We say it all the time, but we do truly believe it: Austin is an amazing place to raise a family. With this in mind, we’re on a mission to go discover all the things which make our town special. To help get out more without getting overwhelmed, we came up with the Austin Bucket List project. Each year, we pick 10 things we’d like to do in Austin — with or without our kids. That sounds doable, doesn’t it? Then, we document our adventures here, with the idea of getting each of you inspired to do the same.
What’s an endeavor like this without a few friends along for the ride? We asked our blogger friends in Austin who’d like to join us on the Austin Bucket List project, and we were thrilled to have several takers. Today’s report is from Skye Kilean, who went to Mt. Playmore for the first time for her last bucket list item. This time, Skye and Boy Detective explored a new-to-them natural area just outside of town. Here’s what she had to say about the experience:
My friends, I have a confession. We are cheating on our bucket list! While we still have a long list of Austin activities we want to try on our own, we’ve signed up for Austin Families in Nature (AFiN) to add even more activities to our list. Why would I do this, when as a Virgo my goal is always to check things off lists? Well, partly because we’re more likely to do things when there’s a specific time set and folks expect us to be there. And partly because while we do need to spend more time together as a family doing fun stuff, we also need to spend more time with other parents and children. This seemed like a way to support all of those goals.
Our second activity with AfiN was this past weekend, when we visited Westcave Outdoor Discovery Center for a guided tour. It’s in the village of Bee Cave, near Hamilton Pool, about 30-45 minutes drive west from downtown Austin. I was a little nervous about driving out someplace I’d never been before. The directions page on the Center’s website is pretty good, though, and I was pleased that the signs for Ranch Road 3238 a.k.a. Hamilton Pool Road and Westcave itself were easy to spot.
I’d decided to join this trip after seeing some beautiful pictures of the canyon. (Check out their photo gallery.) I’m glad we went, because going behind a waterfall at the end of the trail is very cool.
Also because the weather was lovely, and most of the hike is shaded so no worries about pesky sunburns. The tour guide was super friendly and knowledgeable. She started the tour by showing the kids geological maps of the rock layers in the canyon and how they’d changed over time. That gave the kids some good context for what they’d be seeing, and they got started analyzing rocks by looking at the limestone visitor center walls.
We had a great time, and Boy Detective is set on going back. However, if you’re interested in going to Westcave yourself, here are some things to think about first based on our experience.
The “cave” itself at Westcave is down in a natural canyon, so we all hiked down along a stream until we got to the cave and the aforementioned 40 foot waterfall next to it. Totally gorgeous. And a lot of work! It’s not a long hike, but much of it is irregular steep steps on inclines. My husband had decided not to go because his knee was bugging him, and I ended up glad he stayed home. He wouldn’t have made it all the way down. The gal with the baby in a backpack was fine on the way down, but exhausted herself getting back up. (Dad took over at that point, and kept their backpack full of food, water, and baby gear too. Go Dad!)
We went in a small group, six adults plus five children (and a baby in a backpack). Our tour was pre-arranged through AFiN, so we had our own tour guide who was expecting a lot of kids. The normal guided tours are available only on weekends, and you can’t visit the cave and canyon any other way. However the public guided tours allow up to 30 people. Since the hike down and back up is often single file, and the canyon spaces are small, I’d imagine 30 people would be a LOT for one tour. It may be worth a call to find out which times/days for public tours are the least crowded.
Meal and bathroom break planning are essential! It’s a 1.5-2 hour tour, and there are no bathrooms once you leave the visitor center. I fed my kid at 8:30am, we left home at 9:45am, arrived at 10:30am, and our tour started just after 11:00am. Half an hour into the tour, he was hungry. I would have done better to feed him a small meal at 10:30 when we got there. As it was, I kept handing him apple slices out of my backpack and he ate while walking. I did make him visit the bathroom right before the hike, though, so I don’t lose all my prepared mom points.
The tour was oddly paced for active kids’ attention spans. There are several stops where the guide shows off various rocks, nests, and other interesting bits of nature. I know those stops help pace the hike so it fits into the schedule, and gives the hikers time to recover if they’re tired. But quite a few times the kids on our tour just got bored. They liked seeing the cool stuff, but standing or sitting around for that long in one place was tough. Next time, I’d be more prepared to engage my kid myself in looking for specific things, or taking pictures, so he’d be occupied.
Knowing all this, our second trip to Westcave will be even better. And hopefully you can use a few of these tips yourself to visit Westcave like an expert.