Early fall in Garner means summer has vanished, but autumn hasn’t truly begun in Garner. The days are still quite warm and the evenings have just begun to cool enough to enjoy a roaring campfire. It was an almost perfect time to visit the park! We stayed 3 full days and felt another 5 would have made the visit perfect.
This park is HUGE and it has so much to offer. Camping, swimming, tubing, paddle boats, volleyball, mini golf, wildlife viewing, photography, hiking and geocaching are all on the menu.
There are MANY campgrounds within Garner. With Old Garner campground being where all the weekend and summer activities are located. This campground is adjacent to the swimming hole, inner tube rentals, paddle boats, kayaks, camp stores and the popular evening dance at the pavilion. If you are there in the summer and you like these activities or want to be where the action is…. This is the place to be. We hear it has to be booked way in advance, so plan accordingly in the summer months. Most of the other campgrounds are quite a distance from the action and we needed our Jeep to get to and from everything. If there were shortcuts, we didn’t find them in our time at the park.
We stayed in New Garner at the Live Oak campground. The Frio River was directly behind our site and only a short hike down the hill. We spent a lot of time walking in the river… yep walking! You see, most of the river behind our site was just ankle deep and in some places, it was even less! There are rock dams that create deeper pools in places and we enjoyed sitting on the rock dams soaking our feet. The water is cool and clear… so clear that you can watch the minnows and perch nibbling on your feet. They tickle!!
If you carry a camera you’ve probably already discovered that wildlife seems to KNOW when you have it with you and they absolutely refuse to make an appearance! We did see a few White Tail deer, Axis deer, wild turkey, fox squirrels and Jack Rabbits. This was our first time to see a Jack Rabbit… they are HUGE. Our 13-pound dog looked tiny when compared to these rabbits! Sometimes they are so still you can easily mistake them for a big rock until they get up and hop away. My jaw dropped the first time I saw one get up! They are always out in the morning and evening time, so you will want to take a walk and check them out. They don’t even mind if you have your camera!
Hiking and Geocaching go hand and hand at Garner as there is not a single geocache in the park that does not require hiking. This worked well for us as these are our favorite things to do! If you are not familiar with geocaching, let me explain. Geocaching is somewhat of a high-tech treasure hunt that may or may not include “treasure” at least in the physical sense. Containers are hidden and GPS coordinates are documented online so that you can get to the general area where the container is hidden. Either a GPS unit or an app on your cell phone can be used to access the coordinates and get directions to the general area of the geocache. Once you get to “ground zero”, it’s totally up to you to find the hidden container. The real treasure in geocaching is the places it will take you and that is definitely true at Garner. We managed to find 5 of the caches in the park… there were more, but we didn’t have time to hike to them.
Our first hiking trip took us up the Bridges Trail where we found our first cache. We then jumped on the Crystal Cave trail and made our way to Crystal Cave. It was neat to go inside this small cave all on our own… no guides and no restrictions! At only 30 feet deep, you can’t really get lost but you will need a flashlight to get a good look around. It is DARK! We hung out for a while and enjoyed the slightly cooler, but smelly air before heading back. The trek ended at just over a mile and a half of really challenging trail. If you want to make things a bit easier, go back via the Bridges Trail instead of Crystal Cave trail as it has less loose rock. Loose rock caused me to lose my footing and fall. Luckily, I kept from falling down the hill and just scraped up my knee! Our little dog hikes with us and really struggled with this system of trails, but I think it was mostly because of how hot it was even with the low humidity. In the future, we will do our hiking in the morning to avoid the heat.
Our next hiking trip took us on a multitude of trails. Many were not even on the trail map we got from the park, but you will still need that map! There is nothing like getting to an intersection of 5 trails and not knowing which one to take! Maps were posted at some trail intersections, but not all were in great shape and we had to dig our map out on more than one occasion. We started this trek on the Foshee trail where we found a couple of geocaches with awesome views. When we got to the intersection of trails we took Wilks trail and quickly found a shady pile of rocks to sit on and have some lunch before heading down. The cache on this trail had us going up and down the side of the mountain (on the trail) over and over! You see GPS works as the “crow flies”, it does not follow a trail nor does it register height. We passed the cache thinking it was farther down the trail and ended up climbing between switchbacks to score the find. Unfortunately, we didn’t realize in doing so we missed our next trail until we were back at our lunch spot! Back down we went. We eventually found Bell trail which we followed to Donavan Trail where we scored another cache! Are you confused yet? We sure were and it just got worse! We had decided to make a full circle by taking some other trails out to the trailhead. Trying to decipher where we needed to go was confusing, even with a map. There are so many trails to choose from! Eventually, we made it to Bird trail. I have to say this trail is better left to the birds unless you are looking for some real adventure! The Bird Trail is extremely steep. In places, we had to scoot on our bottoms to get to the next section safely! Loose rock everywhere, big boulders to traverse and rock “slides” to scoot down. Even Crowley (our dog) was struggling to find a good path down. This trail would probably be better going up rather than down… if you decide to take it at all. I don’t regret taking the trail, but it was TOUGH. We finished out the hike on White Rock Cave trail where we passed but did not stop at the cave. All in all, a great day of hiking could only be made better by FOOD!
We filled our tummies at the Garner Grill which is essentially a food truck housed in a modified Airstream trailer. The food was actually pretty good, though a bit pricey. I do NOT recommend the bacon cheeseburger as there isn’t enough bacon on it to justify the price increase. I personally couldn’t even taste it on my burger. (Why oh why didn’t I take a picture?) If you plan to eat there, look for the signs with “Brown-Bag” specials when you register at the park and don’t let them tell you it’s over when you order!
There were many more trails we wanted to hike and several more geocaches we wanted to find, but we were out of time in the park. We will be back… probably when it is cooler!
- Try to get there to register when the office is open. Finding where you are supposed to be is a bit challenging. This will get better once their new booking system is up and running as you will be assigned a spot, not just a campground.
- Keep in mind that their peak and off-season hours are very different. If you get there after the gate closes, you will have to spend the night in the parking lot and they don’t make exceptions for anybody.
- Take plenty of water and hiking sticks out on the trail… you will need them!
- Have a plan for getting off the trails and back to your car or the campground. We often accomplish this with the Geocaching App… We just navigate to a cache that is near where we parked OR at least the general vicinity of where we want to go. We can also add a waypoint with the coordinates of our car on our GPS before we head out.
- If you plan to rent a tube or paddle boat go in the summer or plan to be there through a warm weekend. These activities are closed after Labor Day except on the weekends.
Geocaching /ˈdʒiːoʊˌkæʃɪŋ/ is an outdoor recreational activity, in which participants use a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver or mobile device and other navigational techniques to hide and seek containers, called “geocaches” or “caches”, anywhere in the world.