When I was a kid growing up in the Midwest, my family vacations were mainly of the s’mores-and-sleeping-bags variety.
Jellystone Park Hill Country is at 12915 FM 306 in Canyon Lake. Call 830/256-0088. For more on the seven Jellystone campgrounds in Texas, see www.campjellystone.com/campgrounds/texas-campgrounds.
My family loved hitting the road for camping trips with our pop-up trailer, and one of the places that still holds a spot dear to my heart is a Jellystone campground along the Michigan-Indiana border. Part of a national chain themed on the Yogi Bear cartoon of the 1960s, Jellystone campgrounds are self-contained family getaways. My mom used to joke that everything was included with your reservation—even your own “personal squirrel in a bag.”
As a young adult, I preferred the fresh air and rustic charm of tent camping. But once my husband and I had two little boys and a dog in tow, the everything-but-the-squirrel luxury camping experience started appealing to me.
That’s about the time I figured out that Texas is home to seven Jellystone RV parks and campgrounds in the northern, eastern, and central parts of the state. One of those is Jellystone Park Hill Country in Canyon Lake, located about an hour’s drive from both San Antonio and our home in Austin.
Curious to see how today’s Jellystone campgrounds compare with the memories of my youth, I booked a reservation for my family at the Canyon Lake Jellystone and packed up the car for a weekend of family-style glamping.
We had barely steered our car into the five-mile-per-hour campground thoroughfare when my five-year-old son August spotted Jellystone’s dinosaur-themed waterpark and started begging to check it out.
Jellystone campgrounds didn’t have waterparks when I was growing up, but almost all of them do now, ranging from basic swimming pools to more extensive amenities like waterslides or spas for adults.
Jellystone Park Hill Country offers indoor and outdoor pools, as well as a new water playground featuring water cannons in various nooks and crannies, two twisty slides, and a water tower that showers down on unsuspecting swimmers. A soundtrack of dinosaur roars adds to the playful atmosphere.
The scale of the water playground is not nearly as large as, say, Schlitterbahn, which makes it ideal for younger kids like August, who need a bit of time to warm up to the splashing and roaring. By the second day, he was launching a water-cannon siege and shrieking with the other children.
There’s no doubt that Jellystone campgrounds cater to children. Jellystone Park Hill Country schedules multiple hayrides—“Hey-Hey Rides,” they call them—throughout the day, including a night ride illuminated by glow sticks. The park also has an arcade, gem mining, laser tag, disc golf, a giant jumping pillow, and regular character visits for photo opportunities with Yogi and his cartoon sidekicks, Cindy and Boo Boo. Friday nights are Kids’ Night Out, featuring pizza and a movie for $7 in the Hill Country Hall activity center.
Jellystone campgrounds also schedule seasonal activities. Around Halloween, keep an eye out for the magical pumpkin patch, where kids plant pumpkin seeds in the afternoon and return later to find a mini pumpkin. “People love it,” says Jody Seagers, general manager of Jellystone Park Hill Country. “They just think it’s the coolest thing since juice pouches.”
Lodging options at most Jellystones, including the Canyon Lake location, range from tent camping sites to RV pads, rental RVs, and various types of cabins. For our visit, we booked a Lodge Room, a no-frills option with a bunk bed, queen bed, kitchenette, and bathroom. Priced from $108 to $209 per night depending on the season, the room was part of a quadplex of cabins.
In 2015, the campground enhanced its luxury options with the addition of 10 Hill Country Cabins, which sleep four to 10 people and include lofts, kitchens, bathrooms, and flat-screen TVs. Seagers says they’re ideal for larger families, and kids love sleeping in the loft upstairs with a little balcony overlooking the living room below.
One advantage of staying in a Jellystone cabin is that you don’t have to pack a full load of camping gear, but you’ll still need to bring bed linens, towels, and in some cases, cooking utensils and supplies. An onsite store, the Pic-a-Nic Basket—named for Yogi’s take on the word picnic—serves up pizza, burgers, fries, and Blue Bell ice cream poolside.
Most of our camp meals were the standard hot-dog-and-hamburger variety—the kind of meal that always tastes better when we have to work a little harder for it while camping, cooking with the on-site charcoal grills and our trusty little propane camp stove. (Pro tip: If you have your heart set on s’mores, make sure there’s no burn ban in effect before raising your kids’ expectations.)
Also during our visit, we splurged for a dinner at Gennaro’s Trattoria, located 15 minutes west in Canyon Lake, where we dined al fresco under a vine-wrapped pergola. With a glass of wine, it even felt the slightest bit romantic, despite the best attempts of my two tomato-sauce-faced kids.
Though you could easily spend a weekend playing at Jellystone and not hear one whine of boredom from your kiddos, we wanted to check out some of the nearby attractions as well. We strolled around Gruene, home of the famous historic dance hall, about 15 minutes from the campground. Also nearby are Natural Bridge Caverns and Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch.
On our final day, we headed with our friends to River Sports Tubes, an outfitter in Canyon Lake, to float the Guadalupe River. (You’ll get a discount booking through Jellystone’s Camp Store—$13 per person for the tube rental and transportation, $7 off the regular price.) Depending on the season and amount of rainfall, the water can flow rapidly in sections. As I clung tightly to my son’s tube going over a stretch of choppy waves, we came up with a nonsensical chant that somehow made us feel a bit braver every time we said it: “Rapids! Rapids! We don’t care. We’ll show you our underwear!”
Soon we were all laughing hysterically, which was by then a standard activity for our family’s weekend at Jellystone—something that hasn’t changed since I was a kid.