There’s nothing quite like Central Texas, where you can go just 20 minutes outside Austin and find some of the best hiking that the state has to offer! Bastrop County is home to a handful of towns, including Bastrop, Elgin, Cedar Creek, and Smithville.
They converge in a part of the state that’s known as the “Lost Pines Region.” This refers to a 13-mile strip of loblolly pine trees that run in the Texas Colorado River Valley. These trees are “lost” because the closest genetically similar tree or plant is more than 100-miles away. It’s said that during the last glacial period, roughly 15,000 years ago, the Lost Pines region broke away from the more abundant forest in today’s Alabama, Louisiana, and Eastern Texas.
You can explore these natural wonders and the other fantastic adventures and scenery of the Texas Colorado River throughout Bastrop County! Here are some of our favorite hiking trails that we discovered on our recent visit to the area!
McKinney Roughs Nature Park
Cedar Creek, Texas
As part of the Lower Colorado River Association, McKinney Roughs Nature Park is a unique destination where you can view four separate ecosystems working together in the same 1,100 acres. Post-Oak Savannah, Blackland Prairie, East Texas Piney Woods, and a riparian zone come together in perfect harmony at the edge of the river valley. The park has everything from hundreds of plant and animal species, to wildflower meadows and valley outlook points over the lazy bends of the Texas Colorado River.
We went to McKinney Roughs each day we were in Bastrop because it was right across the street from where we were staying. It’s absolutely beautiful there and easy access right off Highway 71. They have over 20 different trails ranging from easy to challenging, and they’re all really well marked and maintained throughout the park. Feel free to walk, hike, bike, or even ride your horse throughout the network of trails, then stop into the welcome center and check out the interactive exhibits that walk you through why the park exists and how it relates to the river. Next door, you’ll also find Mark Rose Natural Science Center, where they offer a variety of classes and demonstrations from teachers and other professionals.
It’s a $5 donation per person to hike at McKinney Roughs Nature Park, and worth it! Dogs are welcome on leash, and our pup absolutely loved sniffing all the new smells! I think the thing I loved most about this place was that the hiking trails we took, we were literally among a herd of deer at one point – and they weren’t even scared of us! It was fascinating – and I can’t wait to see more! McKinney Roughs Nature Park should definitely be on your hiking list!
Bastrop County Nature Park
If you’re looking to spend a day down by the river, and hope to get a little exercise while you’re there, I’d pack up a day pack and a cooler and head down to Bastrop County Nature Park. Right in Bastrop proper, this nature park is the official pull-out of the Colorado River for the Texas Paddling Trail system!
With free access to both the nature park and the water, you can put in and take out your boat or kayak without issue. In the summer months, bring your tube and take a gentle float or swim in the calm waters! There are BBQ pits and picnic tables, too, so go ahead and make a day of it!
In addition to the river access, you’ll find 7.5 miles of moderate walking trails too, that are part of the Lost Pines Nature Trails. The trails lead through Bastrop County Nature Park and into the Colorado River Refuge next to it. Check out the ancient and mysterious loblolly pines that make up the Lost Pines, and the hundreds of species of birds that make the river valley their home!
Buescher State Park
On the other side of Bastrop, you’ll find Buescher State Park in Smithville. The undeveloped areas include a wide variety of plants, mixing both loblolly pines, with post-oaks and junipers. Of the two state parks in the area (the other being Bastrop State Park), this is definitely the quieter of the two. There’s a 7.7 mile round trip hiking trail, and a 30-acre lake that is stocked with crappie, bass, and catfish, as well as rainbow trout in the Winter.
We found this to be a moderate hike for us, and we did about 3 miles a total of 7.7. It was a $5 donation to get into the state park per person, and but again, we could bring the dog on a leash, so that was a massive bonus for us. I really like that this is a smaller park and there isn’t a lot of foot traffic even on the weekend. There were folks biking and fishing. Put your canoe in and paddle in the lake, too, during the warmer months!
