take U.S. 183 south 13 miles to McKinney Falls Parkway. Just ten
short minutes from downtown Austin.
Photo courtesy Chandra Moira Beal
Often overlooked since it is so close to Austin,
McKinney Falls is perfect for an afternoon picnic or a quick trip
to get away for the day. McKinney Falls State Park is in the center
of an early Texas land grant that originally fell within the impresario
contract of a Texan hero, Ben
Milan. Ten acres of the land were transferred to Santiago Del
Valle who at that time was Secretary of the Mexican government, and
who had previously served in the Mexican Congress. In 1835, Del Valle
sold a portion of his land to Michael Menard who helped found the
town of Galveston.
Thomas F. McKinney was one of his business associates and bought the
Del Valle grant in 1839. His family occupied the land but sold almost
all of it off by the time of his death in 1873. Some of the land remained
agricultural and became the City of Del
Valle, the north tract became urbanized, and the remainder is
preserved in the park.
McKinney was also one of Austin's
first 300 colonists. He settled on Onion Creek and became a breeder
of racehorses. You can still see the remains of the trainer's cabin
in the park. The cabin was built in the early 1850s and served as
quarters for John Van Hagen, McKinney's thoroughbred horse trainer,
until Hagen moved to New York in 1873. There were nearby exercise
and training areas. McKinney also owned a steamboat that he used to
take to Mexico
to trade horses.
McKinney Falls is at the confluence of Onion and Williamson creeks.
The water changes from calm and quiet to rapids and falls depending
on rainfall. The swimming hole is similar to Hamilton
Pool with a large circular pool underneath a rock overhang. The
swimming hole is also closed occasionally due to pollution.
In addition to swimming, 640-acre McKinney Falls State Park has
several trails for hiking and bicycling. The 3.7-mile Onion Creek
Trail is paved for hikers and bicyclists. Swimming is allowed
in Onion Creek but is at your own risk. The three-mile Homestead
Trail is unpaved and is designed for mountain biking and rough
hiking. There are shorter interpretive trails, such as the Smith
Rockshelter Trail that leads to an Indian rock shelter. A 3.5-mile
paved trail runs along Onion Creek and passes the upper falls. Another
3.75-mile interpretive trail begins near the visitors' center and
runs under huge limestone bluffs. Yet another trail is unmarked and
crosses the main falls. It also passes the historical McKinney
homestead and flour mill from the 1820s and then goes on about
a mile through cedar and mesquite. McKinney Falls State Park has camping,
picnicking, and a variety of terrain and wildlife, including half-brown,
half-black rock squirrels. Pets on leash are permitted. Wheelchair-accessible.
5808 McKinney Falls Parkway
Austin, Texas 78744
(512) 243-1643 Smith Visitors' Center
Excerpted from Splash
Across Texas, 1999
Copyright Chandra Moira Beal and La Luna Publishing