Roasting marshmallows over a campfire, gazing up at the stars, and communing with nature ground my soul. As a former Cub Scout Den Mother, I’ve racked up my share of camping days— pitching tents, blowing up air mattresses, and everything that falls under the badge of roughing it. I’ll still get dirt under my nails and sand in my teeth with adventure sports, but at the end of the day, I want a hot shower and a clean bed to lay my head. So, when I learned about LCRA park’s glamping airstreams on Lake Bastrop, I knew this was my kind of outdoorsy sojourn.
After sheltering in place for ten months, spending time apart from loved ones, a few nights in a socially-distanced, sanitized-for-our-protection airstream seemed like the safest staycation. My son and I packed up the trunk, loaded our bikes atop the car roof rack, and off we went.
Located just under an hour southeast of Austin, Bastrop is a darling town, offering plenty of local eateries and shops. Driving down Main street felt like going back in time to an Andy Griffith era with historic buildings and small-town feel.
Along the Colorado river is a local favorite restaurant, Neighbor’s Kitchen & Yard, offering outdoor seating, at socially-distanced tables and a QR Code menu so you don’t have to worry about menu cooties. A must-order starter is the signature Comeback dip, which earns its name from luring guests back for repeat visits. Served with tortilla chips, this warm, cream cheese, tomato, Italian sausage and spicy cherry pepper dip is no misnomer. My son ordered his ushe, pepperoni pizza and I opted for the pizza of the month, the “Getting’ Figgy Wit It”, a display of pancetta, caramelized onions, mozzarella, goat cheese, fig jam drizzle and topped with arugula. It was a dance party in my mouth. For dessert, (hey, remember we packed bikes) you’ll have a difficult time deciding between the peach cobbler (with a simple biscuit crust), house-made cheesecake or swirl brownie. You can’t go wrong with any of them unless you skip dessert altogether.
Before leaving Bastrop to head towards the Lake, we stopped at Southside Market & BBQ to pick up some sausage. Hotdogs are our go-to camping fav, and with the airstream’s refrigerator and outdoor gas grill, we decided to glamp up our menu. Their Bastrop location even has a drive-thru, making it even more COVID-safe. Its market offers a variety of smoked and ready-to-cook sausages, ideal for plussed up “hot dogs” and migas we’d planned to make for breakfast.
What’s striking about the drive from the town of Bastrop to LCRA’s Lake Bastrop North Shore Park, just minutes away, is how dramatic the landscape changes. The lake is nestled in The Lost Pines, 75,000 acres of loblolly pine trees, which by some fluke of nature separated from the tall pine forest of East Texas 18,000 years ago to create its own ecosystem.
Our glamping airstream was named the Lonestar, one of five gleaming, stainless-steal, vintage trailers parked along a loop overlooking Lake Bastrop. Each is crowned with an iconic Texas name, like the Willie and the Ladybird, and book ended by two raised garden beds filled with fresh herbs, a campfire pit (including firewood, starter and lighter) surrounded by four brightly-colored Adirondack chairs, and gas grill—all framed overhead by a string of twinkly lights. Inside the airstream, which sleeps 4, are all the creature comforts: a dining table that converts to two twin beds, a fully-outfitted kitchen (fridge, stovetop, microwave, stocked with cooking/eating essentials including a Keurig coffeemaker.)
On the other side of the camper a door opens on the right to a toilet and sink (airplane sized, without the turbulence), to the left a frosted glass door conceals a shower, and in the back is a Queen-sized bed surrounded by panoramic windows. Linens, towels (even washcloths) and toiletries are also stocked, dual A/C and heating units, two TVs and a DVD player—basically everything you’d expect to find in a hotel suite. In short, these digs were gloriously glampified.
The December air was crisp but comfortable, so we ventured out to walk along the lakeshore, where we spotted a Great Egret wading in the shallow shoreline. We stopped to marvel at the massiveness of the bird, well over 3 feet tall, and a wingspan of over five feet. Off in the distance, we saw a few people fishing on the dock and a small fishing boat, one family setting up dinner on a picnic table and a stack of colorful kayaks ( Kayak, SUP and CORCL rentals are complimentary for those lodging in the airstreams.)
Closest to the campgrounds is a .6-mile hike called Buzzard Point, which makes a loop along a peninsula of Lake Bastrop. The trail is surrounded by soaring Loblolly pine trees, oaks, carpeted with long, rust-colored pine needles and damp winter leaves. Birds chirping, woodpeckers pecking and frogs (the endangered Houston Toad exists only in the Lost Pines Forest) croaking serenaded us on our hike.
At dusk, my son, Ames tended the campfire while I grilled our fancy hotdogs on the gas grill and warmed up some sides on the airstream stovetop. For dessert, we had a s’more off, the classic s’more vs. gourmet milk chocolate (Lindt with hazelnuts). We both agreed, the milk chocolate won, hands down, and we kicked ourselves for never considering this option previously. Bellies full, we sat mesmerized by the dance of the campfire flames, before climbing into our respective warm beds in our airstream.
The sun rose up from the other side of the lake and we sipped our Keurig coffee and hot cocoa. After some hearty migas for breakfast we headed out on our bikes towards LCRA’s South Park. To get there, you enter Buzzard Point Trail head, but veer right at the fork to the floating bridge before it connects the North-South Trail. It’s a good 9-miles round trip on mostly wide meandering terrain but some challenging ascents, descents and rocky parts where a mountain bike is definitely needed. I made the regrettable decision of bringing my hybrid bike rather than my mountain bike, assuming the trail would be fairly flat since it was alongside a lake. I underestimated the need for fat tires through some sizable rocks and extra gears due since my quarantined cardio shape was sorely lacking. Thankfully, I didn’t get a flat tire and we both definitely got a workout!
Once back at our airstream, we lunched, showered and sunk into our hammocks for an afternoon nap. We managed to start a campfire the second night without a starter cube, gathering kindling instead. (I did have to sacrifice a few pages of my bird guide to keep it going but otherwise we relied on our old scouting skills.) Rain rolled in so we took shelter in the comfort of our airstream and played some chess.
We awoke the next morning to a magical foggy mist over the lake and rain drops on our car. We decided to save kayaking for a future visit but took one last walk along the shore, to the trailhead, breathing in the fresh air, savoring the scent of wet leaves and pine needles, the sounds of the loblolly forest and the notion that our communing with nature buckets were full.
Lake Bastrop is ranked as a top largemouth bass fishing spot in the state (catfish and sunfish are other predominant species). Even if you’re not an angler yourself, well worth visiting on a trip to the area is Paw-Paw’s Catfish House in the town of Bastrop. They offer outdoor seating which is perfect for COVID safety and people watching. Ames ordered the jumbo shrimp basket and when they brought our order, his eyes, wide as saucers exclaimed, “These aren’t jumbo shrimp, they’re ginormous shrimp!” He managed to polish them all off, along with the hefty hushpuppies and make a serious dent in the fries. I ordered the seafood platter that came with shrimp, hand-battered catfish, hushpuppies, pinto beans and slaw. Paired with some sweet tea, it was some good eatin’.
Living in an urban area of Texas like Austin, with the influx of so many people from outside the state, you seldom hear an actual southern accent these days. If your ears are craving the real deal, set yourself down on a seat on Main Street in Bastrop and listen to the local waitstaff and passersby. I found before my sweet tea was refilled a second time, my speech had slowed down a bit, gotten more nasally, and my twang was tuned up.
We made it home in no time and were reminded how a few nights’ staycation in the great outdoors can do wonders for the spirit and the soul. If you go, visit here to book your reservation.