McKinney Falls is a beautiful state park located on Onion creek, less than 15 miles southeast of the Capital of Texas. This makes McKinney Falls a spectacular and inexpensive place to stay, or visit, if you are planning a trip to Austin. I have lived in central Texas most of my life and it wasn't until recently I discovered the magnificence of McKinney Falls state park.
When I think of camping in a state park, I picture driving at least an hour away from the city, down country roads, to some secluded park hidden away in the woods. Though this state park is not far from the city, you can still get the feel that you are camping, hiking, biking, fishing, swimming, and exploring nature in the secluded woods of the great outdoors!
We began our day-trip to McKinney Falls state park with a hike along Onion creek, starting at Upper Falls and making our way slowly downstream to Lower Falls.
At the time of our visit, Spring 2016, the flow of the creek had recently subsided from heavy flooding. You wouldn't ever know this by looking at the picture above, but sudden heavy rainfalls can turn peaceful central Texas creeks into raging rivers in a matter of minutes!
As we made our way downstream from Upper Falls, we stopped to take in the striking beauty of the immense cypress and pecan trees growing along the creek's banks (above), and the awesome size of this natural Rock Shelter (below), created by a zillion years of rushing water cutting away at the limestone walls of Onion creek. It is said to have provided shelter for humans for thousands of years. On this day, it provided shelter for us as we passed through history at McKinney Falls state park.
While continuing downstream towards Lower Falls, we came upon some hikers crossing a narrow gap in Onion creek - you throw your backpack to the other side of the creek first, then you bravely jump to the other side (hoping to not break a leg), or so it seemed.
Lower Falls is one of the park's best swimming holes, but in April, the weather was still a bit chilly for swimming. We saw a couple of fly fisherman heading upstream - I wondered if there was a good fishing hole nearby. McKinney Falls is not known for great fishing, but the park rangers say that folks have caught catfish and bass on occasion.
The hike to Lower Falls wasn't even a half mile, but it took us a couple of hours, due to the distractions of beautiful scenery!
It was still early in the day, so we decided to hike the Onion Creek Hike and Bike Trail (2.8 miles). It was a relatively easy hike through mostly cypress and pecan trees growing along Onion creek (upstream from Upper Falls). After about a mile, the trail turned uphill and away from the creek where live-oaks, cedar elms, and prickly pear cactus became more plentiful.
We saw several birds while hiking around in the park, but most notable was this Eastern Bluebird perched on a fence post near the ruins of the Horse Trainer's Cabin.
Our day-trip to McKinney Falls state park was a fantastic way to start out the weekend. It is hard to believe a state park with such natural beauty is so close to a major city, but that is one of the favorable conveniences of McKinney Falls - it isn't far from fine Mexican food and locally brewed craft beer!
I found the history of McKinney Falls state park particularly interesting. You can read more about it on the McKinney Falls state park website.