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Pedernales Falls State Park

They come in droves for hiking, camping and, of course, the falls.

By Elsa K. Simcik

As the summer heat starts to send Texans into a swelter, outdoor enthusiasts vow not to stay indoors. At Pedernales Falls State Park, about 40 miles west of Austin, they don’t have to. With approximately five miles of the beautiful Pedernales River flowing through it, visitors can take a dip or just wade in its cool waters. And while the river’s floor is too rocky for tubing, there are still plenty of other ways to enjoy the park.

Hiking, for instance, is popular year-round. Bill McDaniel, the park superintendent, says the high temperatures don’t scare away hikers. In total, there are about 25 miles of trails in the 5,200-acre park, but most people stick to the main 7-mile trek. There’s also a 4-mile loop that takes you through the river, some routes that go down into the canyon and flat roads for walkers. Nature lovers like the well-marked wooded trails where it’s not uncommon to spot armadillos, deer or rabbits.

No matter where they hike, nobody comes to the park without catching a glimpse of the falls. “They are the main attraction,” says McDaniel. The limestone that forms the picturesque, cascading falls is part of the 300-million-year-old Marble Falls formation. And even though visitors aren’t permitted to swim or wade near them, they still love to hang out at the scenic overlook at the north end of the park to catch one of the best views in the Hill Country.

Many prefer to savor the view as long as possible by camping overnight or for a few nights. “Camping has really picked up,” says McDaniel. He says their sites fill up even in not-so-popular months like January. That means those eager to camp at Pedernales should probably call at least two months in advance.

One of their most popular camping attractions is the youth group camping area. The site can hold 150 to 200 campers. Organizations love the fact that they have a private area with their own river access for swimming, a locked gate and a large area for their pre-planned activities. Plus, shade provided by tall live oaks and cedars doesn’t hurt. But don’t bother trying to book it for a corporation or a family reunion; this area is open only to sponsored youth groups.

Most of the crowds who flock to the falls come from nearby Austin, San Antonio and Houston to camp, hike, swim or just check out the great view. They range from families to college kids to Boy Scouts to church groups. McDaniel warns prospective visitors, though, that you have to be ready to walk a bit if you come to Pedernales Falls. There’s not a lot to see from your car and just getting to the falls involves a 350-yard hike down a gravel trail as well as a rock staircase — and then you have to come back up. But for those who don’t mind the walk, this park is the perfect place to come beat the heat, because you definitely can’t beat the views.

For more information on Pedernales Falls State Park call (830) 868-7304 or visit <www.tpwd.state.tx.us/pedernalesfalls>.

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