Nothing cools you off on a hot summer day like a spring-fed swimming hole. Krause Springs in Spicewood (404 Krause Spring Road, Spicewood, 78669) is one of the best around! Located about 35 miles west of Austin off State Highway 71, Krause Springs has 34 springs that feed a man-made pool and a natural swimming area.

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You can visit just for the day ($7 age 12+, $5 ages 4 – 11, free for ages 0 – 3) or camp overnight ($14 age 12+, $6 ages 4 – 11, and $14 per RV camp site). Credit cards are not accepted at this time so bring cash. Guests sign a liability waiver upon entering.

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When we arrived, we took a look around the lovely garden near the office.

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We thought this caterpillar was pretty interesting.

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Next, we walked along the paths and saw many picnic areas surrounded by beautiful trees.

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From the path, we could see the manmade pool. It is fed by very cold spring water (68 degrees according to their web site). Get ready to get chill out!

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As you walk, you will be able to observe some of the springs flowing near the pool.

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The boys were ready to jump in! This pool has a shallower section (about 3 feet) and a deeper section (about 8 feet).

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Here’s a view of the swimming hole from an overlook.

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After swimming in the manmade pool for about an hour, we were ready to head down to the swimming hole.

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The stairs closest to the manmade pool are a little steep. There’s another set of stairs farther down the path.

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The swimming hole has both sun and shade. It was gorgeous!

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The waterfall surrounded by maidenhair fern was stunning. I haven’t seen anything else like it (in Texas at least)! The boys were fascinated by the “rainbow” that was created by the sun shining through the water as it fell. They played in this area a long time. We thought that the water here was not quite as cold as it was in the manmade pool above. When you are swimming, be aware that the natural swimming area has an uneven surface on the bottom. You can go from shallow to deep in one step.

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The rope swing was extremely popular.

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One thing to be aware of while enjoying the natural swimming area is that it is very slippery. Not only did we see a few people slip, my 12-year-old son hit the ground pretty hard near the end of our visit. That took the wind out of his sails. Definitely wear sturdy shoes that can keep you stable both in the water and out. To leave the swimming hole we went back up these stairs, which were less steep.

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We walked some more along the paths trying to find the second waterfall fed by the springs. From the map, we could tell it was slightly northeast of the swimming areas.

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We found plenty of springs!

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After some stubborn searching by this mom who wouldn’t leave without seeing the second waterfall, we finally located it. We couldn’t find a way to walk down the hill to get closer to it, so I took this picture with the zoom lens of my camera. (Yes, it’s a little hard to see.) With our mission accomplished, we were ready to head back to Austin after a quick stop at Opie’s to pick up some BBQ for dinner.

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Austin Active Kids Opinion: One of the prettiest swimming holes we’ve ever seen, just come prepared with sturdy shoes.
Outing Time: We stayed 2.5 hours but we might have been there longer if we’d have brought more food and drinks with us. Krause Springs could easily be a half-day or full-day outing. Since it’s got a campground, you could even stay overnight!
Reminders:
Don’t forget to bring cash for the admission fee since credit cards are not accepted. ($7 age 12+, $5 ages 4 – 11, free for ages 0 – 3) or camp overnight ($14 age 12+, $6 ages 4 – 11, and $14 per RV camp site)
It’s very important to bring sturdy shoes that can keep your feet stable in and out of the water.
There aren’t any lifeguards at Krause Springs. Swimming safety gear is a must for children still developing their skills. Also pack floats, sunscreen, hats, towels, and plenty of snacks and drinks. You could even bring along a picnic and take advantage of the many picnic tables provided.
While this is definitely one of those beautiful swimming holes I’ve ever seen, I would be hesitant about taking children under age 5 without the helping hand of at least one other adult. If your children are younger or still developing swimming skills, it’s probably a good idea to have a plan for how you will keep them monitored safely. Also, the natural swimming area is just that–natural. Don’t be surprised if you see fish, turtles or even a snake.
Summertime office hours are 9 am – 9 pm and the springs are open year-round. Here are some FAQs from the Krause Springs web site. It’s helpful to know ahead of time that Krause Springs has a “no dogs” policy.
Before you go, you might want to read Top Tips for Families Visiting Krause Springs by R We There Yet Mom? Here are more descriptions of Krause Springs from Austin Post, Austinot and CultureMap.
This 2012 Daily Texan article describes some of the history of Krause Springs.

