Travis County Parks With a Dog – Texas, USA
We were lucky enough to spend a day enjoying the beauty of some of the Travis County Parks. This collection of parks, totalling about 22 in all, is an extraordinary concept. Each individual park has something different to offer. Some focus on hiking, horseback riding and mountain biking. Other parks offer fishing, bird watching, camping, rock climbing and more. With so many parks to choose from, we had to narrow down our choices.
Choice #1 Milton Reimer Ranch Park
On the Pedernales River, the Milton Reimer Ranch is the newest and largest addition to the Travis County Parks system. The park is breathtakingly, achingly beautiful.
Even after a long and hot summer, wild flowers bloomed everywhere in the park. When we were there in October, the flowers were mostly in shades of yellow and surrounded by amazing ornamental type grasses. These left a nice smell of “fresh hay” lingering in the air. I was told that in May, purple and blue seem to take over with the grasses being greener and shorter. I love the idea that the landscape changes its “outfits” in such an obvious way depending on the seasons. This means you can hike the same trails all year round and see the vista change in subtle ways from visit to visit.
We enjoyed a 3-mile trail in an open space high up on the cliffs, the trail following the contour of the Pedernales riverbank. You can’t help but feel at peace as you stand on the top of the ridge looking down on the vista before you. There is a slight breeze even at the hottest time of day. The walls that were built where the cliffs could pose a danger to distracted visitors are high enough to keep people from accidentally falling over the edge but low enough not to obstruct the view of classic, central Texas landscape. I loved it. It was like having my very own version of the Great Wall of China. I pranced and surveyed the land.
There are washrooms near all the parking areas. The washrooms are clean and well lit and maintained. Picnic tables can easily be found; most even in the shade!
Milton Reimer Ranch is the “go-to” place for rock climbers and mountain bikers who like to take advantage of the 18 miles of trails available to them. If you like to fish, then this Park is also for you: people have been coming for generations for the white bass. For people like us who love to hike for hours on end, the park is a paradise of deep canyons and panoramic views.
Just how big is Milton Reamer Ranch? It is huge: a total of 2,427 acres of parks and open space! And remember that this is just one of 22 parks. It boggles the mind!
As with most tourist spots, there are rules to follow and entry fees to pay. We found the prices and rules to be very reasonable and understandable.
The park is open only for day use. Due to the significant fire risk in the region, especially in the hot summer months, ground fires and fireworks are never permitted. You can’t bring glass containers either, and no alcohol is permitted. For us, the most important rule we needed to figure out is the one regarding pets. Here is the rule for all Travis County Parks:
“All pets must be kept under the owner’s direct control and attached to a person or fixed object at all times by a leash not to exceed six feet in length, and shall not be left unattended or constitute a nuisance. Noisy, vicious, or dangerous animals are not permitted, as determined on site by park staff. Other pets/animals, such as barnyard animals, exotics, llamas, mules, donkeys, goats and what would be considered a wild animal will not be allowed to be brought into any park. Exception: Pets are not allowed in Hamilton Pool Preserve, Pogue Springs Preserve, Wild Basin Preserve, Hippie Hollow Park, Tom Hughes Park, or on the Point at Bob Wentz Park. “ – Travis Park Website
Choice #2 Hamilton Pool Preserve
Some places on the planet are so beautiful that they elicit the same sense of wonder and vocal restraint one experiences when entering such places as famous museums and cathedrals. These spaces don’t have to be large but they do have a sense of majesty that brings on a feeling of pilgrimage as you enter. You didn’t know it, but every step you had taken in your life up until that point was to lead you there. You feel it. Sense it deep in your bones.
Hamilton Pool Preserve is one such place. The Pool was created when the dome of an underground river collapsed thousands of years ago exposing a jade green pool surrounded by huge limestone slabs that seem to flirt with the water’s edge. Large stalactites grow from the ceiling high above, resembling pillars reaching to the ceiling of a Gothic Church. Instead of man-made frescoes, nature stuns you with its diversity of moss, maidenhair fern and active swallow population. Ashe Juniper perfumes the air with a unique scent and offers protection for the endangered golden-cheeked warbler. The 50-foot waterfall is a gentle choir singing in the background, cooling visitors after their hike with its mist. The place is magic.
Sadly, the Preserve is not dog friendly. (Service dogs are exempt.) Before getting upset, the reasons for excluding dogs, for once, are good ones.
At first, the pool was a family secret. But from 1960 to 1980, the pool was public and hundreds of thousands of people visited. In addition, cattle, sheep and goats grazed at the delicate ecosystem. So, for several decades, the pool slowly deteriorated, a victim of its own beauty and soaring popularity. The grotto and its magic suffered from sheer numbers and few restrictions.
Then, in 1980, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department cited Hamilton Pool as the most significant natural area in rural Travis County. In 1985, Travis County purchased 232 acres (0.94 km2) from the famous Reimers family (still the original owners) and implemented an aggressive land management plan to restore Hamilton Pool. Now, the lush fern-canopied cliffs are making a comeback, as are the rolling hills and meadows of the uplands.
Ongoing land management practices at Hamilton Pool Preserve include prescribed burns, prairie restoration, endangered species surveys, biological inventories and water quality monitoring.
- Access to the pool and river requires a $10 Travis County Park entry fee. The fee grants you access to all Travis County Parks for that day. (We were lucky not to pay because we had a senior with us!)
- Hamilton Pool Preserve has a capacity limit of 75 parking spots. Once the lot is full, the park lets one car in as another car leaves. When swimming is permitted, waits of 25 minutes are not uncommon.
- Getting to the pool requires a steep quarter mile trek downhill. There is no handicapped access available.
- The preserve is occasionally closed due to flooding or hazardous trail conditions.
- The preserve closes at 6:00 pm and entry is not permitted after 5:30.
- The natural pool and creek are not chemically treated, so water quality is monitored regularly and swimming is occasionally restricted. Call ahead to check conditions before your visit.
- There are no lifeguards on duty, and drinking water and concessions are not available.
- Composting toilets and picnic tables are provided near the parking lot.
- Since Hamilton Pool is a nature preserve, the following rules apply: no fishing, mountain biking, camping, dogs or other pets. Cooking and fires are also not permitted.
We are ok with this. This little piece of heaven needs a chance to breathe and to recuperate. Although small dogs in arms or a bag or on tight leash should be considered, we understand that all too often, people break the rules and the ecosystem is just not strong enough to handle that.
We are glad we went. Have you ever enjoyed a Park as vast as Milton Reimer Ranch Park? Or a small magical wonder like Hamilton Pool Preserve? Yes? Then please share!