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McKinney Falls State Park Guide — Hiking, Waterfalls, and More 

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McKinney Falls State Park in Texas offers a wide range of activities, including hiking, biking, wildlife watching, camping, fishing, and exploring historic sites. Visitors can also enjoy the beautiful waterfalls within the park. Every year, over 330,000 people come to explore this fascinating destination.

How To Get to McKinney Falls State Park

Where Is McKinney Falls State Park?

McKinney Falls State Park is 13 miles from Austin, Texas, the state capital. It’s the perfect nature retreat within a stone’s throw of the big city. The park stretches over 641 acres and features waterfalls, creeks, wooded areas, and more.

McKinney Falls State Park Opening Hours and Seasons

This state park is open year-round and can be visited daily from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. The visitor center is open Friday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. This popular park frequently reaches capacity, so it’s wise to call ahead to ensure you can visit at your desired time. You can reserve passes online before your visit for guaranteed entry.

Nearest Airports to McKinney Falls State Park

The closest airport to the park is Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS). This airport is a mere 10-minute drive from the park and offers nonstop flights to hundreds of locations across the U.S., Canada, and other countries worldwide. Airlines serviced here include well-known names like Air Canada, American, British Airways, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, Spirit, and WestJet. Once you arrive, you can arrange a rental car or ride-share service to the park.

Driving to McKinney Falls State Park

The drive to McKinney Falls State Park is simple and straightforward. The park is just 13 miles southeast of downtown Austin. Follow Highway 183 and McKinney Falls Parkway until you reach the park entrance.

Taking the Train to McKinney Falls State Park

Taking the train is a great option for travelers who want to sit back and enjoy the ride to the park. Amtrak has a line that offers service to Austin, where McKinney Falls State Park is located. It takes about 20 minutes to get to the park from this station.

Taking the Bus to McKinney Falls State Park

Many travelers take advantage of public transportation, saving money and allowing for a stress-free arrival. Greyhound offers a bus line to Austin. From this station, it is just an 11-minute drive to the park.

Getting Around McKinney Falls State Park

The best way to explore this park is by driving and walking. The park features multiple parking lots where you can park your car and set out to explore the main attractions on foot. The park provides a printable map to help you plan your excursions.

What To See and Do in McKinney Falls State Park

There is so much to see and do at McKinney Falls State Park. From hiking and biking to fishing and birdwatching, there’s something for every visitor to enjoy.

Birdwatching

McKinney Falls State Park is an incredible destination for birdwatching. The park features several diverse habitats that attract a variety of species. Some of the most commonly spotted birds sighted here include the golden-cheeked warbler, painted buntings, black-capped vireo, vermilion flycatchers, and summer tanagers. A few of the best trails for birding include Flint Rock Loop Trail, Homestead Trail, and Williamson Creek Overlook Trail.

Hot Tip:

Come prepared with a camera and binoculars to catch spectacular views of the marvelous winged creatures that call this park home.

Fishing

Fishing McKinney Falls State Park
Image Credit: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

This state park is a paradise for anglers, with excellent fishing opportunities at Onion Creek and Williamson Creek. Anglers here commonly catch largemouth bass, catfish, crappie, white bass, and sunfish. The park provides a helpful fishing tip sheet with information about daily bag limits, fishing basics, and the park’s species. A fishing license is not required, so everyone can enjoy the fishing opportunities at the park.

Hiking and Biking Trails

McKinney Falls State Park offers nearly 9 miles of hiking and biking trails. These trails wind through the park, providing excellent opportunities to observe the wildlife, plants, and landscapes. Other sights to enjoy along the trails include geologic formations, historic buildings, and waterfalls. The park offers a printable map to help you determine which trails you want to explore during your visit.

McKinney Homestead

McKinney Homestead
Image Credit: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

The McKinney Homestead was owned by Thomas McKinney, who lived along Onion Creek in the 1850s. Thomas, originally from Kentucky, settled in San Felipe de Austin in the 1830s and was one of the first colonists of Austin. He eventually became a senator and built a 2-story ranch on Onion Creek. The ruins of this homestead can be viewed here today and include a horse trainer’s cabin, a gristmill, and stone walls.

Old Baldy

Old Baldy, one of Texas’s oldest bald cypress trees, is a popular attraction at the park. It’s estimated to be over 500 years old, reaching a height of 103 feet with a trunk measuring 195 inches around. Standing below this giant allows visitors to admire its splendor and reflect.

