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 Drive and go northwest on University Parks Drive 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.
Phone: 254-750-8080, www.waco-texas.com
Cameron Park Zoo
From I 35 in Waco take the 4th - 5th Street Exit and go northwest on 4th Street for 1.7 miles through downtown. Cameron Park Zoo entrance is on the right. (Note: 4th Street 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 has 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 Doves, Carolina Wrens and White-eyed Vireos.
Phone: 254-750-8400, www.cameronparkzoo.com
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 miles, 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 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 Wrens and Woodpeckers. The drier oak scrub near the road is worth checking for Painted Buntings, while Red-shouldered and Red-tailed Hawks along with vultures may be seen overhead.
Phone: 254-848-9654, www.waco-texas.com
Bend of the Bosque Herb Farm B&B
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 (northeast) on FM 185 and follow it approximately 4.2 miles to FM 1637. Go left on FM 1637 for 5.3 miles to Bend of the Bosque Rd. Turn left and the B&B is the second house on the right after 0.6 miles.
The Bend of the Bosque B&B offers a comfortable rural setting only a few minutes from downtown Waco. Patrons can relax and watch area wildlife come to the numerous feeders and butterfly host plants. For the more adventurous, the B&B offers over 100 acres of woodland and ponds to explore. You can hike to one of the most scenic bends on the Bosque River. Near the house, look for Inca Doves under the feeders and Black-chinned and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds at the hummingbird feeders. Check the ponds for dragonflies such as Roseate and Widow Skimmers. The area between the ponds and the river hosts several pairs of Painted Buntings and Lark Sparrows, which can be seen flitting between the fence posts and juniper trees. Along the river, listen for Red-eyed Vireos and Great-crested Flycatchers in the verdant bottomlands. The river itself is worth checking for Great Blue and Green Herons as well as the striking American Rubyspot damselfly. If you are fortunate, you may hear the glorious song of the Canyon Wren as it ripples along the sandstone bluffs above the river.
Phone: 254-836-4290, www.bbonline.com/TX/HerbFarm/
C Bar Stables
From I 35 in south Waco, take Exit 330 for SR 6. Take Hwy 6 northwest for 22 miles to the town of Valley Mills. Turn right (north) on FM 56 and go north 3.7 miles north to CR 3350. Turn left onto CR 3350 and go less than 0.1 mile to CR 3348. Turn left and go 0.6 miles to the entrance gate of C Bar Stables; continue 0.8 miles to the barn.
C-Bar Stables is located along the Old Chisholm Trail, making it an ideal choice to experience Texas from the back of a horse. With dozens of trails crisscrossing the ranch, there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy native wildlife. The open prairie along the entrance road is filled with singing Lark Sparrows and Dickcissels every spring, as Scissor-tailed Flycatchers perform aerial acrobatics overhead. In the wooded canyons, Painted Buntings flush from the underbrush and the descending whistles of Canyon Wrens can be heard. Watch for White-tailed Deer and Wild Turkeys, which roam the tree line, or the occasional Red-tailed Hawk or Mississippi Kite soaring overhead.
Phone: 254-932-6551; 254-934-2270, www.cbarstables.com
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/ Cedar Rock Pkwy. Turn left (southwest) on FM 185/ Cedar Rock Pkwy for 8.9 miles to its intersection with SR 317 in Crawford. Continue west on FM 185/ Cedar Rock Pkwy for 0.3 miles to Prairie Chapel Rd. Turn right (northwest) on Prairie Chapel Rd. and follow it 5.2 miles to Mattlage Ranch.
While Crawford's residents welcome recent arrivals, such as President George W. Bush, the Mattlage family has been here for over a hundred years. Larry Mattlage knows the history of this land like few others. A visit to his property is sure to be rewarded with a variety of wildlife as well as a deeper understanding of the land and its history. A walk into one of the limestone valleys could lead to a curious Bobcat, a roosting Great Horned Owl, or the remains of a camp of nomadic Plains Indians. Listen as the canyons echo with the calls of Yellow-billed Cuckoos and Wild Turkeys. The grasslands above the canyon are filled with Lark and Grasshopper Sparrows while Northern Bobwhites whistle from the thickets.
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. It is named for Mrs. Isabella Eleanor (Mother) Neff who donated six acres of land along the Leon River in 1916 which became the first park site. Her son was Texas Governor Pat M. Neff, who served as Governor from 1921 to 1925. After the death of his mother in 1921, Governor Neff created the Mother Neff Memorial Park which later became the nucleus of the Texas State Park System. In the 1930's, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) restored the park to its historical setting. An excavation in 1935 led to the discovery of three Indian graves and many artifacts. During prehistoric times this area was occupied by several groups of Indians, including some groups probably related to the Tonkawas.
Heavily wooded, the park is ideal for camping, hiking, picnicking, fishing, and wildlife viewing. Check the picnic area for Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Eastern Phoebes and Great-crested Flycatchers. In the drier habitats, listen for Painted Buntings singing from mesquite trees and watch White-winged Doves 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.
Phone: 254-853-2389, Mother Neff SP
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 2.2 miles to FM 2271. Turn right and follow FM 2271 for 1.0 mile to the nature center on the right.
The Miller Springs Natural Area sits right on the eastern edge of the Edward's 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 Kingbirds and Great-crested Flycatchers, as well as the occasional Lark Sparrow perched on the numerous snags. Chipping Sparrows 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.
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 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 Terns and Franklin's Gulls in addition to numerous shorebirds. Check the area around the dam for nesting Cliff Swallows and for Western Kingbirds resting on the telephone wires. The shrubs along the lakeshore are filled with Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and White-eyed Vireos. Check any floating object out on the lake for loafing turtles, including Red-eared Sliders and Western Chicken Turtle.
Stillhouse Hollow Lake - Chalk Ridge Fal
From I 35 take Exit 293B for US 190 in Belton. Go west on US 190 for 2.0 miles to FM 1670 Exit. Travel along the frontage road 2.4 miles to FM 1670. Turn left (south) on FM 1670 and go 2.1 miles to the entrance to the park on the left. Follow the road down the hill for 0.6 miles 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 Cuckoos, Red-eyed Vireos, and migrating Yellow Warblers. 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 7.1 miles to Nolanville Rd. Turn left onto Nolanville Rd. and go 1.0 mile to FM 2410. Turn right on FM 2410 and go 2.2 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 Edward's 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 Wrens 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.