Texas

The 9 Best State Parks Near Austin, Texas

by Cindy Brzostowski
Updated April 28, 2022

state parks near austin texas
McKinney Falls State Park. Photo: Jason Stitt / Shutterstock

Texas has more than 80 state parks to explore, and Austin puts you in close vicinity to some of the best ones.

Austin has earned a reputation as the new Silicon Valley, but don’t let that rapid development make you think there’s a scarcity of nature to enjoy in and around the city. In addition to the many green spaces within the Texas capital, you can easily reach a number of state parks from Austin that are great for longer day trips or extended getaways.

Not only that, but these nearby state parks vary widely in terms of landscape and appeal. From hiking in peaceful forests to swimming in twisting rivers to spelunking in awesome caves, you can immerse yourself in a range of beautiful natural environments within a two-hour driving radius.

Ready to experience it for yourself? Here are the nine best state parks near Austin to inspire your next outdoor adventure.

Related Read: 12 Outdoor Things to Do in Austin for Adventure Lovers

1. McKinney Falls State Park

McKinney Falls State Park
Photo: Silvio Ligutti / Shutterstock

Why you should go: You don’t even have to leave the city to embrace nature at this park with miles of trails and a creek.

  • Distance from Austin: in town
  • Drive time without stops: Approx. 15 minutes (from downtown)
  • Camping: Yes, 81 sites

With state parks, it doesn’t get much nearer to Austin than McKinney Falls State Park, which is actually within the city limits. Found in southeastern Austin, this state park is particularly special as it’s in an area that was once part of the El Camino Real de los Tejas, a 2,500-mile historic road used from the late 17th to early 19th centuries.

Here, you have nearly nine miles of trails to explore on foot or by bike. The Rock Shelter Trail is a nice one if you’re looking for something a little easier since it takes you by the park’s most famous tree, Old Baldy (a massive, centuries-old bald cypress tree), as well as a prehistoric rock shelter. Austin is known for its scorching hot summers, and you can easily cool down at the park with a dip in Onion Creek. The creek is also a good spot for some fishing, particularly for sunfish.

Even though you may not be far from your house or accommodation in Austin, you can fully immerse yourself in the wildlife by reserving one of the state park’s campsites.

Related Read: The 8 Best Campervan Rentals in Austin, Texas

2. Longhorn Cavern State Park

Longhorn Cavern State Park
Photo: Shutterstock

Why you should go: Check out amazing cave formations at this national natural landmark that’s steeped in history.

  • Distance from Austin: 62 miles
  • Drive time without stops: Approx. 1 hour, 15 mins
  • Camping: No

Located in the Highland Lakes region west of Austin, Longhorn Cavern State Park isn’t like any other of the state parks on this list as most of its appeal is found underground.

As its name suggests, the thing to see here is the Longhorn Cavern, which has been visited and used by people since prehistoric times. Its history is a colorful one, from Comanche Indians using the cave to Confederate soldiers producing gunpowder inside to it becoming a dance hall during the 1920s.

While you can visit the park free of charge, you will have to pay for a guided tour to actually enter the cavern. And you’ll definitely want to go on that tour to see stunning formations like the so-called Crystal City, Queen’s Throne, and Hall of Marble.

Related Read: 10 Adventurously Romantic Getaways in Austin, Texas

3. Pedernales Falls State Park

Pedernales Falls State Park
Photo: Daniel Mullins / Shutterstock

Why you should go: Stunning views of a unique section of the Pedernales River await.

  • Distance from Austin: 42 miles
  • Drive time without stops: Approx. 1 hour
  • Camping: Yes, 69 sites (plus primitive, hike-in campsites)

Pedernales Falls State Park is the place to go if you’re searching for an epic landscape. While the park is full of winding trails, you’ll probably spend most of your time hanging out around the falls themselves where water cascades over giant sections of layered limestone that gradually drops in elevation. You’re free to walk up, down, and around the slabs, but just be cautious of the weather since the area can flash flood quickly.

For some of the best vistas in the park, take the aptly named Scenic Overlook Trail that branches off from the 5.5-mile loop or the short Twin Falls Nature Trail. You can also get a good view of the falls from the Pedernales Falls Overlook point.

Related Read: The Ultimate Houston to Austin Road Trip Itinerary

4. Inks Lake State Park

Inks Lake State Park
Photo: Natalia Silyanov / Shutterstock

Why you should go: It’s a Hill Country playground at this spot where there’s fun to be had in the water and on land.

  • Distance from Austin: 67 miles
  • Drive time without stops: Approx. 1 hour, 15 mins
  • Camping: Yes, 187 sites

Hugging the shore of the Colorado River, Inks Lake State Park showcases some of the best the Hill Country has to offer with its rocky outcrops; bright, blue water; and abundance of wildflowers (in the right season, of course).

You won’t have trouble filling your visit with fun activities since the park offers a bevy of recreation options, including hiking nine miles of trails, swimming, kayaking, and even scuba diving. If you’re visiting when it’s warm enough to swim, make sure you head over to Devil’s Waterhole, one of the best swimming holes in Texas.

Camping sites are plentiful here, but you’d be wise to reserve in advance to make sure you can snag one that’s lakeside.

