BELTON — For the past few months, every other week, I have been spotlighting a Texas State Park that is within an hour’s drive of Fort Hood. While I have had a blast exploring these, and they are all worth visiting, there are some closer options that I have ignored until now. This week, I revisited two of my favorite spots that are within 15 minutes of the Great Place, and both of them are on, or right next to, Stillhouse Hollow Lake.

There are four parks on the shores of Stillhouse Hollow Lake and one just below the dam on the Lampasas River. On the lake are Stillhouse Park, Overlook Park, Riversbend Park, and Dana Peak Park. Below the dam is Chalk Ridge Falls Park. All are great, quick escapes with wide open spaces, swimming areas, camp grounds, boat launches and picnic areas. Unlike many of the other parks I have written about, none of these parks charge admission or have mandatory day passes. Camping is an exception, of course. But I am going to highlight my two favorites: Dana Peak Park and Chalk Ridge Falls Park.

Since PCSing to Fort Hood many moons ago and then retiring here, I’ve been to both many times with my family, and they all enjoy the outings each and every trip we take.

A couple weeks ago, I asked my grandson, X’zavier, if he wanted to go climb a mountain. He said, “Umm … YEAH!” And ran to get his shoes. He’s only five and doesn’t really know what a mountain is. Dana Peak isn’t a mountain. But it is a good-sized hill with well-worn hiking trails on it that lead all the way to the boat ramp on the other side of the park. On the front side of the peak are dirt bike trails with ramps and jumps on them. So, we set off and climbed the ‘mountain.’ He had a blast and bragging rights for days. At the top are some lovely views of the lake as a whole. The top of the peak is a large flat circle. There are deer, rabbits and other wildlife that frequent the area.

The rest of the park is nice also with lots of wide open spaces to play and run around. A great and easy place to get some sunshine, fish, swim and grill, all while easily maintaining social distancing.

At the farthest east end of Stillhouse Hollow Lake is Chalk Ridge Falls Park. Even though it’s close and I’ve been there more times than I can remember, it’s still one of my favorite places in Central Texas. I’m not sure why but I prefer streams and rivers to lakes. It just seems like a more intimate setting in which to enjoy nature. As many times as I’ve been there, there are  many walking and hiking paths that I still haven’t had a chance to enjoy.

You can basically walk the path downstream along the river bank as far as you want to. You’ll see many prime spots for wetting your fishing line. The farther you walk, the quieter it gets. You and the kids can easily spot the frogs, tadpoles, minnows, sunfish and bass in the water. I must warn you that the sporting goods stores in the area all sell faulty hooks. I’ve fed many night crawlers to these fish, but haven’t reeled any in.  

There are several hiking trails in the park, and almost all of them are shaded by trees, but the main attraction are the falls themselves.

Families regularly take a grill, a cooler, and some folding chairs down to the falls and hang out for the entire day. It’s worth it. The water is clear and cold, and unlike city pools or water parks, it’s all free. Free fits my budget nicely.

It’s summer PCS season, so if you and your family are new to the area, pull out your phone and type the names of these parks in the map app and go for an after-work picnic, or a weekend adventure that’s close to home. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.