Do you ever do something and then realize, maybe I should’ve researched this more? Or do you ever go on a trip and realize, I left something at home? That was me this past weekend while camping at Garner State Park for one night. ONE NIGHT! I should probably start off by saying that I have never camped before, especially camping with kids. To my surprise, I wasn’t as unprepared as I thought, but I did overlook a couple of items. So here are a couple of things you might want to consider on how to camp at Garner State Park.

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Find a place to stay ahead of time.

Finding a place to stay is a no-brainer. Unfortunately for me, I thought that I could make a reservation a week before my hiking trip and quickly realized that’s not the case. There are a lot of people that visit Texas State Parks during holidays and breaks, especially weekends. Make sure to find a place to stay at least 3 months before your actual trip. Some parks won’t allow you to book your reservation so far ahead, so confirm how early you can book your campsite. At Garner State Park you can book ahead 5 months in advance and can check the available dates online. They have 117 campsites with water, so choose the best location for your family (we got a campsite at the entrance and it was slightly annoying having cars go in and out.)

Make it Budget-Friendly.

The best way to start camping at all, is to save your money for when you need it. I’m on a goal to live my best life while becoming financially free – which means that I was not going to break the bank at Garner State Park. A campsite with water will cost your vehicle around $15 – $20 to rent for one day and if you save on buying the Texas State Park annual pass, you get discounts when you stay longer!

A tent can make or break the whole trip.

I truly LOVED the tent that we bought a couple of weeks back. I’ll admit that camping was not going to be my thing while hiking, but it is a great way to make these trips budget-friendly. Choosing the right tent is essential to having a great time while camping; I personally went with a 10-person tent, but I wanted the flexibility for more room. It took us around 20 minutes to set-up the tent and that was because my daughter was helping me. This tent gave us the right amount of space, kept us safe, and there was a great ventilation system to let the nice, cool airflow through.

Keep yourself and your family warm.

One of the issues I had this past weekend was keeping myself warm. Coming from a Hispanic family, I’m used to the warm blankets at home, but they’re not necessarily great for camping. Plus, it took up a lot of room in the vehicle and when storing. Find a sleeping bag that works for you and keeps you warm like the Coleman Mummy sleeping bag for adults and Coleman sleeping bag for kids. Temperatures at Garner State Park during November thru February at night are in the 30s, so snuggle up with your kids! Another way to keep yourself warm (which I will now buy for my second camping trip), is the Mr. Heater portable propane heater. Now I’m typically not a fan of having things that could release carbon monoxide, but Mr. Heater has been tested for outdoor use and uses an Oxygen Depletion Sensor (ODS). This ODS will notify you when there is not enough oxygen levels coming in and should automatically shut off on its own. As I mentioned, do your own research and do what is comfortable for your own family!

Get a physical or offload map.

If you are getting to Garner State Park after-hours, as long as you have your permit and reservation printed out, you’re good to go! There is a barcode you can use to scan and obtain entrance to your campsite. I would recommend getting there during the day, to set-up and have enough time to pick up a physical map from the Visitor’s Center. You will have no cellular or GPS signal at Garner State Park. Unless if your phone company is better than mine, as far as I know, most Texas State Parks that are rural like Garner, do not have any type of cellular signal whatsoever. I did see on a campground review that users with ATT should get signal, but if you absolutely need Wi-Fi, the park has public access in certain areas. Again, consult at the Visitor’s Center to find these spots. I use All Trails to find the best hiking trails that other users have shared and I always offload my maps before visiting a park. It just helps me be at ease knowing that even if I have no physical map, it will track my location of where I’m at on the digital map.

Buy a bin to store all camping essentials.

I cannot remember where I found this great idea from, but it must’ve been from Pinterest. I saw a mom who stored all of her camping items in a bin and that’s exactly what I did. Boy was it a life-saver! I put all of my checklist essentials in the storage bin (toilet paper, cooking utensils, napkins, extra blankets, etc.) It was honestly the easiest way to pack everything and now for our upcoming camping trips, I know that everything is in there and will replace as-needed.

Make your stay at Garner State Park fun.

There are so many things to do at Garner State Park other than hiking and camping but be prepared for what you plan on doing. My goal this past weekend was to hit up as many hiking trails as I could (I didn’t reserve ahead of time, so I only camped for one night.) As I recommend to stay longer to hike with enough time during your day, there are different amenities at this park:

  • Biking
  • Fishing
  • Playground
  • Park Store
  • Tubing
  • Visitor Center/Museum
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Swimming – River
  • Scenic Overlook

Choose amenities that are the best fit for your family and come prepared! They do have a lot of services like a food station and watercraft rentals, in case if you don’t bring your own items. I went hiking with my daughter, so that also meant that I gave her some independence to have fun while doing so and finding kid-friendly hikes.

A Quick Camping Checklist for Families

Although you can find many camping checklists on Pinterest or other hiking blogs, I truly recommend saving the ones you like and customizing it. Every family is not the same, so you should customize your checklist before any camping trip! If you’re having trouble, here’s a quick camping checklist for a family of 4:

Overall, the experience only matters with how you react to the whole situation. I never would’ve thought that camping could be fun and quite honestly, my experience was not so great the first time around. With good research and preparation, you CAN have a great camping experience and Garner State Park is a great beginner’s choice!