Visit Two Texas State Parks Near Austin: Inks Lake and Longhorn Caverns
October 10, 2020
Inks Lake State Park and Longhorn Caverns State Park are located only a ten minutes drive from each other in Texas Hill Country. They make for a great day trip from Austin! If you want to stay longer, make a weekend with your visit by camping in Inks Lake or staying in a cabin with a lakeside view. This is a beautiful area of hill country filled with unique rock formations and things to do on the water.
Please make it a priority to Leave No Trace when exploring the outdoors. This includes leaving nothing behind, respecting wildlife, minimizing campfire impacts, respecting those around you, planning ahead and traveling on durable surfaces. For more details, read about the seven principles at lnt.org.
Inks Lake State Park is perfect for camping. They have about 200 campsites, many of which have direct access to the lake. Some areas are more secluded while other areas feel like you’re sleeping in a little village. Camping also means you’ll have early access to the swimming holes and trails so you can beat the crowds!
If you’re not interested in camping, you may want to stay in a cabin on the shores of Buchanan Lake. The Painted Sky Inn and the Hi Line Lake Resort both have lakeside rooms with gorgeous views and peaceful ambiance. Wherever you stay, be sure to end your day with a sunset over Lake Buchanan. The stunning colors are a sight to behold.
Inks Lake State Park is located an hour and 20 minutes from Austin and offers great hiking trails, swimming holes and camping. The park opened in 1950 and is located on the banks of Buchanan Lake. I was really impressed with the beautiful rocks, trails and swimming that it had to offer!
The Valley Spring Creek Trail begins at the Devil’s Waterhole, a popular place to swim. A lot of people were even jumping off of cliffs into the water (about a 20 foot drop). Beyond the Devil’s Waterhole, the trail goes over rocky terrain and past beautiful clumps of cacti.
Usually you’ll find the Valley Spring Creek Waterfall on the trail, but there was no water flowing while I visited. This means that you can walk among the dry waterfall creekbed! The water falls during rainy seasons and is really cool to see. Water pools in different areas and the water trickles its way down before emptying into the lake. You can swim here too, but they become a little stagnant if the water isn’t flowing.
I really loved that the trail was full of life - from lizards scampering across the path to yellow and blue wildflowers scattered about, it really felt like the environment was thriving.
The Valley Spring Creek Trail turns into the Devil’s Backbone Nature Trail as you make your way around the lake. The trail becomes a little more wooded and leads to a large bird watching gallery. It was probably the biggest bird blind I’ve seen, with lots of indoor seating. Combining these sections sums to about 3.5 miles round trip.
The Pecan Flats Trail has the highest elevation in the park, meaning great views! The trail is 3.3 miles round trip and starts relatively flat until the trail crosses State Park Road 4. I parked next to the park entrance and connected through the Lake Trail before reaching the Pecan Flats Trail. The first overlook on the trail has a beautiful view of Buchanan Lake and there are interesting rock formations along the way.
While not available at this writing, the park rents kayaks and paddle boats to traverse the lake. This is a great way to explore the rocky edges of the lake and find your own swimming hole. Whether or not you want to paddle, Inks Lake is a great spot to swim. Swim at the Devil’s Waterhole and get your adrenaline pumping with some cliff jumping, or swim in the more secluded pools among the Valley Spring Waterfall after a rainy season.
Longhorn Caverns State Park was built in the 1930’s as CCC workers cleared 2.5 tons of debris out of the cave system. Unsurprisingly, going on a cave tour is a must do while visiting. The regular cave tour lasts an hour and half as a guide takes you through the cave.
As of this writing, cave tours are limited to 25 people and cost $18 + tax for adults. Masks are required but unfortunately they weren’t strictly enforced.
You can also go on a wild cave tour where you’ll get to shimmy through narrow nooks and see rooms only accessible by crawling. Currently, the wild cave tours are offered on Saturday mornings and cost $65. It sounds really fun!
Here are some things I learned and noticed while on the cave tour:
- The cave was formed in a rare and unique way - water cutting away rock from an underground river 1000’s of years ago.
- Before being cleared by the CCC and becoming a tourist attraction, it was used as a meeting place for Native American tribes, outlaws and confederate soldiers.
- There was an active nightclub in the cave in the 1930’s.
- There is a rock formation that looks just like a dog! The CCC moved it from a back room to put it on display. Unfortunately, it broke in half during the CCC restoration, but it was cemented back together and can be seen today.
- The cave is full of adorable chicken nugget sized bats.
- Some parts of the cave are ruined from visitors touching the walls when it first opened in the 30’s.
- My favorite parts of the cave included a 14 foot stalagmite and a room full of shiny, crystal covered walls.
Above the cave, you’ll also find some short and easy above ground trails and a small observation tower with a view.
Perissos Vineyard and Winery is right between Inks Lake and Longhorn Caverns. They have a large beautiful vineyard, highly rated wines and great service. Its proximity to the parks makes it the perfect place to visit while you’re in the area.
Torr Na Lochs Winery is also really close to Inks Lake State Park, a ten minute drive northeast. There is an amazing view here of Inks Lake and Hill Country. There is also a lot of outdoor seating and great wine.
Take a cruise around Lake Buchanan with your own boat, a rental boat or a ticket on Vanishing River Cruises. Vanishing River Cruises goes past a waterfall and a variety of wildlife. A guide will speak about the history of the lake along the way.
Enjoy a scoop of ice cream after a day of hiking at Happy Scoops Ice Cream in Burnet! I’m always looking for cute ice cream shops in Texas small towns and this is a great one. They have unique homemade flavors (like bourbon pecan) and homemade cones. This shop has a lot of small town charm and makes for the perfect trip during your trip to Texas Hill Country.
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