The Campsite at Shield Ranch

Shaping a nature immersion experience in the Texas Hill Country

Shield Ranch is 6,400 acres of ecologically diverse wildlands, sustainably managed for the benefit of people and nature. Just 18 miles from downtown Austin, Texas, it’s home to 10% of the region’s critically important Barton Creek watershed.

The Campsite at Shield Ranch provides year-round nature-immersion experiences for people of all ages and serves as the new home for Camp El Ranchito, a program for youth who otherwise would not have the opportunity to experience an overnight camp on a Hill Country ranch.

In 2018, the Ranch’s multi-generational family ownership group embarked on an ambitious project to design and build an entirely off-the-grid facility for the enjoyment of El Ranchito campers and community groups seeking a nature-immersion experience.


  • Signage and Wayfinding
  • Donor Recognition
  • Interpretive Exhibits

Project Team

  • Andersson / Wise
  • Ten Eyck Landscape Architects
  • Benz Resource Group


Graphis Design Award: Education

Building the vision

Over two years, we worked closely with the owners, Shield Ranch Foundation staff, El Ranchito leaders, and the project’s architectural and landscape teams to create an intuitive experience where nature and the stories of the land create a thoughtful, sustainable, and inspiring experience.

Our work began with a site tour and a meeting in a grove of live oaks to discuss the team’s vision for the project: a trail system with eleven shelters, a large pavilion and kitchen, and shower and restroom facilities, all with a respect for the land and the opportunity to explore it.

Design for context

Early in the process, we proposed a light-touch wayfinding strategy — encouraging guests to roam a bit — made of materials and methods native to the project’s context. Unfinished steel panels and tubes join with a ranch-standard welding detail, delivering a system that can withstand the unforgiving Hill Country conditions.

The Campsite demonstrates our commitment to share more broadly with our community in ways that serve groups while protecting the land for future generations. In a rapidly urbanizing region, it’s increasingly important to provide outdoor experiences to promote health, connection, and moments of wonder.

Andrea Mellard | Executive Director, Shield Ranch Foundation

Navigation and identification

A color-coded trail identification strategy partners with a system of custom pictographs to identify different shelter areas — clustered in groups named after land- and sky-dwelling critters native to the area. Large format trail maps greet visitors at each of the trail heads. Color-capped trail markers point to shelters and key destinations along the way

Structures and buildings

Eleven guest shelters are identified with a water-jet-cut steel critter icon along the trail and on the structure, creating a friendly and intuitive orientation program. Each shelter hosts a group of campers and is adjacent to nearby shower and toilet facilities. Lights and fans within the structures are solar powered, and water used by the Campsite is harvested from rain and treated on site, creating a sustainable model the owners hope will inspire other such projects.

Places to gather

A central gathering space at the intersection of three trails provides a shady spot to meet for events and programs. A limestone monument in the space presents interpretive panels that describe the history of the land and its inhabitants from native people to the current day. Illustrations reflect key moments from each time period.

Asterisk’s approach and attention to detail resulted in wayfinding and interpretive signage that is unique to the Campsite at Shield Ranch. From materials and details that are characteristic of ranch vernacular to the iconography created for trail markers and shelters, visitors have the confidence to explore and the surprise and delight of discovering something new each time they visit.

Bob Ayres | President, Shield Ranch Foundation

In the central pavilion, interpretive installations describe the site's solar and rain harvesting and convey the Campsite's conservation mission. Tactile and Braille signage fulfills code requirements.

Honoring supporters

In transition from the trails to the pavilion space, a hand-forged installation displays donors and supporters. Organic shapes reference the site's abundant trees in steel, copper, and brass leaves that shimmer in the dappled sunlight of the open structure and nearby trees.

Donors who provided support for site-specific elements are recognized throughout the property in various forms and sizes. This trailside gabion credits the donor and honoree, and offers a seat along the way.

Photography and video by Matthew Batista; drone photos by Hill & Wilkinson