You’ve probably already read through our list of amazing natural swimming holes in and near Austin, and chances are, you’ve seen our recommendations for some of the prettiest hiking trails and off-leash dog parks with nature paths in town — but if not, then get to it!
Now we’re hoping to enhance your adventures by breaking down 10 of the best Texas state parks within reasonable driving distance from Austin. These parks offer wide varieties of recreational activities and community attractions that are perfect for filling up a weekend if you can wrangle the time off work to play. Here we go!
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1.) McKinney Falls State Park
Located just 15-20 minutes from downtown Austin, McKinney Falls State Park is something of a hidden gem in town. McKinney Falls SP might seem small when compared to bigger and better known natural spaces like Enchanted Rock State Natural Area and Pedernales Falls State Park, but it’s got a lot packed into its 725 acres. Besides native Texas flora and fauna, the park boasts two lovely limestone-lined swimming holes, nearly 10 miles of hike and bike trails, and 81 primitive and developed campsites. They’ve even got cabins and a retreat facility — and one of the largest and oldest bald cypress trees in Texas!
2.) Hamilton Pool Preserve
Hamilton Pool Preserve is a glorious natural swimming hole located just west of Austin in Dripping Springs. Nestled against a small limestone canyon, Hamilton Pool features plenty of lovely limestone boulders for lounging and sunbathing, and a 50-foot waterfall that can get pretty impressive during rainy seasons. To access this well-loved swimming area, you’ll have to make an online reservation and hike about one mile total between the water and the parking lot.
3.) Pedernales Falls State Park
After taking a dip in Hamilton Pool, many folks choose to continue on to Pedernales Falls State Park and make a weekend of their Texas hill country adventure. Since the park boasts more than 5,200 acres of protected wilderness and serious hiking, mountain biking, geocaching, wildlife and bird-watching, camping, swimming, and fishing potential, no Austinite should go without a visit!
4.) Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge
If you haven’t spent any time exploring Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge, we suggest taking a trip out there — especially if you think you’d enjoy learning about the conservation work rangers do there to protect native Texas plants and creatures. When you visit, be sure to explore the rolling hills and beautiful vistas at Doeskin Ranch and Warbler Vista and bring your binoculars. The preserve’s rangers strive hard to make the land a haven for several species of lovely little endangered songbirds, including the Black-capped Vireo and the Golden-cheeked Warbler.
5.) Bastrop & Buescher State Parks
Bastrop State Park and nearby Buescher State Park were ravaged by wildfires and floods in both 2011 and 2015. Considering their amazing recovery in light of United States’ current political climate, we think these two small but resilient state parks seems like perfect places to find peace and hope of rebirth in the face of terrible tragedy and injustice. Many of the parks’ hiking trails and roads remain closed due to damages, and primitive camping is currently a no-go, but some truly lovely areas are still accessible — and in some ways, they’re perhaps even more beautiful and stronger than before. <3
Expert Tip: Park Road 1A, a 12-mile hilly and winding paved road that is perfect for walking and cycling, connects both parks.
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