Brrrrrr, It’s Cold! But, it’s Texas so Winter Camping is a Thing!
Recently, we did some family camping at Dinosaur Valley State Park. The forecast was lows in the 40s. They lied! It got down to 29 degrees. It was cooooooold! However, this park is amazing and we still had a great time.
Dinosaur Valley SP is located near Glen Rose, TX (Glen Rose is about an hour southwest of Fort Worth). It is a great little town that is big enough for a Dairy Queen and a Holiday Inn Express – so, if the camping doesn’t go according to plan there is a Plan B available.
We arrived early in the day. It was beautiful and clear. When you live in Houston it can be easy to forget that not everything (other than an overpass) is flat. This part of Texas has soft rolling hills that are high enough to see for miles. And, this is a place you want to see for miles. This area is squarely in the North Central Plains which is best known for its ranching and farming. The beauty of ranchland is not only in the land but in the nostalgia of Texas’ bygone days.
Getting to Dinosaur Valley State Park
Arriving at Dinosaur Valley SP is straightforward and easily mapped. If the weather is not optimal or the rivers are too high or mucky to see the tracks there are other activities in the area to use as fallbacks, such as Dinosaur World and Fossil Rim Wildlife Center. Or, if you like to look at issues from all sides, the Creation Evidence Museum is conveniently located on the way up FM 205, from Glen Rose.
As with any state park, you will need to stop at the park headquarters to show your pass or pay for entry and/or campsites. Unlike other state parks everyone will want to go inside this headquarters. They have a great mini-museum dedicated to the park that will give you a great preview of the types of tracks you will see and the types of dinosaurs they came from.
At the Dinosaur Valley SP headquarters, you can pick out your campsite, get your tags, and parking pass. There is also a restroom on the back side of the building. After that, you proceed toward your site.
If you don’t like your site or want to switch to another you can always pick an unoccupied one and head back up to the headquarters to switch out your tags. All sites are now reserved in advance and this park typically fills up. You can still ask to switch but most TPWD parks put a ‘R’ for reserved or ‘A’ for available tag on sites so you will know.
There are only two types of sites here, sites with water and electric and primitive hike-in sites. This means that if you are tent camping in a water and electric site that you will likely be near campers, trailers, and/or RVs. If you go primitive you will have to hike into your site. Also, there is no water, electricity, or bathrooms nearby…and, at this park, you may have to wade across a river.
Of the water/electric sites, they are located fairly close together and the 40 sites share one set of bathrooms with showers. Aside from the water & electric, each has a fire ring (either square or circle, as shown in the photos), a grill, table, and lantern/trash hook. The sites are fairly heavily wooded so if you have more than one site reserved for your group and you want it to have a more “open” flow you may need to drive around to make sure the two sites are not separated by woods. We were originally assigned sites 13 and 11 but found them too cut off so we switched out 13 for 9 and it was a great set up for our group. However, from the back of 9, you are pretty close to site 2. Not so close as to bumping into each other or overhearing normal conversation, but let’s say the trailer left a light on all night (ahem), you would notice it. Otherwise these are great sites, conveniently located to restrooms, trash, and trails.
The restrooms were well maintained, no spider webs in corners or anything icky. They are completely closed in buildings so no unpleasant drafts either. In fact, they had heaters so they were a nice reprieve from the cold. The showers are accessed through a separate door, but there are separate facilities for men and women. Also to note there are mirrors (not all parks have them), soap in the dispensers (again, not a given), and the best part, normal toilets (as opposed to the stainless steel one-piece prison issue style)!
Hiking and Dinosaur Tracks
Now, the reason for coming to Dinosaur Valley SP – the Dinosaur Tracks! My kids were so excited and the park did not disappoint.? I suggest you check with the park before you go to make sure they will be visible (the tracks are in the riverbed so water levels make visibility variable) or to set expectations. The park itself is great for hiking and swimming but seeing the tracks is worth the trip.
If you check out the trail map provided by the park you will see the different trails, their levels, and where the tracks are located. They even provide you with coordinates. Cell reception is a bit spotty in the park. We had no service at our campsite, but near headquarters and in places along the river we did have reception. Using the GPS was helpful in certain areas and if you like geocaching there are several in the park – some that are even free and very easy to find (like the one near Blue Hole).
All the trails in the park are listed as easy or moderate. I will tell you something we did not realize: the easy trails are very easy (like paved roads in some parts) and if you are in a situation where it gets not easy you are not on the trail. We were traveling with young children and some injuries and planned on taking it easy. If you plan on doing this as well and begin your hike with a steep descent down the escarpment to the river you are officially off the trail!
Behind sites 9 & 11 is the Paluxy River Trail. It is noted as easy. Our plan was to walk the Paluxy River Trail, heading northwest, then follow the river around toward the majority of the dinosaur sites, cross the river, take the Limestone Ledge trail up to the Overlook Trail, then hike up to the overlook (the route in pink on the map above). After which we could take stock of how much more we wanted to do and either hike back the way we came or when we crossed back over the river we could head further south, heading to the ballroom site, then come back through the park (the route outlined in blue on the map above).
We began by heading out to the trails behind the campsite and then climbing down the escarpment to walk along the river (because surely that’s where an easy trail would have taken us!). We walked for a short while and then realized in the shade it was a bit chilly so we climbed back up to get jackets from the campsite. With children, all of this takes longer. So, plan B.
