Cedar Hill State Park
Originally in Travel by Road on line magazine - 2001
How often do we overlook the obvious? Perhaps that old saying “familiarity breeds contempt” applies even
to travel opportunities. We suspect this oversight is what kept us from writing about a park that is
practically next door, if you live near the Dallas - Fort Worth Metroplex.
Located on Texas Highway 1382, just a couple of miles south of Interstate 20 as it passes through Grand
Prairie, Cedar Hill State Park is only fifteen miles from our driveway.
In fact, the convenience of this park made Cedar Hill our very first outing when we bought our pop-up in
fall 1999. That was also when we signed up for a terrific option offered by the Texas park system -- The
Gold Texas Conservation Passport -- which for $50 per year for one vehicle and $15 for additional
vehicles, allows unlimited free access to all Texas State Parks (overnight camping still carries a fee, of
course).
A few weeks after our first camp out, we even held an “open house” at the park for our family and friends
to inspect the new rig and join us for a celebratory cookout. Then, as darkness fell, they were able to
return to the comforts of their own homes, while we retired to the comforts of our camper.
Then, in November, less than two weeks after the open house, as projections of a spectacular Leonids
meteor shower grew, we had the absolute luxury of camping during a work week! On Wednesday evening,
I towed the trailer and Christine drove our car to the park. We arrived about 9:45 PM, and by 11:00 we
were settled. Hoping for dark skies a few miles from the city lights, we were disappointed by the meteors,
but nevertheless delighted with sitting by the fire, sipping cocoa until the wee hours. We did see about
half a dozen meteors on glancing out at 5:00 AM.
Thursday morning, we dressed, not in camp gear, but in our work clothes. Since we are both teachers,
this was easy enough. Christine’s commute was made more difficult by the extra fifteen miles, but I only
added about ten as I drove against traffic to meet my classes at The University of Texas at Arlington.
Well, needless to say, it was delightful to return “home” to our pop-up and another campfire at the end of
the day.
Located on man made Joe Pool Lake, Cedar Hill State Park has much to offer us city dwellers who long for
the woods just for a day, for a weekend, or for even longer.
For day use, the entrance fee is $5 per person (unless you arrive in a vehicle bearing that Gold Passport).
You can picnic at any unnumbered site, all of which have tables and grills. You can fish from the bank or
from one of the fishing piers. You can hike the self guided nature trails and during the spring you will
undoubtedly find fields of Bluebonnets. In summer, Sunflowers
are everywhere. Watch for wildlife, especially birds, such as
Mockingbirds, Blue Jays, Cardinals, Red Tailed Hawks and Turkey Vultures.
There is also a marina, conveniently located straight in from the park entrance. Boat ramps with lots of
trailer parking are available, or you can rent a variety of boats. On the pier, there is a small store and a
covered fishing barge. In summer 2001, Lauderdale’s Cafe opened in the former marina store, while we
have not dined there yet, we already know it has a fine view of the marina. The cafe is apparently targeting
day users, boaters, and campers because you still have to pay the state park entry of $5 per person just
to get to it.
For those who want to camp, the campsites are plentiful, but even with 355 sites, there are no full hook
ups. To be honest, we found many of the sites to be close together and right on the park roadway (side
by side parking positioned our pop-up main bed only a few feet from the road). On check in, be sure to
look for the long sites that put your tow vehicle between your camper and the road, and don’t be shy
about returning to the office to get a different campsite if you are unhappy with your first choice. We have
done this a couple of times and have always been glad when we did. Also, be advised that the Texas park
system does not allow reserving sites by number. On one occasion (the midweek Leonids event) we
actually found, and paid for, our site on a Tuesday just so we would have a good spot when we arrived on
Wednesday night. Since all campsites are $15 per night, we figured it was worth the extra night’s fee just
for our peace of mind.
While you are staying at Cedar Hill State Park, you will enjoy the pleasures
of camping of course, but you might also check out Penn Farm Agricultural History
Center. Located within the park, these are the remains of a farm,
worked for over 100 years by the family of John Wesley Penn. It is
pleasant to stroll among the wooden buildings peeking in the windows,
studying the rusty old tools, and simply enjoying the pastoral feel of the
place. An available brochure gives useful background details about the farm being developed as an historic
setting and now serving “as an educational resource for area schools and as a setting for demonstrations,
special events and displays associated with a small family farmstead.”
In the two years we have owned our pop-up, we have come to realize that there are two basic ways to
use it. First, the obvious use -- camping. Second, perhaps more evident to owners of big rigs, is using
our camper as our “hotel” when we travel or when we spend long weekends with friends but don’t want to
impose our little dogs on their hospitality.
It is this hotel function that makes us realize the opportunities that abound within twenty miles of Cedar
Hill State Park. Among attractions that come to mind: Amusement Parks (Six Flags, Hurricane Harbor);
Sporting events (Texas Rangers baseball, Dallas Cowboys football, Dallas Stars hockey, Dallas Mavericks
basketball, the Cotton Bowl); the State Fair of Texas; and the general sightseeing opportunities in visiting
a metropolitan area of four million people who just happen to have a State Park next door.