Off the Beaten Path: Glamping and Offbeat Destinations

Off the Beaten Path: Glamping and Offbeat Destinations

Before we started living and traveling in our little 150-square-foot roaming home, my favorite way to travel was to stay in offbeat and unique places. I’m talking yurts, treehouses, cabins, and anything off the beaten path or different than a conventional hotel. I wasn’t able to narrow it down to my top three, so in this quick trip down memory lane I’ll be sharing my four favorite glamping and offbeat destinations, ordered chronologically based on our visit date.

1. Moonbeam Cottage- Uncertain, TX

Moonbeam Cottage at the Moonglow Lodge.

Picture a whimsical little cabin surrounded with flowers and ivy out on a small island in a lush bayou far away from the city lights, and you’ve got the aptly-named Moonbeam Cottage located in Uncertain, Texas. This quaint little retreat sits on Caddo Lake, which is on the border of Texas and Louisiana. Home to one of the largest flooded cypress forests in the country, this biodiverse ecosystem is also an internationally protected wetland.

The Moonbeam Cottage has a cozy and modest interior with a queen-size murphy bed, kitchenette with coffee pot, microwave, and mini fridge, and a bathroom with shower- but we spent most of our time enjoying the beautiful outdoors. During our visit in 2015, the cottage also had an awesome little indoor hot tub and screened porch but I believe the hot tub may have been removed after the property flooded in 2016.

The cabin has access to a large pier with a lovely sitting area, perfect for admiring the cypress trees and Spanish moss. Canoes are also available for exploring the peaceful waters and abundant wildlife. Caddo Lake State Park is just a short drive away and offers hiking, paddling, fishing, and camping.

Relaxing on the deck.

We enjoyed hiking in the nearby state park and just walking around the small island. One morning were joined by a friendly dog that we dubbed “swamp dog” after he jumped into the murky water to try and retrieve a turtle we moved from the road.

Caddo Lake definitely has a mysterious charm and some locals even believe the area is enchanted with special powers. Musician, and native Texan, Don Henley also treasures this special place and has played a large role in its preservation.

Caddo Lake

2. StoneWind Retreat- Chester, AR

StoneWind Retreat in Chester, AR

While we were still living in Louisiana we took a trip across the state line to Arkansas where we stayed in a secluded yurt up in the mountains. I had always wanted to stay in a yurt and this one was nothing short of magical with plenty of natural light, warm furnishings, and a beautiful deck with a jacuzzi tub and unbeatable view.

Jacuzzi with a view.
Outside the yurt.

The yurts were quite comfortable when we visited in late summer and are equipped with central air and heat, a full bathroom, and a kitchen complete with cooking supplies. The retreat center offers in-room massages and wellness classes including meditation and qigong.

Breakfast in the yurt.

There’s also plenty to do nearby, especially if you like playing in the dirt. We went out on a day trip and found some lovely hiking trails and walked around a serene lake. On our way up to StoneWind we went mining for crystal quartz on Mount Ida, the crystal quartz capital of the U.S. (this still ranks as one of my favorite adventures to date).

Years later, I used some of the crystal quartz points we mined in Arkansas to make the unicorn crown I wore at our wedding. Did you know that in addition to being beautiful, crystal quartz is believed to cleanse and purify energy? Arkansas will always be a special place to us and I still consider the state an underrated beauty.

3. Savannah’s Meadow- Celeste, TX

Another one of my favorite offbeat adventures was when we went glamping high up in the Majestic Oak Treehouse just on the outskirts of Dallas in Celeste, Texas. This definitely isn’t your average backyard treehouse fort. This bungalow is a real stunner with its shabby-chic decor and was featured on Animal Planet’s popular TV show, Treehouse Masters.

Room with a view at Savannah’s Meadow.

Literally built in, on, and around an old, majestic oak tree, the main cabin in this treehouse features a kitchen with sink, fridge, and cooktop, and a unique set of stairs that leads to a crow’s nest with 3 twin beds.

I really loved the floating sky lounge, which is basically a net suspended in the trees and the perfect spot for relaxing or reading a book. The shower was also a treat with large floor-to-ceiling windows. Don’t worry about peepers- plenty of privacy is provided by the trees.

Sky lounge in the tree.

My absolute favorite spot was the master bedroom where the walls and roof can be rolled up providing an open-air experience, ideal for admiring the trees or sleeping under the the stars. If you choose to roll up the walls like we did, a dainty mosquito net is provided to help keep any bugs away- this is Texas after all. We found a few friendly spiders hanging around on the outside of the mosquito nets when we woke up in the mornings but we credit them with keeping the mosquitos away. We didn’t have any encounters with any other bugs or critters during our stay and we found the treehouse to be very clean and peaceful.

