Many parts of Central Texas have seen tremendous growth since the 1980s, and that growth has permanently changed the landscape. But this stretch of the Pedernales River is immune to this change, as the legislature wisely bought this sliver of land in 1970. Before that, the water-over limestone Pedernales River was part of a sprawling ranch. Because of the ownership, this part of Central Texas has always been safe from development. Because of the park's natural beauty, visitors flock to Pedernales Falls State Park to experience a slice of Central Texas life as it was back in the halcyon Willie Nelson days. The calm, flowing water would be more than enough reason to park your rig here for a day, a weekend, or even longer. But there are many other things to do at Pedernales Falls State Park, and we've highlighted a few favorite activities below. That’s just a sample, though, as there are many other ways to unplug and get back to nature here. A quick word of caution here. The National Weather Service has a flash flood motto. “Turn around; don’t drown.” The poetry is not exactly Shakespearean, but it is very accurate. Most of the time, the Pedernales is not much more than a meandering stream. But any heavy rain anywhere nearby can turn the river into a raging torrent in just a matter of minutes. If the water rises or becomes muddy, leave the area immediately.
In the middle of Texas, just 10 miles east of Johnson City, you will find the peaceful Pedernales Falls State Park. There are several ways to get to the park, depending on where you are coming from. If you are coming from the north or south, you will need to take I-35 or I-37, and if you are coming from the west, I-10 should be your highway of choice.
This part of Central Texas alternates between hilly and rather flat. As one might expect, there is considerable RV parking in the flatter areas. One parking area is near the equestrian group camp on the east side of the park. There’s another parking area near the park headquarters and the main hiking/biking trails. Large vehicle parking is also available near Pedernales Falls, the Pedernales River beach area, and the primitive camping area. However, most RV campers park their rig at the campsite and walk or bike to get where they want to go.
Camping with an RV is fun at Pedernales Falls, with 69 spacious campsites that provide both water and electric hookups for your convenience. These are some huge sites with plenty of room to play a game of frisbee or badminton as well as sitting around the campfire. The sites vary, accommodating RVs and trailers from 43 to 64 feet in length, and each site has a picnic table and campfire ring. There are also two restrooms with running water and showers with hot water in the campground as well as an RV dump site and several dumpsters to keep your park clean.
The sound of the running water in the Pedernales River is a fantastic way to fall asleep, and the river provides hours of water fun for those who want to do some swimming, boating, and fishing. You can take the short trail to the scenic overlook between sites 19 and 21, but make sure to bring your camera to get some shots to share with friends. The beach area is just to the east of the campground, and there is a picnic area there as well in case you want to eat without going back to the campsite. Pets are welcome, but you have to keep them restrained and supervised during your stay.
If you are a horse lover, bring along your pony because the Pedernales Falls State Park has a special campground just for you. Each site has picnic tables and a group fire ring, and the limit is for six horses and 12 vehicles in total with a maximum trailer length of 40 feet. There are six horse pens for your horses and well water provided to keep them hydrated. There is no potable water for humans, so make sure you bring your own water to drink and use for cooking.
Located between Lone Mountain and Butler Mountain just off Pedernales Falls Road, this group camp is a great place to hang out with other horse lovers while enjoying the natural beauty of the Texas countryside. The main equestrian trails, which are accessible right from the campground, include the 10.6-mile South Equestrian Loop Trail and the 8.9-mile Juniper Ridge Trail. You have to provide the park office with a current Coggins test certificate before entering. Pets are welcome here as well but must be restrained at all times.
Sometimes you want to commune with nature, and, in Texas, where it is warm all year, you have plenty of opportunities to do so. If you're going to spend a night or two under the stars, park your RV and head to the primitive campground. There is a two-mile minimum walk to reach any of these 20 primitive campsites, so make sure you pack your walking shoes.
Each site allows up to four people, and there are chemical toilets but no water or other amenities nearby. You are not allowed to have any ground fires here, and pets are not allowed here either. The camping area is along the river between Mescal Creek and Tobacco Creek near the bluffs. However, you are not allowed to camp directly below the bluffs due to falling rocks and other unsafe conditions.
If you are a sponsor of any type of youth group, you are in luck with this Texas campground. The site can accommodate 75 people, and it has amenities like picnic tables, lantern posts, outdoor grills, and plenty of room to play games or hang out. There are also several chemical toilets nearby for use. In fact, some say their humongous youth group campsite is better than the individual campsites. Also, it is in a secluded area of the park away from other campers so the kids can enjoy themselves without having to worry about bothering their neighbors.
