Wide Trails, Tall Bluffs at Atlanta State Park

Wide Trails, Tall Bluffs at Atlanta State Park

Atlanta State Park is a lovely spot for fall campers who like a serene view of the lake (like me, I’m nuts for lakes!) A friend and I spent a night there last weekend and, even though most of the campsites were taken, were usually secluded on the quiet, empty lake shores or all alone in the woods on the trails.

The park sits on high bluffs overlooking the south shore of Lake Wright Patman; the bluffs are made of clay and sand and crumbling away in places (there’s a closed asphalt road near the western boat ramp that looks like something took a bite out of it) with lots of interesting roots and waterlines and textures to explore. 

Atlanta State Park is divided into two sections, with a generous day use area, boat ramp and camping sites on the west side, and two more camping areas and a smaller boat ramp on the east. The road between the east and west sections is long enough that we didn’t bother trying to hoof it. I prefer my parks walk-able, but there’s currently a trail undergoing construction that, when finished, will connect both sides of the park (in a meandering sort of way.)

We camped in the White Oak Ridge camping area (on the east side) on a tall bluff that had a bit of a view of the lake through the woods. I was told at checkout that this area can get windy, although we were lucky and only had to put up with a little rain early the next morning. A new horseshoes playing field (court? turf?) was half-constructed in the middle of our camping loop, and we saw a finished set-up at the western day use area along with sand volleyball and a playground. But, our main recreation was the trails.

The Trails at Atlanta State Park

The White Oak Ridge and Hickory Hollow trails were a quiet and woody walk before lunch. White Oak Ridge had gentle, shady slopes and comes out at the lake on its north end, where there’s a little peninsula with grasshoppers and a bald cypress or two. On the map it looks like you should be able to get on this trail from the campsites just above it, but there weren’t any side paths leading to it that I could find near our site (51) so we entered via the trailhead by the bathrooms.

White Oak Ridge led to Hickory Hollow, which is marked as “moderate to challenging” on the official trail map, however I didn’t find it especially difficult. There are elevation changes, yes, but nothing too steep or crazy, and the hardest part was navigating a large puddle of water. The only trail markers we saw on these two trails were rectangles of paint on the trees, but there was large signage marking off-ramps to the camp sites and parking lot.

After lunch we drove to the west side of the park and walked the Volksmarch trail–an easy walk with a couple of blinds where you can sit and watch for wildlife–and the Arrowhead trail, a small loop (less than a mile) that gets out into some sunny prairie-like areas with a northern spur that goes up to the lake.

Something that stood out to me about these trails (other than the Hickory Hollow nature trail) was just how wide they were. As I was hiking with a friend I appreciated how we could usually walk side-by-side and chat as we went along. The paths were flat and grassy and not rutted into the dirt, but the grass was kept short. I imagine trail maintenance and tree removal must be a dream, as a mower or ATV would fit easily.

Our campsite and the park overall was clean and mostly litter-free; our bathrooms were old (and in desperate need of more wall hooks) but not dirty. The park ranger who checked me in (like all Texas State Park staff I’ve interacted with, so far) was friendly. Cut firewood is available via donation at the headquarters.

I give Atlanta State Park five stars and am looking forward to appreciating its East Texas beauty at other times of the year.

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Walking the D Loop Trail

Walking the D Loop Trail

Of all the trails at Tyler State Park the D Loop is my favorite. At just over 2 miles it’s not the longest trail in the park, but the fun lies in all the elevation changes–lots of steep slopes where the tree roots stick out like natural staircases. It’s very satisfying to get a running start and charge uphill, and I’m looking forward to the day when I’ve had a little more trail riding experience and can attempt those hills on my bike.

D Loop is a shady trail almost entirely in the woods; in the summer it’s hot and stuffy and still, but in the fall (as seen in the photos below) it’s more than nice, especially when it’s been raining a lot and the sluggish streams the trail crosses here and there turn into pleasantly babbling brooks.

It’s an easy trail to follow–there aren’t a lot of markers, but it’s mostly straightforward. There’s one “off ramp” leading to the Cedar Point camping area, and one place in the middle where it intersects with C Loop. A quick glance of the trail map should clear up any confusion, but I personally like bundling D and C together for one healthy 3.5-mile hike.

D Loop is well maintained, in part by the park staff but also with the help of volunteers such as the East Texas Trail Advocacy non-profit group. It’s a modern trail that follows the contours of the land in curves and switchbacks, like all the trails at Tyler State park–except for the Whispering Pines trail near the park entrance. (Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the late 30s/early 40s, Whispering Pine features a very long, very straight hike uphill with actual wooden stairs built in, and is a good example of how far trail construction has come along, although it’s currently undergoing development and is already a lot more interesting.)

D Loop is popular with hikers and bikers for good reason, and if you’re looking for a well-maintained trail that will really work your leg muscles then this one’s for you.

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Nice Days, Noisy Nights at Martin Creek

Nice Days, Noisy Nights at Martin Creek

The weekend I spent at Martin Creek Lake was cool and windy and sunny–not a cloud in the sky! Absolutely perfect for running around outside and a bit challenging for the budding nature photographer (especially in the woods).

This park has a couple of tent and RV camping loops, about twenty shelters, a small island with primitive camping sites, two regular cabins and two fancy cabins decked out with bathrooms and screened-in porches. There are a couple of boat ramps and a fish-cleaning station. There’s not much of a gift shop (I’m real into fridge magnets but had to make my own out of a bumper sticker) but there’s a nifty wood vending machine, where you swipe your card and a locker pops open and gives you about 8 sticks for $12. (I also saw a donation area with a bunch of rounds waiting to be split up.)

