The beauty of any outdoor place is that it will look different depending on when you visit it. Palmetto State Park is one of the more fascinating parks in the central Texas region, but the last time it was written about on this site was during the summer. For this trip, it was the first of February, and it was even more remarkable.
A little rain goes a long way at Palmetto SP. The dwarf palms that give this park its name flourish here because of the moist ground that provides the perfect growing conditions. Part of that is because of the clay underneath the soil that holds water higher, so when it rains the park can see a very quick increase in saturation, and because the San Marcos River flows through the park, flooding can overtake vast sections of the area too.
In October 2021, Palmetto SP and a lot of the surrounding area saw elevated levels of rainfall, and when looking around at the trees there was a distinct watermark that was left behind. Park rangers confirmed that that waterline was in fact due to the rains from that rainy October.
What was more significant to this trip was the rains that fell just the day before, so the nearby river was already showing increases in water flow.
The river just barely crested the low water crossing near the refectory, but the walkway was closed midday because the river has come up past the walkway.
Exploring New Trails
Despite its smaller size, there were still parts of the park that had been unvisited.
The last part of the park that had yet to be explored was the Oxbow Lake camping area that’s home to the, well, lake and a spectacular artesian well. If you want to read a full park recap, click the link.
The Civilian Conservation Corps built on and around the well a rock pond that funnels the water from there to the lake, so stop for a moment and watch the water bubble up from the ground! It’s meant to recreate a mud boil that was found in this area, so some fun significance to the other sights you’ll find in this park.
The lake itself is much bigger up close than you think it’s going to be driving over it. There is the lake trail that is 0.69 miles and takes you around the water, and through some fun parts of the park.
Just like the Oxbow lake at South Llano River State Park this lake was formed when the river flooded, and the water just stayed. It’s a great place to do some fishing, swimming, and if you’re here to camp there’s a cool cabin right next to it.
Exploring some old trails too
Palmetto State Park can be hiked in an entire day, but because of the flooding, one major section of the park was closed for repair. The walking platform on the Ottine Swamp Trail (1.01 mi.) is damaged at the time of this posting, so the journey began on the 0.26-mile Palmetto Interpretive Trail.
This trail encompasses everything that makes this park special, and it’s fun for all ages.
On the trail, you’ll find interpretive signs that give great information about the history of the park, plant life, the special ecosystem, and the structures built by the CCC.
Take your time and walk through the loop admiring the palmettos, the trees above, and maybe even some large birds.
There are signs here that warn of snakes, so be mindful of those as well, but on the last visit the wet branches that were falling were of bigger concern.
The recent rainfall created such a lush atmosphere on this trail, and all of the small pools were nicely filled with green-covered water.
From the interpretive trail, you can access the Mesquite Flats Trail (1.08 mi.). This trail is fairly flat, but with the various creeks that flow through here, you’ll walk over a handful of wooden footbridges in case the area has too much water flowing through it.
This section has open areas, but most of it is woody, so in the summer you’ll be able to take a break from the heat. And the humidity that this park will have during the warmer months because of the moisture.
The park also bumps up to a ranch, so you’ll be able to watch the cattle graze if you’re there during mealtime.
Here is where the watermarks were noticed on the trees. It was hard to imagine the water being up almost three and a half feet, but as the rangers noted, the park is very wet, so when it rains it doesn’t take much to see the water levels rise.
This park is perfect for the family, and the fun CCC structures, sights, and wildlife make this place a fun adventure any time of year.