Pedernales Falls State Park: Camping, Hiking and Horseback Riding at Its Best

Pedernales Falls State Park is situated on the Pedernales River about 14 miles southwest of where the river empties into Lake Travis. About halfway between Johnson City and Dripping Springs, and about an hour drive west of Austin, residents from these cities visit Pedernales Falls State Park frequently because it’s convenient, and also because of the park’s stunning natural wonders.

Before 1970, the area that is now Pedernales Falls State Park was a working ranch known as the Circle Bar Ranch. In 1970, the state of Texas purchased the 5,211 acres of natural terrain, beautiful waterfalls and crystal clear river waters. The park opened in 1973 and is visited by hundreds of thousands of people each year.

The State Park centers around the Pedernales River and many of the recreational activities involve swimming, tubing, wading and fishing. The park has a number of picnic areas and campsites, including some primitive campsites that require a hike of 2 miles or more to reach. There are also 19.8 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails, 10 miles of equestrian trails and 14 miles of backpacking trails. So, lace up your hiking shoes, saddle up your trusty steed, and explore the endless treasures of this spectacular park.

Experience Nature in the Wild or with Modern Conveniences

The ever popular camping grounds provide several different experiences. The primitive camp area is for those who want to experience nature in the wild. Each site is limited to four campers. Ground fires are prohibited and no pets are allowed. Small fees apply, and because of the park’s popularity, it’s wise to check campsite availability and pre-arrange reservations either online or by phone.

In addition to the backcountry sites, there are 69 drive-up campsites with electricity and water. Eight people are allowed on these sites for a nightly fee plus the daily entrance fee. Picnic tables, as well as hook-ups for water and 30 amp electrical service make this a great place for family camping. The restrooms nearby are well maintained and rangers recommend campers bring locking coolers to foil raccoon banditry.

The youth group area can accommodate 150 people. This site may be used by any youth group with an adult sponsor for a nightly fee plus the daily entrance fee.

The equestrian group camp can accommodate up to 12 people and is for equestrian use only. Horse owners must allow the park to verify all horses have had a Coggins test (a blood test done by a vet to test for equine infectious anemia) before hitting the trails. The Coggins tests are verified at the park office during office hours. The park only permits 6 horses and 12 vehicles — including trailers — with a maximum trailer length of 40 feet.

The equestrian campsite has a picnic table, a group fire ring, 6 horse pens, well water for the horses, and a portable toilet. The Equestrian Camp area is subject to closure due to inclement weather to help preserve the trails. It can be reserved for a nightly fee plus the daily entrance fee.

The park is open 7 days a week year-round. The gate is only closed when the park is closed for wildlife management. Spring, Summer and Fall are the busy season due to the warmer weather Texans enjoy.

Fishing, Bird Watching and a Wheelchair-Friendly Wildlife Viewing Station

The park is also a favorite for family hikes. Among the sights are a duck pond, a quarter mile nature trail that culminates in a scenic overlook of Twin Falls, and a wheelchair-friendly wildlife viewing station.  The seven-mile Wolf Mountain Trail is a relatively easy winding path that passes through small canyons created by two creeks. When visiting during the warm months, Arrowhead Pool where Bee Creek spills into stair-stepped pools is a great place to stop and cool off.

For equestrians, there are rugged trails that wind about 10 miles up over the hillsides and through the park. Riders should be prepared for a technical and rocky trail with some narrow passages and steep slopes. There is a water trough at the parking area and an additional trough at the midway point on the trail.

Although the Pedernales River is the focal point of the park, there are several other areas of interest to hikers and nature lovers. Well-marked trails pass through hills with oak and juniper woodlands providing access to more heavily wooded areas of pecan, elm, sycamore, and walnut trees.

Fishing is also popular. Catfish, bass, perch and carp are among the most commonly caught fish in the river. While the park is not really designated as a fishing park, the catfishing can be good after a rain when the river rises.

Wildlife in the park is typical of the Texas Hill Country. White-tailed deer, coyotes, rabbits, armadillos, skunks, and raccoons are common. There are more than 150 species of birds that have been seen in the park and about one-third of these are permanent residents. Birdwatching is popular here, even for first time bird watchers. With an abundance of ravens, vultures, herons, quail, doves, owls, roadrunners, and wild turkeys, to name a few, the variety makes this event a little like a safari.

Pedernales Falls — A Magnificent Cascade of Sparkling Water

The falls are a magnificent cascade of sparkling water spilling over the tilted, stair-stepped layers of limestone, and can be fully appreciated from a scenic overlook at the north end of the park. This river limestone belongs to the 300 million year old Marble Falls formation.

Flash flooding is a common phenomenon in the Texas Hill Country. If you are in the river area and notice the water beginning to rise, leave the area immediately and seek higher ground.

Scheduled events include the Pedernales Falls tour, A nature trail to Twin Falls, and a back country hike, accompanied by a ranger to share in the rich history of the natural surroundings.

Apart from the wheelchair accessible spots, trails can be steep and most are very rocky. And once you arrive at the falls or the official watering hole, there are about 50 stairs to climb. But it all adds up to an experience to remember, an adventure for the whole family, and a terrific way to enjoy the beauty of nature. Rock climbing, the trails, the views, the fresh water, the large sandy beach-like area, birdwatching, fishing, horseback riding and more awaits you at Perdernales Falls State Park. This is one park that should be on every Central Texan’s list of places to visit.