In Texas, known for its hot weather and arid deserts, you would not expect to see much water in the rivers, let alone lush waterfalls. However, the state receives 16 to 50 inches of rain annually that fuel the 15 major rivers carving their beds in the Texas soil. Along the 191,000 miles of meandering rivers and streams, four state parks feature waterfalls of different characters. Some flow quietly down, and others roar loudly.
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Big Bend Ranch State Park
In the canyons of the Big Bend State Park near Presidio hide four waterfalls accessible through challenging hikes. The 80-foot Mexicano Falls drip gently along a wall of green vegetation, where the water seems to sweat out of the rock more than fall from a cliff. The Ojito Adentro waterfall represents a stream with gusto that jumps 35 feet down into a pool of crystal water. You need a guide to reach the difficult-to-find and isolated Madrid Falls, the second highest cascade in Texas, with a 100-foot drop. Finally, the Rancherias Spring Falls are a well-deserved sight after a 5-mile hike in the Rancherias Canyon.
Colorado Bend State Park
The Colorado Bend State Park, located west of Lampasas, organizes guide tours every Saturday that take hikers to the Gorman Falls. This 1 1/2-mile round-trip walk under the canopy of sycamores and pecan trees leads to a roaring 60-foot-high waterfall gushing 300 gallons of ice-cold spring water every minute. The temperature by the falls drops significantly, so wear a sweater. In 2009, the park opened a 3-mile trail, the Gorman Falls Trail, which does not require a guide and takes visitors to the falls through rocky terrain.
Pedernales Falls State Park
The Pedernales River, which crosses the Pedernales Falls State Park east of Johnson City, makes up in gushing volume what it may lack in the size of its waterfalls. Gradual jumps over 300 feet of slopes create a fast-moving, foaming stream that glides over a 50-foot drop of layered limestone. The park warns visitors about the temperamental river, which can turn into a raging torrent in less than five minutes. Visitors must vacate the riverside immediately if the water seems to start rising.
McKinney Falls State Park
If you are more a city person than a hiker at heart, the waterfalls of the McKinney Falls State Park, on the southeastern edge of Austin, will fit your definition of waterfall fun. In this oasis of nature, so close to Austin downtown, the Onion Creek features double 12-foot-high waterfalls dropping into two pools, where visitors enjoy swimming and bring their inner tubes.
The $60 Texas State Park Annual Pass allows vehicle access to these sites as well as to more than 90 state parks and historic sites in the state. The card also comes with discount benefits for camping in the parks or purchasing goods in the state park stores.
Rules and Safety
Texas takes a strong stand on protecting its water; disposing of waste near any river or waterfall ranks as a criminal offense. State park regulations forbid visitors to pick rocks, soil or plants. Natural waters are not chlorinated, as you would expect in a swimming pool, and the level of bacteria in the water varies with rains and what happens to the water upstream. You may react to some bacterial contamination. The force of the water jets and their unpredictability may carry you into dangerous flows. If you plan to step into the waterfall stream, wear a life jacket.