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The Texas Hill Country is probably one of the more notable regions in Texas by Texans and tourists alike. From the major cities like Austin and San Antonio to the smaller towns like Fredericksburg (wine country), New Braunfels and San Marcos.
Aside from great towns to hang out in, the scenic hill country also provides some of the best hiking in Central Texas. One place that ranks among the top is Pedernales Falls State Park.
Pedernales Falls State Park: Why Go?
The Pedernales River is not like any other river in Texas. Part of the river runs over massive slabs of limestone creating the appearance of several falls and pools of fresh clear waters.
A particular part of the river called Pedernales Falls Trail is where you have the chance to venture down to the falls and actually hike around or picnic on these huge limestone slabs.
Pedernales Falls is located in Johnson City, Tx. About 1.5 hours outside of Austin or 2 hours if you are driving up from San Antonio.
Driving to this state park is fun in itself. Whichever direction you come from, your guaranteed scenic hill country views while passing through some neat small towns.
Better yet, plan your trip during spring and you will be treated to the famous Texas Wildflower season. I’m talking bluebonnets, Indian blankets, Pink ladies, and Black-eye Susan’s everywhere! Even the park entrance is covered in bluebonnets.
Since it is a state park be prepared to pay a $6 entrance fee, or better yet, purchase a state park annual pass to get into all 90 state parks plus discounted camping!
When To Visit
Pedernales Falls is open year round and only closes certain trails under extreme weather conditions. (Which in this region of Texas, it’s rain)
Summers tend to be very hot and the park can reach visitor capacity quick since cooling off in the river is the best way to spend those hot Texas summers.
Spring and early fall, in my opinion, are perfect. Not too hot for hiking, but warm enough to go for a swim.
Winter is great for everything except swimming of course. But this is ideal camping weather (same can be said for spring/fall camping)
As mentioned before, plan on arriving to the park early. The falls are pretty popular and the park can reach capacity by noon.
Insider Tip: Arrive right when the park opens and you will have more of the falls to yourself without tons of people. Great for those nature pic opportunities.
Things To Do
The park offers the following activities so pack according to what suits your inner adventurer:
- Swimming (or tubing)
- Canoeing or kayaking
- Mountain biking
- Horseback riding (10 miles of equestrian trails, check trail conditions with the park before going)
- Ranger programs (guided hikes, birdwatching, star-gazing events)
With all this park has to offer, you want to spend at least a full day here. OR better yet reserve a spot at one of their campsites for a nice little weekend escape.
Camping At Pedernales Falls
Pedernales Falls offers 4 ways to camp, youth group campgrounds, equestrian group camp, and your classic options of sites with water/electricity or primitive sites.
There is one major campground with electricity/water. It has 69 sites available (8 people max per site), but they fill fast so make sure you make your reservations online! This campground is close Twin Falls Nature Trail as well as the safe swimming areas along the river.
The primitive sites can be found along Wolf Mountain. These sites are “hike in” only, and the closest one is a 2-mile hike in. If you’re up for it, I would recommend camping this way at least once! The spots are nice and perfectly secluded, not to mention an awesome nearby swimming hole.
As you enter the park be sure to grab a park map and trails map, and or download to your phone prior to visiting. Once you’re in the park cell phone service is very spotty to nonexistent.
Pedernales Falls Trail System (1 mile)
While the park states this trail is only a mile, there are plenty of offshoot side trails from here. Not to mention when the river levels are low enough you can spend time exploring the limestone riverbed areas and formations.
It is very easy for one to spend an hour or two just wandering or lounging around. The best view of the falls is the short 5-minute walk from the trailhead parking. The falls overlook is fairly accessible by all but becomes limited if you choose to venture down the canyon side steps to go onto the falls area itself.
*Tip- try to visit when it has not rained heavily recently to see clearer waters, otherwise the river will be brown from the flowing sediment.
Wolf Mountain Trail (5.42 miles)
This trail is named after the “prairie wolf” also known as a coyote, which if you are lucky you can still see roaming this area today. Along with coyote spottings, you will also see a variety of birds, whitetail deer, and javalinas. (in the warm months be also on the lookout for rattlesnakes, it is Texas after all!)
This trail is considered to be one of the more challenging ones in the park. As you hike along you wrap around Wolf Mountain and Tobacco Mountain and meander along canyons created by creeks.
Aside from the chances of wildlife spotting, this trail is my absolute favorite for one other reason. Arrowhead Pool.
Arrowhead pool is a secret and not so secret spring feed pool perfect for swimming, sliding on algae covered limestone, and cliff jumping (30 ft drop).
Most locals hate that it is not really a secret anymore, but I am all for encouraging people to get out and enjoy nature. Provided we respect it as well. (No trace left behind aka pick up your trash!)
I will not give the exact location because finding it is half the fun, but I will say it is very close to Bee creek! So study your maps!
Juniper Ridge (10 miles)
Juniper Ridge is the second longest trail in Pedernales Falls State Park. It is a very challenging and technical trail perfect from mountain biking. Hiking is also an option since it is fairly shaded thanks to the many trees. Just pack plenty of extra water if attempting this trail on foot.
Juniper Ridge has two entry points, one at the backend of Wolf Mountain and the other off the South Equestrian Trail loop.
My suggestion would be to start Juniper Ridge by the equestrian trail and then join up with Wolf Mountain trail through Windmill Road. This way as you head back towards the Wolf Mountain trailhead, you can reward your long hike with a dip in the Arrowhead Pool.
Twin Falls Nature Trail (.5 miles)
This trail is fairly easy terrain with a fun little natural spring overlook at the end. While it is called Twin Falls, it is not as impressive as Pedernales Falls. Most of the time is more like a small trickle of water over the rocky ledge.
The draw to this trail is that you hike through some pretty trees and rocky terrain which makes it fun for kids to climb around on without getting too tired. If you have the time, give it a visit, I think the green ferns surrounding the spring resemble a place you might spy a fairy or two. (at least that’s what I would tell kids)
Trammell’s Crossing/ 5.5 Mile Loop
To access 5.5 Mile loop you will need to go across Trammell’s Crossing, which is a river crossing point. The river in this section is only about mid-calf deep, so hike up your pants and kick off your shoes to start this trail.
The park boasts about the trails scenic overlooks, but from personal experience, this trail is not a must. You can get your fill of hill country views from Wolf Mountain and Pedernales Falls Trails.
I vote to skip on this trail because there really is not much to it other than miles of rocky terrain mixed with red gravel and sand. Most of the trees are cedar trees and don’t provide shade cover at all.
So, if you are only spending one day at Pedernales Falls State Park, I recommend sticking to Pedernales Falls Trails, Wolf Mountain, and if you are not too tired by then Twin Falls. But if you are camping, then do it all! Why not? Although carve out time to just float about in the river, one of the best ways to relax.
Before you hit the trails make sure to read my post on Day Hiking Essentials. This article will act as a sort of checklist to ensure your prepared for a fun-filled day of hiking.
You can preview and download a map of the park trails through Texas Parks and Wildlife here.
Thinking about camping? Check campsite availability here.
Have you been to this park? If so I would love to hear about your experience and what was your favorite thing about it! Don’t forget to save and share this article for future reference!