McKinney Roughs - North Side Trails

Trail
4.75 Miles
648 Feet
N/A
N/A
4point5stars (4.50)
halfstar (0.50)
N/A
No
Yes
N/A
Bastrop
Bastrop
More Info

Getting there: McKinney Roughs is located right on Hwy. 71 between Austin and Bastrop. From Austin, head east on Hwy. 71 past Austin Bergstom International Airport. Proceed for about 10-15 miles and look for the park's distinctive rock wall entrance with windmill on the left. For this hike however, you want to continue back west along Hwy. 71 and take the next right on Pope Bend Road. Head north for about 3 miles looking for the entrance to right. Please be VERY careful when leaving the parking area after your hike. The visibility to the south at the intersection is very bad. Take a moment and make sure that there is no oncoming traffic.

Note: This hike is no longer open to the public. At some point the LCRA sold off the northern half of McKinney Roughs to Hilton so that they could develop a resort on the property. The southern half of McKinney Roughs is still open to the public and now constitutes the entirety of the park.

The Hike: We call this hike the Northern Loop, but you won't find this listed on the McKinney Roughs trail map. Instead, this is a loop that uses most of the trails in the northern half of the park. It starts off at the waypoint marked "Trailhead". Here you'll find parking and a port-a-potty. The northern parking area is always open, which can be a big advantage if you show up on Sunday morning as we did. The main entrance does not open until 1:00 PM on Sunday's.

The start of the hike consists of rolling grassland.  Note the trail markers which help guide the way.
The start of the hike consists of rolling grassland. Note the trail markers which help guide the way.
The northern half of McKinney Roughs contains nothing but trails of mixed use hiking and horse riding trails. This means that you will encounter horses on the trail and might have to let them pass by you in close proximity. So you should be comfortable with that before you start. When encountering horseback riders it's best to stop walking, step to the side of the trail as much as possible and say a few words to the riders as they pass. Horses get a little spooked when they encounter people like this and not making any movements and speaking softly seems to help. It normally takes less than a minute for them to reach a distance when you can resume your hike. Also, when hiking along this trail it is always a good idea to keep an eye on the trail so that you can avoid the horse manure!

As you get closer to the Colorado River the tree coverage increases.
As you get closer to the Colorado River the tree coverage increases.
The trail heads to the west and south. At first you'll experience rolling hills of grassland. There are wildflowers here all around, though on May 20 most of the popular wildflowers had already bloomed and gone to seed. Clumps of trees, including oaks, are scattered along the terrain either on hilltops or along the paths of dry creek beds. Perhaps up to half of the hike will be over terrain without direct tree coverage, so be sure to bring along your sunscreen.

The topo map that accompanies this hike shows a variety of waypoints, most of which mark the intersection of the trail with others that you might want to explore. For example, the "Rim Trail 1" waypoint marks the point at which a trail forks off from the main trail and heads east towards the waypoint "Rim Trail 2". In all McKinney Roughs has over 18 miles of trails, so there's more than enough left to explore to keep you coming back.

Looking down a valley towards the river.  The next ridge over comes up later on the trail.
Looking down a valley towards the river. The next ridge over comes up later on the trail.
When the trail gets to the waypoint "Ranch Ridge" you will begin to notice a difference in the terrain and foliage. While open areas can still be found you'll find more and more trees as you get closer to the river. The Northern Loop is one of the more interesting hikes for viewing different types of ecosystems in a short day hike.

When the trail gets to the waypoint marked "Coyote Road" turn right and head to the west. The jeep trail that shows up on the topo map is the same route that the trail follows now. Be on the lookout for signs along the trail that point to the scenic outlook marked on our map by the waypoint "Scenic View 1". This short side loop provides a beautiful view of the valley below looking towards the Colorado River.

After exiting the scenic outlook loop you find a metal shed just off the trail with its roof on the verge of collapse. We suspect it was used during the park's days as a ranch since it does not appear to have been used in years.

Sandy Trail along the Colorado River.
Sandy Trail along the Colorado River.
The trail continues along towards the west, working its way around the valley that we overlooked at the scenic view. Upon reaching its end the trail turns south east along McKinney Roughs' Road Runner trail. This section of the hike mostly follows a ridge along the far side of the valley. When you get to the waypoint marked "Coyote Road 2" you'll start to notice another difference. The trail will become less rocky, the soil will occassionally be sandy. The type of trees along the trail will also change. Although the oaks remain you'll see more Sycamores and Cottonwoods. During our visit the Cottonwoods were demonstrating how they got their name as clumps of cottony material could be found rolling along the trail.

A clear view of the Colorado River.  Note the island upstream.
A clear view of the Colorado River. Note the island upstream.
The trail turns to the north east when it gets to the Colorado River. Along this stretch there are several optional trails that proceed in the same direction as our choice though further away from the river. You're best bet for getting right up to the river is at the waypoint marked "Water". Mostly there is thick brush and trees separating the trail from the river outside of that point.

The McKinney Roughs trail name for this portion of our hike is Deep Sandy. Much of this stretch is not sandy, but occasionally you will run into very sandy patches. The interesting thing about the sandy portions is that the texture of the sand is not like what you might expect to see at a beach. Instead the sand is very finely grained, almost like ashes.

Although hidden by all the trees, the Colorado River flows below.
Although hidden by all the trees, the Colorado River flows below.
Soon thereafter the trail turns away from the river. Soon after waypoint "Coyote Road 3" be prepared for the climb up a steep slope to get up to ridge level. After hiking for several miles and the heat coming down you might want to stop for a breather after getting to the top.

Again, be on the lookout for a sign indicating a scenic overlook. We've marked the spot with the waypoint "Scenic View 2". When you reach the waypoint "Coyote Road" once again you've reached the home stretch. Proceed back up the same trail used on the trip down to the waypoint "Ranch Ridge". In order to avoid trail duplication we chose a different route to get back to the trailhead.

The trail back returns to the grasslands.  To the left in the distance you can see the parking area.
The trail back returns to the grasslands. To the left in the distance you can see the parking area.
McKinney Roughs' Ranch Ridge Trail is similar to the Grassland trail we used at the start. There are rolling hills and small clumps of trees. Along this stretch you'll come across a very large well that appears completely dry. It seemed an odd place for a well since it was near the top of a hill, which would seem to indicate that drilling down further into the rock would be required.

Near the waypoint "Rim Trail 2" the trail will cross a sometimes creek bed with somewhat steep sides. After crossing that it's just one more hill to get back to the starting point.

This hike was a lot of fun, though we suffered a bit from the heat even with the large quantities of fluid we consumed. During the summer it is highly recommended that you tackle this hike only if you get a very early start, or cut the hike a litle short by turning back early. Our trip this day covered almost 5 miles with about 600 feet of ascent.

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