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Red Bud Isle, an off-leash dog park, is a unique and fun place for beloved canines and dog-savvy families to run off some energy. The 13-acre park is located at 3401 Red Bud Trail, just below Tom Miller Dam, where Lake Austin ends and Lady Bird Lake begins. The island was created in 1900 from the rubble of a dam that collapsed during a major flood.

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When we arrived on a weekend morning around 9:30 am, the parking lot (which has about 20 parking spaces) was completely full. Because the boys really wanted to visit, we found street parking about 1/3 mile away on Lake Austin Blvd. near LCRA Redbud Center. (Parking meter rates apply 7 days per week.) Walking across the bridge on Red Bud Trail to the park was a little scary and we don’t plan to do that again. In other words, if the parking lot is full, the best thing to do is wait in line with other cars until spots open up or come back another time. This Austin American-Statesman article from 2012 describes the parking challenges.

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After our nail-biting walk across the bridge, we arrived at the park a little rattled. Of course, we saw an empty parking spot when we got there!

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Our border collie was thrilled. She had fun interacting with the many other dogs.

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The boys wanted to take a look along the water’s edge.

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It’s really beautiful.

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I especially loved this tree….

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….and was amused to see a fishing rod holder from the old days, when Red Bud Isle’s primary function was as a low-key and relaxed fishing hole for locals.

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The boys were charmed by this adorable 7-week-old puppy named Moose.

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Moose is getting socialized at a young age!

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This stunning bald cypress tree was the City of Austin’s “Large Tree of the Year” in 2009 (and there’s a plaque to prove it).

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The root-filled southern edge of the island is very scenic. It’s tempting to balance on the tree roots, but be careful…one of my sons fell in when he took his mind off his balancing act momentarily.

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If you have time, follow some of the offshoot paths along the trail. They will take you toward the water and you will find lots to explore!

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Austin Active Kids Opinion: Red Bud Isle is perfect for dogs and the people who love them, as long as you can find parking!
Outing Time: 45 minutes to an hour
Outing Distance: The trail on Red Bud Isle is about 1/2 mile, plus there are little offshoot paths back and forth to the water. Since we couldn’t find parking in the parking lot, the walk to our car parked on Lake Austin Blvd. was 1/3 mile each way.
Reminders:
Red Bud Isle is open to the public 5 am – 10 pm. Talk to your children ahead of time about safety around dogs they don’t know. If your kids or dogs are skittish around new doggie friends, then this is probably not the outing for you. The function of Red Bud Isle is as a dog park. Only make plans to visit if you feel confident that everyone in your family will be comfortable interacting in this atmosphere.
While plenty of dogs enjoy swimming at Red Bud Isle, their human companions are prohibited from joining in the fun. (That doesn’t mean people don’t do it.)
Read more about Red Bud Isle from Austin Explorer, Do512Family, Austin Top 50 Fun in the Sun and Free Fun in Austin.

If packing a lot of equipment and staying overnight are not in the cards for you but you’d still like to have a Texas state park experience, give Blanco State Park a try. This 104-acre park is located on US Highway 281 in Blanco, about 50 miles west of Austin. (The address is 101 Park Road 23 but use 29 Main Street, Blanco, TX, for GPS.) The primary feature of the park is the beautiful Blanco River.

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Blanco State Park opened in 1934. You can read more about the park’s history here.

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The Civilian Conservation Corps helped create the infrastructure for the park during 1933-34, including this pavilion.

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Before jumping in the water, we wanted to explore the Caswell Nature Trail (shown on this park map).

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The trail has its own parking area and this picture shows where to enter.

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There is some shade on the trail, which is under 1/2 mile long.

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When you are halfway along the trail, look for this access point heading down. Your return trip is closer to the river.

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Check the events calendar for trail walks with a master naturalist. We had just missed one scheduled for the previous day.

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After we finished the trail, we headed toward the eastern section of the park to explore the river. Many families were enjoying picnics and activities along the riverbank.

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We then walked back toward the western side of the park, which is visible when you driving along US Highway 281. This area has a dam and a “pool” (pictured below). While the water in the pool is very shallow, the water above the dam is pretty deep. Trees along the riverbank provide some shade when you swim in that area.

