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Credit: Jim Nix, Nomadic PursuitsWe’ve been on a state park kick lately. And for good reason. Texas state parks are beautiful and no two are alike. They also provide something Austinites crave in the middle of summer: water.
This past week, we finally made our first trip out to McKinney Falls State Park. I don’t know why it took us so long to go, considering that it was all of 25 minutes from where we live in North-Central Austin. Also, it’s free for children ages 12 and under, and only $6 for adults.
The short drive was absolutely worth it. Here’s what you can do at McKinney Falls:
- Mountain biking
- Road biking
- Wildlife observation
There’s nine miles of trails, and the 2.8 Onion Creek Hike & Bike Trail remains a popular, accessible hike for families with strollers and visitors on road bikes. When you’re ready to cool off by the water, bask in the rugged beauty of Onion and Williamson Creeks.
McKinney State Park is part of the tackle loaner program, which allows park visitors to fish within the boundaries of the state park, even if they don’t have a fishing license. Local fish include crappie, bass, sunfish, and catfish species.
There are also some historic structures and geological features in the park that are interesting. Texas Parks and Wildlife’s site says, “The stabilized ruins of Thomas McKinney’s homestead and his horse trainer’s cabin are preserved in the park,” though we didn’t take the time to see them during our trip. McKinney Falls State Park is also home to ancient volcanic rock formations. You’ll get to see them if you go swimming at the Upper Falls.
Another highlight of the park is seeing “Old Baldy”, one of the oldest bald cypress tress on public land in the state. The tree is 103 feet tall, and is estimated at more than 500 years old.
While you’re there, you may be able to spot wildlife such as white-tailed deer, armadillos, and many bird species, among other animals.
Swimming at McKinney Falls State Park
Speaking of the Upper Falls, there are two places to swim at the park: the Upper Falls and the Lower Falls. We asked one of the park rangers which spot she recommended, and she said she liked the Upper Falls because there is deeper water there. We took her word for it and enjoyed her recommended location.
The Upper Falls was perfect with floaties. However, there still areas to enjoy the water at Upper Falls if you don’t have one. Submerged rocks in various places allow either adults or children to stand up. There is also a big “basking rock” that kids seem to enjoy climbing on.
You can also jump off the falls into the swimming hole below, but make sure you pick the right place. As I mentioned before, there are submerged rocks that cause the water depth to vary. Some investigation beforehand will pay off and keep you safe.
Know Before You Go
- Check swimming safety conditions, as Onion Creek can flood after heavy rainfall.
- There are 81 campsites, and all have water and electric hookups. You can also rent one of six newly remodeled cabins. The park recommends making reservations for day use and camping, as they reach capacity often.
- Food, beverages, coolers, and pets aren’t allowed in the creek.
We recommend McKinney Falls State Park. Though it may not be the most beautiful state park we’ve been to, or the one with the most activities, the fact that it’s in Austin is awesome! You can get your state park fix even if you only have a couple of hours to spare.
Make sure you listen to our podcast episode about McKinney Falls before your visit. We share a lot more details than I’m able to fit in this article!
Have you been to McKinney Falls? What pointers did we miss in our podcast?
Photos via Flickr CC, courtesy of Jim Nix and Matthew High.
article! I was searching for something entirely different when I
came across your site. I thoroughly enjoyed the thought you put
into this writing.
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Do you need to hike to get to the upper falls and if so, how far is it? Thanks!
Great question, @disqus_vXzUYKFs9C:disqus! There’s a short path from a parking lot to the Upper Falls. Not too far to carry a picnic basket, blanket and a tube!