Due to the nature of my work, I’m not often surprised when I travel. Each and every trip, including simple weekend getaways, require hours and hours of research, and I typically know what to expect when I arrive at a destination. This is why Texas’ McKinney Falls State Park, only a twenty-minute drive from downtown Austin, made for such a welcome, unexpected experience.
Waterfalls and lush green oases aren’t typically associated with Texas. Dry, dusty farmland? Sure. Massive music festivals? Austin hosts the best. NASA? Houston, we have a problem. I wasn’t sure what to expect when Kevin and I planned to spend a long weekend in the Austin area – I had only ever visited family in the suburbs of Houston, and our visit marked Kevin’s first time in the Lone Star State.
I picked McKinney Falls State Park on a whim, after looking at a map and noticing we could easily stop by en route to San Antonio. We all travel with preconceived notions of a place, and I enjoy having those preconceptions shattered – isn’t that what travel is all about, opening our eyes and changing the way we think about a city or region? Having only visited the outskirts of Houston, I never would have believed a place like McKinney Falls could exist in the same state as the monotone, cookie-cutter development where my extended family lived for a time in the mid-2000’s.
The falls of McKinney Falls State Park may not be gushing, multi-story marvels that make visitors feel small and insignificant; rather, they have more in common with rapids along a bustling brook, and I admit, I fell in love with the scene at first sight. I’m a sucker for waterfalls of any size, warm sunshine, and clear blue sky – and my visit to this central Texan park had me completely covered.
Confession: I may have tried to convince Kevin to blow off our plans to drive to San Antonio for the day in order to spend a few hours at the falls. While I don’t regret our decision to stick to the schedule and explore the Alamo and River Walk, I do hope to return to McKinney Falls at some point – or, at the very least, direct as many fellow nature lovers as possible to this peaceful oasis.
Not only is Austin the state capital of Texas, but the city also hosts the renowned South by Southwest music and pop culture festival every spring, in addition to boasting an impressive array of concerts and live music shows throughout the year. Thanks to its liberal reputation and increasingly youthful population, Austin is gaining notoriety as a hotspot for those who cherish nightlight – even so, in talking with locals, I discovered the region’s spectacular natural beauty is the number-one reason many natives love their city.
Even if clubs and live shows are more your scene, do devote at least one day to checking out Austin’s so-called wild side. McKinney Falls State Park is just far enough from downtown to give travelers a break from the city, but is close enough to make for an easy half-day trip. Maybe I’m a little biased – after all, I’m usually in my PJ’s and deep into a good book by ten p.m. – but I think the outdoors is where Austin’s heart is, and I felt like I was mixing with the locals at this gem of a park.
I enjoyed Austin from the moment our plane touched down on the runway, but after McKinney Falls State Park, the city stole a special place in my travel memories. I mean, how enchanting is this gorgeous spot? Anytime I meet someone traveling to Austin, this is my first recommendation. It was definitely worth my slight struggle against my seasonal allergies and the spider bite that turned Kevin’s right arm into a polka-dotted mess. My advice? Bring sunscreen, keep an eye out for critters, and be prepared to take, oh, five dozen photographs.
For more information regarding accessibility, fees, and opening hours, please visit the park’s official website.