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Austin Active Kids Opinion: Blanco State Park is easy to get to and easy to enjoy, too!
Outing Time: About 2 hours (not including driving to Blanco) but you definitely could stay longer.
Outing Distance: About a 1/2 mile
Reminders:
Blanco State Park is open 8 am – 10 pm for day use visitors. Office hours are 8:15 am – 4:45 pm. To pay the entry fee for day use after 4:45 pm, look for the “iron ranger” which is a red steel post that says “pay here.” It’s on your left as you drive in, on the side of the headquarters building. The admission fee is $4 per adult. Kids 12 and under are free.
There are no lifeguards on duty at Blanco State Park. Make sure to bring your children’s swimming safety gear as well as floats, inner tubes, hats and sunscreen.
Pack plenty of snacks and drinks, especially water. There are several picnic areas throughout the park so you can bring a picnic along if you’d like.
Pets are allowed must be on-leash.
Tube and canoe rentals are available at the park.

Read more about Blanco State Park from CultureMap, about.com, and Hill Country Outdoor Guide.

The 227-acre Wild Basin Preserve (at 805 North Capital of Texas Highway, Austin, TX, 78746) is part of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve and its 2.5 miles of trails are the perfect place to see nature in action!

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Wild Basin is located off of Loop 360 about a mile north of RR2244 (Bee Caves Road). There are signs for Wild Basin in advance of the turn. Once you turn in, you’ll find a gravel parking lot that leads to the research center and trails.

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It’s a good idea to plan your trail route in advance, especially if you have young children with you.

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We noticed this big spider almost right after getting out of our car.

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Our first stop was the Creative Research Center building, where we found a lot of information about Wild Basin, including maps, an interpretive trail guide, and nature displays. Wild Basin became part of St. Edwards University in 2009. According to their web site, “Wild Basin Preserve was founded in 1974 thanks to a 25-year grass-roots effort. The preserve was established despite enormous development pressures and was saved from the region’s rapid development and growth. St. Edward’s acquired Wild Basin and took over the land management duties in 2009, and expanded to include interdisciplinary creative research in 2011. The Wild Basin Creative Research Center continues to be a treasured educational resource that provides extensive learning opportunities for students.” To read more about the history of Wild Basin, click here.

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We couldn’t wait for our walk on the wild side in the Wild Basin Wilderness!

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We planned a 1.25 mile journey, starting from the north access of the Arroyo Vista Loop. (See marked up map below.)

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We enjoyed the beautiful Hill Country views and solitude.

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The trails are very well-marked. The markers along with the map we picked up provided all of the information we needed for a successful and fun hike.

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My son had brought along a little set of binoculars. They came in very handy at the overlook!

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While the trail is easy to follow and well-maintained, there are some spots where you need to pay attention to your footing. As with most local creeks, the walk to get to the water is downhill and then uphill on the way back out. We were happy to be in the shade!

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For some reason, the boys were really fascinated by this fuzzy, fern-like little plant. We saw a velvet ant but weren’t able to take a picture. We also saw a tiny frog, a baby toad and an Eastern musk turtle (also known as a stinkpot turtle).

We were thrilled about all of the critters we were seeing. The land around Bee Creek provides for quite a diverse habitat. If you want to keep track of what you observe and share this information with others, you should check out the Wild Basin Biodiversity Project through the iNaturalist app.

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The first creek crossing was very beautiful. The water was clear and cool.

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You’ll enjoy going across this rock path.

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We had an easy time navigating the trails except in one spot. If you follow the same route we did (marked up map below), make sure to stay on the Creek Trail as you are westbound to get to the waterfall. There is a northward turn to the Woodland Trail that you could easily take by accident if you are not paying attention. Thankfully, we made it to the waterfall….what a sight! If you have children with you, watch them closely in this area because there is a drop-off.

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The waterfall was not flowing very heavily but it is still a beautiful scene. (Small waterfall is approximately in the center of this picture. Here’s a photo of what the waterfall looks like when there’s more water.)

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After seeing the waterfall, we were ready to complete our hike. While parts of the trail had been relatively shady, this last section was sunny. As we finished the final 1/2 mile, it was mostly uphill and the temperature was around 90 degrees. We were pretty hot and tired by the time we got back to our car. Save some energy (and water) for this part of the hike. Also, build in extra time in case you are moving a little slower.