Majestic Oak Treehouse.

In the heat of the summer (and likely most of the year in Texas), the small but private swimming pool with a floating rubber ducky provides the perfect place to cool down. There’s also a private jacuzzi tub on site, a few short hiking trails through the wooded property with interesting decorations, a large field of lavender, small fishing pond, rustic wedding chapel, and a friendly neighborhood donkey.

4. Stormking Spa and Cabins- Ashford, WA

I found the last on the list of my favorite little offbeat accommodations in Ashford, Washington near beautiful Mount Rainier National Park. Nestled in a grove of large, fragrant cedar trees, the round Bear Cabin and its private deck with jacuzzi proved to be the perfect place to unwind after a long day exploring the park.

This cabin sits on absolutely stunning property. We saw all sorts of beautiful birds and enjoyed the soothing sounds of a trickling stream right from our cabin’s deck. Sitting there you’d never even know you left the park boundaries. One thing to keep in mind is that the cabins were specifically designed for couples seeking a romantic getaway and children are not allowed.

We had a wonderful time lounging by the fireplace, enjoying the beautiful view from the deck, and soaking in the jacuzzi tub. There are a few other cabins on the property but they are spaced apart and feel very private. We actually never saw or heard any other guests and it felt like we were the only ones there in our own private little nature sanctuary.

That’s a wrap on my favorite glamping and offbeat destinations. If you’ve stayed someplace unique and would like to share, I would love to hear about your experience! I hope you enjoyed reading along and reminiscing with me. I definitely encourage you to try a yurt, cabin, or treehouse that’s off the beaten path for your next adventure.
Thanks for reading!

Hitched Up: Palo Duro Canyon State Park

Hitched Up: Palo Duro Canyon State Park

Known as the “Grand Canyon of Texas,” Palo Duro Canyon spans over 27,000 acres and is the second largest canyon in North America. With its scenic overlooks, colorful canyon walls, towering rock formations, and over 30 miles of hiking, biking, and equestrian trails, I knew we’d want to stick around for awhile.

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We reserved 2 weeks in an RV camping site with water and 50/30/20-amp electrical service. Sewer connections are not available at any individual campsites within the park (except for camp host sites), however there are dump stations (where you can hook up your sewer connection and dump your tanks) located near each campground. We camped in the Sagebrush Camp Area and had gorgeous views of the surrounding canyon walls, especially during sunset. Each campsite has its own fire ring and pergola with picnic table.

img_0898.jpgThe park is home to a few members of the Official State of Texas Longhorn Herd who can be spotted grazing in the pasture near the park’s entrance station. They were massive, beautiful animals who seemed to pose for pictures. IMG_1188
During our stay the temperature in the canyon reached the triple digits (unusual for early May), so for our first outing we decided to hike the Pioneer Nature Trail, one of the park’s shorter (.49 miles) and more family-friendly trails. During our trek we spotted a threatened Texas horned lizard. Gaius, our Yorkie, pranced right by without ever noticing.

The Pioneer Nature Trail is located near the Mack Dick Group Pavillon, where we couldn’t resist recreating a certain iconic movie scene on a boulder overlooking the pavilion’s parking lot.

IMG_0892The famed Lighthouse rock formation serves as the symbol of Palo Duro Canyon and can be viewed by taking the multi-use Lighthouse Trail. At 6 miles round trip with a few steep climbs and little shade, the Lighthouse Trail can be challenging but the the scenery is absolutely beautiful. Visitors are cautioned to stay hydrated by carrying a minimum of 1 gallon of water per person or pet and to use sun protection. Several of the park’s trailheads (including the Lighthouse trailhead) have dispensers with free SPF 30 sunscreen. What a great amenity!

We started our trek to the Lighthouse in the morning when it was cooler. The trail started off flat but a few intense, vertical climbs were waiting near the end.

