Mother Neff State Park: The Debate

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Tony Maples Photography


Mother Neff State Park is named after Isabella Neff who donated the initial six acres to the state. Mrs. Neff’s son, Governor Pat Neff, created the first Texas State Park (although this, too, is debatable) named after his mother in 1921 upon her death. This little park grew to 259 acres when Governor Neff donated 250 acres in 1934 followed by another private land donation. Mother Neff State Park caused quiet the debate for this team of hikers, and not a debate over it being the first Texas State Park.

The Preparations

Mother Neff Woods

Photo: Regina Herry

Mother Neff is a much smaller and easier park than the others we have visited up to this point, but it was a great way to test our more serious hiking gear. You know, the gear we purchased to protect and aid us from future Regie Miles we were subjected to at Government Canyon Natural Area? After near dehydration and sore feet and GPS malfunctions we (I mean a couple of us) invested in day packs with 70-oz. insulated bladders, rugged Texas hiking boots with cooling ventilation (not the heavy water proof ones), and fully a charged and loaded GPS.

While we were over-prepared for this hike, and it was nice to know that we were mere minutes (at any given time) from the car should our gear fail us. The day was not as hot and the terrain not as rugged as the two previous parks.

The Hike

Mother Neff Cave

Photo: Regina Herry

We all agree that the best part about Mother Neff State Park is the “cave”. While I think “cave” is quite an exaggeration, it was very interesting. For this trip, we were lucky to have one of the hikers on the team who was into stones, rock formations, and the like.

We learned that there were fossils in the stone shelter (I personally think this is a much better description). She pointed out where the earth was mud then solidified to rock then back to mud causing the layers in the rock that we see today.

During our hike to and from the cave, we met a few people along the way. I even had an opportunity to show a couple joggers what caching was all about. Did I mention that you can geocache in this park, too? If not, you can, and it adds another stamp to your GeoCaching Passport. Oh, and if you like collecting things, this park also sold path tags.

There were two other landmarks that are worth visiting: a water tower near what I called the “bird pit stop”. The tower was several feet high and made out of stone that stood alone over the flat land. We took the circular stairs to the top and surveyed the land around us. It doesn’t take long to get to the top, and if you’re not passing anyone in the opposite direction it’s pretty easy to scale (it’s only about 50 feet tall).

The bird pit stop, a few hundred feet from the tower, was something to behold. It was like a lean-to with plexi-glass. We could watch the birds (cardinals, finches, etc.) up close and personal without disturbing the birds in their natural habitat. I really like the chart that helped us identify what the birds were as they fluttered from tree to tree.

The Debate

Mother Neff Stairs

Photo: Regina Herry

I won’t name names, but a couple of us thought this the best park of the series — so far — and a couple of us thought this was a nice park, but far from the best. I think it was the lack of challenge and sweeping views that we had become accustom to that sparked a vigorous debate. About half our group thought the hike was not only too easy, but there was not as much “to do” or see as in the other parks.

The other half loved the park because it was compact and easy to navigate. It also had a range of scenery from wooded areas to prairie areas, which makes it great for families with young children. There is little in elevation changes, but if you want to physically test your strength, this is not the kind of hike for that.

It was pleasant to be in nature, and there are a couple of spots that are quite breathtaking, but overall it was fairly flat and prairie-ish. So much so there is a trail called Prairie Trail.

It’s not to say that this park was not worth going to — on the contrary — Mother Neff State park is a nice park. I personally recommend it for the cave/shelter. We all highly recommend the bird pit stop.

If you are looking for a challenging hike, then this is not the state park for you. If you are looking for an easy walk, where you and your children can sharpen you observation skills (caves and birds) and have a good time, then this is a great park. We walked just over four miles, and I’m pretty sure we covered all the trails. We had a nice time at lunch, and the short walk was enough to test gadget accuracy without breaking too much of a sweat. Great place for a family walk or some bird watching on the back 40.

The Park’s Rating

On a scale of 1 to 5 (5 being the best):






Terrains is 2 Hiking Boots

Hiking Boots


Texas State Blue Bonnets

Texas State Blue Bonnets

Texas State Blue Bonnets

Texas State Blue Bonnets