For a non-native Texan, who’s ideas of Texas mainly came from Wylie Coyote and the Road Runner, Colorado Bend State Park was a welcome surprise. Even Patrick, who grew up here, was amazed that such beautiful waterfalls (more on those later) where to be found so close to DFW and Austin. If you want a weekend getaway, where you can check out the diverse ecosystems of Texas all in one state park, Colorado Bend is a great destination.
You’ll need to go old-fashioned and print out some directions if you typically use your phone’s GPS. There is no phone signal at all once you get within 45 minutes to a half hour of the park. The park has no set address so you will need to enter its latitude and longitude. The directions are pretty clear. Most of the roads are either well marked or it is obvious which direction to go. The one tricky road was County Road 581. It has a tiny sign marking it and comes up pretty quick. Be sure to check your odometer when turning onto 281 so you know when to expect it. Once you get into the state park it’s a long 6 mile drive at 20 mph. You can check out where the different trail heads are along the roads you pass them.
We chose a walk-in site instead of a drive-in site or backpacking site. The backpacking sites do not have potable water nearby so we chose not to camp there either. There is a creek in the backpacking area however, several cattle ranches drain into it. So unless you like your water flavored with cattle manure, you will have to bring in any water you drink at those sites.
At the walk-in area, we walked our gear about a hundred yards down a stone stairway and into the grassy field to the camping sites. Not being surrounded by the noise of the RVs, and instead by the sounds of nature, made the extra walking worth it. Beautiful old trees surrounded the field and gave complete shade to about half the sites. One side of the field lined the riverbank enabling campers there to fish right from their sites. While checking over the sites close to the riverbank, we found a baby snake. Since Patrick and snakes are sworn enemies, we camped under a big tree across from the bank sites, to avoid an all out war.
The campsite amenities included a picnic table, a fire ring, and a pole to hang food and garbage out of our raccoon and armadillo visitors’ reach. At the top of the stone stairway there are two water spigots with potable water. The bathrooms, located at the north side of the parking area, had surprisingly decent composting toilets. An outdoor rinse off shower is located near the drive-up sites however it is quite a long walk away. Fortunately, there is a fish cleaning station right next to the restrooms with a hose that works great as a shower.
We chose to pitch our tent (Kelty Salida 2) near the trunk of our tree where it would always be in complete shade. Had we had sleeping pads, this would have been an excellent idea given that we were camping at the height of a Texas summer. Unfortunately for us, we did not possess such comforts. We found out while sleeping the first night that the ground under the tree was a packed clay that rivaled cement in bone aching hardness. In hindsight, a wiser pitching location would have been in the grass where our grand old tree threw thick afternoon shade.
There was a burn ban in effect while we were visiting so we did not get to cook over the campfire and had to use our gas stove. However, our food did not suffer with the more even cooking temperatures of a gas stove. As we were car-camping and not backpacking we were able to bring in some heavier food items and had some great meals.
Breakfast: Biscuits with jelly/honey, dried bacon, coffee, and nectarines
Hiking snack: apple sauce squeezes and homemade trail mix
Dinner: Chili with cornbread
Breakfast: Fruit and nut oatmeal, coffee, and plums
Snack: Coconut Oil Popcorn shaken in the melted chocolatey remains of the trail mix bag
Lunch: Couscous salad
Saturday Morning Hike: Spicewood Spring Trail and Spicewood Canyon Trail
Distance Covered: 3.7 miles
Time: 3 hours
: Easy to Moderate at times
Fitness level: Regular walker
Trail Marking: Good
To get to the Spicewood Spring Trailhead you walk South from the walk-in campsites along a gravel park road or you can choose to drive the mile to the trailhead. The beauty of the Spicewood trail is quickly apparent because shortly after starting in you come upon a picture perfect swimming hole.The creek above cascades down a short rocky waterfall into a stone lined bowl-shaped pool below. The water is refreshingly cool and the large slabs of rock surrounding the pool make a perfect location to relax and watch the other swimmers or enjoy a picnic lunch. The only downside is due to the beauty and easy access of the swimming hole, this natural wonder is quite crowded.
Continuing on the trail requires you to cross the creek above the waterfall, the first of many creek crossings. The rest of the trail does not disappoint and easily meets the expectations set by the swimming hole. From the many small cascading waterfalls and still crystal clear pools and ponds, the rocky cliffs surrounding the creek, the boulders to hike your way over, to the diverse vegetation from cedar trees to lily pads, the trail has all the natural beauty you could want.
The Spicewood Spring Trail connects at the top with the Spicewood Canyon Trail. Had we done it over we probably would have done the Canyon Trail first. The Canyon trail is beautiful in it’s own right with it’s shady paths through cedar forest, pretty overlooks of the Spicewood Spring, and pops of color from wildflowers. However, it lacks the wow factor of the Spring trail. Had we done the Canyon trail first, and not been spoiled by the Creek Trail, we probably would have enjoyed it’s quiet beauty more. Another argument for doing the Canyon trail first, especially in summer, is there is no water on it so it is best to do it before it gets hot. After it heats up, you can hike downhill through the Spring Trail making use of the water to cool down at any of the the many creek crossings.
