Chisolm Trail Loop
- Belton COC, 254-939-3551, www.seebelton.com
- Temple COC, 254-773-2105, www.temple-tx.org
- Waco CVB, 800-321-9226, www.wacocvb.com
From I-35 in Waco, take Exit 335-B/University Parks Dr. and go northwest on University Parks Dr. for 1.4 miles to the park.
Cameron Park encompasses several hundred acres along the Brazos River in downtown Waco. It is nationally renowned as one of the largest city parks in the country as well as having some of the best mountain biking trails in Texas. It also happens to be a great spot to watch wildlife. Along the river, search for Great Blue and Green Herons in summer and a variety of waterfowl in winter. Riverside brush should be checked for Common Yellowthroats and the larger trees for Red-bellied Woodpeckers. Check the cliffs along the river for Black-chinned and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds and both Tufted and Black-crested Titmice. A visit to the native flower gardens on the southern edge of the park provides an opportunity to observe various Sulphurs, Spicebush and Pipevine Swallowtails and Red Admirals.
Cameron Park Zoo
From I-35 in Waco take the 4th_5th St. Exit and go northwest on 4th St. for 1.7 miles through downtown. Cameron Park Zoo entrance is on the right. (Note: 4th St. is a one-way street).
Upon first inspection, the Cameron Park Zoo seems more like a park with wild animals than a typical zoo. The large exhibits are spread out in a natural setting with many opportunities to look for native species. The zoo's 52 acres have been certified as a Texas Wildscape Backyard Habitat. The Brazos River Country features major habitats and species encountered along the Brazos River as it flows from the High Plains to the Gulf Coast. This exhibit inspires visitors to seek out and learn more about the region's habitats and wildlife. Before you leave, check near the feeders at the zoo entrance for Inca Dove, Carolina Wren and White-eyed Vireo.
Lake Waco Wetlands
From I-35 in Waco, take Exit 330 at Hwy. 6 and Loop 340. Drive 10.8 miles northwest on Hwy. 6 to FM 185. Turn right (east) on FM 185. After 0.5 mile, turn left on Eichelberger Crossing. The Wetland is 1.6 miles down on the right. Directional signs will be posted.
Lake Waco Wetlands is an ambitious project of the City of Waco. These 174 acres of wetlands were created to mitigate the loss of other wetlands around Lake Waco when the surface level of the lake was raised. A wetlands education center and an ADA-accessible trail, allowing visitors to travel through a wooded area to a platform overlooking the wetland, are completed and open to the public. Explore the area via a 2.5-mile gravel path that leads visitors around and through the wetland.
In spring and fall, the wetlands attract numerous migratory shorebirds, and winter brings in the waterfowl. Summertime is marked by dozens of singing Dickcissels competing for perching space with Red-winged Blackbirds. In early summer the wetlands are filled with the purple blooms of pickerelweed and the white blooms of duck potato. The trees in the marsh are filled with Great and Snowy Egrets, while the neighboring bottomlands host Wren and Woodpecker. The drier oak scrub near the road is worth checking for Painted Bunting, while Red-shouldered and Red-tailed Hawks along with vultures may be seen overhead.
Mother Neff State Park
In Temple, take Exit 299 from I-35 onto SR 36. Turn north and go 2.1 miles to its intersection with SR 53. Turn northwest and continue 14.2 miles on SR 36 to SR 236. Turn right (north) on SR 236 and follow it 5.2 miles to the park entrance on the left.
Mother Neff State Park is the first official state park in Texas and became the nucleus of the Texas state park system. Heavily wooded, the park is ideal for camping, hiking, picnicking, fishing and wildlife viewing. Check the picnic area for Red-bellied Woodpecker, Eastern Phoebe and Great Crested Flycatcher. In the drier habitats, listen for Painted Bunting singing from mesquite trees and watch White-winged Dove flying overhead. Search the open prairie for butterflies such as Common Buckeye and Variegated Fritillary, and look for dragonflies like Black Saddlebags and Plains Clubtail.
Miller Springs Natural Area
From I-35 in Temple, take Exit 293A and go north on SR 317 for 2.6 miles to FM 439. Turn left (west) on FM 439 for 1.9 miles to FM 2271. Turn right and follow FM 2271 for 1 mile to the nature center on the right.
The Miller Springs Natural Area sits right on the eastern edge of the Edwards Plateau. Rocky grasslands and Ashe juniper woodlands support a mixture of eastern and western species. When walking along the escarpment, look for flycatchers such as Western Kingbird and Great Crested Flycatcher, as well as the occasional Lark Sparrow perched on the numerous snags. Chipping Sparrow can be found among the junipers as can various migrant passerines in spring and fall. These include Black-and-white, Nashville and Yellow-rumped Warblers, as well as White-eyed and Red-eyed Vireos. In the open areas look for Variegated Fritillaries and Spicebush Swallowtails.
Belton Lake Park
From I-35 in Temple, take Exit 293A and go north on SR 317 for 2.6 miles to FM 439. Turn left (west) on FM 439 for 2.2 miles to the intersection of FM 2271. Continue straight ahead on FM 439 for 0.3 mile to the park on the right.
Belton Lake Park provides an opportunity to survey the southern end of the lake for waterfowl and a variety of potential vagrants. Regular species found on the lake include Forster's Tern and Franklin's Gull in addition to numerous shorebirds. Check the area around the dam for nesting Cliff Swallow and for Western Kingbird resting on the telephone wires. The shrubs along the lakeshore are filled with Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and White-eyed Vireo. Check any floating object out on the lake for loafing turtles, including red-eared sliders and western chicken turtle.
Stillhouse Hollow Lake - Chalk Ridge Falls Park
From I-35 take Exit 293B for US 190 in Belton. Go west on US 190 for 2 miles to FM 1670 Exit. Turn left (south) on FM 1670 and go 3.3 miles to the entrance to the park on the left. Follow the road down the hill for 0.6 mile to the parking area.
Following the Lampasas River from the Stillhouse Hollow Dam, travelers soon enter a tall bottomland forest. Throughout this forest, a series of boardwalks and bridges cross creeks flowing into the river. Visitors can enjoy several impressive waterfalls along the way. Look for Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Red-eyed Vireo and migrating Yellow Warbler. The river hosts Eastern Amberwing dragonflies and American Rubyspot and Powdered Dancer damselflies. Also alive along the river are various butterflies, including Question Mark, Texas Crescent, American Snout and Viceroy.
Stillhouse Hollow Lake - Dana Peak Park
From I-35 take Exit 293B for US 190 in Belton. Go west on US 190 for 4.6 miles to Simmons Rd. Turn left onto Simmons Rd. and go 0.1 mile to FM 2410. Turn right on FM 2410 and go 5.4 miles to Comanche Gap Rd. Turn left and follow Comanche Gap Rd. 2.3 miles to the entrance to the park.
Dana Peak Park features typical Edwards Plateau vegetation, with numerous clumps of low-growing oak that, on occasion, host a pair of endangered Black-capped Vireos. Greater Roadrunners are abundant on these dry rocky hillsides, and the sound of Bewick's Wren can be heard buzzing everywhere. Black-chinned Hummingbirds zip back and forth throughout the park. The lake offers the possibility for migrant and vagrant waterfowl and shorebirds. Of particular interest is the sandy swimming beach, which can host White-rumped and Baird's Sandpipers as well as other peeps among the more regular Killdeer.