The campground has a short hiking trail that goes to the river’s edge where you can take the group fishing, or you can walk down to the beach area for some swimming and sunbathing. This group campsite is quite large, so it’s ideal for large or medium-sized groups. Be sure to reserve the site in advance since this is a popular place for local youth groups. Pets are also welcome here but have to be restrained and supervised at all times.
The 0.73-mile Wheatley Trail takes you to the Wolf Mountain Trail where you can meander along the river and Walnut Creek to Jones Spring. The first prehistoric inhabitants found this clear water spring, and people ever since then have come to this place and relied on its refreshing water. You can still see part of Nannie and D.J. Jones’ rock house, which they purchased from the Trammells in 1885. You can keep trekking along Wolf Mountain Trail for another five miles, or head back to Pedernales Falls Road.
Geocaching is lots of fun with or without kids. Whether you are a geocaching expert or have never heard of it before, you will enjoy getting out in nature and finding a real-life buried treasure. Use your GPS-enabled device to find a geocache hidden by someone else. The cache is usually a small box with a little geocache swag, like a pencil eraser. Uncover the treasure, replace the item with a new one, sign the logbook, give yourself a smart device smiley face, then go to the next location.
For a short and easy family walk with the little ones, try Warfle’s Trail, which is about 0.74 miles round trip and takes you along a typically empty creek bed. However, after heavy rain, it can become flooded quickly, so make sure you are aware of what the weather has done recently. Have the kids look for animal footprints or other signs of wildlife as you enjoy the time away from the hustle and bustle of daily life.
To see something other than rock, take the short yet rugged Twin Falls Nature Trail to the Twin Falls Overlook. Many people say this green, spring-fed area is one of the most beautiful spots in Central Texas, and that is high praise indeed. The scenic overlook is pretty nice, too, as it is right next to a U-shaped curve in the Pedernales River. This area is environmentally sensitive, so please stay on the trail and stay out of the closed-off areas.
This low water crossing trail is the primary gateway from the developed south side of the park to the mostly undeveloped north side. The trail’s namesake, T.J. Trammell, was one of the first European settlers in this area. He arrived with his family in the early 1870s. You can also keep going onto the 5.5-mile Loop Overlook Trail if you have some time to kill and want to see some amazing scenery of the river and woods below.
The shallow Pedernales River is ideal for swimming, wading, tubing, fishing, rafting, and other low-key aquatic activities. Swimming is allowed in the beach area, which is between Trammell Crossing and the youth camping area. This part of the Pedernales is a little wider and deeper than other parts. The wider part of the river is to the east; the narrow part is to the west. Since it runs over rock, the water gets pretty warm in the summer and pretty cool in the spring and autumn.
It’s a long hike over Trammel’s Crossing to the Loop Trail that will get your feet wet as the trail crosses the river. But the 5.5-mile trek is totally worth the effort because this overlook is a great place for both nature watching and people watching. As mentioned, the river meanders through the solid rock here, and this part of the park is where tubing and other water activities are allowed. In fact, you can bring an innertube and toss it in the river to float back to your campsite instead of hiking back.
A 2.6-mile equestrian loop trail takes visitors from a parking area to the Duck Pond and back. You might not see any ducks there, but you probably will see some deer and other wildlife such as squirrels, rabbits, and maybe even a fox or raccoon. They often come to this remote area of the park to drink. The horseback trail is generally wide and well-marked, so you don’t have to worry about walking conditions. However, if it has rained recently, you may be walking in mud.
After you “ooh” and “ahh” at the Falls, take the short hike to one of the highest points in the Pedernales Falls State Park. From the Headquarters Overlook, visitors get a good view of both the river and the hiking trails. So, this overlook is a good place to plan what you want to do during your stay. You can also head off onto the Wolf Mountain Trail from this short trail, which is a 5.4-mile trek around Regal and Bee Creeks that meanders along the river and loops back around to take you back to the Headquarters Overlook.
This one is a no-brainer. If you go to Pedernales Falls State Park and do not see the falls, you risk deportation to Oklahoma. A one-mile loop trail runs from the parking area, where there are also restroom facilities, to the scenic overlook. Those who are in a hurry can take a trail cutoff. From the overlook, it’s easy to see how the river cut through limestone over time and carved a canyon. The falls are not exactly Victoria Falls, but they are pretty nice. The Texas Parks and Wildlife department ranks these trails as moderate. You need some experience and some hiking boots for this trail.