Nestled along the shaded banks of the Leon River in Central Texas, Mother Neff State Park is a hotbed of history within the Texas state parks system. This humble park southwest of Waco is one of Texas’ earliest state parks and an inspiration for the Texas state park system; and while the park has been delighting visitors since it first opened in 1937, the area has attracted humans for thousands of years. The park’s combination of rich history, diverse wildlife, and opportunities for adventure makes Mother Neff State Park the perfect choice for your next RV trip.
The park owes its name to Isabella Neff, who donated the original six acres for the park in 1921, and whose generous nature earned her the nickname “Mother Neff.” Her youngest son, Pat Neff, became Governor of Texas and envisioned a system of parks throughout the state, inspired by his mother’s generosity. While this is a fascinating story on its own, there is much more to Mother Neff State Park’s history: the park is also filled with the legacy of the Civilian Conservation Corps, and has signs of its much earlier inhabitants, the Tonkawa people. Visitors to the park will quickly see why this area has been attracting visitors for so long, as they enjoy hiking, birdwatching, exploring the park’s diverse habitats, and soaking up the park’s history.
Mother Neff State Park enjoys mild winters and hot summers, with average January lows of 36 degrees and average July highs of 97 degrees. While peak season includes spring, early summer, and fall, the park is a great spot to visit any time of year. Visitors can take advantage of the park’s camping loop that opened in 2015, which features 20 full hookup sites.
RV Rentals in Mother Neff State Park
Transportation in Mother Neff State Park
Mother Neff State Park is located about 32 miles from Waco, 25 miles from Temple, and 23 miles from Gatesville, sitting about 15 miles from I-35 along state highways and smaller roads. While there are many possible ways to reach Mother Neff State Park, routes change frequently due to construction on I-35 and due to periodic flooding on roads near the park, so make sure to check online or call the park for road updates before starting on your trip.
Once you reach the park, though, navigating in your rig is easy—the park was renovated after a major flood, so the roads are newly paved and easy to navigate in an RV. The park opened a new camping loop in 2015 above the floodplain, to allow the park to remain open even when the riverfront area floods, and the sites in this loop offer concrete pads, plenty of room, and some are even pull-through, making navigation fairly easy even in larger rigs.
Within the park, guests can park at the campsites as well as in designated areas throughout the park, including near Tonkawa Cave, near the CCC Table, and near park headquarters. For groceries, gas, and other supplies, visitors can stop in the town of Moody a few miles away, which has a grocery store, gas stations, and several restaurants.
Campgrounds and parking in Mother Neff State Park
Campsites in Mother Neff State Park
Full Hookup Sites
Visitors to Mother Neff State Park can take advantage of the park’s 20 full hookup sites that were created in 2015 to allow the park to stay open year-round despite floods in the riverfront area. These sites feature water, sewer, and 50/30-amp electricity hookups, as well as level cement pads and a spacious gathering area with a fire pit and picnic table. These sites can accommodate rigs up to 40 feet, and some of the sites are pull-through for even easier access. Restrooms are conveniently located within this loop, and guests can also take advantage of Wash Pond Trail, Tower Trail, and Pond Trail, which are easily accessible from the full hookup loop.
Seasonal activities in Mother Neff State Park
Visitors itching to explore this historically rich, environmentally diverse state park by foot can explore the park’s nearly three and a half miles of trails, which range from easy to moderate and offer a wide range of sights and experiences to hikers of all abilities. For an easy, family-friendly stroll, check out the 0.4 mile Pond Trail, which takes hikers to the prairie pond and the wildlife viewing blind. For a moderate hike, try out the 0.4 mile Bluff Trail, which takes hikers along the limestone bluffs and through forests of oak and Ashe juniper.
Due to Mother Neff State Park’s three geographic zones and four unique habitats—hardwoods in the Leon River bottomlands, Texas oaks on the lower ravine slops, Ashe juniper on the higher ravines, and grasses on the upper prairie—this state park is home to a diverse assortment of birds. Birdwatchers can take advantage of bird blinds at Prairie Pond and near the Rock Tower, and should look out for black-chinned hummingbird, painted bunting, red-tailed hawk, great blue heron, and the endangered golden-cheeked warbler.
Visitors hoping to connect with the park’s history should plan to head to Tonkawa Cave, a rock shelter inhabited by the Tonkawa people over 200 years ago. Spanish explorers first met the Tonkawa people in this area in the 1500s, and settlers in the early 1800s wrote about the Tonkawa living along the Leon River. Visitors wishing to connect with some of the park’s earliest inhabitants can take the 0.2 mile Cave Trail, which branches off from Tower Trail and offers a moderate hike down to see the rock shelter.
CCC Rock Tower
As with many Texas state parks, Mother Neff State Park owes much of its pivotal development to the Civilian Conservation Corps. From 1934 to 1938, CCC Company 817, with over 200 men, worked at the Mother Neff park site, and their impact is still quite visible today, even though the park has suffered severe flooding many times over the years. Visitors hoping to connect with the CCC legacy in this park should stop by the CCC Rock Tower, which the men of the CCC constructed with an observation deck overlooking the valley. Tower Trail leads visitors up to the Rock Tower, and also passes a CCC-built picnic table and CCC-carved stone steps.
Between its rich history and diverse ecosystems, Mother Neff State Park is home to an abundance of fascinating stories that deserve more attention. To learn more about this Central Texas gem, its rich history, and its unique natural features, make sure to stop by the park’s Visitor Center. The Visitor Center features interactive displays on the history and wildlife of Mother Neff State Park, so those eager to learn more should plan to spend some time there. The new Visitor Center opened in 2015, to be above the floodplain.
For an even deeper experience of Mother Neff State Park, visitors can take advantage of the park’s many free Ranger Programs, which take place all throughout the year. These programs include a range of nature and history programs and are updated regularly on the park’s Events page. Kids aged four to 12 can also take advantage of the park’s Junior Ranger program, which allows children to learn more about nature and complete a set of activities to earn a badge and a certificate.