When it comes to natural beauty just minutes from the vibrant city center, McKinney Falls State Park is a genuine treasure.
History of McKinney Falls State Park
Archaeological evidence suggests that the first humans to inhabit the area could have lived there over 10,000 years ago. Although it’s unknown exactly which Native American tribes were first in the region, historians say that the occupying tribes might have become a part of the modern-day Tonkawa tribe. Furthermore, throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, a section of the El Camino Real de Los Tejas (The Royal Road of Texas) went through the current-day park.
The Namesake: Thomas F. McKinney
Born in Kentucky and settled in San Felipe de Austin, Thomas F. McKinney was one of Stephen F. Austin’s first 300 colonists. McKinney was elected senator and became a member of the historic first legislature in Austin. Around 1850, his laborers built his family’s homestead in the park alongside beautiful Onion Creek.
So how did McKinney’s settlement turn into what we now know as McKinney Falls State Park? After his death in 1873, McKinney’s widow, Anna, sold the estate to James Wood Smith. The Smith family then graciously donated the land to the State of Texas in 1973, making the property a part of the coveted Texas Parks and Wildlife system. McKinney Falls State Park was first opened to the public in 1976.
Things to Do at McKinney Falls
The diverse landscape of this State Park offers no shortage of outdoor recreational activities to choose from and experience, from bike trails to picnicking to bouldering and even geocaching!
Camping & Events
Whether you are craving a solo trip, a romantic getaway, or a family adventure, McKinney Falls State Park caters to it all. The park features 81 campsites, six updated cabins, a group hall, picnic tables, and a primitive youth camping area. They even host annual events and special programs for young nature-lovers.
Fishing & Swimming
With both Onion Creek and Williamson Creek flowing through the property, you can bet there are many great spots to cast your luck. Anglers will appreciate the variety of fish in the water, including rainbow trout, different species of bass, catfish, crappie, and sunfish.
Helpful tip: A fishing license is not necessary when you fish from a Texas State Park shore.
There is nothing better on a sizzling summer day than a dip in refreshing waters. McKinney Falls offers multiple spots to cool off and soak in the surroundings.
Hiking & Biking
With nearly 9 miles of trails throughout the property, opportunities for hiking and mountain biking are plentiful. One of the most popular trails is the 2.8-mile Onion Creek Trail, which provides an improved surface alongside the creek before it meanders throughout the forest.
Easy-going hikers can enjoy a stroll through history on the 3.1-mile Homestead Trail, where you will witness the still-standing McKinney Homestead, Gristmill, and Horse Trainer’s Cabin. On the 0.6-mile Rock Shelter Trail, you will see the prehistoric natural refuge that was used by the Native inhabitants of the land.
For a family-friendly hiking trail, the half-mile Picnic Trail offers a wonderful view of the Lower Falls. If you are looking for more primitive hiking, take the 1.5-mile Flint Rock Loop Trail or the 1.1-mile Williamson Creek Overlook Trail. Depending on water levels, some of the trails may require low-river crossings.
Highlights of the Park
Upper Falls: Park next to the Smith Visitor Center and make the short walk to the Upper Falls, where you will find multiple chutes of water dropping into the limestone pool below. This is the prime spot to jump in if you are feeling extra adventurous.
Lower Falls: To reach the Lower Falls, navigate across the limestone bedrock, reminiscent of what the moon’s surface may look like. This is the place where Williamson Creek and Onion Creek flow together and cascade over a 15-foot limestone bench.
“Old Baldy”: One of the oldest bald cypress trees on public land in Texas, this famed tree is estimated to be more than 500 years old and stands in grandiose wonder at approximately 103 feet tall.
Wildflowers: If you have an opportunity to visit in the spring or early summer months, enjoy glorious views of the famous Texas wildflowers, including bluebonnets (the state flower), Indian blankets, and milk thistles.
Plan Your Visit
Wondering about bringing your kids or pets along for the journey? McKinney Falls State Park is definitely kid and pet friendly. However, please observe the rules regarding pets and keep them on a leash and out of the water.
The park is open daily from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. with entrance fees of $6 per person for a day pass — children 12 and under are free.
As a friendly reminder, always respect our public lands and follow the posted guidelines for the park and picnic areas. Plan ahead and come prepared — bring plenty of water, use sun protection, and do your part to keep the park clean for future campers.
If your adventure sparks more wanderlust, check out other favorite camping spots in Texas or plan a road trip through the Lone Star State. There are endless possibilities to discover!
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