Best Small Campground in East Texas

The beauty of nomad life is the ability to pack up camp and leave. Unexpected weather change can usually be handled with a move on down the road. But the deal is, “unpredictable” is the new weather norm. High winds, flooding, and snow are sweeping across the country much like the fires do in the summer. By the time you travel to forecasted clear weather and set up a camping site the winds shift bringing strong storms.

This month I traveled to the south and central regions of Texas because of historic snowstorms in the traditional winter havens in Arizona and California. When my beach camp on South Padre Island Beach Preserve disappeared under unexpected storm waves and strong winds I instinctively headed to the woods for protection.

Shelter in the Forest

Davy Crockett National Forest in East Texas. Photo by TXDOT.

One of the closest and most beautiful places to shelter in the forest from the starting point of South Texas gulf beaches is in the piney woods of the East Texas Forest Trail region.

Young loblolly pines are maturing in forests of oak and beech surrounding old logging lakes. Hiking trails meander through abandoned homesteads, mills and buildings erected for trail life during the 1900-1920’s lumber boom. Spacious, impeccably maintained and monitored campground facilities meet every need.

Ratcliff Lake Recreation Area in Davy Crockett

I was drawn to Davy Crockett rather than Sam Houston, Angelina, or Sabine National Forests because of a childhood memory of the Davy Crockett TV show. Driving from Southern Texas Hill Country north to Austin then east to Houston that song looped in my mind along with images of the beautiful rolling hills and forests featured in the old black and white TV show of the “King of the Wild Frontier” Davy Crockett.

I settled into the Radcliffe Lake Recreation Area in the national forest just outside of Lufkin and Kennard Texas after a long day of driving interstates across Texas.

The Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) built the camp in 1936 and preserved all the charm and character of that era.

Campground Ammenities

The grounds stretch around the small 45-acre lake with ample room between sites and plenty of electric and plumbing services to pamper campers. There’s also space preserved in gorgeous locations for walk-in, primitive tent camping.

In fact, the fingers of the Lakeside and Loblolly Loops have a tent group campsite on the point of a neck of the lake surrounded by several large primitive camping sites. There are ample potable water outlets on the loop.

It’s a good on-grid experience for us boondockers who camp only during the week, if ever, in an established campground.

Ratcliff Lake Recreation Area Has A Long History As Gathering Place

Long History As Gathering Place

Imprints from centuries of life in the forest flow from early Native American settlements to a booming logging business at the turn of the century and now, to today’s small, beautiful, and peaceful on-grid campground.

It’s easy to feel the layered generational memories from pow wows and large family camping reunions to intimate couple getaways or friends gathering for fishing and campfire getaways.

Facilities for Groups

Camping and day use fees

An amphitheater and two large sheltered picnic pavilions facing a roped-off swimming area vibrate with the history of weddings, revivals, church services, and easy, simple fun. There’s fishing, swimming, and boating on the quiet lake. Boat motors are not allowed. The icing on the cake? A concession area similar to a church kitchen. Can we say reunion?

Hiking Trails

The camp is enveloped by over 160,000 acres of national forest. The 20-mile Four C Hiking Trail explores lower and upper pine and hardwood forest, boggy sloughs, and upland bluffs with scenic overlooks. The Big Slough Wilderness on the route has abundant wildlife and primitive campsites for backpackers.

There are two shorter interpretive trails and one 20-mile trail maintained in the Ratcliff Recreation Area.

Nearby History

Check out local history at the CCC Camp-888’s reconstruction of the 1690 Mission Tejas chapel north of Ratcliff on State Route 21. A few miles further north showcases Native American history at the Caddoan Mounds State Historical Park.

My Experience in Ratcliff Recreational Area

I arrived at Ratcliff camp in a shroud of mist seeping through the humid forest. Sunset colored the hovering fog over the lake. The site I selected backed up to the woods at the far edge of the campground. During the week there were only three RVs in the entire water and electric hook-up loop and only one tent camper down by the lake.

Shelter from the Storms

I was so grateful to be out of the shifting sands and pummeling winds and waves of the beach storm! The abundant wildlife, rustling pines, and tree frogs in the pines created the perfect soundtrack for the vista of gently rolling forested hills. A soft fog enveloped our teardrop nestled in the pines as Rocky and I settled in for a deep, hard sleep.

We woke to a steady but gentle rain. A couple hours later I gave up waiting for a rain break and geared up to make breakfast and hike in the soft February rain. It is a beautiful natural area reflecting a great deal of pride and skill maintaining the lake campground nestled in the East Texas woods.

Ampitheater

My Gut Said ‘Move On’

One of two bathhouses in the Ratcliff Recreation Area

In spite of the beauty, electric and water hook ups, and clean bathrooms with real flushing toilets and hot showers I couldn’t settle. My gut pressed me to move camp after hiking. I would rather snuggle in with a good book on a cold, rainy afternoon nestled in a gorgeous forest than act on nomadic instincts.

Nevertheless, by early evening I was on the road again. I’m learning to trust my gut even if I don’t understand it.

I popped onto Wi-Fi during my first break for gas and received a text alert for severe weather in the Daniel Boone National Forest where I had camped. Unexpected, strong storms hit suddenly. It ended up lasting two days. Roads closed due to flooding.

Searching national forecasts to find my next camp I discovered passengers were trapped in an Amtrak in a snowstorm in sunny California. Kids were building snowmen in Arizona. I’d already escaped two erratic storms and every instinct said burrow in.

Home Sweet Home

I’m grateful to be sharing this particular tale in front of a roaring fire in my home base in Norman, Oklahoma where we have freezing rain and snow in the forecast.

My teardrop is packed; gas tank is full and ready to go. My nomad gut is feeling a tug from southeastern Arizona. Fortunately my overly analytical brain is keeping my gut snoring gently by the fire’s warm glow.

For now…

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MiracleUpdate

Cindy Cason has been a print and broadcast journalist, magazine writer, communications director, and consultant. At home, she was a single mom to four busy and amazing kids. In a blink, they launched and she faced a quiet, empty home and another decade until retirement. She opted to sell the farm and embarked on a solo journey into the American wilderness, traveling in a tiny, offroad teardrop trailer pulled by a Subaru Outback. Today she spotlights the beauty of life in nature, hoping to inspire you to passionately live every phase of your own authentic life. Especially retirement...

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