Many flock to Austin, Texas to enjoy the music scene. Others head to the state capital to see why the locals say, “Keep Austin Weird.” The indie vibes in Austin also include enjoying the great outdoors, whether it be kayaking, biking, rollerblading, swimming, or picnicking.
Super Spots for Social Distancing
Austin is a great spot for nature lovers. The river is a main attraction. It runs right through downtown, and there are lakes in all directions. Both Lady Bird Lake and Lake Travis are actually reservoirs. And then there is Lake Austin which is even narrower, more like a river. Lesser-known bodies of water are Mueller Lake, Lake Georgetown (north of Travis County). San Marcos (southwest of Austin) is a great place for river rafting. Wimberley, between Austin and San Marcos, boasts two ever-popular watering holes: Jacob’s Well and the Blue Hole.
All the above are great spots to enjoy with friends or family and maintain social distancing. Another place with ample space is McKinney Falls State Park. This is a natural wonderland just ten minutes from the airport.
600 Acres for Nature Lovers
So close to Bergstrom International Airport (AUS) yet you don’t hear or see a single plane fly by. While the burgeoning real estate market is starting to spread to the state park, once inside the gates, it still feels as if you are far from the city. Carrie
There are more than 600 acres here. Thanks to the thick woods environment, most of the park is shaded. There are 80 campsites for RV hookups, tents, or cabin rentals, and loads of picnic areas. The park offers a few designated campfires areas too. Restrooms and water fountains are sprinkled throughout the area although visitors are encouraged to have plenty of water with them when they are on the trails.
Carrie is a San Antonio resident and avid camper. She went camping six times in the last four months of the Covid pandemic. Sometimes she takes her kids. Other times she goes just with her partner. “Nature is the perfect doorway into presence. Everything becomes a meditation: Boiling water, pitching a tent, starting a fire … It’s very simple yet very profound,” she says. She enjoys the outings as it provides ample quality time with loved ones, and is a way to shut out the stressors of city life. “Camping is teaching us to move slower, allow more patience in, and not take things so seriously.”
McKinney Falls State Park features nine miles of trails for hiking, biking, or jogging. Several of the trails run alongside 1.7 miles of Onion Creek. Most are fairly easy, and range between 15 to 90 minutes to complete. Others have pathways that can be muddy or filled with a bit of water. For those up for the moderate courses, consider wearing boots or waterproof shoes. Three of the trails require creek crossing, and May is the wettest month of the year. For those that want to cool off in the water, there are two beautiful areas to swim or wade: The Upper Falls and The Lower Falls. Bring a bathing suit and towel, and keep your dogs out of the water.
The Upper Falls has impressive limestone ledges and cliffs. The Lower Falls has larger waterfalls surrounded by a patio of limestone and volcanic ash that seems to extend forever.
While trails are marked in spots, you can get lost. Pin the location of your vehicle with GPS and note the GPS coordinates listed for several points of interest on the Trails Map. Unlike some state parks, phone and internet signals work well throughout McKinney Falls.
History of McKinney Falls State Park
In 1850, Thomas Freeman McKinney was traveling the Camino Real that winds up from Mexico City through Texas and across to Louisiana. McKinney chose to settle nearly 1,000 miles north of the former Tenochtitlán (Mexico City) in an area that had been inhabited by Native Americans for 10,000 years. His second wife and adopted daughter joined him later. The man who funded ten percent of the Texas Revolution was a wealthy slave owner. McKinney brought 14 of his slaves to build two houses, a grist-mill, and miles of livestock walls.
Around 1940, a fire burned down most of the original structures, but a portion of the walls remain.
McKinney died in 1873. His widow sold the land and that family donated the acreage to the state of Texas in 1973.
Open to the public since 1976, Texas Parks and Wildlife manages the reserve. Day passes are just six dollars per adult. Kids enter free. Pets are allowed for day trips, on a leash. The park is open to visitors from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. Book online in advance.