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THE RUNDOWN:
Austin Active Kids Opinion: A wonderful nature adventure close to the city!
Outing Time: About 1.5 hours
Outing Distance: Between 1.25 – 1.5 miles

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Reminders:
Trails are open to the public for self-guided hikes from sunrise to sunset daily. The office (including restrooms) is open weekdays 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. No admission fee is required but $3 donation per person is recommended.
Take plenty of water and wear comfortable, sturdy shoes. Remember that everything on the preserve is protected. Do not disturb any plants, animals or rocks.
You can read more about Wild Basin from Free Fun in Austin, Austin Top 50 Fun in the Sun and Austin Explorer .
Watch this St. Edwards calendar and other local community calendars for a variety of events and programs held at Wild Basin throughout the year.

We’d heard there was a nature center in San Marcos so we decided to see what it was like. Not to mention, we can never turn down a chance to see the beautiful San Marcos River!

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The San Marcos Nature Center is located at 430 Riverside Drive in San Marcos, right off of I-35.

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The nature center is relatively small but my sons really enjoyed examining the different creatures. Here’s a snapping turtle.

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These tree frogs were pretty cute.

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Even this rough green snake wasn’t too scary.

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There’s a “Wildscape” behind the nature center, featuring native plants from the area.

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The nature center is adjacent to Crook Park.

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From there, we followed a path that led us to the Wildlife Habitat Park.

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We wondered where this trail would lead.

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Wow! A perfect spot to sit and enjoy the river.

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This area is part of Ramon Lucio Park, which also has baseball and softball fields.

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It was a relaxing place to take a break.

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We then backtracked and crossed Cheatham Street to Rio Vista Park (555 Cheatham Street).

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There are three “drops” or falls, that make up Rio Vista Falls. The kayakers going over the falls were pretty impressive. In warmer weather, this area is full of people enjoying the river on tubes and floats.

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We could not get over how the river was flowing. We are already talking about making sure we visit San Marcos again in warmer weather so we can find a nice spot to go swimming!

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Austin Active Kids Opinion: Fun nature exploration just a short trip from Austin!
Outing Time: Under 2 hours (not including driving to San Marcos)
Outing Distance: About a mile
Reminders: Admission to the San Marcos Nature Center is free. Hours are: Monday – Friday from 10 am to 5 pm, Saturday from 10 am to 4 pm and Sunday 11 am – 5 pm. Bring your own snacks and drinks.
When you’re around the San Marcos River, remember that it’s a natural body of water and that there aren’t lifeguards on duty. For questions about swimming or tubing in the San Marcos River, call the San Marcos Convention and Visitor Bureau at 512-393-5930 or visit their web site.
Check out this map link for a close-up of the area where we walked around.
San Marcos has a lot of greenspace to explore. Here’s a comprehensive list.

If you’re looking for a quick and quirky outing, stop by Sparky Park in Central Austin (3701 Grooms Street 78705).

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This half-acre pocket park brings creative and whimsical art to an old electrical substation.

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The Grotto Wall at Sparky Park is part of the City of Austin’s Art in Public Places program. Here are more details from the City of Austin website:

Art in Public Places, in collaboration with the North University Neighborhood Association (NUNA), commissioned Berthold Haas to create permanent public art for a former Austin Energy substation site that was recently transformed to a public park. Named by residents for the electrical sparks that sometimes came from the substation, Sparky Park was converted into parkland by the City’s Parks and Recreation Department. In one corner of the park, several communication towers remain, surrounded by a curvilinear cinderblock wall that became the focal point for the public art project.
Grotto Wall at Sparky Park transforms an existing cinderblock wall into a sculptural landscape of trees and curiosities. Stone harvested and donated from a ranch in the Hill Country is laid in horizontal layers, alluding to an open landscape. Whimsical trees, constructed with petrified wood and stone, resonate with the natural trees in the park. Berthold worked closely with the neighborhood throughout the making of Grotto Wall. Objects contributed by residents are playfully embedded in the wall, sometimes revealed in the seashell canopies of trees as if they were fruit. Arches extend from the wall and rest on columns that define passageways for discovery. The columns are crowned by reflective gazing balls and sections of the old substation’s energy towers. Mementos of the parkland’s history characterize Berthold’s mélange, telling the story of the pocket park and the community who made it happen.

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Here’s the view from the street.

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My kids had fun walking around and looking at the details of the wall.

