Before you know it, the few and far between cold Texas days will be gone, and for many, spring break will offer a week-long vacation. If you are looking to stay relatively close to home for your trip, you don’t have to travel far (or spend a lot of money) to explore the great outdoors and create fond memories.
The Brazos River basin is home to many interesting historical sites and beautiful nature spots, including Brazos River Authority reservoirs. Not only do these locations provide the opportunity to escape the indoors, but they are also inexpensive and fun for the whole family. Whether you are ready to spend an entire week in the wilderness or looking for a fun day trip, the Brazos River basin has plenty of adventures that will take you off the beaten path.
Starting at the top of the Brazos River basin, our first stop is at the National Ranching Heritage Center. Located in Lubbock, the National Ranching Heritage Center is perfect for anyone interested in agriculture, historical facts, and learning about the future of ranching. Stop at the museum and learn about the history of ranching, then take a turn outside and experience the Western experience at the Center’s 19-acre historical park. Admission is free and guidelines are in place to help prevent the spread of Covid-19. To learn more about the National Ranching Heritage Center, click here.
Before leaving the south plains, plan a trip to Lubbock’s Science Spectrum Museum and Omni Theatre to visit Texas Alive!: the Brazos River Journey. Get to know the wildlife that thrives in the Brazos River basin at Lubbock’s only public aquarium. To learn more about the museum, go here.
Heading south along the Brazos River, the next stop is at one of Texas' most beautiful reservoirs. Possum Kingdom Lake, a BRA reservoir, offers nearly 220 miles of recreational shoreline and stunning scenery, including the iconic Hell’s Gate Formation. Visitors and residents come from all over the state to fish, water ski, hike, mountain bike and even scuba dive. The BRA offers 10 lakeside parks along with 16 miles of hiking and biking trails that crisscross the lake’s central peninsula. All the parks at Possum Kingdom Lake are free during spring break. From wooded areas to the lakefront, these camping sites offer a complete outdoor experience and are available on a first-come, first-served basis. The BRA also provides several boat ramps and courtesy docks at public use areas. View the full list of Possum Kingdom Lake’s amenities here.
For aspiring and amateur archaeologists, the Mineral Wells Fossil Park is a must for your spring break plans. Formerly a gravel pit at an old landfill, wind and rain eventually revealed numerous fossil formations. The park offers visitors the opportunity to see and collect “Pennsylvanian Period” fossils that are dated to be more than 300 million years old. It’s one of the few parks in the nation where you can remove fossils from a site and take them home for personal use only. Admission is free from 8 a.m. to dusk daily. For more information about the park and what tools you can use, click here.
Follow the Brazos River down from the Mineral Wells Fossil Park to picturesque Lake Granbury, the second BRA reservoir. Located in Hood County, Lake Granbury offers beautiful scenery, 121 miles of shoreline and six lakeside parks that can be used for picnicking, fishing and camping. Each park has a unique combination of amenities, including courtesy docks, designated swimming areas, fishing piers and more. Observation Point offers a scenic overlook that displays Lake Granbury’s beauty and the mighty DeCordova Bend Dam. With stunning views and proper amenities, Lake Granbury is a prime camping location in North Texas. All parks at Lake Granbury are free to use and require no reservation.
The last stop in the Upper Brazos River basin is the Dinosaur Valley State Park in Glen Rose. Take a walk with the dinosaurs and step where they used to tread in the Paluxy River's bed, a Brazos tributary. The Paluxy River runs through the park and marks where the Gulf of Mexico's beaches stood millions of years ago. Dinosaurs once plodded in the area in search of food, leaving deep footprints in the mud. Fast forward to modern times, and those footprints have hardened into remarkably clear fossilized stone features. The footprints are likely from creatures such as the paluxysaurus, the acrocanthosaurus and the iguanodon. Besides finding dinosaur tracks in the river, you can camp, picnic, hike and participate in other outdoor activities at this popular spot. For more information about the Dinosaur Valley State Park, click here.
Photo courtesy of Katie E. Van Anterp of the Brazos River in Waco
Heading out of the upper reaches of the Brazos River basin, the next destination is Waco! Home to the BRA’s Central Office, Waco also has plenty of opportunities to explore the outdoors along the Brazos River and the Bosque River, a tributary of the Brazos. Cameron Park is a natural haven of 416 acres that lies along the Brazos and Bosque rivers. As one of Texas's largest urban parks, Cameron Park provides impressive limestone cliffs like Lover’s Leap and offers amazing hiking and biking trails. The park includes a zoo housing a wide variety of animals and displays, like the Brazos River Country exhibit featuring an American Black Bear, Jaguars and more.
About 20 minutes away from Cameron Park lies the Lake Waco Wetlands, a wildlife refuge created as part of the expansion of Lake Waco in 2000. The increase of water in the flood-control reservoir caused habitat loss, requiring a habitat mitigation project and the Lake Waco Wetlands. These wetlands span for more than 180 acres and house different plants, mammals, insects and amphibians. According to the city of Waco, nearly 11 million gallons of water are pumped through the wetland each day from the Bosque River, a tributary of the Brazos, into the reservoir. The wetlands are a great place to explore beautiful wetlands in the heart of Texas. The trails and walkways are currently open to the public, but the education building is still closed as part of Covid-19 restrictions. For more information about the Lake Waco Wetlands, click here.
Before you head out of Waco, be sure to stop at the Waco Mammoth National Monument. Just up the Bosque River from Cameron Park, the National Monument marks the spot where two men searching for artifacts in 1979 found a large bone sticking out of a ravine. It was identified as a Columbian mammoth bone, a species of elephant that has been extinct for thousands of years.
In the years since, workers have excavated 22 mammoth fossils from what is the only recorded discovery of a nursery herd of Pleistocene mammoths. Also found in this spot was an extinct camel, part of a saber-tooth cat and another unidentified animal. A Presidential Executive Order was signed in 2015 and designated the Waco Mammoth site a national monument, only the 14th in Texas. Currently, the park’s trails, picnic area and restrooms are open. The park’s dig shelter and bookstore are open with modified operations.
After finally making it to the lower Brazos River basin, anglers and outdoor enthusiasts will want to visit the third BRA reservoir, Lake Limestone. Located on the upper Navasota River in Limestone, Robertson and Leon counties, Lake Limestone offers some of Central Texas's best fishing. Its flooded timber and high amount of aquatic vegetation provide the perfect environment for largemouth and white bass, crappie and catfish.
Along with prime fishing opportunities, Lake Limestone offers four parks with camping and picnic facilities, along with four boat launching ramps and three courtesy docks. Lake Limestone is the perfect place to take your boat and spend a day on the water. All the public use areas at Lake Limestone are free and open year-round—no reservations needed.
If you are looking to switch things up from the outdoors, you don’t need to travel far from Lake Limestone to do so. The magnificent Newman’s Castle in Bellville might be the last thing you’d expect to see in Texas and is well worth the visit. Equipped with a moat and drawbridge, the castle is owned by a local baker who opened his property to the public in 2006. If you are interested in exploring the inside of the castle, visitors are given a tour of the entire castle and are encouraged to explore the majestic grounds. To learn more and book a tour, click here.
And for the final stop, a visit to the Brazoria County Historical Museum is the perfect way to round out a trip throughout the Brazos River basin. Located in Brazoria County's historic 1897 courthouse, the museum has an impressive collection of artifacts that displays Brazoria County’s history. The museum is currently open at limited capacity on Monday to Friday from 9-5 and Saturdays by appointment. Click here to learn more about their collections.