Colorado Bend State Park is a vast wilderness about two hours northwest of Austin. This Texas State Park has a few exciting amenities including a 70-foot waterfall. It is also filled with springs, canyons, caves, sinkholes and other typical features of Texas Hill Country. However, the most memorable aspect of our visit were the numerous armadillos along the trails. Dogs are allowed at Colorado Bend State Park, and the armadillos are unafraid.
Hiking with Little Armored Ones at Colorado Bend
Address: 2236 Park Hill Dr, Bend, TX 76824
Fees: $5 if you do not have a Texas State Parks Pass
No other park around Texas Hill Country has shown us as many armadillos as Colorado Bend. Our first visit was on a cloudy day during autumn and we crossed paths with nearly 10 different little armored ones. Needless to say our Rhodesian Ridgeback, Abbey, was ecstatic.
We hiked the dog friendly trails on the east side of the park to gather views of the Colorado River, and see the first few points of interest. You will need to cover a lot of ground inside this 5,300 acre park. The points of interest are scattered throughout Colorado Bend State Park, and will require more than 10 miles of hiking.
Hiking Trails at Colorado Bend State Park
Colorado Bend State Park has 14 hiking trails of varying distances and difficulty. The two which cover the most distance are the Lively Loop and Lemons Ridge Pass. The Lively Loop is the main trail on the west side of the park. Lemons Ridge Pass connects the Lively Loop to the River Trail, which runs along the Colorado River.
Several trails have a significant amount of rocks and changes in elevation. Most are unsuitable for beginners except the River Trail, Spring Trail, Windmill Trail, and Gorman Road Trail. All other trails may be moderately challenging or greater. The most difficult trail is the Tinaja Trail.
Different trails reveal different elements of nature at Colorado Bend. While hiking with my dog I noticed tall grass, spring-fed creeks, rocky cliffs, various trees, canyons, birds of prey and armadillos. The little armored ones were searching the ground near the trails. We had not seen more than one during any hike until visiting Colorado Bend State Park. If Abbey happened to scare them, they would not retreat far before continuing their scavenging.
Colorado Bend State Park Points of Interest
There are seven points of interest inside Colorado Bend. Number two is probably the first you will encounter because it is a scenic overlook on the road toward the HQ. Unfortunately, you must drive all the way through the park to reach the HQ near the Colorado River. This will not be a very big deal if you are camping, or hiking near the river. However, you will need to backtrack in order to camp, or hike, in other areas inside the park.
The first point of interest includes the springs and waterfalls on the south side of the park. You can reach the springs by hiking the 3-mile Spicewood Canyon Trail. This fun trail begins by following the Colorado River, and continues up into wooded areas which overlook the water below. The trail is in the challenging category, but we were surprised because the climb did not seem to take much effort. Those hiking through the creek below seemed to have a more difficult route.
Dog Friendly Canyons, Springs and Waterfalls
The third point of interest is Dogleg Canyon, which can be accessed from several routes. The two most direct ways to reach the canyon involve the River Trail, and Lemons Ridge Pass. Abbey and I followed Lemons Ridge Pass from Spicewood Canyon Trail.
There are only a few small changes in elevation, but many rock formations along the trail. Trees, cacti and other rocks flank the trail making it very difficult to gather any scenic views. We followed the 5-mile trail exiting early at the Cedar Chopper Loop, which led us to Dogleg Canyon Trail. Both trails travel through the woods and are littered with rocky tripping hazards.
Dogleg Canyon Trail has significant changes in elevation as you near the canyon. The trail wraps around the canyons interior providing views across the Colorado River. Hiking away from the river is much more difficult. There are four more points of interest to the northwest.
Colorado Bends fourth point of interest is a spring carved depression along the challenging Tinaja Trail. The fifth is another spring at the end of the Gorman Spring Trail. The sixth is the 70-foot waterfall near the Colorado River, and the final point is an overlook further upstream.
Hiking to Gorman Falls
The sixth point of interest, Gorman Falls, is the most popular at Colorado Bend. You will pass hikers of all ages on the Gorman Falls Trail, even during the week. Everyone wants to see one of the best waterfalls, Texas, has to offer. Surprisingly, water is falling is several different areas here. You must descend the rocks and get close to the river to see the 70-foot waterfall.
You will know you are in the right area when you see the Gorman Falls park sign. Be careful. This trail is littered with thousands of jagged rocks, and the area closest to the falls can be challenging. Hiking the Gorman Falls Trail can be risky, and biking would be treacherous. We needed two trips to see this spectacular Hill Country feature because we began near the first point of interest.
In order to see every point of interest at Colorado Bend you will need to hike at least 10 miles, but almost certainly more. There are five parking areas along the park road. This may save you some time, but you will need an entire day to hike all 14 trails. The total hiking distance at Colorado Bend State Park is greater than 30 miles.
Our first camping experience took place at this park. We chose Colorado Bend because of its distance away from San Antonio. The drive eats up several hours and does not leave much time for other things. There were unturned stones since our initial visit, and we hoped to experience them all.
We also wanted to gain some valuable camping experience before heading to Big Bend Country. Colorado Bend provided some great first time camping tips. Unfortunately, the rain hit us during our hike to Gorman Falls. We did get wet and muddy, but we also left uninjured. Several other hikers risked harder rainfall to get to Gorman Falls as we left – the things people do to see waterfalls.
Camping, Gear and Wildlife
If you desire to hike or camp among the little armored ones, Colorado Bend may be one of the best parks to do so. You must drive all the way through the park to reach the HQ, and there are only a few other parking areas. Expect to cover a lot of ground in order to hit every trail, or every point of interest.
Hiking shoes will serve you better here than tennis shoes, or sandals. Some overlooks are marked on the map and others are not. We found some fantastic ones along the Spicewood Canyon Trail.
Most camping areas are along the Colorado River, near the HQ. However, there is one tent site inside the lively loop, on the west side of the park. There are 15 drive-up sites, 28 walk-in sites, tent sites and three group camps. Fees vary from $10 – $75 for these camps.
Get to the park as early as possible to avoid being turned away when it’s busy, and to finish your hike before sunset. Abbey and I hiked 10 miles (the first time), but it got dark before we could see half of what we wanted. Consequently, we heard coyotes in the distance as we finished our day.
How to Get to Colorado Bend State Park in Texas
Colorado Bend State Park is open from 6am – 10pm everyday. It is located in Bend, Texas, which is north of Buchanan Lake. It will take about 2 – 3 hours to reach from Austin, or San Antonio. Whether or not it is worth the drive will depend on how you feel about sitting.
Unfortunately, this park is about 10 miles away from major roadways in all directions. You must approach the park from the north side. To reach Bend from Lampasas, take FM 580. Take FM 501 to reach it from Cherokee. You can also use FM 581 from the north. We aren’t too fond of long drives, but we will be visiting this special place in Hill Country again.