When future President Dwight Eisenhower was a lad in Denison, he may have camped and fished in the future Eisenhower State Park. But back then, Lake Texoma was just a fishin’ hole. No one talked about damming the Red River until the mid-1920s. Powerful Texas Congressman Sam Rayburn, who was from nearby Bowie, championed the project in the 1930s. In the early 1940s, German POWs who surrendered to General Eisenhower’s advancing army did much of the physical work.
Today, Lake Texoma is one of the largest man-made lakes in the United States. It attracts some six million visitors a year. Eisenhower State Park is not too far from the dam. A relative latecomer to the Texas state park system, Eisenhower State Park opened in 1958. Park visitors enjoy a wide range of year-round activities, including camping, fishing, and ATV riding.
Several campgrounds give plenty of options for finding the perfect spot. In fact, there are 167 campsites in five different campgrounds with various amenities, from full hookups to dry or primitive. All the sites have different length limits as well, so make sure you check this when making your reservations. Park your rig and get out there to try it all.
Just off of US-75 and TX-289, you can find Eisenhower State Park in Denison, Texas. From Dallas, which is just an hour to the south, you can take US-75 north to Denison. From the Oklahoma area, you can take I-35 south to US-82 and US-289. Fort Worth is also just 100 miles to the southwest if you are thinking of visiting the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame or the Pioneers Museum.
While you are in the area, you may want to check out some of the other parks nearby. Lake Texoma State Park is just 28 miles to the north. This park is famous for its striped bass fishing in Lake Texoma, which is the second-largest lake in the state of Oklahoma. Herman Baker Park is 15 miles to the south in Sherman, Texas, and boasts a 34-acre lake, hiking trails, and a large picnic area.
The roads into and out of Eisenhower State Park are well cared for and level so you will not have any trouble getting there. Inside the park, however, some of the gravel roads near the campground can be narrow and curvy. You will have to take it slow and easy, especially if you are driving a large rig or are pulling a camper.
Right in the center of Eisenhower State Park along the edge of the lake, there are 34 unique screened shelters in Deer Haven Campground. Each of these screened shelters has 20-amp electric hookups, and there are potable water spigots just outside the shelter. Inside the shelter, you will find a picnic table and enough room to spread out and enjoy a meal or just hang out and relax. There is also one cabin named Ike’s Cabin that can sleep up to five adults in bunk beds and has air conditioning, heat, a microwave, and a restroom.
Outside there is a fire ring with a grill to cook on and a large cleared area to hang out around the fire. In the center of the campground, there is a playground for the kids, and there is a comfort station with showers and restrooms nearby as well. If you catch some fish, you can clean them at the fish cleaning station near the parking lot so you can cook them for dinner. Reservations can be made up to six months in advance. Your furbaby will have to stay in the RV, though, since pets are not allowed indoors in any Texas park.
Fossil Ridge Campground has 22 water-only campsites to the east of Elm Point Campground. The length limits range from 28 to 75, so it is important to check the limits when reserving your campsite. All the campsites here are pet-friendly as long as you keep your fur baby on a leash and supervised at all times. Picnic tables, fire rings with grills, and lantern posts are provided at each site as well.
Just to the east of the camp, you can find a fishing platform along Ike’s Hike and Bike Trail, which traverses the outer edges of the campground. Restrooms with running water and showers are available nearby as well. This campground is a favorite with OHV riders because it is right by the OHV staging area and trails.
At the western end of the park near the swimming beach, there are 45 pet-friendly water-only hookup sites available at Elm Point Campground. All sites have picnic tables and lantern posts so you can all sit together and eat as a family after cooking your meal on the BBQ grill or campfire ring. Amenities include drinking water spigots, a restroom and shower house, and a playground to keep the kids busy.
Right nearby, you can find the trailhead for Ike’s Hike and Bike Trail, which is 3.2 miles long and a great way to work up an appetite before dinner. Reservations can be made online up to six months in advance. This section also has an overflow area with 12 water-only hookup sites kept available for walkups. A two-night minimum is required for peak holiday weekends.
At the southeastern end of the park, you can find the Armadillo Hill Campground. This camping spot offers forty-five water and electricity hookup sites. You can cook indoors as well as outdoors since they each have their own BBQ pit and a picnic table. There is a separate campfire grill as well. Length limits range from 20 to 67 feet, so make sure you check that when making your reservations. Some of the amenities include a playground for the kids, a comfort station with hot showers and flush restrooms, and an RV dump station. You’ll also find a lantern hanger at your site so you can play cards and other games at the picnic table in the evenings after it gets dark. Armadillo Hill is the most spread-out and isolated RV campground at Eisenhower State Park. Pets are welcome, so bring your fur baby along with you.
