Take Shelter Off the Beaten Path at McKinney Falls

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Tony Maples Photography


McKinney Falls State Park is a great little state park just on the outskirts of Austin. It’s one of the smallest parks in Texas, but it packs a big punch. There are two falls: Upper and Lower, and one earth shelter.

McKinney Upper Falls

McKinney Falls

Photo: Regina Herry

We started, like we usually do, with a picnic by the upper falls before exploring the packed/paved loop that would be our hike. You can pick a scenic spot for lunch just a smidge north of the upper falls. Here you can listen to the water flowing and watch as families in church clothes pick their way down to the limestone to watch the water lap at the edges before crashing to the next level down heading toward the lower falls. The water was clear, and the white caps as they exploded on the rocks below were fascinating. After drinking in our fill of the upper falls and the church going tourists, we headed north into the sparse woods of picnic tables.

The field of tables fell away as we headed up the biggest hill of the day into what promised to be a beautiful forest of trees. There wasn’t much to the hike physically speaking after the one hill, and it was quite an easy walk on the hard packed path loop with the sound of the falls playing in the background.

The Shelter

McKinney Falls Shelter

Photo: Regina Herry

As we walked through McKinney Falls State Park, I guided my friends to a couple of easy caches, but the last cache was something called an Earth Cache. Earth caches are geocaches that bring you to a spot (usually earth related (rocks, cliffs, beaches, etc.). McKinney Falls has just such a cache. It brought us to one of the most beautiful spots (aside from the falls, of course) that this park has to offer.

The shelter was a little off the beaten path. We had to pick our way down loose rocky steps to a dirt cliff ledge that allowed us to walk single file to the over hang. The overhang cut off the sun from above and ran about 100 feet long by about 50 feet deep. The air dropped about 10 degrees as we walked to the back wall.

It was cool to see the layers that had formed over the years creating the shelter. Fossils and shells could be seen in various places of the layers.

McKinney Lower Falls

McKinney Falls Overook
Photo: Regina Herry

After hiking what we could at the upper falls of McKinney Falls State Park, my little band of hikers trekked to the lower falls. Adults, children, and dogs littered the vastness of the limestone. We picked our way over the flat-ish earth to the water flowing from the upper falls to the lower one. There was just enough rain that prevented us from crossing the falls to the trails on the other side. None of us were brave enough to jump across the water (picture losing footing and falling down the falls to the rocks below) — stopped us in our tracks.

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