Pedernales Falls State Park
Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/61561482@N06/8245972511/

Finding Yourself in The Lone Star State

Pedernales Falls State Park is a jewel hidden deep in the Texan Hill Country. Each year the vast and varied wilderness of this state park draws visitors in by the thousands with some of the more hiking-oriented visitors looking to tackle their most famous Wolf Mountain Trail. The Wolf Mountain Trail runs an 8.25 miles loop, making sure to feature the state park's namesake the Pedernales Falls as well as taking visitors past creeks, springs, ravines and even to some sandy beaches.

Pedernales Falls Trailhttp://www.flickr.com/photos/61561482@N06/8245970769/

Quick stats:

Trail Length: 8.25 miles City/State: Johnston City, Texas Bikes Allowed: Yes
Elevation: 650 feet County: Blanco Dogs Allowed: Yes

 

Getting to Pedernales Falls State Park

For those heading to Pedernales Falls State Park from Austin, it is only a brief trip west on Highway 290 for about 30 miles. Upon entering the park, visitors will drive for another 3 miles before turning into the parking lot next to the primitive camping area and following the trail markers to the Wolf Mountain Trail. For visitors who intend on camping in the area, it is best to arrive early as it fills up pretty quick on nice days.

The Hike

The trail starts heading south along a dirt packed trail as it hugs the contours of the hills. Much of the trail is flat like this, keeping elevator low but does run up some hills later. Eventually the trail ends up surfacing on an old gravel jeep trail that is often visitor's least favorite part of the trip. The gravel can be loose at times and a bit more strenuous on the legs than people expect. The first waypoint hikers will reach is the very fitting "Creek Cross" marker. This is where the trail crosses its first body of water. Usually the creeks run dry except for days after some heavy rains so they shouldn't be too difficult in the crossing and it's unlikely that hikers will have to worry about wet shoes. However, the majority of the creek beds in this area are at risk for flash floods, so visitors should never risk hiking if they weather looks like it might turn bad.

Around the "Bee Creek" waypoint, visitors can see some small, but very steep canyon walls that line Bee Creek. It is discouraged leaving the trail to get a better look as the ground can be unstable at times and that is definitely not a fall you want to take. However, for those that do want a better, but safer look, the trail splits off a few times in the miles ahead leading to some lovely views.

Around the "Mescal Creek" waypoint, be sure not to take any of the trails that split off. These are, admittedly, poorly marked and lead to primitive camping areas. They are nice spots to stop for a break and have picnic areas and fire pits for a good lunch, but a tiring detour for hiker's intent on passing through. Just stay left at the 'Y' split and through hikers will be golden. It's best not to stop for a rest at the campgrounds though. There is a better place for it. However, one should consider going there to restock on water if needed. This portion of the trail has very little shade and hikers often underestimate the amount of water to bring with them.

About halfway through the hike, visitors wander upon the Jones Spring which hosts, of course, a spring-fed watering hole and the ruins of an old stone settler's house. This is usually the most popular stopping point along the trail, a good place for a rest and a snack. Some even hop into the watering hole for a quick dip, since it is spring-fed, it is not as likely to be all dried up like the creek beds. Visitors to this area have even found a few artifacts lying on the ground around the ruins. These are usually nothing to call in the archeologists for and usually most of them are not very old. However, since you cannot remove artifacts from the state park, visitors have taken to placing them on the stone walls of the ruins just for display. Which of course leads them to eventually blow off with one gust of wind or another. Essentially, for a treat especially for those with kids, try investigating around the walls to see what you find.

Once on the trail again, it begins to gain some height as it ascends the slope of a creek valley. Where most of the previous hike has been a sun-parched seemingly desert trail, this area has quite a bit of foliage overhead from beautiful cedar trees that offers some much needed relief from the sun. After traversing up and down some hilly areas, the trail begins to hug the hills once again and will lead hikers to yet another 'Y' split. Left takes hikers to a country road at the boundary of the state park; right connects to another jeep trail that heads to Wolf Mountain. Hikers will want to take the right fork.

Those hoping to ascend Wolf Mountain will be sadly disappointed, the trail merely loops around it. Visitors will want to follow the "Pedernales River" waypoint for some of the best views of the park. By splitting off and following the "Overlook" waypoint, this will take hikers to the Pedernales River and their beautiful Pedernales Falls. Here, if the water is low enough, hikers will be able to climb down and rest on some giant rocks or soak their feet in the river. Many hikers enjoy a little extra exercise by climbing up the large rocky slopes in the area for a better view.

Along the way back, there are trails that split off from the main trail and lead to the river's shore which includes a few swim holes and sandy beaches for a nice rest. The back half of the loop after the falls is pretty easy hiking, with quite a bit of tree cover for shade. It's like a reward for a job well done. Eventually, hikers following the loop will come to a 'Y' split. Right leads home, left leads back around.

While the Wolf Mountain Trail is among the most popular trails in Central Texas, like with many hikes the further in you go, the less people you see. Some just can't take the distance and others are overwhelmed by the hot sun. However, the four to five hours it takes hikers to conquer the trail are well spent. It provides beautiful views of the landscape and some exciting opportunities for adventure.

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