Experience cascading waterfalls and unique historical sites while escaping from the chaos of Austin's civilization.
Tucked away on the south side of the trendiest city in Texas—Austin—is a small, idyllic state park known as McKinney Falls. In fact, the entire state park lies within Austin's city limits, and it provides a welcome escape from the skyscrapers and traffic of the buzzing downtown area.
The park was named for Thomas McKinney, who "had settled in San Felipe de Austin in 1830 as one of Stephen F. Austin’s first 300 colonists before moving to Galveston," according to TPWD.Texas.Gov. McKinney established a home, ranch, limestone gristmill, and dam between 1850 and 1852. "Developed by McKinney’s slaves, his ranch continued to grow in number of structures, livestock and other assets," writes the TPWD. After McKinney's death, his widow sold the property to James Woods Smith, and the Smith family eventually donated the land to the state of Texas in 1973.
Today, the park is best known for its two waterfalls—Upper and Lower McKinney Falls—where Onion Creek crashes over limestone ledges, splashing into serene pools below. A network of trails runs through the park, giving visitors the opportunity to enjoy both the historical sites and the natural beauty of the forest and streams.
McKinney Falls State Park also offers one of the best and most convenient campgrounds close to Austin. With 81 campsites, all of which offer water and electric hookups, this is a great place to set up a basecamp to not only explore the trails at McKinney Falls but to access the other trails on the southern end of the Austin Metro Area.
Within the park itself, visitors will find a short paved loop called the Onion Creek Trail that provides a delightful little bike ride or a mellow walk that's perfect for strollers. Part of the Onion Creek Trail runs past Upper McKinney Falls, but a short, high-value hike on dirt trails will reach both the upper and lower falls.
For a longer singletrack adventure, either mountain bike or hike the entire "McKinney Falls State Park Loop," as mapped here. This route actually incorporates several different trails and loops, so it can be shortened if desired. It runs into the far reaches of the park, providing beautiful views of a small canyon formed by Williamson Creek, as well as reaching the most distant historic sites, including the remains of the ranch house.
Once you've hit all of the trails that McKinney Falls State Park has to offer, set your sights on the hundreds upon hundreds of miles of singletrack spread across the Austin Metro Area—there's no end of adventure!