May 2006 Park of
Colorado Bend State Park
Wilderness Experience Awaits At Colorado Bend State Park
It’s hard to imagine the beauty and serenity that awaits the uninitiated at Colorado Bend State Park, only a two-hour drive northwest of Austin. A lazy spring afternoon at this minimally developed Colorado River park finds a few dogged anglers wade fishing and buzzards soaring above multihued canyon walls awash in golden light. The occasional splash of a bass rending the surface and gentle whistle of winds blowing up from nearby Lake Buchanan are the only things that break the silence.
Colorado Bend occupies more than 5,000 acres 35 miles west of Lampasas, where the Cross Timbers and Prairies region to the northeast collides with the Edwards Plateau's porous limestone hills to the southwest. The result is a state park possessing a dual personality -- part rugged range land and part fragile riparian habitat frequented by the endangered golden-cheeked warbler and black-capped vireo.
"In lots of ways," park superintendent Cory Evans observes, "Colorado Bend functions as a state natural area. With the presence of endangered species, the environmentally sensitive creek and canyon habitats and more than 350 known caves and karst features, it's really set up to protect endangered species and the fragile ecology."
The state acquired the original 734 acres of parkland in 1984 to protect some of Texas’ most prized natural wonders - clear-running Gorman Springs, Gorman Creek and Gorman Falls whose calcium carbonate-laden waters spill over a travertine ledge, cascading 60 feet into a tree-shaded, translucent pool. Though this former Gorman Falls and Fishing Camp portion of the park remains accessible to the public only by guided tours, visitors can roam freely through the rest of the park's more than 4,500 acres of upland oak savanna, juniper-oak woodlands and creekside riparian habitat, and camp beneath towering oaks, sycamores and pecan trees.
Colorado Bend, unlike most Texas state parks, offers only primitive camping. Most campers opt to camp overnight in tents or small pop-up campers. There are a total of 38 campsites with potable water nearby, but no electrical hookups or dump stations. The only park restrooms are composting toilets.
The main camping area along the river features drive-up sites with picnic tables, fire rings, cooking grills and a lantern post. There are 15 campsites at the base of a limestone ridge and twenty-three river bank walk-in tent sites, that can handle a maximum of eight people. Those seeking additional solitude can backpack to primitive camping areas along the River Trail or the Windmill Trail to pitch a bedroll.
The Live Oak and River Group Camping areas provide ready access to the river and composting toilets, and come with picnic tables, lantern poles and large fire rings.
Though the park's location is a bit remote, some still drive out for the day from Lampasas, San Saba and Killeen to picnic, fish, hike or just enjoy the peaceful, open spaces.
Park visitors can find plenty to do in this idyllic setting of woods and waters. Hikers have some 16 miles of trails to tread, including the Spicewood Springs Trail that offers what just might be the most beautiful hiking trail in the Texas Hill Country. Most park visitors access the trail about half a mile from park headquarters, where spring waters spill into a large pool that beckons during warm-weather days. The trail snakes uphill 260 feet, skirting canyon walls and dropping again and again to crisscross the shallow creek up to a dozen times. Hikers are rewarded with dazzling overlooks and a frog’s eye view of a series of small waterfalls, where maidenhair fern and other greenery cling to the fragile travertine formations. Plan on at least an hour to enjoy the hike, take photos and dip your toes in the cool waters.
What lies below Colorado Bend State Park’s surface holds considerable intrigue as well. Over the years, speleologists have explored and mapped some 350 caves. Gorman Cave, more than 3,000 feet in length, is the largest and can be accessed only on guided wild cave tours offered every Saturday and Sunday morning. The walking cave tour lasts about three hours. A hardhat is provided, but tour participants must bring their own flashlight.
If you prefer to tackle the wild caves on your own and don’t mind getting a little dirty, you can pay to get directions to caves where crawling is the only way to access the tight subterranean spaces.
The Gorman Falls Tour ranks as the park's most popular guided tour. Tour participants caravan seven miles to a lodge parking lot bordering Gorman Creek and strike out on foot from a nearby trailhead to descend to the base of the picturesque falls. The two-hour tour commences at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. every Saturday and at 10 a.m. Sundays year-round, weather permitting.
Fourteen miles of mountain biking trails offer a variety of challenges as they hug the river and cut across the scarp woodlands of mountain juniper and oak. The trails in the windmill pasture are former ranch roads that make for easy, fun rides. Bicyclists seeking a more technical challenge head for the 1.2-mile Connecting Trail that links the River Trail to the Spicewood Springs and Windmill trails.
Accessing the river has become easier now that the state park rents sit-on-top kayaks and canoes. The park's wide, still river waters that back up from Lake Buchanan nine miles to the south prove ideal for beginning kayakers and canoeists, who can paddle up the Colorado River or downstream toward the lake to fish or just take in the sights. During winter months, boaters may spot a bald eagle - another resident avian celebrity that frequents the area.
Colorado Bend State Park is located off FM 580 almost midway between Lampasas and San Saba. From Bend, Texas, it is four miles to the park entrance and another six miles on an unpaved road to park headquarters. It is one of more than 115 state parks that make up the Texas State Park system. For more information visit the Colorado Bend State Park web site.
Article by Rob McCorkle