| 3.00 Miles
|| 420 Feet
Getting there: Head south on Hwy 183, past Hwy 290, the Colorado
River and Hwy 71. After passing Hwy 71 Austin Bergstrom Airport should be on your
left. Be on the lookout for McKinney Falls Parkway on the right. There is a brown
state park sign that also marks the turn. McKinney Falls is about 3 miles from
that turn on the right.
The Hike: The Homestead Trail is the wildest officially supported
trail in McKinney Falls State Park. From the park entrance the closest parking resides
on the opposite side of Onion Creek at the waypoint marked "Trailhead".
While not technically part of the Homestead Trail the path from the trailhead
to Lower McKinney Falls is interesting. Much of the path lays on a huge rock
outcropping. Years of people coming and going has worn a visible line down the
rock headed towards the creek.
|Lower McKinney Falls|
Lower McKinney Falls shares some common features with its Upper McKinney Falls
sibling. The rock is carved in contorted shapes by the flow of the water. At
least on the day of our hike it appeared that Lower McKinney Falls was a more
popular swimming hole than Upper McKinney Falls.
|If you try to jump across Onion Creek you could end up sliding down here. Be careful!|
The Homestead Trail lies on the other side of Onion Creek. So you have the
option of wadding across the creek or, if the water level is low enough, hopping
across the rock highpoints near the edge of the falls. One word of caution about
jumping across - the distance between hops is not huge, but it also is not that
short. Some folks didn't even have to think about hopping across and made it
over to the other side in no time. Others hesitated, staring at the opposite
sides, trying to gain some confidence, and not without reason. The opportune
layout of the rock is right on the edge of the falls. If you miss a jump and slip
into the creek you could very well go down one of the water sloughs and hit your
head as you descend. Be VERY careful and don't even think of jumping unless you
KNOW that you can make it.
On the opposite bank the Homestead Trail can be taken in a clockwise or
counter clockwise direction. We recommend clockwise for reasons which will become
apparent later. A sign on the opposite bank includes arrows pointing to two
historic sites that we'll come across on the hike. The first we'll see is the
McKinney Homestead which resides straight into the tree coverage away from the
The waypoint "McKinney Homestead" marks the location of the remains of Thomas McKinney's
home. The house was constructed in the 1840's from local materials. It remained
in use up until the mid 1940's when it burned. When McKinney Falls was first
turned into a park in the 1970's some effort was spent stabilizing the remains of
the Homestead to prevent collapse. What you see today is in better shape than it
was 30 years ago.
The Homestead Trail heads west along the jeep trail that runs along the southern
edge of the homestead. Soon, the trail will become much more narrow and closed in.
Get used to this type of trail as it will persist for perhaps one half to two
thirds of the trail. This portion of the trail does not appear to be widely used.
The overgrowth on the trail certainly gives the impression that we found the most
secluded trail in the park. For at least half of the trip we won't see a single
person on the trail, though the park was fairly crowded on this day.
|Most of the Homestead Trail is narrow and engulfed in trees and grasses.|
The scenery in this portion of the park is rather plain. The terrain is flat
and the abundant tree cover prevents most wildflowers from blooming and blocks
any change of a long distance view. The flat terrain does make the going easy
The trail heads out away from the Homestead, then turns back towards it. The
trail gets close enough back that you can just make out the Homestead through the
trees before it turns yet again and heads back out. Note that this trail in no
way matches the route shown on the official guide map that is handed out at the
park headquarters. This is not a separate trail from that mapped. The trail is
just quite a bit different than they report. We'll provide proof later.
