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Historical Cabin at Commons Ford framed by an old fence and orange flowers
Travel

9 Must-See Parks In Austin You Haven’t Heard Of

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Trees In a Neighborhood Park
Tree branches creating shade at Colorado Bend State Park
Field of Small Yellow Flowers

I saw an Instagram post from a California transplant complaining about Austin’s lack of nature and outdoor activities. I once believed this myth myself and nearly packed my bags for the West Coast, but as my mom has always said, “bloom where you are planted”. In place of a dramatic move to the mountains I set out to explore the best hidden gem parks in Austin and discovered our best kept secret – the city of Austin is home to many nature preserves, endangered species, and pocket parks that make Austin the perfect place for outdoor enthusiasts to call home.

Table of Contents

Best Parks In Austin City Limits

Commons Ford Ranch Metropolitan Park

Address: 614 N Commons Ford Rd, Austin, TX 78733

Commons Ford is a preserved prairie land that bursts with the colors of wildflowers in the spring and is home to native prairie birds and butterflies year-round. The unkempt trails scare most people away, but the quiet, sparsely populated park is the exact reason Commons Ford should be on your Austin bucket list.

Points of Interest: wildflowers, birding, waterfalls, and walking trails

Dick Nichols And Latta Branch District Park

Address:  7910 Beckett Rd, Austin, TX 78749

Dick Nichols playground and neighborhood pool is just a small part of the Karst Preserve at Western Oaks in South Austin. Trails filled with, green spaces, creeks and waterfalls that connect the Western Oaks Trail, Latta Branch Greenbelt, and Legend Oaks Neighborhood Park; each offering a reason to spend the day in the area. Those who love photographing old and abandoned subjects will love the abandoned vehicle and treehouses.

Points of Interest: abandoned attractions, tree house, waterfall, and trails

Birding Hotspots Near Austin

Milton Reimers Ranch Park

Address: 23610 Hamilton Pool Rd, Dripping Springs, TX 78620

Nearby Hamilton Pool and Pedernales Falls get all the glory, but Milton Reimers Ranch is a favorite among rock climbers, mountain bikers, and fishers. Less known for its hiking, Milton Reimers ranch is quiet hiker’s paradise with over 20 miles of hike and bike trails for all abilities, creek views, rock formations, caves, and wildlife.

Points of Interest: rock climbing, caves, wildlife, and birding

Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge

Address: 24518 Ranch Rd 1431, Marble Falls, TX 78654

A wildlife refuge where a third of Texas’s threatened and endangered species live or stop over, including the endangered black-capped vireo and golden-cheeked warbler. The short trails around the refuge offer a variety of views from the sweeping hill country views on the 2.2 mile Rimrock trail to the quarter mile pollinator path which offers wildflowers in the spring and hawk sightings in the fall.

Points of Interest: birding and wildflowers

Canyon of the Eagles Resort

Address: 16942 Ranch Rd 2341, Burnet, TX 78611

This Texas style, full service, nature resort gets its name as a nesting ground for the American Bald Eagle spotted in the resort October through March every year. Guests can choose between tent or RV camping or glamping in the eco-friendly cabins with views no matter which room you choose. Spend the day hiking to hill country views, kayaking, and wildlife viewing, then cap the day off at one of the nearby breweries or vineyards.

Points of Interest: kayaking, eagles, and resort amenities

County and State Parks

Pace Bend Travis County Park

Address: 2805 Pace Bend Rd N, Spicewood, TX 78669

Pace Bend is the perfect last minute get away and outdoor relaxation; this hidden gem campground on the Colorado River, 45 minutes from Central Austin, requires no reservations. Though hiking trails are limited, you don’t need to leave your campsite to enjoy cliff side lake views and a blanket of wildflowers. Besides endless views, visitors can also enjoy day use picnic areas, beach side swimming, and boating.

Points of Interest: wildflowers, beaches, and swimming

Palmetto state Park

Address: 78 Park Rd 11 S, Gonzales, TX 78629

Palmetto State Park is a lush tropical forest and birding hotspot named after its signature dwarf palmettos. A hike in the unique, swampy terrain offers sites of wildflowers and historical buildings from the 1930s. Cool off in the humid, Texas summer with a dip in the San Marcos River or challenge yourself with the near by Luling Zedler Mill Paddling Trail.

