McKinney Falls State Park in Austin, TX is a nice place to wander, with minimal
chance of getting lost even though the trails are spread out over 744 acres.
Visitors can pick up maps at the entrance gate/office and the visitors' center,
and signage is pretty good on the trails themselves.
About six miles of the
trails at McKinney
Falls State Park are open to both foot and bicycle traffic, as are several
miles of paved roadways and dirt service roads. A couple miles of trail are for
This map shows the major roads and
trails through the park. You can see this map more clearly on the Texas States
Park website. The campgrounds and Onion Creek Trail loop are on the left (south
side of park). The visitor center and Rock Shelter Interpretive Trail are in the middle. The
Lower Falls and Homestead Trail are on the right (north end of park).
Jim and I would soon get bored with the relative paucity of trails
here if we wanted to run big miles. However, because Jim's just recovering from
plantar faciitis and I haven't been running or walking more than a couple hours
at a time since getting my knee injections, we are satisfied with the trails we've found
here. And there are plenty of other trails in and near the city to run.
I planned to ride my road bike and Jim's trail bike at McKinney
but that hasn't happened yet. So far we've either been busy doing other things or it's
been too wet. I don't mind running and walking in the rain but I dislike cycling
In this entry I'll describe the trails in the park and show pictures of the
ones we've run or walked.
ONION CREEK HIKE & BIKE TRAIL (2.8 miles +
We've both gone out on 3-6 mile runs/walks several times on the
Onion Creek Trail that encircles the southern half of the park
(diagram below). It's easy to add distance to
the basic loop trail by using connector trails or adding other
trails or roads to it.
The Onion Creek loop is paved, almost universally smooth, and
has very gradual slopes that are barely noticeable most of the
way around the loop. The warning on trailhead signs (see next
photo) about "steep grades and uneven
surfaces" is ridiculous; someone in a wheelchair could
probably negotiate all but one
short, moderately steep hill on this loop. It is also suitable for skinny-tire bikes.
Here Jim walks near the horse trainers' cabin:
This is the only "steep" part of the trail:
Believe me, if it was "steep," my knees would know. It
Cyclists going clockwise are advised to walk their bikes down
this blind curve, not so much for their own safety as for the
safety of oncoming pedestrians who might get wiped out.
This trail is more interesting than it sounds. I hope these
photos show its beauty.
Most of the loop is quiet and shaded as it twists and turns through the trees. Even in December there
are some wildflowers in bloom. Judiciously placed benches with
calming views offer a respite for those who need one along the
I was fascinated with the prickly pear cacti growing among the
drier upland shrubs and trees like mesquite, juniper, and live oak:
showed more photos of cacti growing in McKinney Falls Park in the
December 4 entry.
Notice the old stone fence? There
are others along this loop:
There are some magnificent large live oak trees with their
signature twisted branches and dark green leaves along the Onion
They are common in Austin, San Antonio, and other areas
of the Texas Hill Country:
Apparently the leaves stay on the trees all year long; I have
photos of them in January, 2008 in San Antonio. They don't
look at all like most oak leaves in the Midwest and East:
To me, the most interesting part of the Onion Creek Trail runs between
the the creek and the rock ledges on the west side of the loop. There are many small overhangs and caves in the
cliffs that may have provided shelter to ancient hunter-gatherer
peoples who lived in the area hundreds or thousands of years
ago. Renegade paths leading up to them indicate they are popular with
current visitors, too.
The Onion Creek loop also passes walk-in tent camping sites and picnic
tables for a quarter mile along the creek and goes right by the Upper Falls and visitors' center.
are able to get on the trail near our campsite at the far left
side of the loop; folks who are just there for the day
usually access it from one of the parking areas near the visitors' center. You can go either
direction on the loop. We haven't seen any one-way trails here.
ROCK SHELTER INTERPRETIVE TRAIL
This is my favorite trail in the park because it is dirt
single track, hilly, and very scenic as it winds along the creek. It is an
elongated loop for foot traffic only between the
visitors' center and the bouldering rocks upstream from the
Lower Falls (see dotted lines below):
The part I like best
follows the rocky hillside about thirty feet above Onion Creek and
runs right through the largest rock shelter in the park. I
showed several photos of the rock shelter in the
These photos run
from the visitors' center along the creek to the bouldering rocks
(some are looking backwards):
Cody stands on the footbridge that wraps
around Old Baldy,
the oldest bald cypress in the park. It is
over 500 years old and 60+ feet tall.
Above and below: the rock shelter
There are many colorful shrubs and trees
along this trail in
Most of the red in this photo is berries,
I stopped dead in my tracks when I saw this
brilliant red tree! That's no PhotoShop trick.
Getting closer to the Lower Falls
The Rock Shelter Trail loops back to the visitors' center
between a picnic area and the cliff side trail. There are
interpretive posts like this one along the entire trail:
Texas Persimmon Tree
The numbers correspond to descriptions in a pamphlet originally created
by a local teenager for an Eagle Scout
The last half mile of the upper trail winds through a meadow
with cactus, yucca plants, native grasses, and flowers,
enters the woods again, and ends back at the visitors' center.
It covers a lot of interesting territory in less than two miles.
HOMESTEAD TRAIL (2.8 miles + connector trail)
This is the only trail we didn't see at McKinney Falls State
Park. You can see its configuration in the map section below:
The Homestead Trail is described by park rangers as narrow
single track dirt trail that is rougher than the park's other
trails. It is open to cyclists and hikers/runners. There are
also some service roads that can be used in this area for
additional mileage. Park personnel can access the area from the
nearby state park headquarters but visitors can get there only
by fording Onion Creek from the south.
The dirt connector trail from the state park to the Homestead Trail crosses over a large
area of bedrock:
Above and below: Lower Falls
The Homestead Trail is accessed by fording Onion Creek above or
below these falls.
As much curiosity as I had about seeing the trails on the north
side of the creek and the old McKinney homestead (remains of
large home and grist mill), Onion Creek has been running too
high and fast while we've been at the park to risk wading
through it. We'll probably have to save the Homestead Trail for
another visit to the park.
Next entry: photos of the very popular Town
Lake Trail in downtown Austin
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the Ultra Lab
© 2009 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil