Pedernales Falls State Park, located about an hour west of Austin, has a lot to offer. With gorgeous falls, swimming holes, peaceful fishing spots, juniper forests, mountain bike trails, equestrian trails, bird blinds, and camping areas you won’t run out of things do here. Everywhere you look there are beautiful things to see, impressive vistas, clear-watered creeks, artisan springs, and flora that looks like it belongs in a formal garden. It would take several weekend trips to fully explore all this great state park has to offer.
A scenic four hour drive from the DFW area will get you there, making this a great candidate for a weekend trip. Try to get out of DFW before rush hour or you will add an extra hour to your drive. The directions are pretty simple and there is cell reception for most of the drive so you should be able to use your phone’s GPS to get there.
There are two options for camping primitive backpacking sites and sites with water and electric. The water and electric sites offer a paved pad, a picnic table, fire-ring with grill, a lantern post, and restrooms with shower nearby. The primitive sites are a about a two mile hike or bike in off of the Wolf Mountain Trail. You can park at the head of the trail in the primitive campsite parking area which is the first right turn behind the Park Office.
An alternate, and slightly shorter route to the primitive site, is to park at the equestrian parking area along highway 201. From there you can take the Equestrian Trail to Windmill Road, to the Wolf Mountain Trail. Staying left on the Wolf Mountain trail will take to the most direct route to the primitive campgrounds. You will come out by the chemical toilets and taking a left there will lead you to the turn off of Wolf Mountain Trail to all the primitive campsites.
To call these “trails” into the primitive sites, trails, is not entirely accurate. These are well maintained, gravel park roads that the rangers use to maintain the various areas. The Wolf Mountain Trail does pass through 3 small creeks on the way to the primitive campsites but even a car could probably handle those crossings.
Since we didn’t have kids with us on this trip we chose to camp at the primitive sites. We weren’t able to get out of the DFW area before rush hour so we arrived late and well after dark. The park office is open until 10pm so we were able to check in and get a trail map there. We brought our bikes and a bike trailer and thankfully remembered some flashlights to use as headlights on our bikes. We were told that there was no water near the primitive sites so we brought five gallons of water and loaded this along with our other gear into the bike trailer. While the trail was wide and well maintain, it was a challenging ride into the site because of the numerous hills, the dark, and our cargo load.
It turned out we didn’t need to bring in water because Mescal Creek borders the primitive camping area and was flowing. Camping is allowed anywhere along the trail between Mescal Creek and Tobacco creek so it is possible to camp very near to Mescal creek. Since we had our own water we biked on a little further and camped under some junipers up the trail a bit. Were we to do it all over we probably would have turned into the primitive area trail and taken one of the many smaller sub-trails to a camping area along the bluffs. There were several small rivulets further into the primitive camping area that would have been ideal to camp next to. So if you get there in the daytime a little exploring of the primitive area will pay off.
Biking at Pedernales Falls State park is extremely popular. About half of the visitors we saw there had bikes. Some die hard mountain bikers complain about the boring wide trail/roads through most of the park. There is some smaller more technically challenging trails in the park, some marked such as the Juniper Ridge Trail, and some unmarked such as the web of small trails that runs throughout the primitive camping area.
For those looking for a biking challenge, one route would be to take the Wolf Mountain Trail, to the Juniper Ridge Trail, to a brief section of the Equestrian Trail bringing you back to the primitive camping area. If you’d like to get off the wide park road trails earlier than the Juniper Ridge Trail, detouring through the primitive camping area would give you a much more interesting route. This course would take you through over 15 miles of trails and would not be for the inexperienced. It would take you right by Jone’s spring, a perfect spot to rest and have a meal, and many other beautiful areas of the park. If you were planning an overnight stay, this route could be broken up by camping at the furthest eastern boundary of the primitive camping area and continuing onto the Juniper Ridge Trail the next day.
There is a park road/trail leading from a parking area down to the falls, with steps down to the river’s edge itself. There is a nice overlook at the top of the steps that gives you a pretty vista over the river. Hiking down to and over the rocks of the river itself rewards you with even prettier sights and is definitely worth the effort.
