Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Hiking Stephen F. Austin State Park



Stephen F. Austin State Park has a series of interconnecting trails (see Map of Trails). When added together, they tally a decent 5.86 miles, if my math is correct. On our hike, Donna and I fashioned a loop trail that took us along the river, around the camping areas, beside the neighboring golf course, and back to our camp site. (see Map of Park for info on campgrounds and other features; we were in campsite #39)

Here is a listing of the trails we took and their respective distances: 
  • Cottonwood Trail: .85 miles
  • Riverbend Trail: .43 miles
  • Brazos Trail: .27 miles
  • Sycamore Trail: .45 miles
  • Ironwood Trail: .80 miles
  • Pileated Trailed: .67 miles
 By combining these trails, we ended up with a short hike of 3.47 miles.

We started at the Cottonwood Trail. We would also end our hike here, as the Pileated Trail ends here, thus forming a complete loop. There is an amphitheater located just off the trailhead. Park staff offer programs here throughout the year.

Amphitheater behind Cottonwood Trails Trail Head

Just a few feet down the trail is an animal blind where you can view wildlife, especially birds. Several bird feeders hang on the off side of the blind. Unfortunately for us, there was no animal activity here at the time of our hike. 

Wildlife viewing area off the Cottonwood Trail

The Cottonwood Trail is a well maintained trail, wide enough for a vehicle. As you might expect, tall cottonwood trees line the trail; in fact, cottonwoods are prominent throughout the park.

Trail through the cottonwoods is level, wide, and clear. What a treat for an old hiker!

After nearly half a mile, we came to the Copperhead Trail junction. With a name like that, there is no way I was going to be able to get Donna to try that trail, so we continued along the Cottonwood Trail.

Near the end of the Cottonwood Trail, we turned left on the River Bend Trail. Although trail signs are prominent throughout the park, at this particular junction signage is lacking. The trail running off to the right is clearly marked as the Raccoon Bend Trail, but the trail continuing west and crossing the Cottonwood Trail is not marked at all. However, the map is very clear, so we journeyed down the trail, which soon became the River Bend Trail. At this point, the trails became a single path, though very clear and well maintained.

Trail junction where the Copperhead Trail becomes the River Bend Trail
This trail continues west for a short distance, then turns north at the park boundary. You’ll see a fence line at this point. After a short walk, you catch your first glimpse of the storied Brazos River. A glimpse is all you get at this time, because the brush is very thick. However, as you follow the trail east, there are several spurs that offer clear views of the river. Now, I love Texas history, and I love the role the Brazos River has played in that history. But the Brazos on the day we viewed it was just a muddy river. It is rather broad at this point, so it must have presented a formidable obstacle to early day travelers.

East bank of the Brazos River. Notice the bluff, which is probably similar to that on our side of the river. Think about what an obstacle this must have presented to early day travelers who needed to cross the river.

Much of our hike was spent on level footpaths through the woods, like this section of the Sycamore Trail.

Once we took the Sycamore Trail, we began heading away from the river. Near the end of the Sycamore Trail, we approached a ridge. At the trail junction, we opted to turn right where we would junction with the Ironwood Trail. Up to this point, our hike had been entirely in the woods, and we had been separated from any signs of civilization. From this point on, though, we would see various signs of civilization, including a golf course, camp sites, roads, and even a water tower. 

Golfers were active on the day we hiked. I love the Spanish Moss that drapes the trees.

Palmettos along the trail near the golf course

The Ironwood Trail passes near the water treatment plant for the park, then loops around the outside of the tent camping area and the screened shelter area. On the opposite side of the trail, there is a golf course, and golfers were active on this beautiful day. After dipping down into and out of a dry creek bed, the trail approaches the park road near the park entrance and intersects with the Pileated Trail for the final leg of our hike.

This stretch of the trail runs parallel to the main park road. There are several bridge crossings along this stretch. On the left and across the road, the group barracks appear. These are neat, well-maintained buildings. A blue water tower looms beside the trail near the junction with the nature trail, which heads towards the screen shelters. Then the trail crosses the park road.

One of the bridges on the Pileated Trail near the water tower
This final section of the trail is lined with various bird houses – are they blue bird houses? – and eventually comes out near the amphitheater where we began our hike less than 2 hours earlier.

Near the end of the Pileated Trail; our hike is almost done.

This is a good trail system. As we age and our legs and knees grow weaker, we tend to look for trails like this where there are few steep climbs and challenges. Our hike today was really just a pleasant walk in the woods, and that is exactly what we are looking for.


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