Located just 13 miles from downtown Austin, McKinney Falls State Park feels like a world away from the city. The 641-acre park has 80 campsites and is home to Onion Creek, where park-goers can swim and fish, as well as several miles of hike-and-bike trails and various points of interest, like a prehistoric rock shelter, the remnants of an old Texan homestead, and one of the oldest cypress trees in the state. The park’s serene natural beauty, plethora of activities, and close proximity to Austin make it a favorite among outdoor lovers in the state.
What to Do in McKinney Fall State Park
There’s plenty to do at McKinney Falls to keep visitors busy for hours, including hiking, fishing, mountain biking, swimming, bouldering, and picnicking. The park is also home to one of the oldest bald cypress trees on public land in Texas, affectionately dubbed “Old Baldy.” The 100-foot tall cypress is estimated to be well over 500 years old. There are several other points of interest, like the historic rock shelter that’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the former homestead of Thomas McKinney (who was a racehorse breeder and one of Stephen F. Austin’s original colonists). Interestingly, the park is also part of the 300-year-old El Camino Real de los Tejas, which is a trail that was once traversed by French, American, and Spanish pioneers. For a full list of historical sites and points of interest, check out the park map.
Here’s more info on the outdoor activities available at McKinney Falls:
- Hike: There are over 7 miles of trails to explore here. The Onion Creek Hike & Bike Trail is an easy (paved) 2.8-mile loop that goes past the Onion Creek waterfall and swimming hole, while the 3.1-mile Homestead Trail will take you past remnants of historic 19th-century buildings and lower McKinney Falls. Note that these are both hike-and-bike trails; if you want to get away from the bikers, the Rock Shelter Trail, Picnic Trail, Flint Rock Loop Trail, and Williamson Creek Overlook Trail are all hiking-only. In the mood for a long hike? If you want to make a day of it, the trail system is set up in such a way that all the trails are connected in a loop, so you could technically hike all of them (just bring plenty of water and sunscreen).
- Swim: Onion Creek is a fabulous place to swim and cool off from the white-hot Texas heat. It’s super fun (and refreshing) to walk along the limestone ledges, relax near the falls, and submerge your body in one of the many pools of water. You’re not allowed to bring alcohol, glass, food, coolers, speakers/music, or pets in the water.
- Fish: A fishing license isn’t required to fish here and the park has ample shoreline access to Onion Creek. We recommend checking out the McKinney Falls State Park Fishing Guide before you go.
- Bike: The Onion Creek Hike-and-Bike Trail is your best bet for an easy bike ride. This pretty trail winds through the forest around the campground areas, and it's relatively flat. Alternately, the Homestead Trail is moderately challenging, and you do have to cross the creek. This trail bypasses several of the park’s historic sites, like the McKinney Homestead, the Gristmill, and the Smith Family Picnic Table.
Where to Stay
In terms of lodging, there are 12 campsites with 50 amp power and 69 with 30-amp power. They cost $24 and $20 per night, respectively. Or, you can opt to stay at one of the park’s six newly remodeled cabins, which are $86 per night. Do note that there aren’t restrooms or showers in the cabins; a restroom-shower house is a short walk away. You’ll need to bring your own linens, and pets aren’t allowed.
How to Visit
To enter the park, it costs $6 per person 13 years and older; children 12 years and under get in free. For those who plan to visit multiple Texas state parks throughout the year, it may be worth looking into the Texas State Parks Pass, which costs $70 and provides unlimited free entry to 89 state parks for you and your guests. Or, you may qualify for a Texas Parklands Passport; this pass grants free or reduced rate access to seniors, disabled veterans, and those who are medically disabled.
How to Get There
McKinney Falls State Park is located just 13 miles from downtown Austin; the drive takes roughly 20 minutes or less, depending on traffic. From Austin, travel south on I-35 and TX-71 to reach the park entrance.
Tips for Visitors
- Download a PDF map of the park before you go.
- Always check for camping availability online before visiting, if you plan to stay overnight.
- If you’re headed to McKinney Falls with children in tow, be sure to check out the Texas Parks and Wildlife Kids page beforehand, where you’ll find a list of educational resources and ideas for activities to do with kids, including info on the Junior Ranger Program, which provides kids with tools to explore local nature.
- Pets are allowed, but they do need to be leashed.
- If you want to experience other state parks in the area, nearby Bastrop, Buescher, Pedernales Falls, and Longhorn Caverns are all well worth a visit.