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McKinney Falls - Homestead Trail

Trail (3.28)20
(1.68) (2.74)
3.00 Miles 420 Feet
N/A No
Yes Yes
$6.00 More Info
Austin Travis
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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 falls.

McKinney Homestead
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 however.

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.


Homestead Trail Bridge This is a beautiful trail with plenty of scenery. (Photo by tjbustem) Lunar Landscape The start of the Homestead Trail leading to Onion Creek is a large, continuous slab of limestone. (Photo by Austin Explorer) Iron Rods There are several of these iron rods staked into the rock on both sides of the creek. This is just upstream from the McKinney grist mill, but I'm not sure what, if anything, it had to do with that. (Photo by Austin Explorer)

Log Entries

User: ValEpiscopo - 5/5/2013  [View Log Page]
Rating: Difficulty: Solitude:
Distance: 2.80 Miles Duration: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Park of McKinney Falls miles.
Helping out the parks
User: Austin Explorer - 1/2/2012  [View Log Page]
Rating: Difficulty: Solitude:
Distance: 2.75 Miles Duration: 1 hour, 24 minutes

The weather today was fantastic and a good number of people were out in the park today as a result.  I can't complain too much though since Texas Parks needs all of the visitors that it can get so that they can keep the gates open!

The Homestead Trail is far from the most scenic state park trail, but it's a little bit of mileage.  On top of that I had failed to log my last visit, so I needed to get this one recorded to make it official.

neat historic decay and so close to Austin
User: BlairBear - 12/6/2010  [View Log Page]
Rating: Difficulty: Solitude:
Distance: 3.00 Miles Duration: N/A
User: jtkatie - 7/31/2010  [View Log Page]
Rating: Difficulty: Solitude:
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.

Great trail
User: texaskdog - 5/2/2010  [View Log Page]
Rating: Difficulty: Solitude:
Distance: 4.00 Miles Duration: 1 hour, 20 minutes

We attempted this hike a few months ago and the water was rushing and there was no way to cross.   Lately Walnut Creek had been so low so figured this was a good time to head back to McKinney.  We passed a group of 4 early in our hike, otherwise saw NO ONE after we left the falls.  Found the right trails with the park map but only because I'm good with maps.  Hot day and the falls were crowded though.  It appeared you could park at TPWD and get in free the back way but we didn't try it.  Google Maps did send us on Smith School which actually doesn't connect.  $5 per person now to get in, but worth it!  This hike is better than the Onion Creek hike, I would hike Homestead, Rock Shelter, then Onion Creek until it heads up the hill.

User: reynoldser - 6/13/2009  [View Log Page]
Rating: Difficulty: Solitude:
Distance: 3.00 Miles Duration: 2 hours
Easy, Scenic
User: tjbustem - 3/28/2009  [View Log Page]
Rating: Difficulty: Solitude:
Distance: 3.00 Miles Duration: 2 hours

The map on this site is accurate for this hike.  The one you get at the park is way off.  We were never sure we were actually on the right trail.

Peace and Quiet
User: supercobraz - 2/10/2009  [View Log Page]
Rating: Difficulty: Solitude:
Distance: 3.64 Miles Duration: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Took me longer then it should because I was constantly trying to locate my position with my GPS. Man...that map they give you is way off. The extra distance is because I measured from the parking lot and did some walking around the falls to get to the trail head.

Nice Hike
User: stk1618 - 9/27/2008  [View Log Page]
Rating: Difficulty: Solitude:
Distance: 8.00 Miles Duration: 3 hours

Even though it is hard to find the trailhead for the first time, it is a nice trail. The reason my distance is longer is because I walked this loop 3 times.

User: bwellmon - 5/24/2008  [View Log Page]
Rating: Difficulty: Solitude:
Distance: 3.00 Miles Duration: 1 minute

Only showing last 10 log entries. View All Log Entries

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