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The boys are still talking about all of the fossils and petrified wood.

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Here’s even more petrified wood.

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Look at the colors….

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….and attention to detail.

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The old substation building is still standing.

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There’s also a small lawn where kids can run and play. Or, if you plan ahead, you can bring a picnic lunch or snacks to enjoy.

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Austin Active Kids Opinion: Austin at its best–unique, whimsical & fun
Outing Time: 30 – 45 minutes
Reminders: Sparky Park does not have restrooms or water fountains.

Texas state parks aren’t just for summertime! We recently visited Pedernales Falls State Park (2585 Park Road 6026 78636) near Johnson City. While we didn’t go swimming, we found plenty to do! The park is open 7 days per week with admission $6 per person age 12 and up. Kids under age 12 get in for free. From the entrance, we had a lovely Hill Country view.

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Our first stop was a short 1/4 mile trail to the Twin Falls overlook.

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The trail was very scenic and had helpful markers along the way. We had a fright when we heard a rattlesnake’s rattle! We didn’t see the snake and we quickly proceeded down the path, away from where we heard the noise. Stay on the path at all times where you can clearly see what’s in front of you. We were certainly glad we did!

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You can’t actually go down to Twin Falls; you view it from an overlook.

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These steps take you to the overlook.

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What a pretty view!

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The fall foliage enhanced the scenery.

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Now it was time to head back up.

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Next we drove to the main attraction: Pedernales Falls. This section of the river has stunning views and a beach-like area. The path to the river is easy to follow.

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We could see the river down below from an overlook area.

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Just a few more steps and we’d be there!

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The river washes over layers of limestone. According to the park’s web site, “These river limestones belong to the 300-million-year-old Marble Falls formation, and are part of the southwestern flank of the Llano uplift. These layers of limestone were tilted by the uplift, then eroded long before early Cretaceous seas 100 to 120 million years ago covered this part of Texas and deposited sands, gravels, younger limestones and marine fossils.”

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We were amazed by the water cascading out of a spring and into the river.

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My 11-year-old son found a cute little frog.

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The Pedernales River was flowing beautifully. While the water might be enticing, there is no swimming in this section of the park.

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This almost looks like a doorway, doesn’t it?

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Once over the falls, the water is calmer.

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The beach area was a magnet for the boys!

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They were so excited about spotting this cool lizard, blending in with the sand.

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We walked along the river bank and came across this beautiful scene.

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Over 150 bird species have been spotted at Pedernales Falls State Park, including this blue heron!

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We did a lot of exploring during our short visit to Pedernales Falls. The late fall season had darkness creeping up on us quickly. The only downside to an afternoon at Pedernales Falls is the climb back up the bluff. My 8-year-old son put it succinctly, “Everyone hates up.”

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Austin Active Kids Opinion: A wonderful (and close-by) outdoor experience!
Outing Time: About a 1-hour drive from Austin in no traffic. We spent a little over two hours there but easily could have spent much more time.
Outing Distance: About 1 – 2 miles during whole visit.
Reminders: The full range of activities available at Pedernales Falls State Park includes picnicking, hiking, river swimming, tubing, wading, mountain biking, fishing, bird watching, and horseback riding. There are many trails to hike in Pedernales Falls State Park. Since we were visiting for a relatively short time, we weren’t able to explore the park fully. Always remember that you are in a natural environment and you might run across animals who call the park home.
When visiting Pedernales Falls State Park, it’s important to keep this reminder from Texas Parks & Wildlife in mind: “The Pedernales River running through the park can flash flood with little or no warning. The water in the river can rise from a placid stream to a raging torrent in a few minutes. If you are in the river area and notice the water beginning to rise, you should leave the river area immediately. Flash flooding is a common phenomenon in the Texas Hill Country, and park visitors are encouraged to be alert to weather conditions.”
The park offers a variety of educational opportunities. There is a calendar of upcoming events and you can contact the park for special tours. We didn’t check one out, but the park has Junior Ranger Explorer Packs available for free.
Please note that the park will be closed to the public the following upcoming dates for wildlife management activities:
Monday December 2 at 8 a.m. until Friday December 6 at 8 a.m.
Monday December 16 at 8 a.m. until Friday December 20 at 8 a.m.
Monday January 6 at 8 a.m. until Friday January 10, 2014, at 8 a.m.