Too much sitting around makes me grumpy, so I struck out for Enchanted Rock State Natural Area yesterday to stretch my legs and admire my favorite pink granite batholith.
I’m working on a longer story, but until then, some pro tips in case you plan a visit yourself:
1. Go early. Rangers told me the park fills up between 9 and 11 a.m. on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays when the weather is nice. When parking is full, park officials close the park for up to 4 hours. It takes about an hour and 45 minutes to get there from Austin, so plan accordingly. The park office opens at 7:30 a.m.
2. Watch your step. When you’re hiking the main rock, avoid the vernal pools. These shallow weathering pits hold water for a few weeks each year, and they’re fragile ecosystems. Cool creatures like freshwater fairy shrimp live in them, and an errant step from a hiker can do damage. So can letting your dog drink from one.
3. Don’t just hike to the summit of the main dome. This park gets crowded, but most of those visitors are concentrated in the parking areas and the trail to the top of the main dome. Do that first, then walk back down and catch the Turkey Pass Trail. From there, you’ll see Turkey Peak to the right. Scamper to the top, where you get a great view of all the ant-sized people scrambling over Enchanted Rock.
4. Go the back way. Want to avoid crowds? Take the Loop Trail, a 4.25-mile circuit of the park. Fewer people, nicer views.
5. Camp at Moss Lake. It’s prettier than the car camping spots on the front side of the main rock. Depending on your route, it’s between a mile to a mile and a half to the Moss Lake primitive camping area. You’ll get the best sunrise and sunset views of the rock. I often recommend the spot to readers looking for a beginner friendly backpacking route. Do it before a big trip to make sure you’ve got your gear in order. There’s even a compost toilet.
6. Try trail running. The wide gravel paths and smooth granite outcroppings make perfect terrain for off-road running. Pack your trailers and hit the 4.25-mile Loop Trail for a great workout.
7. Drive carefully. The park is located at 16710 Ranch Road 965, about 17 miles north of Fredericksburg. When it’s busy, park officials only let motorists who are driving south on RR 965 turn into the park entrance. That means if you are heading north on the highway from Fredericksburg, you’ll have to pass the entrance, turn around and come back from the other side. It’s not an ideal situation.
8. Unless you want to incorporate a shopping trip into your excursion, avoid the congestion of Fredericksburg. From Austin, take Highway 71 to Llano, then head south of Highway 16 to RR 965, or take U.S. 290 West, head north on U.S. 281 toward Johnson City, then turn left onto RR 1323 through Willow City to U.S. Highway 16 and RR 965.
9. Stop for cookies at the Valero gas station, 500 S. U.S. Highway 281 in Johnson City. They’ve got the best Mexican pastries, the perfect post-hiking snack.