With summer at its peak and parks reopening, visitors can explore the natural beauty of Texas waterfalls at some of the coolest spots around. There are a number of accessible waterfalls scattered across the state — with a few close enough for day trips — and also many on private lands, if you’re lucky enough to have connections.
By Julie Catalano
Gorman Falls, Colorado Bend State Park, Bend. www.tpwd.texas.gov
To access the spring-fed, 70-foot Gorman Falls, a three-mile round trip hike over rugged and occasionally slippery terrain rewards hikers with scenic views and distinctive aquatic life. The 5,328-acre park also features five-mile out and back Spicewood Springs Trail with several waterfalls of its own open to visitors to explore at their own pace.
Hamilton Pool Preserve, Dripping Springs. www.austintexas.org
Often rated one of the best swimming holes in Texas, the 50-foot waterfall shines in a gorgeous grotto of blue-green water surrounded by rock formations with hiking and nature trails, birdwatching, and picnicking. Reservations required in summer.
Krause Springs, Spicewood. www.krausesprings.net
Surrounded by a lush forest with maidenhair ferns and towering bald cypress trees, Krause is the largest of 32 springs that feed into a swimming hole and campground on the 115-acre property, owned by the Krause family since 1955.
Dolan Falls at Devils River, Val Verde County. www.nature.org
On Nature Conservancy land, Dolan Falls Preserve is closed to the public. However, the adjacent Devils River State Natural Area is open to the public year-round. Intrepid paddlers on the pristine, spring-fed Devils River can glimpse 10-foot Dolan Falls but there is no public access.
Pedernales Falls State Park, Johnson City. www.tpwd.texas.gov
However you choose to pronounce it, Pedernales Falls is the star of this state park 35 miles west of Austin where a unique, millennia-old geologic area showcases a river that has eroded the rock canyon into steep and wide limestone formations. Twin Falls is another beautiful spot, with verdant vegetation and clear blue-green waters.
McKinney Falls State Park, Austin. www.tpwd.texas.gov
The waters of Onion and Williamson creeks cascading through limestone formations provide dramatic contrast to the peaceful swimming holes below. Just 13 miles from the state capitol, the park features campsites, cabins, geocaching and almost nine miles of hike and bike trails, including the Rock Shelter Interpretive Trail.
Big Bend National Park, West Texas. www.nps.gov
Depending on rainfall, waterfalls or pour offs can be bone dry, gushing or somewhere in between. Cattail Canyon is on the west side of the rugged Chisos Mountains; luckily the 80-foot Cattail Falls waterfall is accessible on the easy-rated 1.5-mile Cattail Falls Trail. The moderate-rated 6.9-kilometer Pine Canyon ends with a short steep climb to the 200-foot Pine Canyon Waterfall. The national park also boasts the 948-foot Windows Trail Waterfall and a strenuous 11-mile loop hike to Boot Spring Falls.
Nearby, Big Bend Ranch State Park is Texas’ largest state park — covering 450 square miles. It features the striking 100-foot Madrid Falls, named for a long-ago family that lived nearby, and 80-foot Mexicano Falls. www.tpwd.texas.gov
Westcave Waterfall, Outdoor Discovery Center, Austin. www.westcave.org
A 76-acre preserve and natural habitat, current offerings at the grotto section of Westcave are by online reservation only. The “Walk Through the Grotto” guided experience consists of a 15-minute walk through a limestone crevice down a 100-foot staircase into a sheltered canyon. At the head of the canyon stands a 40-foot waterfall and grotto pool below.
Wichita Falls, Lucy Park, Wichita Falls. www.wichitafallstx.gov
After a flood washed away the original falls in the 1800s, the city of Wichita Falls built a new manmade 54-foot multi-level waterfall in 1987 on the south bank of the Wichita River. Visitors can park just inside 176-acre Lucy Park near a concrete trail that provides a scenic walk to the falls. The falls can also be seen by southbound motorists on I-44 as they cross the river bridge.
IN SAN ANTONIO
For non-hikers who simply want a relaxing stroll with breathtaking scenery, San Antonio is home to two manmade waterfalls: 1) Fern Grotto, a 15-foot waterfall at the San Antonio Botanical Gardens; 2) 60-foot waterfall at the San Antonio Japanese Tea Garden (aka Sunken Gardens), part of a 2007 $1.6 million restoration.