McKinney Falls State Park is a Texas State Park on the south side of Austin. You can hike, bike, fish, or swim at this historic place. Thomas McKinney settled on this land nearly 170 years ago after arriving with Stephen F. Austin, the Father of Texas. The most unique features at McKinney Falls are the two small waterfalls which are half a mile apart.
How to Get to McKinney Falls
Fees: $6 without a Texas State Parks Pass
McKinney Falls is between I-35 and the Austin Airport. The entrance to the park is on the west side of McKinney Falls Pkwy. There are several routes which lead to the parkway.
This Texas State Park is open from 8am – 10pm. Many visitors were enjoying the falls when we visited in the fall. We reserved our spot because some parks close the entrance once capacity is at its max.
Things to Do at McKinney Falls in Austin, TX
- Walk your dog
- Hiking and biking trails
Most visitors congregate near the waterfalls at McKinney Falls State Park. The pair of waterfalls are very easy to access from the parking areas. However, you may need to go over, or through water to follow the trails. The trails are dog friendly and easy to hike.
Getting a better view of the falls may require a bit of climbing or athleticism. Furthermore, the park has a few restrictions in these two areas:
- Dogs are not allowed to play in the water
- You cannot eat, drink, or bring a cooler near the falls
- You are not allowed to play music, or ball near the falls
Points of Interest at McKinney Falls State Park
McKinney Falls State Park has seven points of interest, two of which are the upper and lower falls. Along the trails you will also find the original McKinney homestead, a horse trainers cabin and the old Gristmill location. Sadly, there’s not really anything left of the old mill. Between the falls we noticed people bouldering, or being taught to climb without equipment.
Trails at McKinney Falls
There are six short hiking trails at McKinney Falls. Four of them are loop trails, and the other two run between the pair of falls. The trails are not challenging, and there are no significant changes in elevation. The Homestead Trail is the longest trail, but it is only three miles.
In order to get to the Williamson Creek Overlook Trail you must use the Flint Rock Loop Trail. That trail can only be hiked from the Homestead Trail. The total distance of all three loops is five miles. This is the route we took after passing the rock shelter and lower falls.
The Rock Shelter Trail is a scenic trail between the falls, but we had to go around. However, there are still some good views from the cliffs along the trail. The only trail we did not hike is the Onion Creek loop trail which circles the camping area.
We found this loop trail near the lower falls and old mill site. It is the longest trail at McKinney Falls and is very snake-like on its west side. If you are only interested in visiting the McKinney Homestead, head west. Otherwise, the quicker way to the other loop trails is by heading east. This will get you to the Flint Rock Loop Trail, which leads to the Williamson Creek Overlook Trail.
Flint Rock Loop Trail
This short trail makes a small loop beyond a pond after winding through the woods. You can access the Williamson Creek Overlook Trail on the northeast side of the park, or return to the Homestead Trail. If you commit to hiking every inch of the trails there will be a small amount of backtracking.
Williamson Creek Overlook Trail
This short loop runs along Williamson Creek which flows into Onion Creek. As we followed the narrow trail with our dog we noticed the greener grass in this area. We also spotted an old rusty vehicle seat along the trail. It’s difficult to say how old it is, or how it ended up there.
As we followed the creek it seemed to drop off drastically near the eastern curve. However, the trail stays fairly level. Very little water filled the creek. I looked across the creek from the overlook and was surprised to see the edge of a cliff in front of my shoes. This was the only area away from the Rock Shelter Trail which felt high.
Enjoy an Easy Half-Day Hike at the Falls
You can easily find all points of interest at McKinney Falls State Park without doing much hiking. Most visitors will be at the falls, or on the rocks between them. The old McKinney homestead is worth a look, but it’s surrounded by a fence and you will not be able to enter the building. Hiking is not challenging at this Texas State Park, but maneuvering some rocks near the falls can be difficult.
We noticed several biting insects along the Williamson Creek Overlook Trail. Luckily, the trail is short, but you may need to use bug spray. There were bike tracks on some trails, but we didn’t see anyone biking during our visit. The trails seemed very narrow in many areas, making passing difficult.
Even if you include the shortcuts, there are only about 10 miles of hiking trails at McKinney Falls. However, some trails will require you to backtrack. We hiked all of the trails except for the Onion Creek Trail, and spent some time near the falls, and rock shelter area. Our total distance was eight miles, but the trails are only six miles long. A section of the Rock Shelter Trail may be closed, but you will find great views there nonetheless.
Parks Near McKinney Falls State Park in Austin
Elevation changes were not very significant, even though McKinney Falls is along the edge of Texas Hill Country. The closest Texas State Park is Pedernales Falls near Johnson City. It has waterfalls of its own outside of dry seasons, and many miles of hiking trails to enjoy.
Many parks operated by the Lower Colorado River Authority are in the Austin area. Some are northwest of Austin, and others are southeast, but each of them border the Colorado River. We’ve visited one so far, which is McKinney Roughs Nature Park.
There was a LOT to explore, and some visitors were doing it on horseback. If you have visited any parks named after the McKinney family, let us know what you thought by commenting below. At McKinney Falls you will see double, and a pair of falls is better than one.