Related Read: 9 Incredible Cabin Rentals Near Austin, Texas

5. Lyndon B. Johnson State Park

Lyndon B. Johnson State Park
Photo: EWY Media / Shutterstock

Why you should go: It’s all about the history at this small park named after its most famous local.

  • Distance from Austin: 62 miles
  • Drive time without stops: Approx. 1 hour, 15 mins
  • Camping: No

Nature lovers who also happen to be history buffs will appreciate a visit to Lyndon B. Johnson State Park. Along with memorabilia from the former president on display at the visitor center, the park is home to the Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm. It’s like a trip back in time as you see for yourself what it was like living and working here during the late 1800s into the 1900s.

Aside from the historical highlights, another cool thing about this state park is that it offers a chance to see some Texas longhorns in real life. It’s one of only four state parks across the state where you can see some of the Official State of Texas Longhorn Herd.

While you’re in the area, it’s an absolute must to drive the three minutes to the other side of the river to check out Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park. This neighboring park is where you’ll be able to tour the actual LBJ Ranch where the 36th president of the United States was born, spent a good chunk of his presidency, died, and was buried.

Related Read: 10 Best Texas Dude Ranches for a True Western Experience

6. Blanco State Park

Blanco State Park texas
Photo: JB Manning / Shutterstock

Why you should go: Direct river access means ample opportunity for swimming and boating.

  • Distance from Austin: 51 miles
  • Drive time without stops: Approx. 1 hour
  • Camping: Yes, 29 sites

While Blanco State Park may be small (it’s actually one of the smallest Texas state parks), it has a huge plus going for it: access to a one-mile stretch of the Blanco River. Yes, you’re free to swim wherever you want up and down the river, but you can also go tubing, canoeing, kayaking, and boating. Don’t have your own watercraft? No worries — you can rent a tube or kayak right at the park store. You can borrow fishing equipment at the park store, too.

As you’re splashing around the water, keep an eye out for red-eared sliders, the most common aquatic turtle in the state, and common musk turtles.

This park is also a nice one to bring the kids since there are only two trails, both of which are easy and short, and there’s a section of the river with a shallow wading pool.

Related Read: 10 Best RV Campgrounds in Austin, Texas

7. Bastrop State Park

Bastrop State Park texas
Photo: Tricia Daniel / Shutterstock

Why you should go: This historic state park is making an impressive comeback after natural disaster.

  • Distance from Austin: 36 miles
  • Drive time without stops: Approx. 40 minutes
  • Camping: Yes, 76 sites

If you follow any Texas nature news, you might have heard of Bastrop State Park because of the 2011 wildfire that devastated the area. Since then, however, the park has risen from the ashes so to speak thanks to hard work from the community and nature’s resilience.

Nowadays, Bastrop State Park is an interesting place to visit to see what a regenerating forest looks like. There are a few different trails you can take to explore the area, varying from the easy Old Cart Paths to the challenging Lost Pines Loop. Another highlight is seeing the work left by the Civilian Conservation Corps like the refectory building, which helped the park become a National Historic Landmark.

Like McKinney Falls State Park, this state park also features a section of the El Camino Real de los Tejas.

8. Guadalupe River State Park

Guadalupe River State Park
Photo: Tricia Daniel / Shutterstock

Why you should go: There are miles and miles to explore either by foot or on water.

  • Distance from Austin: 82 miles
  • Drive time without stops: Approx. 1 hour, 30 mins
  • Camping: Yes, 94 sites

Guadalupe River State Park has a sizable stretch of the Guadalupe River running through it, making it a good base if you want your state park adventures to include a lot of swimming or paddling. Speaking to the latter specifically, you can put in your canoe or kayak here and settle in for a five-mile journey along the Guadalupe River State Park Paddling Trail.

Not so into water activities? There’s still loads you can do, including some remote hiking in the Bauer Unit section of the park, checking out nature exhibits at the Discovery Center, mountain biking, and horseback riding. In fact, it’s nice just appreciating the scenery as the river winds through the park, bordered by bald cypress trees and limestone bluffs.

Related Read: 12 Refreshing Swimming Holes Near Austin, Texas

9. Colorado Bend State Park

colorado bend state park texas
Photo: Texas State Parks

Why you should go: This park has one of the best hikes in all of the Lone Star State.

  • Distance from Austin: 96 miles
  • Drive time without stops: Approx. 1 hour, 45 mins
  • Camping: Yes, 43 sites (plus additional primitive, hike-in and group campsites)

Northwest of Austin, Colorado Bend State Park spans over 5,300 acres, so needless to say there’s a whole lot to explore here nature-wise, whether above ground, underground, or on the water.

For starters: There are many great hikes you can take at Colorado Bend State Park among the over 35 miles of trails, but if you have time for only one, go for the Gorman Falls Trail. One of the top hikes in Texas, this rocky trail takes you through a lush landscape to a nearly 70-foot-tall waterfall. Another fun feature of this park is the Gorman Cave, but you can only access it on a guided tour.

For swimming, you can go in the river or over at Spicewood Springs where there are pools and waterfalls. Want to kayak? You can conveniently rent one at the park. Mountain biking is also a popular activity here.

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