Points of Interest: unique terrain, walking trails, kayakin

Lake Somerville State Park

Address: 14222 Park Rd 57, Somerville, TX 77879

What makes Lake Somerville unique is its 26 miles of rolling hills on the out and back trail that connects the Birch Creek and Nails Creek units. This challenging hike takes you through fields of wildflowers in the spring, water crossings, and dense forests, each filled with their own abundance of birds and wildlife. If overnight backpacking isn’t your style, then you can hike a distance you are comfortable with, then spend the rest of the day camping, fishing, and watching the gorgeous sunsets reflecting over the lake.

Points of Interest: hiking, wildflowers, birding, fishing

Lyndon B. Johnson State Park & National Historic Park

Address:  199 Park Road 52, Stonewall, TX 78671

History buffs will love exploring the 36th president’s ranch and historic cabins built in the 1860s and 1870s. The ranch is divided into a Texas State Park where you can immerse yourself in the past at the living history museum and a national historic park which consists of Lyndon B. Johnson’s boyhood home and the Texas White House where he spent 20% of his presidency.

Points of Interest: historical buildings

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Trees In a Neighborhood Park
Travel

Detailed List Of 42 Central Texas State Parks

I’m on a mission to discover all the outdoor adventures tucked away in the 41 Central Texas State Parks; each one offering a unique view of this great state. In order to find the top hill country destinations, I have compiled a ranking of every Texas State Park within a 3-hour drive of Austin.

Texas Parks and Wildlife requires reservations for day and overnight use, so be sure to plan ahead.

Rating Central Texas State Parks

You’ll likely see the same few parks on every site when you google “best places to hike in Austin”. I’ve been to those – a lot, and I’m bored. I’ve set out to find the most beautiful and underrated state parks in central Texas and have not been disappointed. I started this project to discover lesser-known state parks to explore near me, so I haven’t been to all of these (yet), but places I had never heard of now sit at the top of my list for places to visit

To uncover what each park has to offer, I searched Google images, user-submitted Yelp images, the park websites, and various blogs then compiled the information into one location to make finding the best central states parks easy to research. I rated the parks based on how many attractions they have that interest me; here’s what I was looking for:

  • Mountain/landscape views
  • wildlife/birding
  • Challenging Hikes
  • Wildflowers
  • Unique Attractions

The more the park has or the more unique, the higher the rating.

State Parks Near Austin

State ParkRatingBest ForNot Best ForDrive Time From Austin
McKinney Falls State Park*****Birding, waterfall, camping, walking trailsChallenging hikes.5 Hours
Bastrop State Park*Camping, fishingChallenging hikes, views1 Hour
Buescher State Park*Lake, picnic, walking trails, views, fishingChallenging hikes, wildlife, swimming1 Hour
Inks Lake State Park****Birding, lake, swimming, camping, kayaking, swimming, scuba divingHistory, unique attractions1 Hour
Lockhart State Park*Walking trails, picnicsChallenging hikes, views1 Hour
Longhorn Cavern State Park*****Caverns, history, walking trails, experienced cavers,Wildlife, challenging hikes, pets not allowed in caverns, camping1 Hour
Pedernales Falls State Park****Waterfalls, swimming, birdingLong or challenging hikes1 Hour
Blanco State Park***Swimming, tubing, fishing, camping, birdingHiking, wildflowers, views1.25 Hours
Palmetto State Park*****Lake, vegetation, walking trails, history, swimming, tubing1.25 Hours
Colorado Bend State Park*****Waterfalls, viewsShade, many parts of the trails are in an open field making summer hikes tough1.5 Hours
Lake Somerville State Park****Birds, beach, wildflowers, challenging hikesViews, fishing1.5 Hours
Lyndon B. Johnson State Park*****History, wildlife, wildflowers, creeks, Christmas DecorCamping1.5 Hours
Mother Neff State Park**Walking trails, camping, watering hole, limestone wallViews, challenging hikes1.5 Hours