The staff were friendly and helpful (I even ran into a former Tyler park host that I used to work with, and I know he’s good people!) The bathrooms were especially nice and very clean. Actually the whole park was pretty darn clean, except for the island which had trash cans plundered by local raccoons.

The Trails at Martin Creek Lake Park

The main attraction for me at any state park is the trails; at Martin Creek I walked three trails, none more than 1.5 miles long, and they were decent enough to stroll along but not especially exciting (read: challenging.) There was a lot of standing water left over from rain the day before, but other than dodging puddles they were a comfortable walk.

  • Old Henderson Road Loop trail had some very gradual elevation changes. It’s mostly tucked back into the woods but does border the lake a bit for some pretty views.
  • The Island trails are well-worn and connect all the camp sites. There are a few places where they emerge onto the lake shore, and some grassy spots where you get out of the woods for a while and into the sun.
  • Harmony Hill Loop trail was my favorite, mostly because it goes through an old pine plantation where the trees are all lined up in neat rows for a cool geometric effect, to which I wasn’t really able to do justice with my camera. It also leaves the woods for a while to border a field lined with cute little birdhouses and was overall very pleasant.
  • There is, apparently, another trail called the Lake Front Spur that didn’t show up on my map, and I see now that while it also doesn’t show up TPWD website’s map, it does appear on the one you can access through the TPWD app. I’m guessing it’s a new trail, as there was a sign up near the park entrance saying they were working on renovations, and maybe the app maps are more up-to-date (something to keep in mind!)

For me the park overall was walk-able, but others may find it easier or more convenient to hop in the car or on a bike to get from the camping loops to the day use areas and or headquarters.

The Power Plant at Martin Creek Lake State Park

So I’ve covered the facilities, the trails, the park rangers–what else, what else…oh, that’s right. The power plant.

It was the very first thing I noticed when I pulled into my site–very imposing in the way its bulk dominated the view (and so many of the lake photos I took), with its three proud smoke stacks belching out clouds of white steam. When I arrived a train was leaving the plant and I remember thinking it was pretty noisy, but at least it was going somewhere else. But after the train left the noise stayed–the plant itself roars like a freakin’ jet engine. I couldn’t find a place in the park where I couldn’t hear it.

During the day I tuned out the constant sound pretty easily, but at night it was harder. The roar itself was steady enough to turn into background noise, but occasionally it was accompanied by a loud blast of air, or the screech of metal, or what I’m pretty sure was a little late-night jack-hammering. The train also came back regularly throughout the night–every time I managed to doze off the conductor would laugh and give a rousing blast of his horn.

I took gauze out of my first-aid kid and stuffed it in my ears, but this was the kind of sound that requires professional-grade ear protection.

I took a nap when I got back home.

I give the lovely, hilariously loud Martin Creek Lake State Park four stars–with an upgrade to five if you bring your own earplugs.

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A Rainy Weekend at Lake Tawakoni

A Rainy Weekend at Lake Tawakoni

I’d beenĀ  looking forward to camping at Lake Tawakoni for a while (and trying out my brand new hammock tent) so when the weekend forecast called for a whole lotta rain I said “Oh well!” and threw a bunch of towels in the car.

It was the right choice. Friday was cool and beautiful and only a little rainy up until late afternoon. I managed to set up my hammock (and a couple of tarps), explore most of the park (it’s not huge and everywhere is walkable), take a lot of pictures and walk all the trails before the weather finally drove me back under a tarp with tired feet and a paperback.

I slept comfortably (and stayed dry) in my hammock that night, lulled to sleep by the patter of rain (and, at one point, the snuffling of raccoons) and returned home late the next morning.

The lake–all white-capped and boisterous ahead of the storm–was as scenic as the ocean, and the park itself was lovely. There are two camping loops (not counting a small, primitive group area) with well-maintained roads and parking slabs. The bathrooms were stocked and clean and well-lit; the rangers I spoke with were friendly. There was an unfortunate amount of litter scattered around (nothing a few hours of volunteer labor couldn’t take care of) but otherwise the grounds were nicely landscaped.

The Trails at Lake Tawakoni State Park

The trail system, especially, stood out to me. There are two groups of trails: the Spring Point trails on a peninsula jutting out into the lake, and a more land-locked group on the west side of the park. All are wide and well-maintained and marked with color-coded symbols on multiple metal signs–you’d have to try pretty hard to get lost.

The Spring Point trails are flat and airy and have terrific views of the lake; they also pass by the primitive group camping area, which is bordered by a grassy field full of wildflowers and butterflies. There’s also a large nest of Argentine ants on one of the trails–they don’t bite, but it was a little unnerving to glance down and see the ground moving.

The western trails are longer but have fewer picturesque views; they’re still an easy walk, though, as any elevation changes are mild and there aren’t any tree-root staircases like there are at my home park in Tyler. I think I would have really enjoyed the Tawakoni trails on my mountain bike (I’ve only recently starting trail riding.) While walking the Osage Orange and Red Oak paths I got a few strong whiffs of cilantro–I don’t know what was growing out there, but I want it on my tacos!

Due to the choppy water I didn’t take advantage of the park’s self-rental boats (you download an app to pay for them) but I still had a fantastic time on foot. I give Lake Tawakoni State Park five out of five stars.

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