After our long travel weekend, we were so happy to pull into McKinney Falls State Park in Austin, TX! We ended up with a reservation of a few days, but kept extending our time there, and we ended up staying there for 12 days. Luckily it worked out for us to keep extending our reservation – most of the time, state parks are way too booked up for this! We are thankful it worked out this time.
McKinney Falls was our introduction to the Texas State Parks system. As I’ve mentioned before, we greatly prefer staying in state and county parks, but every state has different ways of doing things. The Texas State Parks system is different from what we dealt with before. Usually, when you make a reservation, it is for a specific site. At this park, we just had a reservation for a 30 AMP RV campsite. They do assign you a site when you check in, but you are allowed to drive around and go into any other site that you like better. If you do that, you just call the office and tell them you switched.
It was a good thing we were able to choose another site, because so many of the sites at McKinney Falls State Park are very unlevel and/or can only fit a small RV or tent. The setting at the park is beautiful – so many trees, and great privacy between spots. The downside of this is that many times, tree limbs were in the way when we tried to park Trudy. Or, worse yet, we finally got Trudy parked and level (remember how I said leveling is a challenge for us?) and then realized that a tree was in the way when we went go put the slides out. So we had to pack the whole thing back up and move it over a foot or so before we could finally put out the slides and call ourselves settled.
The fees for TX State Parks were also a little bit strange to us. They charge per night for the campground (I believe it was $30 for water/electric, no sewer) and then you also have to pay a daily entrance fee for each adult ($6 each). Kids under 12 are free. So – $42 a day for a water and electric site in a state park? Seemed kind of expensive, but we ended up buying the Texas State Parks pass. For $70 a year, you get free entrance to any state parks in TX and you also get 50% a night of camping any time you stay 2 or more nights. So…$70 for a pass or $144 for 12 days of entrance fees for Tim and me? It was a no brainer to buy the pass. We ended up using it again at San Angelo State Park.
Things To Do at The Park
There are a decent variety of things to do at the park, although for a State Park, it seemed pretty small. This is probably because it’s within Austin city limits (yeah!) so it’s not quite as large as parks in the middle of nowhere.
There is a large visitors center that was closed and under construction during our whole visit due to flooding. The namesake of the park is McKinney Falls itself – a series of 2 waterfalls. We had a lot of fun exploring both the upper and lower falls, although there wasn’t too much water flowing! After a hard rain is the best time to see the falls in full force, and if you call the state park, they have an automated update on the status of the falls. They must get a lot of calls about it! Both the upper and lower falls were accessible via trail, although the upper falls required walking on a lot of limestone. Calla had a blast exploring the pools.
As you can tell from the photos, it was cold while we visited – very cold! We had lows well below freezing and high’s in the low 30’s. It was our coldest RVing yet, and we had to fill our Aquatainers and use water from them since it didn’t go above freezing for many days (meaning we couldn’t fill water from the water hookup because it was frozen.)
Onion Creek Trail
The 3 mile Onion Creek Trail the goes around about half of the park. Lucky us – we had access to the trail right from the back of our campsite! The trail crosses through the woods, and was the source of our first sights of many cacti. I took so many pictures of the little prickly pear cacti – compared to the Saguaros we are seeing now, they don’t look like much! But seeing cacti in Austin reminded us that we were well on our way out west, one of our main travel goals for 2018.
There were some other cool hikes in the park, including one that has a large rock shelter that people have used for protection for thousands of years. There’s also a famous (?) old Cypress tree in the park called Old Baldy, which we set out to find, but never could find it. Another hiker told us that they had closed off the trail to Old Baldy. Bummer.
Other Austin Fun
- We had our first experience at In N Out Burger, and learned the ways of the double-double and animal style. If you don’t know what either of these means, go to In N Out ASAP – and don’t forget to get a milkshake!
- After our long travel day, we were starving and didn’t feel like making dinner, so Tim looked up a place where he could stop and get some take out. Enter: Whip In in Austin, TX! A dive restaurant, full of beer, hipsters, and Indian food, and it looks like a gas station from the outside. How Austin is that? The food from Whip In was awesome – we love Indian food, and this was some of the best.
- I had the pleasure of hanging out with friends in Austin. I spent a couple days with my friend Dana, and we took an awesome yoga class together at Crux climbing center. Tim, Calla, and I also met up with fellow RVers Heidi and Jeff of Traveling with the Z’s! They are originally from Pittsburgh and helped us so much before we launched. Even more recently they helped us with parks in Phoenix. We took a bike ride around Zilker Metro Park and let Calla play at the playground while we talked. They recently bought a house in Austin after being on the road for about a year. One of the things I really miss in this lifestyle is just talking to people, more than passing by and saying “hi”. I miss having actual conversations with someone other than Tim! So it was a wonderful gift to catch up with friends in Austin.
- One day we explored Austin and did the touristy thing and went to South Congress – a trendy street in Austin with lots of cool shops, restaurants, live music, etc. We even got our picture in front of the token “I love you so much” mural. See, told you we were tourists.
- Calla met another full-time child! It means so much to me when we meet other fulltime families. There are just certain struggles (and joys) that you can’t share with someone unless they are also on the road. In Austin, I was out on a walk to blow off some steam when I met Gina and her daughter. They are currently full-time in their Airstream. We’ve since kept in touch. Gina gave me the awesome boon-docking location we recently had for Trudy in AZ! I have faith that we will meet again somewhere down the road.
- We had our first Amazon locker experience. There are Amazon lockers all over Austin. It is usually hard to get packages since we move around so much, so we decided to try Amazon Locker! Instead of sending your Amazon order to your house, you send it to the locker location of your choosing. When the order is ready, they text you a code to use at the locker. You type in the code, and the correct door pops open. It’s a cool system!
- I had my first Goodwill Outlet experience. This is something I won’t soon forget. Look up on YouTube how they work if you aren’t already aware. Let’s just say that I didn’t bring gloves and I wish I would have, but at the same time I sort of enjoyed this garage sale on steroids type of chaos. And trust me, it was chaos. And pushing and shoving people. I bought a few things and spent $3 but most people were buying by the cart-load. I’m not in a hurry to go back to one of those.
We’d highly recommend a stay at McKinney Falls State Park – you can’t beat the access to downtown Austin (15-25 min) without giving up the nature experience. Just be careful of low limbs and trees nearby if you have a big rig, and if you’re staying for long periods of time like we did, come prepared with a blue boy since there is no sewer hookup. We loved this state park and would definitely return!
Date Visited: Mid-January 2018, 12 days