One of my favorite things about Austin is you get the perks of living in a city, alongside access to so many natural spaces–so close by that some are within city limits. Not all city dwellers are so fortunate!
As our city grows, many more people are getting to enjoy the benefits of this dynamic. Larger populations enjoying Austin’s city parks, however, means more crowds and scarcer parking. I’m a big advocate of getting outdoors, so by no means do I think this should stop anyone from spending time at your local park. But for those who are interested in getting farther outside city limits, there’s a wealth of relatively untapped natural space waiting to be discovered.
This list focuses on a few parks in Marble Falls and the surrounding area, roughly an hour away from Austin in Texas Hill Country.
1/ Balcones Canyonlands Natural Wildlife Refuge
Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge is what it sounds like: an enormous sprawl of land, established to protect the habitat of several species, primarily the golden-cheeked warbler and black-capped vireo. Visitors should consider bringing binoculars to aide in birdwatching or to enhance views of Texas Hill Country.
The refuge has over seven miles of trails. Pictured above is a section of the Vista Knoll trail, which has stunning views of Lake Travis. It’s one of the more challenging trails, as it’s a bit on the rocky side and has more of an incline. Make sure you pack plenty of water, as there isn’t any available at the refuge.
Through Friends of Balcones NWR, educational and recreational events are held throughout the year, most notably in winter and spring. SparrowFest is an all-day sparrow identification workshop that takes place in February, and Balcones Songbird Festival happens in April. In addition to these larger events, many children’s programs are held to teach our younger generation about wildlife and the land.
Admission is free at the refuge, which is open daily from sunrise to sunset.
24518 Farm to Market Road 1431, Marble Falls, TX – Website
2/ Inks Lake State Park
Inks Lake State Park is the big park for camping on the list! The landscape is quite hilly and rocky, giving way to views of Inks Lake via a plethora of roads and trails. Primitive and tent camping are available. There are even cabins with bunk beds, but be aware you have to bring your own linens!
In the spring, the park is bursting with wildflowers, adding tons of color and visual interest to the rolling hills. There are nine miles of trails to wander and enjoy. Inks Lake is a constant level lake, making it ideal for a variety of water activities such as boating, kayaking, and paddle boarding. It is also a peaceful place to go fishing, and the lake is great for scuba diving!
3630 Park Road 4 W, Burnet, TX – Website
3/ Johnson Park
Johnson Park is another park located in downtown Marble Falls. It’s quite close to Lakeside Park, but with a slightly different feel. Rather than being located directly on the main stream of Lake Marble Falls, it’s tucked away along the waters of Backbone Creek, which does connect with the river shortly. Grab a kayak and enter the river from here!
There’s a short gravel trail perfect for strolling or biking. Visitors have noted the enormous duck populations that like to congregate on the banks, so you can do a bit of wildlife watching without having to venture deep into the wilderness.
Johnson Park hosts a range of events throughout the year, including a four-day festival called Mayfest, as well as various music festivals and performances.
230 Ave. J, Marble Falls, TX – Website
4/ Longhorn Cavern State Park
Longhorn Cavern stays at a cool 68-degrees year round, which makes exploring it an ideal activity for blistering summer days (and 90-degree fall days). The park is open 363 days a year, so you can visit no matter the season. Admission to the park is free, but tickets must be purchased to explore the cavern, where you will be led on a guided walking tour.
A cavern—in contrast to a cave, which has a primary chamber–has multiple chambers connected via several passageways. During the tour, you’ll learn about the history of the caverns and marvel at the natural formations. Guests have even been married in the cavern, making use of the stunning backdrop.
6211 Park Road 4 S, Burnet, TX – Website
➡️ Keep reading: 5 Naturally Beautiful Caverns Near Austin to Explore
@theAustinot wants to know:
What are your favorite parks in Marble Falls?
The original version of this article was published October 7, 2019.