There wasn’t a lot of traffic on the trail, which made for a private and peaceful hike. When we reached the Lighthouse we had it all to ourselves for about 15 minutes until other hikers arrived. I skirted the edge of the cliff a bit and climbed all the way to the base of the Lighthouse. Mitchell is seriously not fond of heights so he opted to stay behind. If you look closely you can spot him gazing back at me in a panic, no doubt.IMG_1032I attempted to snap a picture of myself at the top by setting the camera timer on my phone, but when I ran to strike a pose I saw a man in the distance waving his arms at me. It would have been rude to not wave back at him, right? I noticed that other hikers were starting to arrive and I didn’t want to be “that girl” taking pictures of herself while photobombing everyone else’s, so I decided this crooked, candidish shot of my backside was good enough! IMG_1167Many of the trails in the park are multi-use or are designated as hiking and biking trails. The Capitol Peak Trail is the only trail in the park designated for biking only. Bikers can choose routes along the trail labeled as easy, moderate, or difficult based on their skills or comfort. We attempted the Capitol Peak Trail but found it to be too rugged and challenging, especially with Gaius riding in his basket. Our favorite trail for biking was actually an unmarked trail that ran behind the Sagebrush Camp Area. We encountered several other bikers enjoying this trail as well.

We frequented the Palo Duro Trading Post within the park a few times for burgers and ice cream. The nearest town, Canyon, is about a 20 minute drive away so the Trading Post was a convenient retreat after a hot day out in the sun. It also saved us from having to cook and heat up our trailer when we were trying so hard to keep it cool.

We also went on a trail ride with Palo Duro Riding Stables and experienced a whole new view of the canyon. The stables have been owned and operated by the Sorenson family since 1962. The owner and guides were super friendly and proudly shared their family history with us. We enjoyed the beautiful landscape, heard great stories, and learned interesting facts about the canyon during our ride.

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Accessibility Notes:
Palo Duro Canyon State Park offers some accessible parking, campsites, and restrooms with showers. Although breathtaking views of the canyon can be enjoyed by all visitors from day use areas, camping areas, and scenic overlooks off of the main park road, there are unfortunately no trails designated as ADA accessible. Most of the park’s trails were narrow with rough terrain, steep slopes, potholes, and boulders. However, I found a short gravel trail that could be accessible for some behind the Interpretive Theater.

The park map shows one ADA accessible restroom including showers and parking, located in the Sagebrush Camp Area.

The Sagebrush Camp Area also has accessible campsites with paved vehicle parking and a paved path to the fire ring, picnic table and pergola.img_0864.jpgAlthough not indicated as ADA accessible on the park map, the Wolfberry Multi-Use Area on Alternate Park Road 5 has ADA accessible restrooms, showers, and parking.

We weren’t able to catch TEXAS, an outdoor musical drama, at the Pioneer Amphitheater (performances begins June 1st) but accessible parking and seating is available. We’ve heard TEXAS is a great show, so we hope to check it out next time we visit.

Thanks for reading!

Volunteering: High Plains Food Bank Garden

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During our visit to Palo Duro Canyon State Park we escaped the heat and ventured into Amarillo, where we spent the morning volunteering in the Garden at the High Plains Food Bank. Established in 2009, the one-acre Garden can supply the community with 20,000 lbs of fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs every year.

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The Garden is home to chickens, turkeys, goats, ducks, rabbits, and honeybees, who all play an important role in the Garden’s success. During our visit we had fun running around trying to catch a sneaky chicken that escaped from the pen.

I was so impressed to learn that everything grown in the Garden is organic, including a wide variety of heirloom plants, and that nothing goes to waste. Staff explained how the Garden strives to be a sustainable operation and showed us the water catchment system where rainwater is collected to help water plants. The system can be completely filled with only two inches of rain to the Amarillo area.

img_1214.jpgNot even the weeds here go to waste. We pulled buckets of weeds from the garden beds and used them to feed some very appreciative goats. The Garden uses animal manure, items from the food bank that can’t be distributed, and coffee grounds from local coffee shops to make compost that supplies rich nutrients to the plants.

IMG_1210img_1213.jpgThe Garden offers gardening workshops and other opportunities for community education. It’s also a very popular spot for school field trips. A walk around the Garden is an educational experience in itself, with informational plaques placed throughout the grounds and knowledgeable staff.

img_1218.jpgIn addition to the Garden, the High Plains Food Bank operates the Kids Cafe, which prepares and supplies nutritious meals to children in the Texas Panhandle. Meals are delivered daily to local community centers, apartment complexes, schools, and churches and are provided to children at no charge. The High Plains Food Bank has several other programs to help battle hunger, including its unique Hunters for the Hungry program, which provides meat to local food assistance providers through donations from hunters and meat processors. To learn more about the High Plains Food Bank or to get involved, visit their website here.

Hitched Up: Abilene State Park

Hitched Up: Abilene State Park

For each destination I visit, whether it be a state or national park, landmark, city, or attraction, I’ll be writing a summary of my experience and sharing photographs, general information, and a few notes on accessibility.

