One of the things I love about living in Austin is our proximity to the great outdoors. I can scratch the outdoor itch just about any time I want at a number of the nearby parks, swimming holes, and hiking trails within an hour’s drive.
One of my favorite nearby getaways is McKinney Falls State Park, a place that will give you a dose of real nature only 20 minutes from downtown. McKinney Falls is most popular during the dog days of summer, thanks to its swimming holes. But it’s equally nice–or even better in my opinion–in the Fall. Fewer people, cooler weather, and some Fall colors. So if you’ve got a spare afternoon this year and haven’t checked out McKinney Falls, put it on the calendar!
The best thing about this park is that it’s easy–easy to get to, easy to park, easy to find an available campsite. Why make life difficult when there’s McKinney Falls at hand?
There’s a little something for everyone there so here’s a quick overview.
Picnicking and Fishing
One of the most beautiful spots in the park are the picnic tables along Onion creek. The tables near the big swimming holes can be pandemonium on a busy weekend, but follow the path away from the falls at Upper McKinney Falls and you’ll find some peaceful tables with creek access, which are much more pleasant.
Pack a picnic and let your kids run around in the flat open area while you fish or read a book. This would be a great place to bring a hammock, as there are plenty of trees. There are taps with running water every fifty feet or so, which is an added convenience.
Follow the path in the picture above for some secluded picnic tables.
Swimming is definitely the most popular activity during the summer. I mean, can you blame everyone? Look at these swimming holes.
Lower McKinney Falls
Upper McKinney Falls
Texas should be the swimming hole capital of the world, if it’s not already.
Can we start a petition? If there’s a state that’s willing challenge us, I’d be very curious to know.
The hiking is great because it’s easy and flat, but the trails are long enough to get your step count in.
Well, at least some of us get our step count in. The others get carried the last half mile.
Painted buntings are one of the prettiest things you can look for on your hike, as their colors are so vibrant and their songs so sweet. Their call is one of the most lyrical I’ve ever heard and will catch your attention even if you’re not listening for it. (Listen to this Youtube video to hear their lively melody.)
Painted buntings and Roseate spoonbills are some of my favorite Texas birds. Next to roadrunners and quail.
We love the creekside loop at Upper McKinney Falls in terms of ease. (Moms: this can definitely be done with a stroller.) However there are many other trails worth exploring so I advise checking it all out for yourself.
One trail plus a picnic is the perfect combo in my opinion for a quick afternoon getaway from the city.
Camping (or Glamping!)
After scoping out the campsites I have decided this would be the perfect camping destination for the following reasons:
- Close to town
- Plenty of privacy
- Not highly trafficked
Airstreams get me every time. They are just so darn cute.
Reserve campsites online via Texas Parks and Wildlife Department here: TPWD Reservation System.
See my tutorial on how to reserve campsites online here: How to Make a Reservation at a State Park
There are a lot of grand places to visit in this world, but some of the sweetest are the ones at home. If you live in Austin, whether you own property or not, McKinney Falls State Park is YOUR backyard, so get out and enjoy it.