Pedernales Falls State Park is another of my favorite local spots. It’s roughly 70 miles from the Georgetown square, and the drive takes about an hour and a half – assuming Austin traffic isn’t too tied up, of course. Most map services such as MapQuest, Google Maps, and Yahoo Maps, as well as most GPS devices, know the location of this Park, generally southwest out of Austin, between TX 71 and US 290. This is a state park. Seniors can get a free “pass” good for half off on State Park entrance fees. It is necessary at state parks to stop at the visitor center to get the necessary car permit
There are miles of hiking trails in Pedernales Falls State Park, several of them along the Pedernales River. (And before I forget, locals are likely to pronounce the name as Pur de nal ez [or even Purdnalez], although the Park Rangers agree that the real name is Peh der nal ez.) The main attraction are the series of falls as the river enters the park from the west.
To visit the falls, drive to the end of the road (the Rangers will give you a map when you pay), and park. The restroom at the visitor center has running water. I’m not so sure about the restroom at the parking lot near the falls. Bring drinking water.
The trail to the falls is about one quarter mile, with about a 100 foot descent when you reach the river. The trail here is mostly a series of actual stairs. Down at the river, you will be largely on your own to find your way where you want to go, and while there are generally good ways to get there, there are also many bad ways which might easily produce a broken leg.
There is a cypress tree, prominent on the far bank of the falls, prominent although not especially large, because it is all by itself, growing out of a cleft in the limestone. In the spring this tree is a beautiful bright green, and in the fall, like all cypress in these parts, it turns a reddish brown.
Swimming is not allowed at the falls, nor is it okay to wade across to the other side, which is privately owned. But there is another parking area downstream where visitors may walk down to the river and where swimming is allowed. There, wading in water just about up to an ankle bone, one may read signs warning against diving. I can’t take that very seriously, but I do take seriously the warnings about flash floods. If the river begins to rise a little, get to high ground pronto! The trees lining the river at this swimming area are all bent downstream, and also all carry considerable debris from previous flash floods, and that debris is about twelve feet up.
There is a special bird watching area about half way between the visitor center and the parking lot for the falls. One sits inside a building to look out windows to bird feeders. Bird watching like this is probably best early in the day, which might mean leaving Georgetown pretty early, and I haven’t done it.
(For driving directions, if you’re trying to get to a marker location, click on the marker, copy the gps coordinates, then paste them in the “To” field.)