The water is crystal clear and there are cascading waterfalls everywhere.
Some of the rocks formed pools that looked like tropical lagoons.
Springs bubble up from rocks and dirt at the edge of the river and make a great place to collect water to filter and replenish our water bottles. They also make good places to take funny pictures.
The limestone ledges make exploring the river fun and even small children can handle them with a little help from their parents. This is the perfect natural playground to introduce kids to the wonders of the outdoors. They will have a blast climbing all the obstacles and their exploring will be rewarded with cool sights over every rock.
Pedernales Falls Trail System:
This is a short trail system that explores the area along the shores by the falls. It is about a mile if you stick to the trail or you can explore any of the offshoots of the trail. It offers some views of the river but it’s main attraction is the pretty plants that grow all along it. With all the pretty flowers, interesting accent plants and rocky landscape, it looks more like a planned garden than a natural area.
Hiking to Jone’s Spring
East Boundary Trail
Before we left Sunday we decided to hike to Jone’s Spring and have lunch there. We parked the car along Highway 201 at the edge of the state park boundary. We followed the East Boundary Trail all the way into the spring. For anyone who thinks the straight trail would be boring, think again. It offered many beautiful views over the hills and even down the utility row. The trail had several hills to make the terrain interesting and the prairie grass lining it made it easy to spot game trails.
Jone’s spring was such a neat spot. Tucked away off the trail we had the place completely to ourselves. It was really neat to follow the dry creek above it and come upon the water of the spring just flowing out from the rocks. The moist environment made an ideal location for ferns and water grasses. The placement of the plants surrounding the spring couldn’t have been more aesthetically placed. Sitting in the shade of the juniper trees, listening to the water flowing, and cooking our lunch was a wonderful break in the middle of our day. Definitely worth the hike out to see the spring.
Juniper Ridge Trail
To change things up we decided to take the Juniper Ridge Trail back, breaking off onto the Madrone Trail to get back to Highway 201. The Juniper Trail was design by mountain bikers themselves and members of the Austin Ridge Riders club pitched in thousands of hours to construct it. The portion we hiked offered plenty of shade, nice changes in elevation, great views, and really beautiful sections of juniper forest. The reviews of local bikers say the trail is a huge success offering intermediate riders a beautiful and challenging trail.
Floating the River:
We got a deal on an extra large pink flamingo float right before our Pedernales weekend trip so we decided it would be fun to float the river. You are not allowed to swim or tube in the falls area, and only groups are allowed in the group area, so the earliest we could put our float in the river was the swimming trail. We asked a park ranger where the best place to get out was and she told us that campers at the primitive sites had made trails up to the primitive campgrounds and we could get out there. This turned out to NOT be true.
The float down the river was a lot of fun. Walking down to the trail and in the river we were the envy of all with our LARGE pink flamingo float. The river was pretty low and we had to get out at points and walk our flamingo past the shallow points. Because it was low, the water flow was pretty slow and at times the surface actually flowed backwards. We paddled ourselves through these strange currents. There were some areas with small rapids but the flamingo weathered them all. She was very sea worthy.
Because we were looking for a trail to the primitive sites, we floated right past Mescal Creek. This would have been the best place to get out and we could have hiked up the creek bed. Instead we floated on until we had passed the primitive sites completely and found ourselves looking up bluffs covered in brambles and cactus. We ended up having to sacrifice our dear flamingo in order to hike up the bluffs and get back to our site. By the time we were back we were scratched and weary but the float really was a great way to see all the beauty of the river.
- Breakfast: Egg and Veggie Scramble, Camp biscuits, shelf stable bacon
- Lunch: Due to our floating adventure we missed lunch!
- Dinner: Swedish Meat Sauce and instant mashed potatoes
- Breakfast: Scrambled Eggs, Camp Biscuits, and shelf stable bacon
- Lunch: Mushroom Risotto
- Snack: Best Ever Popcorn
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