Weekend Camping Trips

State ParkRatingBest ForNot Best ForDrive Time From Austin
Enchanted Rock State Natural Area****Stars, views, picnics, campingBirding1 Hr 45 Min
Old Tunnel State Park**Views, BatsHiking, camping1 hr 45 min
Fort Parker State Park**Lake, birding, fishing, walking trailsChallenging hikes, views, wildflowers2 hours
Government Canyon State Natural Area**Hiking, dinosaur tracks, views, wildlife conservationDogs not allowed on most trails, fishing, boating2 Hours
Guadalupe River State Park****Lake, river, views, swimming, birding, campingChallenging Hikes2 Hours
Lake Whitney State Park*Lake,



fishing, swimming, camping
Hiking, wildlife2 hours
Meridian State Park****Wildflowers, camping, walking trails, birding (home to the endangered golden-cheeked warblers)Challenging hikes2 hours
Stephen F. Austin State Park**Birding, wildlife, walking trails, historyChallenging hikes, wildflowers, views2 hours
Honey Creek State Nautral Area*****Creeks and streams, wildlife, wildflowers, educational guidesHiking, camping, spontaneous trips (only available through reserved guided tours)2 Hours
Dinosaur Valley State Park****Swimming, lake, dinosaur tracks, watering holeChallenging hikes, views, birding, wildlife2.5 Hours
Goliad State Park and Historic Site***Mission Rosario and Zaragoza Birthplace Historic Sites, weddings, fishing, kayaking, birdingHiking, views, wildlife, wildflowers2.5 Hours
Hill Country State Natural Area*****Horseback riding, hiking, wildlife, birding, stargazingSwimming, fishing, boating, camping (very few campsites available)2.5 Hours
Lake Brownwood State Park*Camping, fishing, boatingHiking2.5 Hours
Fort Boggy State Park*Lake, fishing, boating, water sports, camping, cabinsHiking, wildlife, wildflowers2 hr 45 min
South Llano River State Park*****Birding, wildlife, tubing, camping, stargazing, hikingWildflowers, history, education2 hour 45 min
Battleship TEXAS State Historic Site****Battleship, historyCurrently closed for an undetermined time frame for repairs, hiking, swimming, wildlife3 Hours
Brazos Bend State Park*****Hiking, fishing, horseback riding, wildlife, birdingStargazing3 hours
Cedar Hill State Park***History, hiking, fishingViews, camping (crowded sites)3 Hours
Choke Canyon State Park**Calliham and South Shore Units, lake, birdingHiking, views3 hours
Cleburne State Park*Waterfall, lakeChallenging hikes3 hours
Devil’s Sinkhole State Natural Area**Bats, birdingHiking, camping, views, lake3 hours
Garner State Park*****Views, tubing, hiking, camping, lakewildlife, wildflowers3 hours
Huntsville State Park***Walking trails, lake, picnic, alligators, birding, hiking, weddingsViews,3 Hours
Lake Corpus Christi State ParkIBirding, fishing, campingHiking, views3 hours
Lake Mineral Wells State Park and Trailway*****Rock climbing, lake, views, hollow (similar to slot canyon), camping, hike, swim, fish, beginner and challenging hikes, birdingWildlife3 Hours
Lost Maples State Natural Area*****Fall foliage, moderately challenging hikes, viewscamping (there are sites, but they are limited and book a year out), wildlife3 Hours
Palo Pinto Mountains State Park (currently under development)****Views, fishing, hiking, camping stargazing.Boating3 hours
Possum Kingdom State Park***Fishing, campingWildlife, birding, hiking3 Hours
Sheldon Lake State Park**Lake, walking trails, fishing, envrionmental educationChallenging hikes, camping, wildlife3 hours
San Angelo State Park****Birding, wildlife (bison and longhorns), fishing, challenging hikes, horseback ridingViews3.5 hours

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Texas Sunset
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Lost Maples State Park: A Taste of Texas Fall

This blog post may contain affiliate links.  I may earn a small commission for any purchases made through these links. Click here for the disclosure statement.

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I’ve always said Texas has two seasons – hot and not so hot. It’s almost a stretch to say that we have more than one season, let alone four. But tucked away in Vanderpool, Texas, 85 miles northwest of San Antonio, I discovered an oasis of fall foliage that is Lost Maples State Park. Growing up, my grandparents who lived in the Smoky Mountains would tell stories of the tourists bringing too much hustle and bustle to their quiet town during peak fall foliage season. 

I thought it was silly that people planned vacations around the leaves changing; that was until I laid eyes on Lost Maples State Park. Once I discovered this taste of Texas fall, I was planning my own trips around the changing of the leaves. Over the past few years I have perfected a trip to Lost Maples and I am sharing those tips with you.