Fifty water, electric, and sewer hookup sites are available at Bois D’arc Ridge Campground, which is just to the west of Armadillo Hill Campground. With all the utilities available, you will have a choice of cooking indoors or out on the BBQ grill provided by the park. There is also a campfire grill where you can make s’mores for dessert. Hang the lantern on the post above the table so you can hang out and play some cards after dark. Check the length limits when you reserve your spot because they range from 65 to 140 feet. An RV dump station is nearby so you can dump your wastewater and a shower house that has a modern restroom with running water. Many of these sites are waterfront, where you can do some swimming and fishing in the no-wake area of the lake. You can also bring your pooch along as these are pet-friendly campsites as well.
If you are bringing the kiddos, stop by the park office or the ranger’s station for a Junior Ranger Journal. If your child completes a certain number of activities, they get a Junior Ranger pin. Completing the journal can be done at all Texas state parks for a special pin at each one. The park also has Junior Ranger Explorer Packs at Park Headquarters that you can borrow for your visit. The pack is filled with special items like a magnifying glass, binoculars, animal tracking guide, pencils, crayons, a sketchbook, and a journal.
Grab your honey and take a walk up to Lover’s Leap. One can only speculate as to how this rocky promontory earned its name. It’s a very nice scenic overlook next to the swimming area that also bears clear evidence of erosion. To reach it, you can either scramble over rocks or take Ike’s Hike and Bike Trail. No matter how you get there, you’ll enjoy awesome views of both the lake, Denison, and the Texas part of the shoreline.
This overlook is on the opposite end of the park near Armadillo Hill Trail. Over the years, archeologists have found a number of fossils in this area. These fossils remind us that life was here long before the first cattle trails blazed through the area in the 1830s. This overlook is a great place for boat-watching since it overlooks the boat launch channel. Bring your camera and lunch so you can sit and take a break while you enjoy the scenery.
This moderate trail runs for just under a mile and passes the Buttonbush Overlook. Hiking boots and a walking stick are recommended. The geology in this part of Eisenhower State Park is quite nice, and the plant life is very diverse. Meander along the lakeshore and through the prairie grass where you can see lots of vibrant wildflowers. There are a number of benches where you can stop, rest, and look for coyotes, foxes, wild turkeys, and other animals.
Take a hike or grab your bike for Ike’s Hike and Bike Trail. This 3.2-mile trail runs almost the entire length of the lakeshore, at least to the ATV area in the west. The extreme eastern section of the trail, between markers three and four, is quite rugged. Only experienced hikers or mountain-bikers should traverse this area. Otherwise, the trail is an easy (basically an unpaved sidewalk) to a moderate-level trek. To skip the rigorous part of the trail, get on at Five Star Red Oak, where there is a parking area nearby.
The main boat launch, which handles craft up to 26 feet long, is southeast of Bois D’arc Ridge. Have your vessel ready to go when you reach the launch. Children under 13 must wear life jackets, and everyone else should wear one too. When finished, be sure to drain and dry your boat. Zebra mussels, which filter out necessary algae and clog water intakes, are a problem at Eisenhower State Park. The Eisenhower Yacht Club is northwest of Bois D’arc Ridge. It has a full-service gas dock and a store that has lots of drinks, snacks, boating supplies, and gifts.
Be sure to pack your swimming suits and sunscreen in the RV before heading to Eisenhower State Park. The Lake Texoma shoreline in Eisenhower State Park is mostly bluffs. But there is a swimming area near Elm Point, on the far west side of the park. As long as you stay on the swimming channel, the lake bottom is relatively flat. But if you venture much farther offshore, things get a little dicey, not only because of the lake bottom but also because of boats. Be safe as there are no lifeguards on duty.
Lake Texoma usually means bass fishing, and bass fishing is best in the fall. Crappie, catfish, and bluegill also prowl just beneath the surface. The combination of freshwater flows from the Washita and Red Rivers makes Lake Texoma one of the best spots in the country for striped bass. Park officials stock the lake in the winter to supplement the large, landlocked, self-sustaining native population. Largemouth and spotted bass fishing is usually best near the shoreline and especially around park structures. Smallmouth bass usually stays close to the park bluffs and the dam. In the fall and spring, use spinners and surface lures. When the water gets warmer in the summer, try Texas-rigged worms. Always look for underwater stumps, channels, and boulders. Shore-fishing at a Texas state park does not require a license, and you can borrow rods, reels, and other equipment.
Just below Fossil Ridge, look for evidence of ammonite fossils near the Ammonite Crossing Bridge near the lake. These mollusk-like creatures first appeared about 240 million years ago. Archeologists use the swirl patterns on the fossilized shells to date other fossils in the area. When the water level is lower, and more of the bluffs are exposed, it’s an excellent time to explore Ammonite Crossing under the bridge. Bring a sand shovel and bucket to help procure your haul.
Dirt bikes and OHVs may either travel on designated trails or roam the backcountry in designated areas. One of the main trails is the 0.5-mile Pee Wee Practice Area, which is for beginners to practice their skills. The 0.7-mile Big Woods Canyon Trail is more difficult as it meanders along prairies and the Backland Ramble OHV Trail. The 0.7-mile Timber Rattler Run is fun and exciting, but you should keep an eye out for rattlers, as the name implies. Be sure to take necessary precautions while out riding, pack out your trash, and do not feed the wildlife.