Story by Sarah Naron
From the Panhandle to the Gulf Coast and the West Texas desert to the East Texas forest, the Lone Star State has no shortage of natural beauty. A collective total of more than 630,000 acres of land throughout the state have been divided into 80 state parks, all of which give both native Texans and out of state visitors perfect opportunities to explore all of the outdoor wonders that Texas has to offer.
One such location is Palmetto State Park in Gonzales. The park derives its name from the dwarf palmetto plant, which can be found growing plentifully throughout the park and was constructed by Companies 873 and 886 of the Civilian Conservation Corps from 1934-1936.
“It’s a little over 80 years old,” said Park Superintendent Liz Palfini. “It’s pretty much in its original form, so it still has the same footprints as it did in the 1930s. There’s only a few extra things – a couple of new trails and newer bathrooms and stuff like that. But essentially, the park is still laid out the way that the National Park Service architects designed it, so as you go through it, you have that real historic feel.”
The park is on the smaller side, encompassing roughly 270.3 acres, but visitors can still enjoy outdoor activities such as hiking.
“The hiking is easy; there’s only about three to four miles of hiking trails,” Palfini said. “They’re shady, and they’re mostly level; they’re very accessible. They are hike and bike, but they’re not mountain biking trails; they’re more leisurely, family biking trails. It would be perfectly fine for training wheels all the way up to a wheelchair. They’re that easy pretty much through the whole park.”
The park also possesses a small oxbow lake.
“The San Marcos River runs through us, but I wouldn’t characterize us as a river park,” Palfini said. “The little lake is a small fishing lake; people swim in it as well. There’s no designated swimming areas at Palmetto; people get in wherever they can find.”
Due to the fact that Palmetto is a state park, visitors are permitted to fish from anywhere they can reach the water.
The park also has 40 campsites available for tents and RVs, which proves to be a hot commodity during the weekends.
“We’re full every weekend,” Palfini said. “There’s not a weekend available this summer to camp at Palmetto.”
Those still interested in camping or simply spending the day at the park, however, are encouraged to do so on weekdays.
“That’s definitely a time people could come out when nobody else is there, and they’ll have kind of a better experience; it won’t quite be so crowded,” Palfini said.
The cost of admission is three dollars per person over the age of 13, and making reservations online is recommended.
“Right now, almost all of our reservations – even our day use reservations – are coming from online,” Palfini said. “So, we always tell folks who call us to download the Texas State Parks app onto their phone, and then, even if they’re driving along the freeway, they can get their day use passes before they ever get to the park. And then, they’ll know whether or not they can get in.”
In light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, masks are required in the park headquarters office and in the restroom facilities.
“We highly recommend that they have their masks with them even on the hiking trails, just in case they are passing closely to another group,” Palfini added. “It’s just wise to have your mask available. But it’s hot, too, so they should definitely feel free to take it off while they’re out walking and there’s no one else around.”
Palmetto State Park is located at 78 Park Rd. 11 S. in Gonzales. Office hours are daily from 8:15 a.m.-4:45 p.m. For more information or to schedule a visit, call 830-672-3266.