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Stunning sunset at Inks Lake

Inks Lake State Park

Mini Cabins Take Chill Out of Spring Camping

Lovers of the outdoors shouldn't let brisk spring nights' weather keep them from spending a couple of days at a Texas state park. In fact, for perennially popular getaways, such as Inks Lake State Park near Burnet, chilly weather can be the perfect excuse to book one of the 22 cozy mini cabins that offer many of the comforts of home and enjoy the park under less crowded conditions.

Inks Lake State Park is one of eight Texas state parks that offer what the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department describes as "limited service cabins." Other state parks that offer limited service cabins are: Buescher, Cooper Lake (South Sulphur Unit), Lake Colorado City, Lake Bob Sandlin, Martin Creek Lake, Martin Dies, Jr. and San Angelo.

The minimally furnished mini cabins don't have bathrooms or kitchens, but represent a step up from tent camping and screened shelters, offering bunk beds and heaters to ward off the nighttime chill. Some, like the ones at Martin Creek Lake State Park, are converted screened shelters, while others such as the 13-by-16 foot cabins at Inks Lake, were built from scratch.

While the exteriors, furnishings and amenities vary among the eight parks, the limited service cabins offer a more hassle-free way to enjoy overnight camping. Just be sure to pack bed linens or sleeping bags and bring pillows, and you're ready to turn in after a busy day of hiking, fishing, boating or other outdoor activities. Each cabin site has a picnic table, fire ring/grill, lantern post and water spigot.

Work crews at Inks Lake State Park tore down the old screened shelters in 2000 and constructed cinder block structures with metal roofs and doors on the old foundations. Cabin exteriors are finished in a duotone that mimics the colors found in the ubiquitous granite boulders and outcroppings throughout the park. Mini cabin interiors feature concrete floors, two sets of single bunk beds (sleeps four) with mattresses, a table and four chairs, a ceiling fan, air conditioner/heat pump and 30-amp electrical outlet. Walls are painted sky blue or pink and have slightly hipped ceilings of exposed pine the give the structures a homey feel. The Inks Lake cabin fees are $45 plus tax per night. A per-person park entrance fee of $5 is required for persons 13 years or older.

The mini cabins at Inks Lake have been a big hit with park visitors since the park began offering them in 2001, according to office manager Pam Major. "People love 'em," she says. "We already have some booked for the summer. From the time kids get out of school in May until they go back in late summer, the cabins are usually booked by the end of March."

Major advises those wanting to stay in a mini cabin anytime from March through November to make a reservation at least four to six weeks out. People who wait until the last minute to make a reservation, she warns, will be disappointed.

Inks Lake State Park consistently ranks as one of the most visited parks in the Texas state park system, and it's easy to see why.

Conveniently located about an hour from Austin in the heart of the picturesque Texas Hill Country, the 1,200 acre park provides ready access to sparkling Colorado River waters impounded in the smallest reservoir of seven linked Highland Lakes stretching from Tow, Texas to Austin. Pinkish mounds of some of Texas' oldest rock - Spring Valley gneiss (pronounced nice) - contains feldspar minerals that glitter in the sun. White-tailed deer prance about in the idyllic setting, stopping to graze, seemingly oblivious to nearby humans.

The park's recreational opportunities are as diverse as the varieties of wildflowers that in spring paint the rocky, pink granite hills with splashes of blues, reds and yellows. With more than 200 campsites to accommodate everybody from tent campers to RV users, Inks Lake State Park ranks as the runner-up in overnight camping leaders among Texas state parks. Most of the mini cabins and many of the campsites line the shores of the lake, which is kept at a constant level, even in the times of drought.

More than seven miles of hiking trails wind along the shore and through rocky, oak-juniper woodlands. The Pecan Flats Trail crosses Park Road 4 and leads to nine primitive sites in a trail camp a short hike from the highway. A new Pecan Flats Trail Guide informs park users about the area's unusual geology, flora and fauna. Inks Lake itself, hugging granite shores dotted with live oak and mountain juniper woodland, proves the park's main attraction. Boating and fishing for bass, crappie and catfish on the scenic reservoir draw hordes of anglers. Park visitors can cast from the shore or a lighted pier. In addition to groceries, camping supplies and souvenirs, the busy State Park Store rents canoes, kayaks and paddleboats.

The store, which features an inviting back deck, serves as an embarkation point for several guided tours. One of the most popular tours is the Devil's Waterhole Canoe Tour that guides visitors to a scenic cove featuring a waterfall and unusual geologic formations. A short hiking trail from the easternmost campground also leads to the waterhole and a rocky overlook that affords a picture book view of Inks Lake sunsets and surrounding granite hills.

Popular with visitors are ongoing Saturday events such as "Go Fishing with a Ranger" and "Full Moon Hikes." Inks Lake State Park is one of about 100 state parks that make up the Texas State Park System. The park is located nine miles west of Burnet on State Highway 29. For more information about Inks Lake State Park, call (512) 793-2223; for general Texas state park information call (800) 792-1112. To book overnight park accommodations, contact TPWD's Customer Service Center at (512) 389-8900 or log onto the Texas Parks and Wildlife Web site: www.tpwd.state.tx.us.


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