Texans pride themselves on traditions. One summer activity that has become a tradition for Texas families everywhere is floating the river. A visit to Garner State Park is my family’s tradition, as it is for countless others taking Texas vacations. For more than 80 years, my family owned riverfront property on the Frio River, near the iconic bluff known as Old Baldy. Our property became an official part of Garner State Park when we sold it to the State of Texas in 2010.
Before we sold it, this property was our stomping ground on holidays like Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends and, my favorite, the 4th of July. We usually had around 20 people staying at the house including cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents—everyone who could come, came. Even though we don’t own the property anymore, we still remain loyal to the park and river, visiting often. Once you experience the magic of Garner State Park, you can’t help but make it a tradition of your own.
Our house was the perfect place to stay because of its direct river access and convenient location by Garner State Park landmarks. Our favorite spots to visit are also some of the most tradition-rich places in the park. Every summer evening at the Garner State Park Pavilion there is an event, affectionately called “the dance” by all who grew up knowing its charm. It’s a place for family, friends and lots of country music.
Another tradition of ours is eating at Neal’s Restaurant, where we always enjoy amazing food with a beautiful view of the river. Neal’s is famous for its home-style country food and relaxed atmosphere. My family also loves to visit the collection of small, one-of-a-kind shops near the restaurant. We would be sure to visit the Garner State Park Gift Shop every time we went to the river because we never knew what new things we would find. There’s also a unique spot on the side of the road where you can find metalwork decorations and lots of little gadgets for kids. These one-of-a-kind shops are part of what gives the park its charm.
While the women ate and shopped, the men played 9 holes on the Concan Golf Course. This was one of their traditions, and the scenic views of the hill country course made their visit to the golf course one of the highlights of their trip. Us girls would get back to the house with shopping bags and full stomachs while the boys returned with sunburns and every stroke and final score memorized.
The best thing we did each year was hike up Old Baldy, usually in the early morning or late evening, to get a panoramic view of Garner State Park. From the top of the bluff, there’s a truly breathtaking view of the Frio River, the mountains and the park. The beauty of the Texas Hill Country is all wrapped up in one incredible view, and is one of the most amazing places to visit in Texas. Hiking up Old Baldy was something we could do as a family, and it is a memory none of us will ever forget.
by Kelley Poole