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, ESP opened in 1958. Park visitors enjoy a wide range of year-round activities, including camping, fishing, and ATVing. Several campgrounds give plenty of options for finding the perfect spot. Park your rig and get out there to try it all.
RV Rentals in Eisenhower State Park
Transportation in Eisenhower State Park
From Dallas, take Central Expressway (Highway 75) north to Denison. Huck’s Catfish is near the Highway 75/Loy Lake Road intersection, and there’s a Walmart at the Highway 75/Morton Street intersection. Just north of Denison, take Texoma Drive (Highway 84) west to the winding Eisenhower Road. Turn left, right, and then left again to reach the Park.
From Oklahoma City, take Interstate 35 south past the Texas border to Gainesville. Then, take Summit Avenue (Highway 82) east. Remain eastbound on Highway 82 until you reach Highway 289. Then, go north past Pottsboro and go right on Georgetown Road (Route 406). Go left on Highway 84 and then follow Eisenhower Road to the Park.
There is not much parking close to the lakeshore. But there is a lot of parking a bit further inland and closer to the campgrounds, especially around Bois D’Arc Ridge (the main boat launch site) and Elm Point (the main swimming area).
Campgrounds and parking in Eisenhower State Park
Campsites in Eisenhower State Park
Elm Point/Fossil Ridge
Forty-five water-only hookup sites are available here. All sites have picnic tables and lantern posts; premium sites also have fire rings and grills. Amenities include drinking water spigots, restroom/shower area, and a play area. This RV campground is near the ATV area and the swimming area.
This camping spot offers forty-five water and electricity hookup sites. Each one has a fire pit and a grill. Amenities include a play area, restroom/shower facility, and a dump station. Armadillo Hill is the most spread-out and isolated RV campground at ESP.
Bois D’arc Ridge
Fifty water, electric, and sewer hookup sites are available in this area. Each site has a lantern post, a grill, and a fire circle. Amenities include a restroom/shower facility and a dump station. Bois D’arc Ridge is adjacent to the boat launch and the public dock area.
Elm Point Overflow
Twelve water-only hookup sites are kept available here for walk-ups. A two-night minimum is required for peak holiday weekends.
The Limited Cabin sleeps five people. It has a heater and a window AC unit. It also has a 20-amp electric hookup, picnic table, drinking water spigot, fire circle, and outdoor grill.
Seasonal activities in Eisenhower State Park
Dirt bikes and ATVs may either travel on designated trails or roam the backcountry in designated areas. The main trails are:
- Pee Wee Practice Area: This 0.5-mile flat trail is right next to a parking area. It’s a good place for novice riders or those new to ESP to get the lay of the land. More advanced riders should always yield the right-of-way or stick to one of the more advance trails.
- Backland Ramble Trail: No backcountry riding is allowed on this trail as there are lots of fossils in this area, especially among the rocks. Look around to see evidence of prairie-clearing back when the Corps of Engineers and the German POWs built the dam and the lake.
- Big Woods Canyon: This trail isn’t quite as rocky, but it’s still difficult to navigate. It moves across both blackland and cross-timbers prairies. The wildflowers and grasslands are quite colorful in the spring.
- Timber Rattler Run: As the name implies, riders should watch out for rattlesnakes on this trail. Near the western part of the trail, there’s a stream crossing that’s both very narrow and extremely steep.
Be sure to take necessary precautions while out riding, pack out your trash and do not feed the wildlife.
Buttonbush Scenic Point
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.
We 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. Good views of both the lake and the Texas part of the shoreline.
The Lake Texoma shoreline in Eisenhower State Park is mostly bluffs. But there is a swimming area near Elm Point, at the far west side of the Park. As long as you stay in the swimming channel, the lake bottom is fairly 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. No lifeguards are on duty.
The main boat launch, which handles craft up to 26’ long, is southeast of Bois D’arc Ridge. Have your vessel ready to go when you reach the launch. Park rangers and other guests aren't impressed if you cause traffic jams, especially on summer holiday weekends. Lake Texoma is a no-wake area until you reach the end of the boating channel. After that, Texas has no numeric boat speed limit. But rangers can and do issue citations for reckless driving or excessive speed. 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 which has lots of drinks, snacks, boating supplies, and gifts.
Just below Fossil Ridge, look for evidence of ammonite fossils. 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 a good time to explore Ammonite Crossing.
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 east section of the trail, between markers 3 and 4, is quite rugged. Only experienced hikers or mountain-bikers should traverse this area. Otherwise, the trail is easy (basically an unpaved sidewalk) to moderate. To skip this part of the trail, get on at Five Star Red Oak. There’s a parking area nearby.
Five Star Red Oak
Oak trees like this one are very important to the Park’s ecosystem. They provide shelter for land animals and homes for birds. Five Star is one of the largest and oldest oak trees in the state.
Armadillo Hill Trail
This moderate trail (hiking boots and walking stick recommended) runs for just under a mile and passes the aforementioned Buttonbush overlook. The geology in this part of the Park is quite nice, and the plant life is quite diverse. There are a number of benches where you can stop, rest, and look for coyotes or other animals.
Lake Texoma usually means bass fishing, and bass fishing is best in the fall. Crappie, catfish, and bluegill fish also prowl just beneath the surface. The combination of freshwater flows from the Washita and Red Rivers make 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 stay 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.