Most of what we share on our website is highly organized itineraries and lists of the best things to do in a particular city or state. Usually these itineraries follow our trips pretty closely, but they’re often much more condensed. We travel while working (and now homeschooling), so we often have just a few hours of exploring each day. Here’s a casual trip log of our 5 week trip to Texas and Big Bend National Park.
This was an ‘escape winter weather’ trip in January and February, so we were hoping to enjoy lots of warm (or at least not cold) temperatures in Texas. As you’ll see, we ended up a bit surprised about that!
Week One: Driving to Texas
Saturday – We had originally planned to leave for our trip on a Saturday, but we ended up getting 7 inches of snow, and in our area that tends to shut things down a bit. So we decided to wait until Sunday for the snow to melt and roads to clear.
Sunday – We tromped back and forth through our snow-covered yard to load up the RV. This was our first time dewinterizing the RV, so Ryan had a bit of trouble getting that all figured out, but we were planning on a mid-afternoon start anyway. We drove 6 hours, stopping at a Cracker Barrel in South Carolina for the night. (This wasn’t my favorite choice, because this Cracker Barrel was right next to the highway and it was a noisy night.)
Monday – We drove about 5 hours to Pine Glen Campground in Alabama, stopping to meet a friend for lunch on the way. RV spots were a bit limited here, but apparently no one else was interested in dry camping in the middle of winter here, because we were the only ones in the whole space.
Tuesday – Campendium users reported having a little cell signal here, but Ryan ended up having to climb up a large hill to sit on top and work for the day. We decided to leave the campground a day early and found a Harvest Host to stay at on Wednesday night.
Wednesday – We drove two hours at lunchtime to a Harvest Host in the greater Birmingham area. This was our first Harvest Hosts experience, and we’re excited to do more!
Thursday – Three days later, we’re finally adjusted to central time and not waking up an hour early. We drove 40 minutes to Tannehill Ironworks Historical State Park. A full hookup pull-thru site felt very luxurious after the start of this trip and the boys loved the playground here. And somehow, 5 days in, I already had a ton of laundry to do.
Friday – We drove 3.5 hours and stopped at another Harvest Host outside of Jackson, Mississippi. We had originally planned to spend a few days at a campground south of Vicksburg, MS and explore the Natchez Trace Parkway, but the snow delayed our departure and we had one less day to get to Texas.
Saturday – We attempted to find beignets this morning, but the coffee shop we stopped at didn’t have them anymore. We drove another 5 hours and finally finished the 20 hour journey to Texas! We stopped overnight at Tyler State Park and enjoyed our first campfire of the trip.
Week Two: Exploring Texas
Sunday – 3 hour drive from Tyler to Waco. We stayed at Midway Park COE. This was one of three campgrounds on this trip where our site was adjacent to the playground, which we loved. We spent the afternoon walking around Waco a bit, visited an amazing bookstore, and picked up some delicious barbeque to eat back at the RV.
Monday – We had planned to explore in the evening again, but it was a long drizzly day with the kids and I didn’t have the energy for a big Magnolia Instagram-worthy evening. So instead, we ditched the Gaines and picked up Milk Bottle Cookies instead.
Tuesday – We headed south to Austin, making a stop at famous Texas gas station Buc-ees on the way. We had assumed that our stay in Austin would be sunny and warm, but the forecast for the week looked dreadful, so we made sure to get out and explore this evening. We rode our bikes on the boardwalk, photographed the Austin skyline, and visited a couple of murals before heading back to the RV for bedtime.
Wednesday – We had such a great campsite (at Mckinney Falls State Park), so we spent the morning enjoying it. We also squeezed in a Tex-Mex lunch downtown and picked up groceries and propane before the bad weather started. It rained most of the evening but we did a little exploring around the park anway, because we knew an ice storm was on the way.
Thursday – Ice pellets fell for much of the day and our campsite looked like this the next morning. No snow. Just ice.
