resort
River Rim Resort has a variety of pet-friendly cabin options all with air conditioning and heat, WiFi, TVs, outdoor fire pits, BBQ pits, picnic tables, as well as furnished kitchens. There is even a pool onsite if you want a break from the river!
Andy’s on River Road
Andy’s is about a 10 minute drive from Garner State Park and has cabins, RV sites, and tent sites to choose from. They also offer a shuttle service for floating the river so you can float downstream and be driven back upstream!
Seven Bluff Cabins
If you’re traveling with a family or group of people, Seven Bluff Cabins has options ranging from 5 people to 16! And some are riverfront too! There is also a RV park on site, as well as a pool, pecan orchard, and onsite tube rentals.
The Tiny Farmhouse: Hill Country Tiny Home Retreat: Warning! This Airbnb is in Hondo, TX, about a 52 minute drive from the park, but if you’re looking for a beautiful and romantic getaway this is it! This adorable tiny farmhouse cabin has 1 bed, 1 bathroom, plus a great outdoor space.
Hippies & Cowboys: A 1 bed, 1 bathroom colorful, newly remodeled tiny house that is pet friendly, just 3.4 miles from the park.
Wild & Free Tiny Home: This is a 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom house, but can sleep 4 people on 3 total beds. It has an eclectic vibe and is located close to the park.
River House Hideaway: A private and secluded 2 bedroom, 1.5 bathroom house with access to the Dry Frio River (which is not dry), Garner State Park, and Lost Maples. You are almost guaranteed to see wildlife and wonderful stargazing at night!
The Chimney House on the River: A beautiful 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom tiny house, also located with access to the Dry Frio River.
The Louise Cottage: This 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom cottage is full of vintage, rustic charm and funky flair and sleeps up to 6 people.
How much time do you need in Garner State Park?
We only had a full Saturday and part of a Sunday to enjoy the park and while we could easily have spent a week at Garner State Park, just enjoying the scenery, kayaking, hiking, and relaxing, we felt like we got to see and do everything we wanted.
To see the top sights, such as hiking Old Baldy and getting on the Frio River, having two full days would be the most ideal. But if you want to relax a bit, you could definitely still enjoy the park for longer!
Things to know before visiting Garner State Park
Before heading to Garner State Park, there are a few more things you should know!
It costs $8 per person per day to visit Garner State Park. If you camp at the park, this fee will be added to your reservation. Otherwise, you will have to pay every day that you enter.
However, if you have the Texas State Parks Pass, you’ll be able to get in for free! This pass is $70 per year and gets you into all state parks for free for the year, as well as discounts on camping. It’s totally worth the cost if you plan to visit a few state parks a year.
We highly recommend making reservations before visiting Garner for both day passes and camping. Because of COVID, the park is currently (as of writing this guide) limiting capacity, so it’s best to get your pass in advance so you don’t risk being turned away at the gate. During the summer, the park fills up FAST, so you’ll especially want to make a reservation if visiting then. You can book your day pass one month before your visit.
For camping, we got one of the last few available spots, booking about a month out. They were limiting campsites, to keep campers distanced from each other, as well as had some seasonal campground closures, so there were less spots available to begin with. You will definitely want to book your campsite as early as possible, up to 5 months in advance.
There are rentals + a store in the park
Garner State Park has a park store where you can rent tubes, life jackets, BBQ pits, fans, heaters, and buy groceries, toiletries, etc. There is not a grocery store near the park, so make sure to bring everything you need, but if you forget something, they’ll have you covered!
The park has a restaurant
There is a grill at the park, which has burgers and other items, so if you want a break from cooking, enjoy a fresh, hot meal at the Garner Grill! The grill is only open in the summers (Memorial Day on), as well as spring break.
There is also an ice cream shop for dessert! Garner truly has it all!
Where to launch kayaks and tubes
The property along the Frio River is private, minus Garner State Park. If you plan to spend all of your time in the park, this may not be an issue, as you can enter the Frio River from many spots in the park. But if you plan to visit the general area and want to kayak and tube in multiple parts of the river, there are rules on where the public can launch these items.
