This guide is divided into seven sections, each one representing a different geographic region within Texas. Each section begins with some general information about the region, and is followed by descriptions of every park within that region, listed alphabetically. The state map and table of contents at the front of the book will aid in finding specific parks. In addition, color-coded symbols appear at the top of each page, with a different color being used for each region.
For each park, a short essay provides some historical, biological, and geological background, along with park highlights and recreational opportunities. The Depression-inspired Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) is frequently mentioned as having been responsible for the skillful construction of many of the buildings and other facilities that are still in use today at numerous parks; the TPWD's booklet The Civilian Conservation Corps in Texas State Parks provides a more detailed history of the CCC and its work in Texas. Following each park description is a summary of visitor information, including park size and operating schedule, camping availability, and facilities. This Visitor Information section also lists the nearest town (or towns) with such services as gas stations, restaurants, and lodging. The park's address and phone number are also provided, allowing you to call or write for more information.
At campgrounds described in the Visitor Information section as having partial hookups, water and electricity are available. Those described as having full hookups also have sewage connections. Most parks with camping facilities have a dump station even if no sewage connections are available.
Camping reservations are not generally necessary at the state parks. However, on spring, summer, and fall weekends, campgrounds at many parks often fill up, so reservations are advisable at those times. In addition, campgrounds can sometimes fill up on summer weekdays, particularly at some popular water-oriented parks with lakes or rivers, or on the coast. All camping reservations are handled through a central reservation number in Austin: (512) 389-8900. Be sure to call that number, not the individual state parks, to reserve a site.
Most parks, especially those with campgrounds, are open every day, all year round. Some parks, particularly state historical parks, may be more limited in terms of the days and hours during which they are open. An effort has been made to give some idea of operating times in the Visitor Information sections of these parks. However, schedules sometimes change, both seasonally and for operational reasons. Before driving long distances, you may want to call ahead for a current schedule. In winter, a few of the larger parks with campgrounds may close for a short time to allow public hunts to take place.
Rules and Regulations
Regulations are aimed at both protecting the park and providing a pleasant experience for visitors. To preserve the parks, please refrain from removing plants—including wildflowers—as well as minerals and artifacts. Firewood gathering is not allowed, but often bundles are sold at park headquarters. Otherwise, bring your own.
Please don't litter, damage park facilities, or leave fires unattended. Firearms and hunting are not allowed, except during special hunts. Public display and consumption of alcohol are prohibited. Be courteous to your campground neighbors and keep music and voices low at night.
Two small waterfalls pour off limestone ledges and tumble into deep pools in Onion Creek not far from the center of Austin. They are part of McKinney Falls State Park, which provides a quiet, natural retreat from the noisy, busy city just beyond the park boundary. The highlights of the park, the upper and lower falls, were created when hard layers of limestone resisted erosion by the water of Onion Creek better than the other layers of softer rock. Eventually, the softer rocks eroded away, leaving higher ledges over which the water pours in cascades and falls.
Although the landscape around McKinney Falls is quiet today, at one time it was quite violent. The limestone layers exposed by Onion Creek were deposited in a shallow Cretaceous sea about 80 million years ago. Later, fractures broke the Earth's crust in this area, and hot molten rock, or magma, worked its way to the surface through these cracks. When the lava hit wet sediments and sea water, massive steam explosions erupted, forming craters around the vents and eventually islands in the shallow sea. Pilot Knob, the hill just to the south of the park, was one of these volcanoes. After the volcano became dormant, reefs built up around its edges. Wave action ground up shells and crumbled the rock, and later sediments then buried the debris and compressed it into the reef-beach rock that can be seen today at the falls.
Today, Onion Creek and its tributary Williamson Creek wind peacefully through the countryside, supporting a lush riparian woodland of bald cypresses, sycamores, pecans, and oaks. On the drier uplands away from the water, live oaks, Ashe junipers, prickly pears, and mesquites thrive. In the spring, open areas often boast patches of wildflowers such as bluebonnets, Indian blankets, Indian paintbrushes, and many other species.
In several places, the flowing waters of the creek have carved out large shelter caves from the limestone. Archeologists have found extensive remains of prehistoric and historic Native American peoples in the shelters, which, apparently, were favored camping sites for many years.
In 1832, Santiago del Valle bought a large area around McKinney Falls from the Mexican state of Coahuila y Texas and became the site's first landowner. Later, in 1839, Thomas McKinney, one of Stephen F. Austin's original three hundred colonists, bought part of the land from Michel Menard. McKinney was a prominent man who aided Texas during the war of independence, cofounded Galveston, and helped start the Texas Navy. He loved horses, and retired to the McKinney Falls land to raise them. The ruins of his homestead, horse-trainer's cabin, and grist mill lie within the park. Sadly, the Civil War and poor investments destroyed his wealth, and after he died his widow sold the land to pay creditors.
Ultimately, the land was acquired by the Parks and Wildlife Department and opened as a state park in 1976. The rushing waters of Onion Creek are still the main attraction as they course through channels of sculptured limestone and pour over the two small waterfalls. Swimming and fishing engage many park visitors, while others take the interpretive trail through one of the late-prehistoric historic rock shelters. Cyclists enjoy the paved trail that winds through the campground and upland areas. Volcanoes may be part of McKinney Falls' past, but today the park provides a tranquil escape from the hustle and bustle of the nearby city of Austin.