Within Buescher State Park, though, you can enter into the Lost Pines area. Unfortunately, Bastrop suffered from the worst wildfire in Texas History in this area back in 2011. The area was severely damaged, and a lot of the loblolly pines were destroyed. In this area in Buescher, state and university reforestation experts are working to restore the damaged area. It’s still really spooky and kind of creeped us out – but, also, to really see first-hand what a wildfire does, even nearly 10 years after it’s still recovering.
Colorado River Refuge
Just next to Bastrop County Nature Park is the Colorado River Refuge. Now, don’t be confused. The entrance to this is actually in a subdivision called The Tahitian Village. Don’t worry – you’re not trespassing! The CRR is open to the public for free during daylight hours, and you’ll find parking down at the trailhead.
The refuge itself combines 32 acres of land and 33 acres of water, and the Lost Pines Trail runs right through this area for 3 miles. It’s a straightforward trail, and suitable for both folks with limited mobility, as well as those with strollers or small children.
Follow the trail as it meanders around the lazy bends of the Colorado River, and check out bot the old-growth riparian habitat and some of the post-oak savannah, including the gorgeous meadows along Dragonfly Trail. In fact, the best time to check out this trail is during the first two weeks of March, when the Texas Wildflowers bloom and the fields are covered with glorious colors as you’ve never seen! Grab the whole family and immerse yourself in the undeveloped natural beauty of this hidden gem just 13 minutes outside of Austin!
Bastrop State Park
Bastrop State Park is another one to add to your list for some interesting hikes. The wildfire of 2011 in Bastrop took roughly 100-acres out at Bastrop State Park. Here there is blatant evidence of the devastation the fire did almost 10 years ago, and because of such, the hiking trails aren’t as shaded as usual. Just something to keep in mind when you’re putting on your sunblock, and to carry extra water!
What you will find over the devastation is how new life is starting to grow. New trees have been planted and are taking root, and the plants are beginning to come back. It’s exciting to see how the earth is recovering and moving forward with renewing itself here! And with 7 miles of trails at your fingertips, you’ll get to know the resiliency of mother nature at work!
For your $5 entrance fee, you can spend the whole day at Bastrop State Park hiking, biking, and picnicking!
Rocky Hill Ranch
Did you know that the best bike ranch in Texas is located right here in Bastrop County? Well – it is! Rocky Hill Ranch in Smithville holds a wide variety of events and races for the mountain bike circuit, but you can visit during the day if there’s no event taking place. You’ll find more than 25 miles of trails for running and hiking, as well as mountain biking. There are showers and bathrooms on-site for your convenience, and you can bring the pup with you, but they need to stay on leash.
Rocky Hill Ranch is an excellent location to hang out. For a $10 entry fee, you can enjoy all these scenic trails at your own pace. Whether you bike or hike, Rocky Hill Ranch is a great place to take the family for a day of enjoying the natural beauty of Texas!
Lake Bastrop South Shore Park
This is a beautiful little park in Bastrop that has 9 hiking trails ranging from ⅓ mile to 3.5 miles and is suitable for all different skill levels. The paths are clearly marked, with names like Loblolly Trail, Heron, and Gideon loop, and the mileage of the trail as well, so you can figure out how far you’re actually going. The trails loop around Lake Bastrop South Shore Park and there are a variety of different lookouts clearly marked with benches for you to sit and take in the scenery.
The trails are well maintained and wide, so you don’t have to worry about getting around anyone else you might encounter while walking. Footbridges in areas over creek beds were solid, but of course, you should always watch your step! The views themselves are amazing, and we saw two white-tailed deer while we walked frolicking in the meadow across the lake! It was adorable!
This is another excellent place to plan on spending the whole day. The lake area offers biking and picnic areas, as well as fishing and swimming. You can even rent canoes, kayaks, or paddleboards right on-site! They also happen to have a mini-golf area, so you can get in a quick 9 before heading home if the hike didn’t take it out of you already!