Thursday, November 19, 2015

Hike Report: The Loop Trail, Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, November 2015

On a recent brief visit to Fredericksburg, Donna and I decided to take a short hike at nearby Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, which is almost 20 miles north of town. Over the years, we've probably hiked the trails at this park a half dozen times. The trails for the most part are well-maintained, and the views are unique and interesting. However, should you decide to visit the park, be aware that the gates close when the parking lot becomes full. Be sure to read the "park closures" information on their web page before heading to the park. Even though we hiked the park on a Tuesday, the park filled considerably by the time we left around noon.

To view a previous entry on this park, please see "Hiking Report: Enchanted Rock State Natural Area" from May 2012.

The drive to the park is interesting in and of itself. As we crossed Crabapple Creek, about 12 or 13 miles north of Fredericksburg, we looked to the west and saw some elk grazing in an open meadow. What an unusual site for anywhere in Texas.

Bull elk grazing in a pasture on the west side of FM 965 just north of Crabapple Creek.
Initially, we intended to follow the 4.25 mile Loop Trail around the granite domes of the park (see Trails Map). This is our favorite hike in the park as well as the longest single trail. There are no extreme ups and downs on the trail, though there is a a long, steady slope on the west side of the loop trail.

Entrance sign to the park, with the Big Rock as background.
We always park our vehicle in the far east end of the parking lot and then walk west through the parking lot and hit the trail head there. Then as we loop around in a clockwise direction, we end our hike at the vehicle. Initially, the trail is wide, clear, and well maintained, and gradually climbs up a long granite slope to some good views on the west side of the loop. There is a scenic viewing area that spurs off this trail about a mile in. If you've not hiked here before, take the short hike down this short spur to enjoy the view.

Many of the trails in the park are this well maintained. This trail is composed of crushed granite.

You can clearly see the trail worn on this exposed granite along the western part of the Loop Trail.

After the spur trail to the scenic overlook, the trail heads northeast and slopes down to the Walnut Springs Primitive Camping Area. The Walnut Springs Trail splits due north while the Loop Trail continues northeast.

Trail junction at Walnut Springs Camping Area. Note kiosk along trail as well as primitive toilet in left part of picture through brush.

At Moss Lake, we decided to veer off the Loop Trail to see the lake. After viewing the lake, we should have backtracked to the trail junction to continue on the loop trail, but the map indicated that the Moss Lake Trail would wind back to the north and intersect the Loop Trail. However, this section of the trail system was not clearly marked and we wandered around the splinter trails in the Moss Lake Primitive Camping Area for quite a while before giving up and heading towards Echo Canyon.

Donna standing in front of Moss Lake with Enchanted Rock in the background.
Another view of Moss Lake. Enchanted Rock on left, Little Rock on right.

One of the problems in this park is all the splinter trails that branch off in various directions. These trails are not marked, and this causes some confusion. Normally, we try to stay on marked trails, but in this area of the park, even these trails are not clearly marked.

Near Echo Canyon, we picked up the Base Trail and followed it east along the base of the Big Rock (Enchanted Rock). This area is one of the more popular areas with rock climbers; indeed, Enchanted Rock SNA is one of the premier rock climbing venues in the state. For further information, check the Climbing Areas Map as well as the Climbing Information section of the park's website.

Heading towards Echo Canyon, the trail crosses exposed granite. If you look closely, you can actually see where the trail is worn in the rock. Also, there is a small vertical sign in the center of the picture. Such signs mark the way when there is no visible trail.
This is why rock climbers throng to this park. This slope is probably about 200 feet high.
We had seen quite a bit of water in the park. The Hill Country in general had received numerous rains in the past 2 weeks. We've hiked the Loop Trail in the past after some heavy rains, and we found ourselves having to wade in pretty deep water to cross Sandy Creek. We did not know what the creek looked like on this trip, but we really didn't want to do any wading, so we decided to follow the Turkey Pass Trail through the pass -- or gap -- between Enchanted Rock and Freshman Mountain. There is a great deal of exposed granite on this route, and the various rock piles are always interesting. Be sure to watch for signs to lead you across the trailless granite, though.

Over time, rocks crack, exfoliate, and slide to the bottom to create rock piles.

Rock pile of exfoliated rocks.
Views from the pass are nice, and the climb down was fairly easy. It's really just a matter of patiently picking your steps and taking your time. At the bottom of the descent is Frog Pond. Here we headed west along the Frontside Trail, which led us to the Summit Trail, where we began encountering numerous people heading off to climb to the summit of Enchanted Rock. Up until this time, we had only seen 1 person on the trail, and she was quite a ways off.

View south from Turkey Pass
Frog Pond

Summit Trail to Enchanted Rock. If you look closely in the center of the picture just below the "tree line" so to speak, you'll see a person with white top and dark pants climbing the trail.
There are quite a few trails in the park, though none are very long or challenging. Normally, trails are well marked and well maintained. There really is something for everyone here, from the novice beginner to experienced rock climbers

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