McKinney Falls State Park
Full disclosure: McKinney Falls State Park is my local park. It’s the one I live closest to, so it’s also the one I’ve visited the most. Because of that, I’d say it’s my favorite park, but that’s mostly out of convenience.
McKinney Park, not unlike Bastrop State park, is really close to the main roadway since it’s basically in Austin. But what’s neat about the park is that once you’re inside you feel totally separated from the city itself. (Unless you’re camping, but more on that later).
An additional tidbit for McKinney Park besides its namesake’s history is that is it also part of the El Camino Real historic system. (Learn more about the El Camino Real trail here).
When it comes to Austin recreation if it includes any form of water then it’s going to be pretty popular. During the summer, especially if Onion Creek is flowing great, you’ll see people visiting this park just for the ‘falls’. There are upper and lower falls with the upper being more of the scenic option, and the lower falls are where most people go swimming. It’s also where you must cross in order to get to the Homestead Trail.
McKinney Falls State Park has five main camping areas and one youth group camping area. No primitive camping here, but this is another park that features a cabin area. One great thing about the campsites is that each of the sites has showers in the restrooms. They’re all relatively close to the Upper Falls, so if you want to get out of the site and walk around there’s plenty of fun things to look at.
There is fishing allowed along Onion Creek, and the hike and bike trail wraps around all of the camping, so if you’re wanting some extra exercise bring your bike!
Ok, so here’s the thing about camping at McKinney Falls State Park; it’s loud at night. If you don’t sleep with some kind of white noise you’re going to hear traffic at night. The park is right off of McKinney Falls Parkway, which is a fairly busy main road, but this park is basically in the city. It’s also close to the Austin airport.
I don’t say this as a deterrent, but just take something with you to help you drown out that noise if you’re a light sleeper.
There are seven trails at McKinney Falls State Park. The longest trail is the Homestead Trail (3.1 mi.) and the shortest is the Rock Shelter Trail (.6 mi.). There is a lot to see around this park and each trail gives a little bit of history on either Mr. McKinney, the CCC, or the landscape changes throughout the park.
The Rock Shelter Trail is hiking-only, but one of the highlights here is “Old Baldy”. It’s a bald cypress tree that seems hidden from the outside, but once your down on the trail you see her majesty towering above. This section is shaded, and on the last visit, the trail stopped here because of work being done on the trail.
In the other direction, you can walk under a historic rock shelter that you’ll see around this part of Texas. The limestone towers above, and there are fun glimpses of water dripping through the rocks that give a really nice majestic feel.
My favorite trail is the Homestead Trail. It’s 3.1 miles, but it connects to Flint Rock Loop Trail (1.5 mi.) and the Williamson Creek Overlook Trail (1.1 mi.) if you want to extend your hike. This trail also has a Homestead Shortcut if you don’t feel like doing the whole trail.
There’s one caveat: you need to cross Onion Creek in order to access it. During the summer when the water is lower you can just hop the rocks, but I recommend taking some shoes you don’t mind getting wet and switch out.
This is a loop trail and both entrances are close together, but if you stay to the right you’ll see the Gristmill through the shrubs. There’s not much left, but it’s one of the multiple artifacts you’ll see. Others on this trail include the Smith Family Picnic Table and the McKinney Homestead.
This trail has some good shade, but take sunscreen for when it opens up. Another interesting tidbit, the Texas Parks & Wildlife office is seen while walking on this trail. It’s a little creepy because you’re seeing it from the back and it looks like an abandoned building. So if you’re into The Walking Dead it’s reminiscent of that.
Another favorite trail is the Onion Creek Hike & Bike trail is 2.8 miles and it’s mostly paved. This is a great option if you’re not looking for as many scenic changes and just want to get in some good miles. I usually leave my daypack in the car if I’m going to go on this trail, but if you want some hammock chill-time this trail opens up to the Buffalo Multi-use field that has plenty of tables and trees to catch a nap.
Overall the McKinney Falls State Park is great for locals to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, but also for anyone outside of town to check out a great state park with plenty for the entire family.