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.
procrastining on Facebook, I often come across stunning images of places that make me question why I’m sitting inside my house, on my computer, instead of being out exploring the world. Usually, the locales are exotic and faraway. But sometimes, they are surprisingly close by.
One of the images I kept seeing, over and over again (was the Universe trying to tell me something?) was Gorman Falls, which is inside of Colorado Bend State Park. On Veterans Day, I had been hoping to head to Lost Maples State Park to see the fall foliage, but the trip is several hours each way and from what I had read, leaves had yet to turn peak fall colors. So when I saw a friend had gone to Colorado Bend State Park the weekend prior to go camping, that was just the push I needed to make it happen.
I loaded up my 9-year-old son and two of his friends into our car and headed out at about 9am on Veterans Day (which was on Wednesday this year). I asked his friends’ parents to pack a backpack with water, a snack, lunch and a change of clothes, in case we decided to swim. The Park is under two hours from our house and I passed the driving time trying not to giggle out loud at the funny conversations I was overhearing from the back seat. At one point, the boys decided it would be fun to try to spot roadkill as we were driving. Ah, growing up in Texas!
We arrived at the park and I stopped at the entrance to pay for our day pass (just $5, since the boys are under 12 and are free). Colorado Bend does not have a manned entrance, so I spent a few minutes finding a pen to fill out the information on the envelope before I dropped in my $5. Maps were available at the entrance and we headed right for the parking lot to begin hike to Gorman Falls.
I had consulted my friend, who has been to the park several times, and she agreed that the hike to Gorman Falls was the best for a day trip and that the Windmill and Spicewood Trails are both fun, if we had time. If we visited on a weekend, I would definitely check out the cave tours.
I took advantage of the composting toilet at the parking lot and we set out for 10 minutes…in the wrong direction. After realizing my mistake, we backtracked while I got to listen to some (deserved) complaints. Once back at the car, we shed some more items from backpacks for the hike down to the falls.
The scenery was beautiful and the fall weather was perfect for a hike. We found one bench to take a break in the shade, but that was the only manmade place to sit on the 1.1 mile trail. The park brochure calls the hike challenging, which I can understand, because it gets rocky in places, but it was nothing the 4th graders couldn’t handle. I had contemplated wearing hiking boots, but I was fine in my running shoes. The brochure suggests you take 90 minutes for the hike, which sounds about right.
At the end of the trail, there is a handrail, as the descent is steep and rocky. The view is quite spectacular, and not one which my iPhone was capable of adequately capturing. There is a nice and quite large raised platform with benches where we ate our lunch. The boys declared that they didn’t think the hike was worth it, although they seemed to have a fun time getting down there. The area by the falls is nice and shady and relatively serene, if you don’t take into account the 4th graders with me.
We looked at the map to decide where to go next and decided to head to the Gorman Spring Trail. The boys desperately wanted to swim, and Gorman Falls is ecologically fragile (and the river looked swollen next to it, from recent rains), so I convinced them to press on. We climbed back up the trail and headed towards Gorman Springs. We came to an area where a road was covered with about a foot of water and the kids quickly took off their shoes to look for minnows. For the next two hours, the boys happily played in the creek while I looked for fall leaves and enjoyed the scenery. I hiked to the official trailhead to see that swimming was not allowed on the Gorman Trail – to access the swimming area, you’d need to go to the Park Headquarters, which is about six miles from the entrance.
It was so nice for the kids to explore on their own terms, not to have to rush off to the next afterschool activity or need to oversee homework. When one of my son’s friends asked, excitedly, “Can we stay here a few hours?”, I could say yes. Part of me wished I had brought a book, but it’s nice to just sit sometimes. I did search around for some nice fall leaves and found plenty.
After about two hours had gone by, we packed up and hiked back to the car. We stopped in Lampasas for dinner and dropped the kids off at home, after dark. Although it would have been nice to hike to Spicewood Springs Creek, there is something to be said for taking things slow. There is always next time, right?
Things to know if you plan to visit Colorado Bend State Park:
- The park is open daily, except for public hunts and wildlife management activities. The busy season is spring and summer.
- Trails are rugged in spots. Wear proper footwear. My son’s friend insisted on putting his flip flops on the way back from Gorman Springs and fell several times.
- There are few trash cans on the trails, so make sure you leave your area pristine.
- Since there is no running water in the restrooms, bring hand sanitizer or wipes to use after the restroom or before you eat.
- Cave access is restricted. I didn’t even tell the boys about caves, since I know they would try to go in one and that it’s not safe, unless accompanied by a ranger or on a tour.
- If your kids would be into it, the park also loans out Junior Ranger Packs.
- You can rent kayaks, although the kayak rental was closed when we visited, due to low water levels. Considering it’s been a rainy year, I’m not sure when and if rentals will resume.