The ice storm was also a little stressful, because although we had left our faucets dripping and our underbelly tanks have a heating element, our water pump still froze and it took us a bit to get it warmed up and working again. We also had a small problem of condensation on the inside of the RV, especially around our bed, so some of our clothes got wet and I thought some water had leaked into my camera bag. Fortunately, our laptops and camera gear all stayed dry.
Friday – Our last day in Austin, so we bundled up and soldiered on. We saw Lower and Upper Falls in the state park (although they were not looking their prettiest) and got doughnuts from Gourdough’s. There were so many other fun things on our list to do in Austin, so it was a bummer to have our time cut so short by the weather. To add to the weird weather problems, Ryan had also lost a filling several days earlier, so he also had to fit in an emergency trip to the dentist while we were in Austin, because it was the only time we’d be in a major town for multiple days in a row.
Saturday – A big driving day, 5 hours across Texas to Fort Stockton, the biggest town anywhere close to Big Bend National Park. We stocked up on groceries and did laundry here to prepare for a week of dry camping. We also made sure to call our moms since we wouldn’t have cell signal either.
Week Three: Big Bend National Park
Sunday – The 1.5 hour drive from Fort Stockton to the edge of the national park is not the most interesting drive. By the time you’ve convinced yourself that there’s nothing to see here, the landscape starts to change and mountains appear in the distance. After crossing through the park’s entrance station, we had an hour drive to our campsite, the first 30 minutes of which were completely barren. This is such a remote park that it’s 30 minutes from the entrance to the first attraction of any kind. We got our campsite set up at Grapevine Hills 1 (stunning!) and then drove into the Chisos Mountains to walk the Window View Trail at sunset. What an amazing start to the week! Our campsite, the Chisos Mountains, and the number of stars you can see at night…. all spectacular! And it’s our boys’ first national park visit!
Monday – We picked up a junior ranger book for our son so we could work on each activity as we visited that area of the park. Then we did a big scenic drive loop to see the Santa Elena Canyon on the southwestern end of the park. (Find a more detailed itinerary of our park visit at the end of this post.)
Tuesday – Our backcountry campsite prohibits generator use and we didn’t pull as much solar as we hoped with the shorter winter days. Our fridge turned off in the middle of the night. Looks like another battery upgrade is in our future. I guess we won’t be using our lights much while we’re here! Today we took a backcountry drive and saw some wild horses. We relaxed at the campsite during naptime and went to a beautiful lookout point for sunset.
Wednesday – We started the morning with a chilly hike all on our own. One of our children was not in the best mood for this particular hike, but we pushed through. Midday, we moved the RV across the park to the Rio Grande Village Campground, after stopping at the dump station. This campground had a bathhouse and allowed generator usage during certain hours. We enjoyed another beautiful sunset here at the top of Rio Grande Village Nature Trail, where the sun sets over the Mexican landscape, and saw javelinas in our campground on the walk back to our site.
Thursday – This was our biggest backcountry drive day and in the evening we did my favorite hike of the entire park to Ernst Tinaja.
Friday – We did another small trail and drove to an overlook before moving the RV again to another RV-friendly backcountry campsite. In the evening, we visited the Fossil Discovery Center.
Saturday – We picked up our son’s junior ranger badge. It was very cold and windy so we drove through a few areas of the park that we hadn’t seen yet. At this point in the trip, we felt like we had seen all the parts of the park that we were the most excited about and we were a little tired. We had one final campsite booked on Sunday, but it wasn’t as scenic as the two backcountry sites we’d already enjoyed, so we decided to leave the park a day early and make the drive back to the Austin area a little easier.
Week Four: More of Texas
Sunday – We left Big Bend (after stopping at the sign for a couple photos) and drove 5 hours to Mason, TX. We did another grocery stock up and I spent the evening driving back and forth to the campground’s laundry building.
Monday – Ryan had heard about some Texas Hill Country offroading we could do here, but it ended up being nothing compared to the backcountry drives in Big Bend. The most interesting spot was a small shallow river crossing, which we hadn’t experienced before.
