Life paces itself slower in small towns. In Blanco, for instance, old-timers gather regularly at the Blanco Bowling Club and Café to exchange opinions over a cup of coffee, and on the square, residents pause to chat at the post office after retrieving the morning’s mail. The Blanco River, which meanders through the southern edge of this Hill Country town, provides not only the community’s drinking water, but also its most popular tourist attraction. The river is the focal point of Blanco State Park, one of the state’s smaller parks and most picturesque. It is one of only a few state parks with camping facilities located within a city, making supplies and small-town amenities readily available.

Located in the heart of the Texas Hill Country, Blanco State Park is especially popular with overnight campers from Austin, San Antonio, and Houston looking to escape big city stress and rush hour traffic. Many come simply to enjoy quiet evenings with family or friends around a campfire. Others climb out of the river and strip off their swimsuits long enough to sleep.

Visitors planning to explore the Hill Country also like Blanco’s central location. A number of interesting places located within a 40-mile radius of Blanco include Fredericksburg, Enchanted Rock State Natural area, Lyndon B. Johnson National and State Historical Parks, Boerne, Gruene, Johnson City, Canyon Lake, and Pedernales State Park.

Within Blanco State Park, the river with its blue-green water is the star attraction. Two flood control dams, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, create favorite swimming and wading areas. A large concrete picnic table beneath a canopy of pecan trees and an open-air pavilion, both overlooking the river and built by the CCC, are used for family gatherings. Children may take their pick of two playgrounds near the campgrounds.

The park’s campgrounds, located just uphill from the river, offer either full RV hookups or water/electricity only. There are many screened shelters, with electricity and a picnic table inside, overlook the river. Contact park headquarters for reservations, especially for summer weekends when campsites and shelters are booked solid.

In December and January, the Parks and Wildlife Department stocks the river with rainbow trout. The fish are released twice each month, and the dates are announced publicly beforehand. Fishermen must have a valid Texas fishing license and fresh water trout stamp. The daily limit is five fish per person. During trout season, people sometimes line the river banks elbow to elbow armed with their poles, a nearby can of corn, and a bucket for their catches. Though the annual trout drop attracts the most attention, year-round fishing on the Blanco can hook bass, catfish and perch.

Nature lovers will enjoy watching the antics of resident ground squirrels in the campgrounds. With tails pointed high, the tiny rodents dart from hole to hole and often pause to stare curiously at nearby campers. More than 130 species of birds have also been sited in the park in recent years, including canyon wrens, ladder-back woodpeckers, eastern phoebes, blue grosbeaks, green-backed herons, and white-eyed vireos. Along the river banks, several flocks of geese and Muscovy ducks rule the park’s roost and waddle up to anyone in hope of a free handout.

For a closer look at small town life, bring a bike and cycle through Blanco. From either end of the park, bicyclers have easy access to city streets. For hikers and walkers, the town’s historic square is a minute jaunt from the campgrounds. There park guests can browse through a variety of antique and gift shops.

Blanco’s majestic centerpiece on the square is the Old Blanco County courthouse built in 1885. The courthouse served the county for only four years before the seat was moved to Johnson City in 1890 after a controversial election. Following its abandonment by the county government, the building housed a number of entities over the years, including a hospital, bank, school, museum, restaurant and newspaper offices. A local preservation society purchased and restored the courthouse, which serves as a visitor’s center and community hall.