Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Hike Report: Inks Lake State Park

I’ve wanted to hike Inks Lake State Park for some years now, but never seemed to get around to it. On our recent trip to Blanco State Park, we decided to make the short drive north and visit this popular park.

We put together a hike consisting of parts of 3 trail systems and their “connecting” trails. When you check in at the office, be sure to pick up one of the trail maps just to the inside right of the door. I neglected to do this because I thought the official Inks Lake State Park facilities map was a good map of the trails, but it does not show all the trails, nor does it name them. At this time, this trail map is not available online.

We began our hike at the parking area next to the park headquarters. Initially, we followed the “green” trail, which heads south on a good crushed rock surface. The green trail is actually the “Lake Trail.” The complete trail is 2 miles, and we walked almost the entire length. At less than a quarter mile, we arrived at our first decision. A side trail veered west, and no sign was present to direct us. But the park map showed such a trail, so we continued south, which was the right decision. The first of many sizable granite outcroppings rose up before us, and an arm of the lake appeared on our right.

Trailhead near park headquarters. These kiosks are located at major trail junctions throughout the trail system.
Granite outcroppings such as this are very common along the trail.

Arm of Inks Lake near the start of the trail.
Down the trail, another trail junction appeared, this one marked with an “Interpretive Trail” sign. Again, the map showed a trail heading east confirming our location, so we continued south. Near the end of this hike later in the day, we would come out on this trail. We crossed a small foot bridge, and walked briefly along Park Road 4. At some point here, there is another trail junction, but I never saw it. This part of the trail is simply a loop, and we were on the right-hand part of the loop. It took us up and over small granite covered hills. Wildflowers and prickly pear cactus were in bloom, and there are many views of the lake.

Prickly pear in bloom along the trail.

The trail affords numerous good views, including this one of the Inks Lake dam.

Along much of the trail, including the section we were currently on, the trail crosses very rocky areas where no trail is visible. But if you look closely, you can see where people have walked before, and there often is a “trail” of sorts on the rock. But also look for the painted blazes. At this point, since we were on the green trail, we sought out the round green blazes painted on rock surfaces. From time to time, flat metal posts were present. Occasionally, you may need to simply stop and look about before spotting your next blaze, but they are there.

At this granite outcropping, you can clearly see the trail worn across the rock over time. Numerous rock cairns also populate the rock. We stopped so that Donna could build her own cairn.
At the next signless trail junction, we decided to head south. We almost immediately crossed Park Road 4 on this “connecting” trail, then hit a trail junction with a kiosk. This was the blue trail, otherwise known as the “Wilderness Trail.” It’s total length is also 2 miles. It “circles through juniper woodlands over rough grounds” according to the kiosk info. We followed this loop trail in a counter-clockwise direction. At this point, we were “off” the park map and relying solely on what we had seen on the kiosk map. From that map, we knew this trail had only 1 other junction besides the one we had entered the trail from, so we felt confident.

I find things like this tree growth interesting. Pioneers might have cut off the growth and fashioned it into a bowl of some wort.
This little beauty is about to burst forth. You can find beauty everywhere in nature.

Notice the blue blaze in center foreground, as well as the rocks lining the trail.

In places along the Wilderness Trail, grass and other plant growth began crowding the trail. In some places, it was chest high.
Overall, we would follow the Woodland Trail for almost all of its 2 mile length. This was the longest section of the hike. It took us over an hour. We were constantly working our way up or down hills, threading our way through boulders. There were also sections of very tall grass we found ourselves walking through. The Hill Country has enjoyed good rain this spring, and the lush countryside was evidence of this. In a couple of places, the growth was chest high. The trail itself was always worn and visible, but the grass and brush would crowd in from the sides. Near the end of this trail, we spotted a mature doe grazing, but she darted off as soon as she became aware of our presence.

After more than an hour on this trail, I was beginning to wonder if we would ever hit our trail junction. But we finally found it, and another kiosk was available. We took the connecting trail east. At some point, according to the map, the connecting trail should have had a junction with a south trail heading off to a youth camp area. I never saw this trail, though. I did see a 2 wheel track intersect our trail from a northerly direction at an angle. We followed it for a short distance before it veered off in a southerly direction, but I did not see a sign.

It's always reassuring to come across a kiosk on a trail.
At our next trail junction, we picked up the Pecan Flats Trail, or yellow trail. The total trail length is 3.3 miles, but we took the left junction north for only a mile or so before we worked our way back across the Park Road to rejoin the green trail at the fork where I mentioned the “Interpretive Trail” sign earlier. But this left part of the Pecan Flats Trail is very scenic, with good views of the lake and a distant view of the dam on Lake Buchanan. This trail also has numbered markers, so pick up an interpretive guide at the headquarters to help you identify things along the way.

Distant view of the Lake Buchanan Dam.

Wildflowers looked great on the hike. We were too late for the bluebonnets and Indian paintbrushes, but there were plenty of other flowers to see.

Deer near the end of the hike.

The scenery is great on the trails. The hike does require some effort. It seems as if we were almost constantly climbing or descending, working our way slowly around rocks and boulders. Although the elevation change is not much throughout the park, the constant up and down can tire you out. And be careful walking around the boulders. Some have areas where rattlesnakes can be resting out of sight.

We encountered only 1 group of 4 senior citizens on our hike, accompanied by their unleashed dog. Otherwise, we had the trail to ourselves even though the park was bristling with visitors. Road noise from Park Road 4 is fairly constant. Otherwise, it was a nice and peaceful hike.

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