We’re going East of Austin, Texas for part three of my four part “directional” day trips series. You can get an early start and squeeze all the sights in or just pick one to make a day trip on its own.
Austin Day Trip: East to Parks
McKinney Falls State Park
It’s hard to believe that this 744 acre state park is only a 20 minute drive from Austin. While you can certainly camp here, it’s definitely close enough to come just for the day.
Once you enter the park, hike along the trails and watch for wildlife like white-tailed deer, armadillos, and bird species like the painted bunting. Take a swim and enjoy the views at the upper and lower falls, for which the park is named.
There are several miles of hiking trails including a 2.8 mile Onion Creek trail which has a hard surface so is good for strolling hand in hand or strolling with a stroller. If you want a more strenuous hike, there are plenty of other trails to choose from, and even some for mountain biking.
You can geocache or go bouldering here but you’ll find most people fishing or swimming in Onion Creek, which flows through the park. Dogs are allowed (on a leash) but sadly, they’re not allowed in the water so don’t count on letting fido cool off with a swim. Food isn’t allowed at the swimming areas either, but there are plenty of places to picnic and they have grills too – just don’t forget the charcoal!
Entrance fee is $6 per adult and kids are free. Park capacity is reduced due to COVID-19 so it’s a good idea to make a reservation before you visit, even if you’re not planning to camp.
McKinney Roughs Nature Park
Keep driving 20 miles east to McKinney Roughs Nature Park in Cedar Creek. Although lesser known than the state park of similar name, it is almost twice as big. At 1,100 acres, its trail system is triple the size of McKinney Falls State Park trails and it includes 12 miles of equestrian trails (BYOH – bring your own horse).
The hiking here is the big draw. Wear sturdy shoes, bring plenty of water to drink, and know that if it has rained even remotely recently, it’ll be muddy. The trails are well marked though, and the grounds are meticulously maintained. Their visitor center is equipped with friendly faces, maps, and plenty of resources about the region.
Entry fee to McKinney Roughs is only $5 per adult but you can get in free. All you have to do is…book a ZIP LINE TOUR!!! Granted, the zip line will cost you about 20 times the park entrance fee but you’ll also get 3 hours of adrenaline and amazing aerial views that you won’t get from no stinking trail!
Zip Lost Pines operates from the park itself and provides a couple of different tours, including night zips! Definitely reserve tickets in advance.
Austin Day Trip: East to Farms & Food
Barton Hill Farms
Fall is the perfect season for a day trip east. On weekends in October and November visit Barton Hill Farms’ fall festival where you can take photos in their pumpkin patch and pick your own to bring home. When you’re finished with the pumpkins, get lost (and then found, hopefully) in their 3.5 acre corn maze. The maze is kid friendly so there is definitely a Children of the Corn joke in here somewhere.
Barton Hill Farms is not quite as big as McKinney Falls State Park or McKinney Roughs Nature Park. It’s “only” 118 acres but they pack a lot in it! You can go on hayrides, train rides, shoot archery, and play yard games like tetherball, corn hole, and washers. (Not as fancy as Mölkky but definitely more Texas.) You can even rent a cabana with shade, a firepit, bottled water, and s’mores!
Of course, no fall festival would be complete without cider and there is plenty to be had here along with beer, farm fresh food, and live music.
Barton Hill Farms will be operating this season but at 50% capacity so you must reserve tickets in advance. They are not selling them on site. Also, your cash is no good here! They don’t want to touch your grubby dollars so bring your credit card or other digital pay apparatus.
Ms. Pearl the Giant Squirrel
You’ll no doubt be tired after a long day of hiking and exploring, but there is one more bit of Texas wildlife to experience. That is, Ms. Pearl, the giant squirrel. She is 14 feet tall and lives at Berdoll Pecan Candy & Gift Company and she loves to have her picture taken with visitors.
While you’re there, stop in to Berdoll’s rustic country store to buy some homemade fudge, freshly cracked pecans, or pecan candy. Or just meander the wood planked aisles, snack on the samples, and soak in that down-home Texas country atmosphere.
Berdoll’s is open until 5:30pm January to mid March and until 7pm from mid-March to December. However, if you arrive after closing, never fear. You can still buy a full-sized pecan pie from the pie vending machine on their front porch, which operates 24 hours a day. The vending machine gets so busy during the holiday season that it needs to be restocked every evening at midnight.
Even though most of these places are wide open spaces, definitely plan ahead for your trip since due to COVID-19, they’re almost all operating at limited capacity. The bad news is that you have to do some planning. The good news is that once you’re in, you can enjoy the space with far fewer people.
For our final “directional day trip,” we’re heading north of Austin. What’s north of Austin, you say?
You’ll have to wait and see. 😉