My backpacking crew is headed east this summer, to hike a section of the Appalachian Trail. I can’t make that trip, since I’m recovering from knee surgery, but I joined the gang for a quick shakeout at McKinney Falls State Park this week.
The 641-acre park, located at the confluence of Onion Creek and Williamson Creek in southeast Austin, makes a nice spot for a quick overnight and gear testing. The campground has some nice shady spots; I like the spots on Grapevine Loop best because they’re tucked in the trees. I’ve got great memories of picnicking at the park when I was a kid, and cyclists and hikers will find 9 miles of trail to explore.
Normally, I’d make a beeline to the Lower Falls, but I’m still on crutches so I skipped it this time. Still, recent rains mean the water is flowing better than it has in a few months. (Don’t expect that to last.)
There’s better swimming but less dramatic scenery at the Upper Falls, where you can plop yourself beneath a towering cypress tree or leap into the green pool of water. When water is higher, you can jump off a rocky ledge at the swimming area.
The Smith Visitors Center at the park, which closed after flooding in 2013, reopened in October 2021. Visitors will find information about the park’s natural history, plus an observation deck. And on Thursday nights during good weather, the park hosts free line-dancing classes there from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.
During this week’s Wednesday night visit, my friends loaded and unloaded their backpacks, popped up the tents they’ll be using on the trail, and sorted through seat pads, water filters and other gear. We took a slow walk around the campground, then settled in at the picnic table for dinner. (If you’ve read about my backpacking adventures, you probably know I like PackIt Gourmet camp meals the best.)
Afterward, while my friends zipped themselves inside their tents, I made myself comfortable in Vincent VanGo, my Ford Transit campervan. I missed my tent, but until I’m more mobile the van makes a fun substitute.
McKinney Falls State Park is located at 5808 McKinney Falls Parkway. Admission is $6 for adults and free for ages 12 and under.
Now that summer is here, purchase day passes and book campsites in advance. The park sells out weekends and holidays.