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Walking through Texas history at McKinney Falls State Park

This 641-acre park is the only state park in Travis County.

Looking down at the McKinney Falls upper falls

Swimming and fishing is allowed in both Onion and Williamson creeks.

Photo by ATXtoday

In honor of the Texas State Parks centennial, we’re visiting and writing about eight around Austin. And, as the only state park in Travis County, we’re starting with McKinney Falls State Park.


McKinney Falls’ history dates back ~9,000 years, to Native American settlers researchers believe may have been Tonkawa.

A few centuries later, a stretch of the park was once a portion of the El Camino Real de los Tejas, a roadway traveled by missionaries, government officials, traders, and other adventurers journeying between Mexico and Texas in the 1600-1800s.

The name McKinney originated with Thomas McKinney, an early Austin colonist whose firm helped finance as much as 10% of the cost of the Texas Revolution. He began building on the land now home to the state park — using the labor of enslaved people — in the mid-1800s.

McKinney died deeply in debt in 1873. The property passed hands until it was donated to the state 100 years later.

A tangle of cypress roots in the water at McKinney Falls State Park

See wildlife like deer, quail, armadillos, and wild turkeys at McKinney Falls.

Photo by ATXtoday

What to see

See the ruins of McKinney’s homestead, plus an early rock shelter, along the park’s trails. You also won’t want to miss Old Baldy, a 500-year-old cypress tree named Austin’s 2012 Tree of the Year.

The real star of the show at McKinney Falls, however, is — you guessed itthe falls. Walk Onion Creek to see the upper and lower falls up close, or take them in from the Visitor’s Center observation deck.

The lower falls at McKinney Falls, as seen from the opposite shore.

See the upper and lower falls up close along hiking trails.

Photo by ATXtoday

What to do

McKinney Falls has 641 acres worth of activities, including:

  • Camping, starting at $20 per night
  • Hiking
  • Mountain and road biking
  • Bouldering
  • Swimming
  • Fishing

If you’re an athlete, take note: the Austin Falls Ultra, a trail race ranging from 5K-50K, takes place Saturday, April 8.

Make a reservation to visit McKinney Falls State Park online here.

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