Tuesday – We stopped at another Harvest Host outside of Fredericksburg, TX. We were the only RV there that night, so we enjoyed a nice walk around the property at sunset and the boys enjoyed seeing an armadillo.
Wednesday – After a short lunchtime drive, we arrived at Pedernales Falls State Park, our last multi-day stop for the trip. After this, we’d be driving home a little bit every day and stopping at a new place each night.
Thursday – We had to get a little creative at this park, because we did not end up having any cell signal here either, in spite of what other campers have reported online. Ryan left us at the campsite to go into town and work from his truck for the morning and he spent the afternoon working on projects that he could do offline and upload later.
Friday – Up before the sun to grab a site at a campground that is very difficult to book. Ryan found a great playground in town, so we let the kids play while Ryan sat at a picnic table with his laptop. RV travel is a lot of ‘make it work’ moments like this!
Saturday – We finally got to explore the main Pedernales Falls area and boy was it stunning! The boys loved climbing over the rocks and I wish we’d thought to bring a picnic lunch to enjoy here. Then it was time to leave the park and drive 4 hours to the east side of Texas.
Week Five: Heading Home
Sunday – Our 3 hour drive became a 4.5 hour drive all the way across Louisiana, because the Harvest Host we were scheduled to stay at was having a big festival and there was no parking when we arrived. We hung out in a nearby parking lot for a few hours while Drew took a nap to see if enough people would leave when the festival ended, but it looked like a lot of people were going to stay until closing, so we decided to move on. We stopped by a couple local restaurants to pick up beignets and crawfish and ended up parking for the night at a different Harvest Host south of Baton Rouge.
Monday – While Ryan worked, the boys and I bought tickets to tour the gardens of the Harvest Host property. At lunchtime we drove 1.5 hours to Fairview-Riverside State Park. I had intended to do laundry here, but we were out of quarters and the campground did not have a change machine. But at least they had a great playground and electric hookups, because it was hot and humid in Louisiana!
Tuesday – We stopped to get beignets one more time before leaving Louisiana and then had to change our planned campsite for the night when the first didn’t have reliable cell signal. We ended up staying at Big Biloxi, a first come first served campground in Mississippi.
Wednesday – Ryan took time off work while we were in Big Bend, but the rest of the trip, we had to plan our driving around his work hours. Most days, we would drive at lunchtime, but sometimes we would get a little creative. This particular day was a longer drive, which we split into a lunchtime drive to a laundromat and an after work drive to a casino parking lot. Sometimes we’ll wake up and get straight into the car for a 1 hour drive at breakfast time to a Walmart parking lot. Ryan will work while I do our grocery shopping. Then closer to lunchtime, we’ll drive to our campsite.
Side note: Laundromats are where it’s at! Campgrounds tend to have coin-operated residential laundry machines and I always have to run the dryers twice per load, so it takes at least 3 hours. But laundromats usually take credit cards and the dryers can be set for shorter intervals, which makes it a lot cheaper and more efficient because you know exactly how much time to wait before checking the machines. They’re also huge and industrial strength and I can get all of our laundry done in right around an hour.
Thursday – We drove across Alabama to free dispersed campsites in Tuskegee National Forest. Ryan took the boys for a long drive before dinner, so I could have a little alone time. (It’s hard to have one living space with no separation!
Friday – In the morning, I took the boys to the nearby Tuskegee Airmen Historic Site. At lunch we drove across town to a Harvest Host that offered full hookups for free. This is very unusual, because most Harvest Hosts don’t have hookups at all and those that do charge a fee for them. It was the perfect stop to set us up for our big weekend push home.
Saturday – Originally we had a different route planned to go home, but after my brother got engaged, we just had to stop by and see him and his new fiancée! We stayed overnight at another Harvest Host. This stop wasn’t my favorite, so we’d pick somewhere else to stay next time we visit them. Fingers crossed, maybe they’ll end up buying a house with a flat driveway where we can park!
Sunday – We finished the long drive home!