Ranger Programs

A variety of ranger-led programs are offered at this state park. Some of these programs include star parties, creating art, guided nature hikes, and educational programs. These are a great way to have fun, learn about the park’s natural and cultural history, and interact with park staff and other visitors. Programs are held year-round but mostly take place on the weekends.

Swimming

Swimming McKinney Falls State Park
Image Credit: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

Onion Creek is one of the best places to swim in the Austin area. It’s the perfect spot for escaping the Texas heat. Swimming is allowed in both the upper and lower falls. The lower falls are ideal for swimming, splashing with kids, wading, and swimming in shallow water. The upper falls have deep waters that are perfect for floating.

Hot Tip:

No lifeguards are on duty, so swim safely and be prepared for closures due to weather conditions.

Visitor Center

The Friends of McKinney Falls State Park manage the Smith Visitor Center, which is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. every Friday through Sunday. This facility is located near the park’s entrance and is an excellent starting point for visitors.

The center offers breathtaking views of the Upper Falls from its observation deck, the opportunity to explore a bat cave, and engaging educational programs about wildlife, the park’s history, and preserving the night skies. Staff are also available to answer any questions and help you plan your park adventures.

Best Times To Visit McKinney Falls State Park

You can expect a wonderful experience whenever you visit McKinney Falls State Park. However, certain times throughout the year are better than others, especially if you hope to participate in a particular event or activity.

Best Time To Visit McKinney Falls State Park for Ideal Weather

Weather can make or break a trip, so it’s wise to plan around typical weather trends. March is a fantastic time to visit this park. The temperatures are comfortable for outdoor adventure and camping and range from the upper 40s to the mid-70s. There are typically 3 days of rain during this month, so don’t forget your rain gear.

Best Time To Visit McKinney Falls State Park To Avoid the Crowds

A solitary visit may be exactly what you seek when touring McKinney Falls State Park. If that’s the case, you should plan to visit in November. This is when Austin is the least busy throughout the year. A November visit will allow you to explore the park without the stress of crowds, long lines, and traffic.

Best Time To Visit McKinney Falls State Park for Watching Waterfalls

McKinney Falls State Park for Watching Waterfalls
Image Credit: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

The waterfalls are one of the main attractions at McKinney Falls State Park. The best time to view these cascades in all their splendor is in the wet season, which is in the spring. April is an incredible time to visit. The temperature ranges from the mid-50s to the low 80s, and it rains about 5 days during the month. This rain helps make the waterfalls even more sensational, so don’t forget to pack your wet gear and a camera to capture these beautiful falls.

Cheapest Time To Visit McKinney Falls State Park

The cheapest time to travel to this area of Texas is from mid- to late September. This is when flights and accommodations are at their lowest prices throughout the year.

Annual Events in McKinney Falls State Park

The park offers a variety of programs regularly, including guided nature hikes, wildlife talks, and stargazing events. Additionally, tourists and locals alike look forward to annual events.

First Day Hike

The First Day Hike event occurs annually at McKinney Falls State Park on New Year’s Day. This self-guided event covers a 2.8-mile route that leads visitors to Onion Creek, which can be explored on foot or by bicycle. Upon completion, participants can receive a First Day Hike sticker as a souvenir and for bragging rights. While the event is free, participants must pay an entrance fee.

Friends of McKinney Falls First Day Fun Run

Friends of McKinney Falls has been hosting a 5K run each year on January 1. The race starts at the visitor center and follows the Onion Creek Hike and Bike trail, passes by the picnic area and campground, and loops back to the visitor center. The proceeds from this event go to benefit Friends of McKinney Falls.

Bottom Line:

Hiking or running at First Day events is a great opportunity for friends and family to start the year with a fantastic cardio workout while enjoying the park’s sights and beauty.

Where To Stay in McKinney Falls State Park

One of the first tasks when planning any trip is determining where to stay. Thankfully, there are plenty of places to choose from inside the park and nearby.

Inside the Park

For visitors who would like to stay on the park’s premises, there are 2 main lodging options: camping and staying in one of the cabins. Either possibility features unique amenities to create a memorable stay.

Cabins

McKinney Falls Cabins
Image Credit: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

There are 6 cabins available for rent at McKinney Falls for visitors who prefer a stay inside the park’s boundaries with a roof overhead. These rustic cabins can accommodate up to 4 guests and offer amenities such as heat, air conditioning, a kitchenette, picnic tables, a fire ring, and cozy furniture. Guests need to bring their own linens, which are not included in the cabins.

