The palms thrive in the park because a thick layer of clay keeps water from seeping deep into the ground, supporting a boggy environment in an otherwise drier area of the state.
More than 240 bird species roam the park’s forest and the banks of the San Marcos River. On a recent trip, dozens of warblers and songbirds darted from tree to tree along the trails, and a Red-Shouldered Hawk swooped down through the canopy. Along the river and lake, larger wading birds fly up.
The park’s birding checklist tallies the diversity of its wildlife:
The park and immediate environs contain some of the westernmost nesting distribution for many eastern species, such as the Pileated Woodpecker, Kentucky Warbler and Prothonotary Warbler. Also reaching their westernmost distribution here are Flying Squirrels, the Eastern Narrow-mouthed Toad, and numerous plants, mostly wetland species. Several plant communities occur within the park, including bottomland hardwoods of hackberry, ash, elm and oak along the river, wet grasslands and a spartina marsh …
About five miles of trails wind through the Palmetto State Park, including:
- Ottine Swamp Trail (1 mile) – It wanders through light forest and intermittent swamps with a good part of the trail on boardwalks. It makes a good pairing with the Palmetto Trail.
- Palmetto Interpretive Trail (0.3 mile) – A very short trail that winds through the heart of the park’s Palmetto grove
- Mesquite Flats Trail (1 mile) – Alternating woods and meadows with opportunities for deer sightings and, at the right time of year, wildlflowers.
- San Marcos River Trail (1.25 miles) – A heavily forested trail that tracks the edge of the San Marcos River for most of its length. A great place for birding and views of the river from on high, but ready for mud if it’s rained recently.
- Oxbow Lake Trail (0.75 mile) – It begins in one of the campground areas on the “civilized” side of the bridge but then travels around the more scenic side with good opportunities to see herons and other water birds.
Wildlife in the park are typical of what you’d expect in the Hill Country – white-tailed deer, armadillos, raccoons and squirrel.