Best Time To Visit Lost Maples

It varies from year to year, but you can typically see fall colors in the last week of October through the first two or three weeks of November. For real-time updates, check out the Lost Maples Fall Foliage 2020 report, which is updated weekly with the status of the leaves. The park is busy at this time of year, so be sure to plan ahead and reserve a day pass on the Texas State Parks Reservations site.

Best Places For Pictures At Lost Maples State Park

There are two main hiking trails at Lost Maples State Park and both share the western part of the East Trail. The best fall colors I’ve seen at the park have been on the shared portion of the two trails. The one-mile stretch where the east and west trails merge is an easy, flat trail with a scenic pond at the one-mile mark. This is an excellent route if you’re shooting family portraits and need a route for all skill levels.

East Trail

Distance: 4 miles, 4.7 miles if you include the overlook 
Difficulty: Easy

The trail is mostly flat and easy, but there is a short steep and strenuous stretch that requires climbing up large rocks. Monkey Rock, located on the eastern side of the east trail, usually has some nice fall foliage; even without the vibrant colors, this familiar shape is sure to be a hit anyway. At the north of the loop is a small cove with a bench that’s had vibrant fall foliage every year I’ve gone. The bench and scenic backdrop make this spot the perfect place for a family portrait.

West Trail

Distance: 5 Miles, 7 miles if you include the West Loop Trail
Difficulty: Moderate

Most of the west trail follows along the creek where you’ll find plenty of opportunities to capture leaves collecting in a stream or a canopy of trees. The West Trail is less popular, so this route is perfect for landscape photographers seeking one of a kind photos.

Where To Stay

I discovered Lost Maples RV and Camping after a state park reservation mishap; we stumbled upon this unassuming gas station offering tent camping near Lost Maples. I’ve had the opportunity to watch this business grow from bare-bones tent sites to a community of tent sites with bathrooms and showers, RV sites with hookups, and cabins. I couldn’t recommend this place more!

Images of Lost Maples

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Field of Texas Wildflowers In Spring
Travel

5 Texas Hill Country Hikes with the Best Views

Texas isn’t exactly known for its panoramic landscapes so it might surprise you when I say that the Texas Hill Country has no shortage of hikes with jaw-dropping views. From landscape to wildlife to wildflowers I’m always finding new places to capture great photos with a short drive from Austin. These 5 parks are the best hikes with views in the Texas Hill Country and are sure to satisfy all the outdoorsy types.

1. Colorado Bend State Park

You’ll start to see the lush green trees 30 miles from the park and feel as if you are about to leave the flat, barren, dry state of Texas. Located on the Colorado River, I like to think Colorado Bend State Park is our little borrowed piece of Colorado as the park offers views of waterfalls, grasslands, rolling hills (or as I like to call them “Texas Mountains”), creeks, canyons, wildflowers, and wildlife. That’s a lot of words to say Colorado Bend has it all!

2. Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge

Balcones Canyonlands

Home to the endangered golden-cheeked warbler and black-capped video, Balcones Canyonlands is a bird watchers paradise with sweeping views of the Texas Hill Country. With over 245 bird species, Balcones Canyonlands has been designated an important bird area by the National Audubon Society. While small with only 7 miles of hiking trails, it’s packed with a variety of wildlife and plant life that you’re sure to keep coming back for more.

3. Pace Bend

I could stare at the cliffside lake views all day and basque in the Texas wildflowers in the spring. In fact, I love Pace Bend so much my husband and I held our private wedding ceremony here. Camping is first come first serve but there is never a shortage of sites.

4. Lost Maples

Texas isn’t known for its four seasons – I often say we have two seasons: hot and not-so-hot. While most of the US is starting to bundle up in October and November, Texans are still barbequing by the pool. But there’s a little secret tucked away in Vanderpool, Texas with reliable fall colors and no cell phone signal. Lost Maples has become a yearly tradition to satisfy my need for that beautiful red, orange, and yellow leaves.

5. Balcones District Park

Ok, the word “hiking” is a stretch on this one, but this little neighborhood park offers a small oasis trail, is a starting location for the hike and bike trail leading to Walnut Creek Trail, is an official wildflower area, and great for bird watching. It’s probably my favorite place in the whole city.

These are some of my favorite places to hike and they’re so gorgeous you’ll almost forget you’re in Texas. Watch out for that Texas summer sun though, you’ll definitely remember where you are when you fry in our 100 degree summers! Bring water, wear sunscreen, and take lots of pics.


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