Daingerfield State Park
Daingerfield State Park was the third destination of our 4-park journey from central Texas to northeast Texas. I was genuinely looking forward to visiting Daingerfield State Park, mostly because of the scores of magnificent fall-color photos of the area that I found online, but also because of my family history - many of my ancestors settled the area back in the 1800s.
After leaving Purtis Creek State Park, we drove north about twenty miles on highway 198 to Canton and had salads for lunch at Buttermilk's Restaurant. After our meal, we drove northeast 13 miles to Grand Saline, then turned east on highway 80 to Mineola. From Mineola, we turned north on highway 37 toward Quitman and Winnsboro, then east on highway 11 through Pittsburg and Daingerfield, and finally, 2.6 miles further east to Daingerfield State Park's entrance.
After checking in at the Daingerfield State Park headquarters, we drove into the narrow pavement of pull-through site #7, in the Big Pine camping area. Before I was able to turn off the engine of our tow vehicle, our neighbor from campsite #4, walked over to greet us.
"You have your vehicle turned the wrong way," he said. "You need to point it the other direction so that you can hook up your sewer and water connections."
"I parked this way on purpose," I said with a smile. "I wanted our slide-out to face the lake. That way we can take in the view while enjoying our morning coffee."
"Ah, good thinking," he said, with a smile.
"This is a beautiful park," I said, while admiring the magnificent pine trees and shimmering lake.
"Yes. I think it is the most charming of all of the Texas State Parks. It is a small park, but there are lots of things to do. If you're into hiking, there is a 3-mile trail that surrounds the lake, and another shorter trail that climbs to the highest point in the park."
"We'll hike them both," I said.
After we leveled our trailer, and hooked up the utilities, we drove a short distance to the park's store and explored the day-use area. The water in the lake was clear enough to easily see three feet to the bottom at the fishing pier.
The park rents canoes and kayaks as well as paddle boats and boards. There was a basketball net and a volleyball net set up, just waiting to be enjoyed by weekend visitors. Between the park store and the banquet hall, there was a nice breezeway and dance floor area that was complete with a disco ball and a jukebox. We bought a refrigerator magnet and a couple of ice cream sandwiches from the store and enjoyed them at a picnic table by the lake.
On Thursday morning, we set out to hike the park's two nature trails, the Rustling Leaves Trail and the Mountain View Trail, totaling about 3.6 miles. One section of the Rustling Leaves Trail loop passed directly between our campsite and the lake, so we began hiking from there.
As soon as we commenced our hike, we met a family of hikers approaching us.
"Good morning," I said, as they got closer.
"Good morning," one gentleman said. "Be careful up ahead, we saw a copperhead snake up the trail about 1000 yards."
"Thanks for the warning," I said, thinking about how he might have calculated that distance, given that stretch of trail is only about half that long.
"We'll be on the lookout," I responded.
We never saw the snake, but we kept our eyes open - we were on a hike once, at Village Creek State Park, where a copperhead slithered across the trail not five feet in front of us.
The Rustling Leaves Trail appeared to end near the day-use picnic area, about a quarter of a mile from our campsite, but it picked up again on the other side of the park store and fishing pier. This was also the location of the Mountain View trail head. We decided to hike the 1.2-mile Mountain View Trail first, and finish the 2.4-mile Rustling Leaves Trail loop that would ultimately take us back to our campsite.
The Mountain View Trail had a difficulty rating of Challenging, depending on which combination of Mountain View trails you chose to hike. Any of the routes will take you to the scenic overlook at the highest point in the park (538 feet). There was a bench overlooking the trees and hills beyond. I heard a woman say, "I wish I had brought my book. I could stay up here all day."
The three sections of Mountain View trails were spread out in such a way that, if you wanted to hike them all, you would wind up hiking at least one of them twice. But I think that's a good thing - there's plenty of nature to be enjoyed and absorbed in the (already too short) 1.2 miles of spectacular trails.
On the Daingerfield State Park Trails Map, the lake was labeled Daingerfield State Park Lake, however, on the Park Map it was labeled Little Pine Lake. I think I like Little Pine Lake better ;-).
The Rustling Leaves Trail, considered Easy on the difficulty scale, meandered along the shores of the park's 80 acre man-made lake, through a forest of oaks, maples, elms, and loblolly pines. While hiking along the trail, we noticed that many of the trunks of the giant pine trees were charred, evidence that there might have been a recent prescribed burn. These periodic controlled burns are designed to remove dead grass, control invasive plants, and return the land to its natural state.
About a quarter of a mile down the trail, we came upon the earthen dam that created Little Pine Lake. The dam was built in the 1930s, by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps), from about 4,000 square yards of local iron-ore.
Further down the Rustling Leaves Trail, there is a peninsula that the CCC workers used as a "Picnic Area." Back in the day, they built a few picnic tables and fire pits, but only one still remains. We relaxed on the park bench for a while and enjoyed lunch, while taking in the scenic lake and peaceful tree-covered surroundings.
After a spell, we continued down the trail past the Dogwood Camping Area back towards the Big Pine Camping Area and shortly arrived at the point where we began our hike, our campsite - good ole campsite #7. Across the road from us, a frustrated man was trying to get his fifth-wheel rig parked on the narrow concrete slab of campsite #5. He pulled forward, then backward, then forward, then backward, then forward again, and finally pulled all of the way out of the site and started over. After another 15 minutes of back-and-forth, he finally got it parked in an acceptable position and began unloading kayaks and setting up camp.
We relaxed in our campsite for a while, then grilled some burgers for dinner. After our meal, we began preparing for a cold front that was supposed to drop temperatures 30°, with severe storms possible. We packed up all of our chairs and other gear that we didn't want to get wet, or that might blow around in high winds.
After sunset, when there was barely any light in the sky, I noticed a kayak fisherman trying to plow through the dense water lilies growing in the shallow waters along the shores of Little Pine Lake. He made it about half-way through the thick lilies before he decided to hop out into the muck and drag his boat to the shore of our campsite. He must have lost his way in the darkness, I thought. I grabbed my flashlight and walked towards the lake to provide some light.
"Did you catch any fish?" I asked.
"Nothing big enough to keep," he replied.
"I was planning to go fishing in the morning, but I don't think the weather is going to allow it."
He agreed and continued dragging his kayak back to his fifth-wheel rig at campsite #5.
At 1am, the front came through. Heavy rain pounded the roof of our trailer.
Friday morning, we woke up at dawn to a campsite that was 40° colder than the previous day. The fifth-wheel guy had already packed up and left the park. It was still raining, but on the radar, it looked like we might get a break around noon. That's when we planned to break camp and head south to Mission Tejas State Park. Around 11am, the rain stopped for about 30 minutes, just enough time for us to retract our slide and empty our tanks, then started up again as we drove out of the park and back out onto highway 11 west towards the town of Daingerfield.
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