Saturday Afternoon Kayaking:
Prices to rent a kayak at the park are very reasonable with our tandem kayak costing just $30 for a full day (8:30am to 4:00pm). Get there early though, as they rent out quickly and they are rented on a first come first serve policy with no reservations taken. Patrick rented ours in the morning for a full day so we could ensure we would have one for the afternoon and we just stored it at our campsite during our morning hike.
After lunch we dragged, or rather Patrick dragged and I ineffectually tried to push the kayak across the grassy field of the camping area to the river and slipped it in. We set off upstream passing the day use areas and heads of the hiking trails we had walked earlier in the day. After about 20 minutes of paddling we drew close to the outlet of Spicewood Creek and turned in to see if the swimming hole was still crowded. Four kayaks were pulled up to the bank so we went out to the river and continued paddling upstream.
About an hour upstream, the sight of a beautiful waterfall cascading into the river came into view. Called Post Oak falls, the towering waterfall looked like a transplant straight from a tropical rainforest. From far downstream we could see the water tumbling down from a high cliff. The mist of the falls drifted over the river like a curtain in a breeze. As we got closer we could see the many different streams of falling water. As we pulled closer still, we could feel the cool breeze from the spring-fed falls. Some rock ledges at the base of the falls made a perfect place to dock our kayak and go explore.
We treaded carefully as sections of the rock were as slippery as ice. Water shoes would have been welcome as we climbed up the sharp rocks into a natural ledge halfway up. Once there, the ledge was the perfect spot to relax, cool off, and enjoy the beauty of the falls all around us. It was crazy to see lush ferns and green moss growing in the middle of a south Texas summer. We stayed for quite a while, and despite the 100 degree day, I was chilled with goose bumps by the time we left.
To return the kayak on time, we had about an hour to paddle downstream to the State Park. The current helped us make it with time to spare. Instead of taking the kayak out of the water by our campsite, we paddled a little further downstream. We stopped at the area between the walk-in and drive-up campsites. There
we were able to remove it a little closer to the ranger station. Then it was just a matter of dragging the kayak up one hill and we were at the ranger station.
Sunday Morning Hikes: Gorman Falls Trail & Gorman Spring Trail (4.4 miles round trip total)
Gorman Falls Trail:
Distance Covered: 2.6 roundtrip
Time: 40 minutes one way
Difficulty levels: Easy to Difficult at end
Fitness level (pop up to explain fitness levels): Fit
Trail Markings: (pop up): Good
We set out on the Gorman Falls Trail around 9:30am. The majority of the trail is through dry scrub land with Cedar trees, Prickly Pear Cactus, and other arid climate plants dominating the vegetation. It is mainly in the sun with small shady portions under cedar trees. It is a hot trail and there is no water access along the way so bring plenty of water. The ground beneath seemed almost paved in sections by large rock slabs with sandy gravel in the cracks between. The majority of the trail is open to bikers but the trail is by no means your pleasant Sunday ride. You will need a real mountain bike, and experience, to navigate through the cracks and over the rock slabs.
As we neared the falls the gradual decent of the trail got increasingly steeper. At the last portion the cable railings were a welcome help in climbing down the steep boulders. The sight of Gorman falls, with its multiple cascades of water, make your efforts worthwhile. The falls are roped off to prevent people from going in and disturbing their mineral deposit ecosystem. On nearby rocks we sat and took in the beauty of the falls and the cooler air wafting off of them. There is also a wooden pavilion near the falls where groups can meet.
Gorman Spring Trail:
Distance Covered: 1 mile on trail, another 0.8 miles to get to and from trail head. Total distance 1.8 miles roundtrip
Time: 2 hours roundtrip
Difficulty levels: Easy
Fitness level (pop up to explain fitness levels): Sunday stroller
Trail Markings: (pop up): Fair
From Gorman Falls we back tracked on the Falls Trail to Old Gorman Road. There we turned left and headed down to the Gorman Springs Trail. The springs trail was yet another ecosystem. Instead of desert, wetlands and a mixed forest of poplars and cedars, surrounded us. The trail follows the spring to its head where it forms a pool as it seeps up from the ground. It varied from bubbling brook to stagnant pools filled with aquatic plants. The water was crystal clear and the bottom was mainly gravel. Looking closely you could spot small fish and crawfish. The trail crossed the spring often but most times there were convenient stepping stones. The ground was mainly level making the trail very easy to navigate. It was a great trail to walk in the heat with the cold spring there to cool us off.
The trail dead ends at the spring. There a rock ledge at its edge making it the perfect place to relax and have a bite to eat. We filled our bottles there at the head of the spring with the cold water for the hot hike back. Then we backtracked on the trail to Old Gorman Road. From there we continued back to the Gorman Falls trail and then hiked that back to the parking area.
Let us know how you liked this article. Did we cover everything? Was this helpful to you? Is there a topic you wish we would cover. Let us know below, we love to hear your comments!