Because Jessamine and I love canoe trips, we thought it would be fun to try our hand at backpacking. My previous backpacking experience consisted of throwing some gear in the car in my early-twenties and going on an ill-prepared one-night overnight trip to Enchanted Rock with a couple friends. We were young and didn’t really think through seemingly unimportant things such as remembering to bring enough water. The trip culminated in me drinking unfiltered water out of a pond called “Moss Lake.” Needless to say, it was not the most fun camping experience. Meanwhile, Jessamine was completely new to backpacking.
We decided that a one-night trip (organized and planned this time) would be the best way to get our feet wet with backpacking. I did some internet research and Lost Maples Park, just outside of San Antonio, seemed like the perfect beginner local. We were fortunate to have been gifted two backpacks from our April wedding, and we decided to try them out in Lost Maples in June.
For this trip we had a 48 and a 55 liter pack. It was a bit of a task fitting all of our things into our backpacks after being spoiled by large canoe packs. I was convinced that we should each carry less than 20 pounds and we somehow made it work, even with Jessamine insisting that we bring camping chairs. For a list of what we brought check out our backpacking checklist.
Saturday morning we hit the road and made the approximate 3 hour drive to the park. We picked the route that headed through the hill country (and avoided IH-35!). It was a beautiful drive and we saw many motorcyclists joyriding and enjoying the scenery. We even saw a herd of bison grazing on a ranch!
When we got to the park, we stopped at the ranger station to pay our dues. Looking at the map of the park prior to arriving, I had planned for us to stay at Campsite C by the ponds. Being by the water seemed ideal so that we could fill our water filter at camp. This apparently wasn’t the most original idea. The ranger told us that there were already a bunch of people camping at Campsite C and recommended we stay at Campsite B. She said that Campsite B was really pretty because of the great view. The trek up the hill would be worth it because the site would be much less crowded. Okay, so we had our new destination of Campsite B!
We started from the northeast parking area and made our way up the East Trail. The trail was nice and flat at the beginning and I began to think that this trip would be child’s play. We walked along the tree-lined path, crossing a small stream here and there. It was June and a fairly warm day. I was thankful that I had a full water bladder in my pack to drink from!
It didn’t take long to arrive at Campsite A (maybe an hour). It was a fairly large camping area that was almost completely empty. It seemed like a nice enough camping area, but it was still early and we wanted to make it to Campsite B, so we kept on hiking.
This is where the hike turned steep! Very steep! Apparently the warning sign wasn’t lying. We started up the steep portion and I assumed that it wouldn’t last very long. The map seemed to indicate that only a short portion would be steep. Wrong. We continued up and up and up for what seemed like forever. At this point we were both getting grumpy and saying things like, “I will never go backpacking again.” Yes, we can be babies sometimes!
Finally we reached the top at the area where the trail comes to a T. If you take a left at the T you will reach a scenic overlook, but taking a right will lead toward Campsite B. Can you guess which way we picked? Out of exhaustion we went to the right toward Campsite B.
It didn’t take long to reach the camp and we happily went in search of a campsite. After such a difficult hike up I didn’t expect to see many people camping, but there were still quite a few campsites already taken! I realized later that a lot of people probably came up the other side of the east trail, which is a little bit of an easier hike. We were able to find a fairly private campsite after a bit of scoping out the area. We were in earshot of another couple, but it was private enough.
Next we set up our tent and relaxed a bit in our small camping chairs that Jessamine insisted we bring. I was worried about carrying the extra weight, but I have to admit that it felt great to sit in a chair after a tiring day. Next on our agenda was getting more water. We had both drank all of the water that we brought in our water bladders and we needed water for camp.
From looking at the map of the park, it looked like a fairly easy and short walk down to the ponds at Campsite C to fill up our gravity filter. I suppose I again failed to take the “steep” portion of the map seriously. Because this time we had to walk down a very steep hill to get down to the ponds. It was much easier without our packs, but still very tiring. I think this part was steeper than the path we hiked up earlier. At least it wasn’t nearly as long.
When we got to the bottom we had a chance to scope out Campsite C. There were a ton of people and tents surrounding the ponds. And the ponds really are ponds. Basically there was one large mud-lined pond. It honestly didn’t look like anywhere I would want to swim. Based on the state of the ponds and all of the people, I was glad we had not camped at this spot. There wasn’t much privacy, but it would be a good spot for a large group of college students or people that wouldn’t mind the lack of seclusion.
It was hard to find a good location to fill up our water filter. We ended up asking a nice couple if we could encroach on their campsite to fill up. I went to the edge of the water and tried to fill up without getting my feet super muddy. I’m not sure I succeeded, but at least we now had water. (Tip: If you need to fill up a gravity filter, bring a cup to scoop water into it. For some reason just submerging the bag did not fill it up.) It was time to make the exhausting hike back up to camp!
When we finally made it back we were ready to have a drink and make our dinner. We brought a flask of Zubrowka Bison Grass Vodka and passed it back and forth. This is a great liquor to bring camping because it can easily be drunk by itself. It has a mild grass-like flavor I suppose. That doesn’t sound very appealing, but trust me, it’s good. Next, we got our Jetboil going to prepare our freeze-dried dinner. The day must have been a hard one because our dinner tasted absolutely amazing! After dinner and dishes we were tired enough to head to bed.
The next day we made some coffee, ate a granola bar, and broke down camp. We had tied up our food in a tree the night before to prevent animals from getting into it. Our plan half succeeded. Animals didn’t get into anything, but our stuff sack and the rope that we used to tie it up was covered with fire ants! We used a towel to get the ants off the rope and poured the contents of the stuff sack on the ground. Oddly enough, the ants were mainly interested in our dish sponge, even though it was sealed in a Ziplock bag. After a bit of cursing at the ants that were biting my hands we got all of them off our stuff. We made a note to try to figure out a way to prevent this in the future (any suggestions?).
After packing up, we made the hike through the remainder of the east trail. Going down the steep hill to Campsite C was more difficult with packs. Our walking sticks were lifesavers here! If you do this trip I highly recommend bringing one.
The remainder of the hike was pretty easy. We even saw people rolling coolers and gear from Campsite C to the exit. This explains why there were so many people at Campsite C! When we finished the trail we had to walk along the road to get back to the parking area where we left the car. It was pretty easy to figure out where to go. In typical fashion, we found a BBQ joint to stop at on our drive back to Austin. Let me tell ya, BBQ tastes amazing after a difficult hike!
And there you have it. Our first backpacking expedition! We both learned that backpacking is not for the faint of heart. I thought it was a fun trip, but I can honestly say I’ve preferred our canoe trips. To each their own though. I do have some backpacking trips I’d like to go on to get to areas where a canoe cannot. Stay tuned for more adventures.
Best time to go: We went in June, but this trip could be done year-round. The park gets very busy in the fall when the leaves change colors.
Trip Length: 4.6 miles, two short days and one night for the East Trail.
Don’t Forget: Walking stick, water, water filter, and hat.
Post-Trip Meal and Beer: Cranky Frank’s BBQ, Fredericksburg