The two falls of McKinney Falls State Park rise and fall with the rain, and with recent drought conditions, they are more of a pour than a fall. But the vast, carved limestone flats along the creek – especially near the lower falls – testify to its reach and power when the water is roaring over the edge.
On the upper falls, the creek rounds a bend, flattens out and flows over a shelf into channels carved in the limestone before pouring into a deeper pool below. When the water is low, the shelf becomes a bridge over the creek.
Following the trail to the lower falls, you cross an enormous rock flat before descending to the creek bed. The falls travel over a broader shelf and drop a greater distance here. If you follow the creek upstream, the water slows to become a pond with towering cypresses on its banks.
McKinney Falls State Park’s 726 acres are in South Austin, just a short drive from downtown. And there is more to the park than the falls. In the spring, wildlflowers in yellows, reds, whites and blues blanket the meadows and trail sides.
The park offers several hiking and biking trails:
- Onion Creek Trail (2.8 miles) passes the upper falls and follows the creek upstream for about a mile. From there, it winds through woods on the southern side of the park. In the spring, a striking rainbow of wildflowers lines the trail. It’s an easy hike or bike with only a moderate climb. It loops back around the southern rim of the park to return to the upper falls.
- Homestead Trail (2.8 miles) is on the far side of Onion Creek and requires a crossing near the lower falls, which may be difficult when the water is high. It is a more primitive, dirt trail. At first it winds through forest canopy, then becomes more diverse as it mixes in mild climbs, rocky terrain, forest and small meadows of wildflowers. As it loops back toward the creek, it tracks along a ridge that overlooks the earlier part of the trail.
- Flint Rock Loop (2.25 miles) branches off from the far side of the Homestead Trail, wandering through similar primitive terrain and past the small Frog Pond. It is a “lollipop” trail with a loop at the end. Combined with the Homestead Trail, it creates a five-mile hike.
- Rock Shelter Interpretive Trail (1 mile) is a short woodland trail that runs for a distance along the sluggish stretch of Onion Creek and then returns in a loop through the woods. Unlike the other trails, it is open for hiking only. A bridge crossing passes a 103-foot-tall Bald Cypress that is an estimated 500 years old. A little further down, the trail dips into a rock overhang carved by rushing water that belies the creek’s now serene face.
Along the trails, there are ruins of the 1850s home of Thomas McKinney, one of Stephen F. Austin’s original colonists (Homestead Trail), the residence of his horse trainer (Onion Creek Trail) and a gristmill (Homestead Trail).