Home to a diversity of ecosystems, Texas overflows with national, state and privately owned parks available for us to explore. With the Go Outside series from First Choice Power, we’ll take you all across this great state to visit both well-known public parks and lesser-known spots that are privately owned, but open to the public.
We head southeast from our last post where we explored the Texas Panhandle, and head to the Texas Hill Country. Its signature spring fed rivers make it a true oasis, and its hilly limestone landscape dotted by cacti, wildlife, wildflowers and ancient Live Oak trees, make it a nature lovers playground. Surrounding our state capitol, the landscape of the Hill Country is where multiple ecosystems meet, and rugged beauty shines.
Pack your river shoes, hiking boots, and your tent if you’re so inclined, as we head to a few of our favorite spots. Otherworldly and oh so cool, a small taste of just one of these parks will have you wanting to tour all of them and more. No matter how many times I’ve been to any of these places, I can’t wait to get back the moment I leave.
Like something out of a dream, Hamilton Pool, located 23 miles west of Austin in Dripping Springs, is a natural pool that was created when the dome of an underground river collapsed due to massive erosion thousands of years ago. While small hiking trails are sprinkled around the pool, the draw here is the swimming hole itself.
The water is an inviting cerulean green, and a gentle waterfall cascades down upon the pool, where visitors can swim in front or behind it. A rocky shore lets visitors relax poolside, while craggy limestone rocks and boulders line the parameter of the pool to allow for climbing and exploring.
Due to its popularity, Hamilton Pool now requires reservations from May 1 – September 30 of each year. Call 512-264-2740 before going during those dates, and have back up plans if you show up without reservations, just in case you get turned away.
100 miles west of San Antonio is the town of Concan, where Garner State Park has made its home since 1941. The beautiful sparkling spring fed Frio River winds its way 2.9 miles throughout the park, where visitors can swim, inner tube, or paddle boat on its waters.
11 miles of scenic trails are for hiking, and will take you from the river side, up to Old Baldy, the highest point in the park, and back down, with a stop in the Crystal Cave along the way.
As the most over-nighted park in the state, folks can camp, picnic, fish, geocache and ride bikes among this beautiful scenery. But in the summer it’s known for something truly Texan and unique.
In the 1940s, young folks began gathering at the parks concession building on summer evenings for a jukebox dance. And it’s still happening today. If you plan to boogie down on the shore of the Frio beneath the ancient Live Oaks then get there early, as parking lots can often fill up as early as 8:30 pm.
Just 30 miles west of Austin in Johnson City lies Pedernales Falls State Park, home to massive slabs of limestone over flowing with crystal clear water from the Pedernales River. Surrounded by limestone bluffs and scraggy Hill Country flora, the water is a great place to swim, tube, fish or kayak.
Trails provide great areas for hiking and mountain biking, too. The 6-mile Wolf Mountain Trail wraps around Tobacco and Wolf mountains and winds along the small canyons created by Mescal and Tobacco creeks. If you happen to be out here on a hot day, cool off at Arrowhead Pool, where Bee Creek makes its way into the perfect descent of a few stair-stepped pools. Their newest trail, Juniper Ridge Trail, is a 10-mile technical single track with a ton of obstacles for the more advanced riders.
Pack a picnic or load up the tent and spend your weekend here at one of Austin’s favorite nearby getaways.
For you lovers of geology, Enchanted Rock is your spot. One of the most magical places in all of Texas, this enormous pink granite pluton batholith is located in the Llano Uplift just outside of the small Hill Country town of Fredericksburg. While most visitors head straight up the giant rock, we love exploring the other parts of the park too, where granite domes and boulders resemble modern sculpture. It’s fun to get off the beaten path and explore the boulders around this other-planetary landscape.
Enchanted Rock is known for its rock climbing, where visitors have enjoyed a long and ongoing history of traditional-style ascents. Check out the climbing information before heading out there, as like most areas to climb, the landscape is protected and rules do apply for anchoring and rappelling.
Camping is great at Enchanted Rock, especially in the spring time when the wildflowers out in abundance. There are also miles of hiking trails, and picnic tables for those looking to make a day trip.
During Spring Break and in early summer, get there early before the crowds show up. You also don’t want to be hiking on the granite dome during the peak heat of summer. Bring lots of water, sunscreen, and a sun hat! Most trails aren’t shaded.
Check out more Texas Treasures in The Light Lab!