Camping out at Enchanted Rock

By: Mauri Elbel
May, 2022

I spent the brisk, blue-sky morning of my thirtieth birthday climbing the steep summit up to Enchanted Rock, pregnant with our second child in my belly and carrying our toddler on my back. 

It was this decade-old memory I pulled deep from the folds of my mind (probably to serve as some much-needed mental fuel) just last month when we all found ourselves back on this otherworldly ancient pink dome –– the second largest granite batholith in the nation –– and our third child, now 7, refused to ascend another foot unless it was via piggyback. 

Fully realizing how ridiculous it was to cave into her pleas, I also know that reaching the summit of Enchanted Rock requires an effort that’s often compared to climbing the stairs of a 40-story building. This, coupled with the fact that we’d been camping out at Enchanted Rock State Natural Area for the past few days in the late spring heat while surviving on a less-than-average amount of sleep, had me rationalizing that carrying 50 pounds up to the 1,823-foot summit probably requires less of a Herculean feat than transporting a hefty toddler up to the top while six months pregnant. Spoiler alert: neither is easy.

Writer Mauri Elbel climbing the Summit Trail with her daughter on her back at Enchanted Rock last month. Photo by Travis Albrecht

But regardless of the effort that’s required along the steep, challenging, nearly mile-long Summit Trail, the rugged beauty and breathtaking 360-degree views of the rolling Hill Country landscape spilling out below is always worth every step (and piggyback ride) it takes to get there. 

Boasting magical legends, humbling beauty and awe-inspiring vistas, Enchanted Rock has drawn people from all around for centuries. Humans have camped in this area for 12,000 years. Today, more than 250,000 people make the trek to Enchanted Rock State Natural Area annually to experience its splendor –– it actually ranks as one of most visited parks in the state park system. 

The Summit Trail marches to the top of the park’s namesake. Photo by Mauri Elbel

One climb up to its summit makes it easy to see why –– from up here, an almost mystical feeling overwhelms the spirit as you gaze out on forever. Every year or so, this awe-inspiring ancient pink granite dome rising from the heart of the Hill Country calls out to me.

Elbel’s then 2-year-old son climbing Enchanted Rock on his own for the first time. Photo by Mauri Elbel

And I love looking back at photos of our trips to Enchanted Rock over the years, reflecting on the different stages of our family and remembering certain discoveries that captivated our children at their various ages. Some years, it was the rare vernal pools at the top –– ecologically significant and severely threatened soil islands on Enchanted Rock’s bare granite summit where small crustaceans known as fairy shrimp and rare plants (quillwort) survive harsh environments and conditions year in and year out. Other times, it’s the memories of our little explorers with big imaginations spending what seemed like hours using their flashlights and headlamps to explore the cracks and crevices (and sometimes critters) found in Enchanted Rock Cave just beyond. 

Little ones will love exploring Enchanted Rock Cave. Photo by Mauri Elbel

I already know that this camping trip, taken with the same family friends we’ve been tent camping with since our kids were toddlers, will bring its own set of memories to reflect on in the future. 

RELATED: Go to Garner State Park

Climbing the massive boulders found within Enchanted Rock State Natural Area is part of the fun. Photo by Mauri Elbel

Staying at Enchanted Rock over multiple nights afforded us with more time to explore the lesser-trafficked trails. One morning we set out on the 4.6-mile Loop Trail around the perimeter of the park. We veered off on Echo Canyon Trail where our kids clambered up massive boulders and then rested and relaxed in their mid-morning shade –– all the time, never seeing another soul in the saddle of space between Little Rock and Enchanted Rock. One evening, the moms and older kids in our group broke off from the rest after dinner to take a hike before dusk, soaking in the stillness and silence of a stunning Hill Country sunset casting its glow over the surrounding Texas landscape.

Soaking in the Hill Country sunset. Photo by Adrienne Riggins

We survived one exceptionally chilly spring night without a campfire and learned to roast s’mores over a Coleman flame (this was our first camping trip out of all of these years taken while a burn ban was in effect). The second night brought wind gusts so strong that the one of our tents blew over and we spent the still-dark early morning hours re-staking it into the ground. 

RELATED: 8 Great State Parks for Camping with Kids

Tent camping is one of the most affordable, memorable travel experiences on offer. Photo by Mauri Elbel

As always, it’s those times spent camping out in our tents –– those rare weekends without screens and reliable cell or WiFi signals –– when you can truly escape from the rushed pace of regular life. It’s in those undistracted moments when it’s easiest to unplug from the rest of the world and reconnect with those around you. It’s when the memories take shape.  

If You Go

Getting there:

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area is a 1 hour and 45 minute drive from Austin.

Stay:

There are 35 campsites with water (walk-in) and 20 primitive campsites (hike-in) at Enchanted Rock State Natural Area.

Do:

Explore nearly 11 miles of hiking trails, camp, rock climb, pose with spring wildflowers, bird watch and stargaze. All trails are open from half an hour before sunrise until half an hour after sunset, except the Loop Trail, which is open for hiking until 10 p.m.

 

Pro tip:

To guarantee entrance for the day or overnight camping, reserve day passes and camping sites online ahead of your visit. Reserve camping sites on weekend and popular times months in advance. 

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