An “accessible” environment meets the needs of all visitors, allowing all visitors to access and experience the environment, including visitors who use wheelchairs, scooters, walkers, or other adaptive equipment. Think doorways that are wide enough for a wheelchair to pass through or walkways and trails that have a surface hard and even enough for a person with a walker or wheelchair to navigate. Accessibility is so important because it helps give people of all abilities the opportunity to visit the same places, see the same things, and have the same experiences as everyone else. We should all be able to marvel at sight of Yosemite’s majestic mountains or snag a front row view of Yellowstone’s Old Faithful, right?

I think everyone should care about accessibility- and so even though I am just one small voice and writing one small blog, I want to talk about how the destinations I’ve visited can be enjoyed by everyone. I hope to become more familiar with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards and learn more about accessibility through my experiences. 

Without further ado, the first destination I’m covering is Abilene State Park.

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For our maiden voyage on our year-long traveling journey, we hitched up and headed to Abilene, Texas where we set up camp in Abilene State Park. We wanted a chance to slow down and get into the camping vibe- Abilene State Park delivered. Our campsite was peaceful and offered a lot more shade and privacy than the busy Austin RV park where we had been living for 3 months. Using the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s website, we reserved a site with full hookups in advance. For those who aren’t familiar with RV lingo, a full hookup site is one equipped with fresh water, electricity, and sewer connections.

Our site was in the park’s Oak Grove Camping Loop. Here campsites are shaded with trees and each offers a picnic table, fire ring, fresh water, and 30-amp/20-amp electrical service. Three of the sites also offer sewer connections. As we backed our trailer in we were welcomed by our new neighbor, an armadillo.

IMG_0494One of the goals we set for our for our journey is get into better shape. Though living in Austin was an awesome experience, we both gained weight and found ourselves in the worst shape of our lives (I’ll write more on this later). To work towards our goal, we decided to begin each morning with yoga or strength training and follow with a hike or bike ride.

Abilene State Park turned out to be the perfect venue to get started on our new fitness routine. Taking advantage of cooler temperatures in the mornings, we set up our yoga mats under our awning and played relaxation music through the outdoor speakers on our trailer (at a very low volume as not to disturb anyone, of course).IMG_0505IMG_0606IMG_0514During our stay, we felt like we had the park all to ourselves. We rarely ran into folks on the hiking or biking trails and visitors to neighboring campsites were friendly and quiet. My favorite visitors were the deer. In the afternoons we watched deer lounging and grazing in the grass behind our campsite. We were also visited by rabbits, squirrels, birds, and armadillos.IMG_0588IMG_0553IMG_0642IMG_0636In addition to its RV camping sites, the park has tent camping sites, shelters, and yurts available. There are few short trails for hiking and biking, including a wheelchair accessible trail (more on accessibility below), and a bird blind for birdwatching. There’s also a catch and release fishing pond, group building, and swimming pool. The entrance fee to the park includes access to nearby Lake Abilene where visitors can rent kayaks or canoes, hike or bike around the lake, go fishing, or enjoy lunch at one of the picnic tables.

Accessibility Notes:

Abilene State Park offers a few ADA accommodations, including accessible parking, restrooms and showers, hiking, and swimming. The roadways throughout the park are all paved and meander through grass and trees. We enjoyed biking and walking the paved roads as much as we enjoyed the hiking trails and saw many visitors doing the same with dogs or children.IMG_0780The park’s ADA restrooms and showers are located in the Oak Grove camping area, near the yurts, shelters, and RV camping sites.  Restrooms and showers were spacious and clean.

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The Eagle Trail is a quarter of a mile long and parking is available at the Wagon Circle trail entrance. IMG_0781Thank you for your work on the Eagle Trail, Boy Scouts! IMG_0783IMG_0785There are a few benches scattered along the trail. IMG_0782 2Although the park’s Eagle Trail is the only ADA accessible trail, I saw a person using a scooter on the Bird Trail which leads to the bird blind. The bird blind is equipped with a ramp, but accessing the bird blind in a wheelchair or scooter may be a tight squeeze and the view may be partially obstructed due to the height of the window. IMG_0769Most of the park’s trails are scenic and short, with the longest trail being only .29 miles long. A longer trail (3.47 miles) is available on the neighboring Lake Abilene property. Most trails within the park are also wide, free of large rocks or potholes, with gravel surfaces or dirt that’s hard when dry. Buffalo Wallow and the fishing deck can be accessed from the Eagle Trail where it intersects with the Elm Creek Nature Trail.

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The park’s swimming pool opens on Memorial Day weekend each year and park staff assured me the pool is equipped with a lift.

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Thanks for reading!