Besides Garner, the only public-access launch points are at County Road and Highway crossings. Staying off Garner property? You can launch your kayak from private property if you’re a guest there (such as some of the cabins and RV parks above).
The Best Things to do at Garner State Park
Not only is Garner State Park beautiful and worth it for the scenery alone, but there are also a wide variety of things to do, for all interests! Here are the best things to do at Garner State Park, from trails, to water activities, to even an evening dance party!
Go for a hike!
While the Frio River may get a lot of the love in the park, we LOVED hiking the trails at Garner State Park! Here are some of our top picks, all of which are relatively short, but can be steep, and ranging in types of scenery.
Old Baldy Trail
Elevation: 436 feet
Trail Map & Current Conditions
Old Baldy is the can’t miss hike at Garner State Park and is now one of our favorite hikes in Texas! This short, but steep trek is just enough to get your blood flowing and your heart pumping by the time you get to the top.
And once you’re there, you will have gorgeous views of the park and the surrounding beautiful Hill Country. We have explored a lot of the Hill Country, but something about these views were extra beautiful, almost resembling small mountains instead of hills.
We did this hike for sunrise, hiking up the rocky, steep trail in the dark (which was doable), and when we reached the top and saw the views of the hills and Frio River, all lit up in pinks, oranges, and yellows, it took our breath away.
Crystal Cave via Horseshoe Canyon and Bridges Trail Loop
Elevation: 403 feet
Trail Map & Current Conditions
One of the coolest experiences, and biggest surprise, at Garner State Park was Crystal Cave! This 30 foot cave is open to the public, so make sure to bring a light source and walk inside! It was bigger inside than we thought it would be and you’re even able to stand up in parts of it. It’s such a fun experience!
White Rock Cave
Elevation: 226 feet
Trail Map & Current Conditions
It’s a short and easy walk to the White Rock Cave from the main park area near the Frio River and similar to Crystal Cave, White Rock Cave is a cave you can go inside and explore! While it’s quite a bit smaller than Crystal Cave, it’s still worth checking out.
Old Baldy, Foshee, Bridges, and Crystal Cave Trails Loop
Elevation: 1,181 feet
Trail Map & Current Conditions
Want to experience all of the above? This trail combines the best of the previous three hikes mentioned. You’ll get to hike up Old Baldy, see both caves, and admire all of the views along the way. This is the trail we did at the park and loved it so much! Warning: some parts are very steep!
Enjoy the Frio River
The main attraction of Garner State Park is the Frio River and the crystal clear spring water is too beautiful to resist. Anyone who comes to the park likely will do something on or in the water and luckily you have a few options of activities to choose from!
Tubing is by far the most popular activity at Garner State Park, especially in the summer! You can rent tubes for $10 a day at the park and float down the river all day long. There is a tube shuttle you can use during the summer which will start you upstream and you can float down as far as you’d like. This costs between $3-$5 a person.
You can also do a 2 hour float inside the park that doesn’t require the shuttle. To do this, you can start at the pavilion and float down to the dam, then walk back to the pavilion.
Kayaking & SUP
If you’re visiting during cooler times of the year or want something different than tubing, we highly recommend kayaking (or stand up paddleboarding) on the Frio River! We recently bought an Intex Challenger K2 inflatable kayak and it is the BEST!
We spent a few hours going up and down the Frio River and it was perfect for a sunny winter day. If you do not own a kayak or SUP board, you can rent both of these, as well as paddle boats and a floating island, from the boat house.
Prefer just a good ol fashioned swim? While the Frio can be a bit chilly, on a 90-100ºF Texas day, jumping into the water would be insanely refreshing! You can swim anywhere in the river and there are even rope swings to swing from too!
The Frio River is home to Catfish, Largemouth bass, Bluegill, and Rainbow trout and makes for a great fishing spot. If you don’t own any fishing equipment, the park offers a Tackle Loaner Program that lets you borrow everything you need for up to 7 days. And one of the best parts about fishing in Texas is that you do not need a fishing license if you’re fishing in a Texas State Park!