Plan B, involved us driving up to the Park Store (where the big dinosaurs are) so we could get cell service to stay in touch with the parts of our party that would be arriving later. Since we were near the park store and that is near the Horseshoe Equestrian Trail, we opted to start on that end with our goal being to hike up to the Overlook.
It was helpful to have the GPS at this point because we completely missed the Ballroom Track Site as we entered the trail further north of them. So, we found the Blue Hole and then backtracked to find the Ballroom Site.
Again, note the trails! From the Blue Hole, there are some very obvious stairs – you go up them to stay on the easy hiking trail. We did not. We saw a worn path that continued to follow the river so we took that north. It very quickly turned into a trail of large boulders. These were not super steep but they did involve some climbing. My kids were super happy, so we continued on this way!
We made it to the part of the river where there appears to be a crossing on the map. It was nearly underwater so we opted out and continued along the eastern bank. Further north, nearly to the river bend, is a very prominent crossing at the Main Track Site. There were nice large rocks cut out and it was a simple and dry crossing for all ages. In fact, we even saw a guy on one of those bicycles with ridiculously huge tires ride over it. The main track site is a great place to meander and get some photo ops in. For us, this was the end of the road for day 1 hiking. There are stairs to climb up to the proper trail and there is a parking lot as well. We walked back through that, let the kids play on the playground, and hit the restrooms before heading back to the car and back to camp.
That night the rest of our group came in late. We had Dutch Oven Chicken and Dumplings ready which was easy and delicious. My main goal was to wash a few things as possible because it was cold. And, the only thing colder than cold is wet cold. No, thank you! We pulled that foil liner and the dishes were done!
It got colder than expected that night. Below freezing. I definitely had some trailer envy. We all woke up wearing more clothes than we went to bed in. It was brisk, baby! But, we camp with propane heaters and big fires so we lit a fire and had a Dutch Oven Breakfast Casserole and my husband made camp donuts (this is a great leftover from growing up in Scouting!).
For day 2 our hike went “more” according to plan. Since we had scoped out a good portion of the highlights the day before we had better luck keeping to “the plan”. Down the escarpment we all went…again. Today’s group was a bit larger but still manageable for an easy hike. Again, it didn’t really occur to us that an easy hike shouldn’t begin by climbing down water runoff channels to be riverside. There were some trees that had red and white ribbons tied to eye level branches (not around the trunk as though being marked for cutting) they seemed to be at the top of the easiest descents so we took that to mean it was a trail marker. Not sure that was their meaning but the whole party ended up back on the bank of the river behind our sites and we began our hike.
The picture is a fair representation of this part of the river and it is easy to walk next to…until the path ends. We went across some narrow parts but eventually, we reached a place where there was no trail and the choice was climb or get wet. One of our party had already dropped a boot in the river and confirmed it was really cold so we found a place to climb up. There was a split fence at the top so it was clear we were not the first to forge this path, but, again, it was not the “easy” way. The bank is very sandy so footing can be tricky. Well placed roots and branches were also quite helpful. When we all made it to the top it was clear we were on “the trail.” Huzzah! It wasn’t until now that we consulted the level section of the map to realize our hike should have been easier than it was, but the kids really loved climbing everything and being down next to the water. The experience would have been lacking if we had to look down at the water from above.
Where we made our ascent was near open prairie land. It was very postapocalyptic as the weekend before the park had been conducting controlled burns. While not the scenery we were expecting it was memorable!
Eventually, we came to an end and realized we were a bit off the beaten path so naturally, we looked up. We found a place that didn’t look difficult to scale and my husband and the boys scouted it. Eureka! At the top of the escarpment was a very clear trail. Again, we climbed. Again we all made it, to the very amused look of a hiker passing by. But, oh well, the kids loved it. From here it was easy to stay on the trail because our goal was to go up, away from the river. The Overlook Trail switch is marked and easy to find and follow.
I’m not sure what criteria are used for difficulty ratings on the trails but if I saw easy I would assume anyone could hike it. I don’t know if that is necessarily true of the Dinosaur Valley SP Overlook Trail. You are going up and perhaps if you go slow anyone could do it but I would think those with mobility issues or severely out of shape would have some trouble with this trail. The trek is nice and there are a lot of vantage points to get some great vista views. We kept wondering if we were at “the” Overlook marked on the map but eventually there is a marker when you arrive…and a bench (yay!).
The rest of our hike actually went mostly according to plan (thanks in large part to our previous day’s
mistakes? experiences). We came down from the Overlook and followed the trail to its actual turn, which dumped us out south of the Main Track Site. From there we recrossed the river. Our party split in two and half stayed along the river and the other half went up the stairs to the parking area and followed the actual easy trail. We met up at the Blue Hole then continued down to the Ballroom Site and cut back up the Horseshoe Trail to the parking lot by the Park Store and World’s Fair Dinosaurs. From there we walked through the park back to our site. This hike with ten people (4 kids and 2 injuries) took about three hours).
Events at Dinosaur Valley State Park
Be sure to check out the Events the Park is hosting while you are there because we happened to go during Christmas in the Valley. This event was great. After we had lunch we headed over to the pavilion near the playgrounds and day use sites to participate. The park rangers were cooking in Dutch Ovens (and sharing!), there were other food and drinks, S’Mores, and crafts. They supplied everything to make a snow globe, paint an ornament, and make popcorn and cranberry garlands for the birds. It was a great event.
Thankfully, we had a warmer night and after breakfast the next morning we broke camp and headed home. We do a fair amount of camping and found Dinosaur Valley SP to be one of our favorite parks. We hope to come back when it is overall warmer because the kids are desperate to swim in the river!