If climbing airfares, longer airport security lines and an ailing bank account have you thinking spring break is more like spring broke, you're probably ready for a family road trip. You can save a little green this year by sticking a little closer to home.
If you start planning now, you can still score reservations for next month at cool destinations across the state. Here are good ideas to consider in Texas, with a few suggestions for crossing state lines.
Caddo Lake slings itself across the Texas-Louisiana state line, in the red dirt and thick pines somewhat near Shreveport, about 200 miles due east of Fort Worth. The only natural lake in Texas mesmerizes with its bayous, swamps and sloughs covered with lily pads and crowded by towering cypress. Great for fishing, Caddo contains more than 70 kinds of fish, with crappie and bass among the favorites.
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Who goes there: Adults will love Caddo because you really feel that you've gotten away, and nature envelops you. Kids of every age will enjoy plentiful discovery opportunities.
What to do there: If you're lucky enough to nab a Caddo Lake State Park cabin, you'll be in prime position to watch for birds, armadillos, deer and raccoons from your porch. Hikes along the water could show you turtles, frogs, beavers, nutrias and even alligators. Canoe rentals continue to be exceptionally popular, as are the guided pontoon tours. Special in March are free ranger-led programs, such as the two-hour birding walks every Sunday at 9 a.m., one-hour guided nature hikes at 10 a.m. on Saturday, 90-minute introductory fishing lessons at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday and the Friday evening Owl Prowl programs.
Where to sleep: Stone park cabins, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, sleep two to six and cost $70-$95 per night. Campsites with varying degrees of services are $8-$20 per night. Call 903-679-3351 or visit www.tpwd.state.tx.us/spdest/findadest/parks/caddo_lake/ for details.
What's more: If the park is full, find additional lodging and diversions in the lakeside burg of Uncertain; good information is found at www.cityofuncertain.com.
The Davis Mountains
Texas' most extensive mountain range lies roughly 475 miles southwest of Fort Worth. You'll need the majority of a day to drive to that section of Big Bend Country, but the returns far outweigh your investment. The hulking mass of volcanic uplifts rises high above the Chihuahuan Desert in welcome relief after the wide, flat oil fields splayed across the Permian Basin. No matter the time of year, cool air tends to be the norm, as elevations around there, particularly in patches of alpine forest, are often a mile high.
Who goes there: The Davis Mountains appeal most to folks wanting to gear down to a slow pace. Cellphone service comes and goes, so a passion for disconnecting is helpful. You're in small-town ranch country, loaded with cavalry-fort history and bold doses of the great outdoors. Kids 5 and up, like parents, should bring hiking boots.
What to do there: In the 2,700-acre Davis Mountains State Park, a wonderful, 4-mile-long hiking trail tops a mountain ridge reaching from the park's interpretive center to the neighboring Fort Davis National Historic Site, a beautifully restored cavalry post that was home to the famous Buffalo Soldiers. Another popular trail loops for 4 miles in the park's Limpia Canyon. To ride a horse for an hour, a day or overnight, you can book a mount at Fort Davis Stables, and to take a 21/2-hour Jeep tour on a history ranch, you can make reservations at the Harvard Hotel Lodge tour desk. At night, just pick a comfortable place to look at the stars or head up to the McDonald Observatory for a Star Party.
Where to sleep: The recently renovated Indian Lodge inside Davis Mountains State Park offers a more comfortable sleep after a $4.3 million update. Designed by the CCC in the 1930s to resemble a American Indian Pueblo village, it features beautiful red cedar furniture and pine vigas and latillas. Rates for 39 rooms and suites are $90 to $135 per night. Book at 432-426-3254 or visit www.tpwd.state.tx.us/spdest/findadest/parks/indian_lodge/. Campsites are $6-$20 per night. Call 432-426-3337 or visit www.tpwd.state.tx.us/spdest/findadest/parks/davis_mountains/.
What's more: For more lodging ideas and to find tour information, visit www.fortdavis.com.
Rough Creek Lodge
Rough Creek Lodge began as a bird-hunting retreat in the rolling, rocky hills just south of Glen Rose, typically an hourlong drive southwest of Fort Worth. The luxury resort lies on the 11,000-acre Chalk Mountain Ranch, where you are likely to see your fair share of buffalo and longhorn roaming around. It's fairly close to Fossil Rim, home of plentiful exotic wildlife, and an easy shot from Granbury.
Who goes there: The whole family will get a kick out of Rough Creek, as mom and dad can get pampering in the spa while kids of every age have dedicated play areas.
What to do there: For starters, there's a 45-foot-high climbing wall, 650-foot-long zip line, hayrides, petting zoo, fishing at the dock and from the lakeside and swimming in a pool with a lazy river. Shooting clays, ATV riding, mountain biking and working out in the fitness center are more options. Newest is an excellent equestrian program. If parents want to enjoy a quiet dinner in the elegant-yet-casual dining room, they can leave the younger family members at the Kids Ranch for supervised play at Wii, foosball and table tennis. There's even nap time built into the daytime program.
Where to sleep: The lodge offers rooms that redefine comfort. From March 12-28, special rates start at $310 per adult Sunday through Thursday; and $350 per adult Friday and Saturday, with kids 15 and younger staying free with parents. That price includes the family's dinner and breakfast from legendary chef Gerald Thompson, as well as most ranch activities. (Horseback riding, ATVs, shooting clays and a few others are extra.) Those prices are good for the newer cabins, set a short way from the lodge. Call 800-864-4705 or visit www.roughcreek.com.
What's more: If you stay two nights, Rough Creek throws in a $50 gift card to use on spa and other extras. With a three-night stay, it's a $100 gift card.
JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa
The world's largest JW Marriott Resort opened in January about 30 minutes north of downtown San Antonio on 600 acres of hills covered by live oaks in the new development called Cibolo Canyons. Officially (and cumbersomely) named the JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa tops just about anything in the region, with 1,002 rooms and a 26,000-square foot spa, a serious golf complex and a 6-acre water park with heated outdoor water features. The resort was built with smart environmental initiatives, adding to its appeal.
Who goes there: Bring even the little ones. Don't worry -- you'll find plenty of playtime diversions throughout this giant retreat.
What to do there: Swim or tube along the meandering pool river, play on water rides or just find a place to sun by the multiple pools. You can roam around a 100-acre bird sanctuary and hike or bike along a system of trails. At the spa, 30 treatment rooms promise restoration, and there's a complete fitness center with yoga and other classes. Two 18-hole The Players Championship golf courses were designed by Pete Dye and Greg Norman. The resort will loan you racquets at the tennis center, if you like. Boutiques fill the resort, too, as do seven dining and drinking spots. Sports freaks will love the High Velocity Sports Bar with its wall-to-wall giant screens.
Where to sleep: Online per-night rates were, at press time, $259 and up for spring-break dates for a room with four people in it. For more details call 210-403-3434 or visit www.jwsanantonio.com.
What's more: Sea World and Six Flags Fiesta Texas are roughly about 30 minutes southwest of the resort.