If you’d rather explore trails by bike than by foot, there are several trails in the park that allow bikes including:
- Frio Canyon Trail– 2.9 miles
- Old Entrance Road– 0.8 miles
- Highway Trail– 0.6 miles
- Madrone Walkway– 0.7 miles
- Ashe Juniper Trail– 2.5 miles
To see a view of all of the bikeable trails, check out this map. You can combine the majority of these trails into one larger loop to explore the park too!
In the 1930s, the CCC developed the park facilities at Garner State Park. And one of the most iconic structures they built is the park’s concession building. The building is the centerpiece of the park, made from native limestone and bald cypress and overlooking the Frio River.
If you visit the park during the summer, then you’ll get to experience one of the most iconic experiences at Garner State Park, the summer dances. Every summer night since the 1940s, the concession building and its pavilion has turned into a dance floor.
The dances are every night between Memorial Day and mid-August from around 8 PM-11 PM. If you’re camping in the park, you can just head straight to the pavilion and get your dance on. If you’re staying off property, you’ll just need to pay the park entrance fee to attend (if you were in the park earlier that day your pass still works). But make sure to arrive early, as the parking lot fills up fast!
Even if you can’t attend the dance, you can still hear some of your favorite songs on the jukebox everyday from 9 AM-8PM!
Play mini golf
Besides tearing up the dance floor, Garner State Park has another unique activity that most state parks do not have, a mini golf course! The Stinkin’ Sweet Candy Golf mini golf course includes 18 holes of mini golf and is the perfect activity year-round. And bonus! It only costs $5 for the first round and $2 for the second!
They also have a sweets shop with nostalgic candies, sugary sodas, and some….very unique drinks.
Admire the night sky
“The stars at night are big and bright….deep in the heart of Texas!” We’re sorry if that song is now stuck in your head, but the lyrics are VERY true about Garner State Park! The sky is so dark at night and we saw SO many stars from our campsite. It was absolutely magical!
If you’re like us and enjoy trying night photography, Garner is a great place to do so! And perks of visiting in the winter is that the sunset is early, so you don’t have to stay up late to see the stars.
Other activities near Garner State Park
Looking for even more things to do while visiting Garner State Park? Here are some activities outside of the park, but close by and worth checking out!
Visit the Lost Maples State Natural Area
Located 40 minutes from Garner State Park lies another gem (so we hear!), Lost Maples State Natural Area. While not a state park, this area is home to 10 miles of trails, camping, steep canyon walls, and the Sabinal River.
This park is especially popular in the fall for fall foliage, as the park has Uvalde bigtooth maples, which turn into beautiful colors!
Note: It costs $6 to enter Lost Maples State Natural Area
See 12 million bats fly!
About 20 minutes south of Garner State Park is Frio Cave, which is home to 10-12 million Mexican Free Tailed bats, the second largest bat population in the world!
Between March and September, you can visit the cave (with a guide) and learn the history of the cave, learn about the bats, and then watch them fly out of the cave! You can also potentially see birds of prey swoop in and grab dinner.
It costs $10 for children (6-10), $11 for seniors and military, and $12 for adults and you can book your tour here!
Hike at the Hill Country State Natural Area
Another beautiful area to explore near Garner State Park is Hill Country State Natural Area. This park is about 1 hour away from Garner and has beautiful trails to hike, primitive camping, and if you happen to own a horse, you can ride them here too (or go on a tour with a local guide)!
Note: It costs $6 to enter Hill Country State Natural Area
Visit the Cowboy Capital of the World!
Bandera, Texas, about 1 hour from Garner State Park is nicknamed the Cowboy Capital of the World. Here, you can stay at a dude ranch, go on a horseback riding tour, check out a rodeo, and so much more!
Ready to visit Garner State Park?
Pin this guide with the best things to do at Garner State Park to plan your trip!