Although the cabins don’t have restrooms and showers, bathhouses are nearby. Staying in one of these primitive cabins allows friends and families to reconnect and take a break from the daily grind.

Campgrounds

McKinney Falls State Park offers over 80 campsites for visitors who want to sleep under the stars. Camping is one of the best ways to immerse yourself in the park fully. The campsites provide amenities such as water and electric hookups, fire rings, picnic tables, and a nearby modern bathhouse. Campsites can be reserved in advance online, and sometimes they are available upon arrival.

Towns Near McKinney Falls State Park

Several communities surround the park where you can set up a base camp outside its boundaries. The main city surrounding the park is Austin, which is a great place to stay.

Austin, Texas

Austin and its suburbs are excellent places to set up a base camp when traveling to this part of Texas. The city has countless lodging options, including luxury hotels, boutique hotels, budget-friendly motels, resorts, and private rentals.

Food enthusiasts are in for a treat, as nearly 6,000 restaurants within the city offer famous Tex-Mex, smokehouse barbecue, authentic Mexican cuisine, and more. For entertainment and recreation, there are hundreds of live music venues, historic buildings, museums, and parks to visit.

Bottom Line:

With its proximity to the park and never-ending opportunities for a remarkable visit, Austin is the ideal home base.

Where To Eat in McKinney Falls State Park

There aren’t any restaurants within the park, but thousands of options are nearby. Austin is a foodie’s paradise with an abundance of restaurants serving classic Tex-Mex, barbecue, and many other types of cuisine.

Smokin’ Brew-B-Q

Smokin’ Brew-B-Q is a barbecue food truck that serves slow-smoked barbecue and local craft beer. This food truck is stationed just 5 minutes from the park and offers outdoor seating. The menu here features famous dishes like smokin’ mac and cheese, beer can chicken, burgers, and mouthwatering barbecued meats. This is the ideal place to refuel and relax after a day of exploring McKinney Falls State Park.

McKinney Falls State Park Facts

McKinney Falls State Park
Image Credit: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

1. The Park Opened in the ’70s

McKinney Falls State Park officially opened in 1976.

2. It’s a Texas Aquatic Science Certified Field Site

McKinney Falls State Park is a Texas Aquatic Science Certified Field Site, meaning it is one of 6 field-based sites that provide valuable science education. This is beneficial for school visits, as it helps students make connections between the field and education and offers project-based learning opportunities. 

3. The Park Is on El Camino Real de Los Tejas

This state park is part of the El Camino Real de Los Tejas, Texas’s version of Route 66. Before railroads and highways were built, travelers took this trail from Mexico to Louisiana. A particular site along Onion Creek was used as a crossing point on this infamous trail.

4. Remnants of the Park’s Namesake Remain

This park was named after one of the first settlers to the area, Thomas F. McKinney. This Kentucky-born man eventually settled along Onion Creek and was one of the first colonists in Austin. Remnants of his homestead can be seen in the park today.

5. McKinney Homestead Is on the National Register of Historic Places

This state park features McKinney Homestead, which can be viewed from the Homestead trail. In 1974, the homestead was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Final Thoughts

This state park is an incredible place to explore and has an amazing location just 13 miles from downtown Austin. It offers a variety of activities, from exploring historic homesteads and camping to hiking trails and swimming in the cool waters of Onion Creek. With so much to see and do, it’s no wonder so many visitors flock to this Texas park each year.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much does it cost to visit McKinney Falls State Park?

Upon arrival, visitors 13 and up are charged an entry fee of $6 per day. Children 12 and under are admitted at no charge.

How much time should I spend visiting McKinney Falls State Park?

Plan to spend a full day to 2 days for a visit at McKinney Falls State Park. This allows time to hike, fish, swim, and camp.

What are some places I should visit near McKinney Falls State Park?

Since McKinney Falls State Park is so close to Austin, there is a world of possibilities for exploring nearby places. Some of the top nearby parks to explore include Bastrop State Park, Longhorn Cavern State Park, and Pedernales Falls State Park.

Can I bring my dog to McKinney Falls State Park?

Visitors can bring their dogs to McKinney Falls State Park as long as they keep them on a leash and clean up after them at all times. However, dogs are prohibited in the swimming areas.

Amar Hussain's image

About Amar Hussain

Amar is an avid traveler and tester of products. He has spent the last 13 years traveling all 7 continents and has put the products to the test on each of them. He has contributed to publications including Forbes, the Huffington Post, and more.

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