Nature

Where the Hill Country Meets West Texas

View of kayaker on the riverLocated on the western edge of the Hill Country, South Llano River State Park is a unique com­bi­nation of rocky upland back­country and a lush pecan grove river bottom.

Spring-fed River

The South Llano River is unique among west and central Texas rivers: it has never run dry in recorded history. Two large springs, in addition to many smaller springs, supply most of the water in the South Llano.

The South Llano and North Llano rivers meet in the town of Junction. There they become the main Llano River, which flows into Lake LBJ and the Highland Lakes some 100 miles down­stream.

In dry years, the Llano River provides most of the water for the Highland Lakes, a main source of drinking water for people in Austin and downstream all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. Your efforts to keep the South Llano pristine and pure can affect a lot of people!

hand holding a Guadalupe bass with the river as backdropThe South Llano River is also home to the state fish of Texas, the Guadalupe bass.  The Gua­da­lupe bass puts up a great fight when anglers hook it, making it a very popular game fish.

Animals

Many animals make their homes at South Llano River State Park. You’re likely to spot native white-tailed deer, as well as exotic axis deer, which were introduced in Central Texas from India about 100 years ago.

On winter days and summer nights, look for nine-banded armadillos as they waddle beside roads and trails looking for bugs to eat. If you are hiking in the backcountry, keep an eye out for common porcupines – they sometimes perch high in trees, eating plants.

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Ringtail. Photo by Sherry Adkins

You might catch a glimpse of a gray fox drinking from a bird blind fountain or crossing the road. And keep a sharp eye out for the cousin of the raccoon, the ringtail. These slim, cat-like hunters are usually nocturnal, but you might spot one hiding in a tree during the day!

Watch for snakes – Western diamondback rattlesnakes do live here, so be careful where you put your hands and feet.

If you’re lucky, you might spot a brightly-colored coral snake in the pecan forest, but this venomous snake is usually shy. You’re more likely to see a non-venomous snake like a rat snake or diamond-backed water snake.

group of monarchs nectaring on flowers.
Monarchs on frostweed

In October, monarch butterflies take shelter in the pecan branches at night as they journey south to Mexico. During the daytime, they drink nectar from the white frostweed flowers.

The firefly is another insect you’ll enjoy seeing at the park. The decaying logs and branches in the river bottom act as a nursery for firefly larva, who munch on slugs and worms as they grow.

Turkeys

Two turkeys in a fieldAt South Llano River State Park, we host one of the lar­gest winter Rio Grande wild turkey roosts in Central Texas

In the fall and win­ter, many turkeys gather at the park and make their way into the pecan forest. In the evening, they fly high up into the tree branches and sleep there for safety.  

Records of turkeys roosting in the park go back about 100 years, but the turkeys have probably been here much longer. If they are disturbed, they could leave. For this reason, we protect the turkeys by sharing the roost with them. From Oct. 1 through March 31, the turkey roost area is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. This allows plenty of time in the morning for the turkeys to leave the roost to look for food in the surrounding area, and time for them to return in the afternoon.

Walter Buck, who donated his property to Texas Parks and Wild­life Department, was very fond of the turkeys. By sharing the roost with these unique birds, we ensure their home will be protected for the future and honor Buck’s wish to protect the park for wildlife.

Golden-cheeked Warbler

golden-cheeked warbler perched on branchEndangered golden-cheeked warblers nest in the back­country of the park each spring and summer. A true Texas native, these birds migrate all the way to Central America, but every golden-cheeked warbler in the world is born in the Texas Hill Country.

The warblers build their nests with spider silk and strips of bark from mature Ashe juniper trees. They also need hardwood trees such as oaks and elms nearby, which offer more insects to eat.

The best time to spot the golden-cheeked warbler is from mid-March into early May. Listen for their high-pitched, buzzy song along the backcountry trails. 

Download Birds of South Llano River State Park: A Field Checklist (PDF).

Plants

You’ll find many different types of plants growing at South Llano River State Park. In the lush river bottom, ancient trees such as pecans, chinquapin oaks and cedar elms tower above you. As you begin to hike into the backcountry, you are surrounded by more scrubby plants like Texas persimmon and Spanish dagger.

In higher areas, you’ll find some of the same hardwood trees from the river bottom, along with Ashe juniper trees. The trees thin out when you reach the high plateaus, due to rockier soil.

Tobusch fishhook cactus

small cactus with yellow bloomOne of the special plants that lives here is the endangered Tobusch fishhook cactus. This tiny cactus is about as tall as your thumb, and only a bit wider. It’s almost impossible to find except in late winter, when it blooms with a delicate yellow flower.