The grass and weeds around the trail are abundant and snakes are known to
reside here. On our trip at least two snakes slithered away from us as
we walked on the trail. We certainly don't bring this up to scare anyone. The
danger from the snakes, even if they were poisonous and we have no way of knowing
since we never saw them, is low. If you stay on the trail the chances of you
stepping on one is extremely remote and snakes will almost always try to get
away from you. So be alert and aware, but don't let any of this deter you from
making the hike.
|Wildflowers near the Homestead Trail|
Things begin to change when you get to the waypoint marked "Trail Widens". Here the
trail abruptly changes from a flat dirt path with lots of tree cover to hilly
and rocky with more open spaces, and more wildflowers. There is some length
when the rocky portions mix with the less rocky and it's interesting to see how
the abundance of wildflowers often matches the soil type and slope. Most
wildflowers prefer a rocky soil and/or a slope to help water drainage. If you
look closely you can see the correlation.
The northern end of McKinney Falls State Park also serves as the headquarters
of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. The waypoint "Fitness Center" is part
of the department's complex and resides right next to the trail. If you peer
through the front door's windows you'll see a map on the wall that shows the
Homestead Trail's path, which matches what we show here and it at odds with what
the official park map shows.
|A friendly reminder to avoid walking on the vegetation.|
Strangley, the fields next to the fitness center contain the largest groupings
of wildflowers that we've seen in the park. Lots of bluebonnets, indian paintbrushes
and many other varieties. The folks who work at the Parks and Wildlife Department
know how to enjoy the flowers and not harm them. No trample marks made by people
trying to get that perfect picture. Please try to do the same.
The path heads back towards Onion Creek, following a ridge that overlooks the
lower plain on which the first half of the trail passed. Tree cover mostly
prevents scenic overlooks, but you can find one here and there. Several streams
cross the trail path, which means more descents and ascents, nothing too
serious though. We found the changing elevation, wider trail and more wildflowers
a refreshing change from the relatively confining first half of the trail. So we
were fortunate to take on this hike in a clockwise direction.
The waypoint marked "Rock Wall" does not indicate a natural rock wall cliff as
we would often call it. Rather, this portion of the trail turns right before a
small open field that contains a good deal of wildflowers. Perhaps to remind
hikers to not trample the vegetation rocks have been piled up along the trail to
make a little rock wall. It's only a few inches high, but bound to grow if
everyone stops for a moment to contribute to the construction. Nearby there is
also a picnic table on the edge of a rock cliff.
|Little remains of McKinney's Flour Mill, washed away in a flood.|
Near the end of the hike is McKinney's Grist Mill, marked by the waypoint
"Grist Mill". It was built in the 1850's to ground flour. Little remains of the
edifice today as most of it was washed away in the flood of 1869. The stone
"basement" of the mill and the iron rid that held the water wheel in place are
there, along with a plaque showing a drawing of what it looked like in the past.
It's just a short walk back to Lower McKinney Falls at this point and then
to the trailhead. In total the hike is a bit over 3 miles and we took two and a half
hours to complete it. The Homestead Trail offers length, solitude, wildflowers and
history in a combination unlike the other McKinney Falls hikes.
[View Log Page]
Distance: 4.00 Miles
Duration: 2 hours, 2 minutes
Definitely go clockwise like the main review tells you to - and take a map! The trail is so poorly marked that you can easily get off-track like we did...
We thought that the recommendation was to go counter-clockwise. So, after finding the Homestead, we traveled east along the jeep trail (instead of the westward direction to go clockwise). Bad idea. The jeep trail seems lightly used and weeds had grown up.
We eventually hit a locked gate, where we almost turned around. Luckily, we went around it and found the aforementioned fitness center. Some kind TPWD employees asked if they could help us when they found us staring at the map inside the door. They pointed us the right direction to go clock-wise back to the falls.
Once we reached the falls, we were determined to make the loop - so we went all the way around counter-clockwise and enjoyed the hike very much. We ran across a couple of groups of hikers along the way, but mostly had the trail to ourselves. Well, besides the animals... We saw no snakes (as mentioned in the review), but saw 3+ deer and had a stare-fight with a rabbit for about 5 minutes before he hopped along his way. :-)
The ~3 mile hike took us 1:05 once we restarted.