You Are McKinney Falls

People just like you have been drawn to McKinney Falls for over 8,000 years. Listen to Onion Creek flowing over limestone ledges and splashing into pools. Follow trails winding through the Hill Country woods. Explore the remains of an early Texas Homestead and a prehistoric rock shelter.

McKinney Falls State Park is the only state park in Austin serving as a refuge for both the wildlife that lives here and the legacy of human history that has shaped this landscape for thousands of years. The hands of our collective human experiences have built the story of this park including Native Americans, Spanish Explorers, African Americans, Anglo American Settlers, Tejanos, and now you and your loved ones. This land was generously donated by the Smith family for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations in 1973 and has been loved as a state park since 1976. Todos son bienvenidos aquí.



Where are We?

McKinney Falls is 13 miles away from the state capital. With nearly nine miles of trails, 81 campsites, and six cabins, there's never a dull moment! Folks can partake in all kinds of recreational opportunities like birding, fishing, swimming, hiking, running, cycling, picnicking, geocaching, or attending one of our public interpretive educational programs on the weekends! Below are two of the main features of the park (though with 774 acres of park land, there's always more to explore)!

Pictured from left to right: Thomas Freeman McKinney, his wife Anna Gibbs McKinney, and Ada Bradley at the Onion Creek Ranch, c. 1863. Photograph courtesy of Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

What's in a Name?

By 1850, Thomas McKinney was living on this property along Onion Creek, near a crossing of El Camino Real.

Kentucky-born McKinney had settled in San Felipe de Austin in 1830 as one of Stephen F. Austin’s first 300 colonists before moving to Galveston.

McKinney and Samuel May Williams entered into a business partnership in 1834 that was to have profound effects on Texas history. During the Texas Revolution, the McKinney-Williams firm was the primary source of men, money, and supplies for the Texas army. It financed over $150,000 - more than 10 percent of the total cost of the revolution. The McKinney-Williams ships formed a part of the quickly-assembled Texas Navy.

Voters elected McKinney as a senator to the first legislature in Austin. During this time, he made plans for his new home on Onion Creek. Between 1850 and 1852, McKinney built a two-story limestone home, gristmill and dam on his ranch.

Developed by McKinney’s slaves, his ranch continued to grow in number of structures, livestock and other assets. McKinney owned and bred a number of thoroughbred racehorses, and even had his own racetrack somewhere on the ranch.

McKinney died on Oct. 2, 1873, at his home. He was deeply in debt. His peers remembered him fondly and gave him an elabo­rate funeral service on the steps of the Capitol building. He is buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Austin.

Look for the ruins of McKinney's homestead, his horse trainer's cabin, gristmill and stone walls in the park.

After McKinney’s death, his widow, Anna, sold the property to James Woods Smith. Members of the Smith family owned and farmed the land for several generations before donating it to the State of Texas in 1973.

Photo credit: @KanokwaleeStudio

Photo credit: @KanokwaleeStudio

"We forget that the water cycle and the life cycle are one." — (Jacques Cousteau, Oceanographer)

If you transformed into a mosquito and buzzed through time, millions of years ago you would have seen an expansive inland sea. Right here, 30' mosasaurs would be lurking in the depths searching for food to eat such as large turtles. Ash from the neighboring underwater volcano, Pilot Knob, gently drifts down to the water, eventually settling on the sea floor. The mixture of these ancient creatures and the volcanic ash gave us the limestone formations, (like Upper and Lower Falls, and the Smith Rock Shelter) as well as the freshwater we all enjoy today.

The river that flows through the park, Onion Creek, is part of the largest watershed in Austin - the Onion Creek Watershed. At 334 square miles, it touches land from Blanco County to Ladybird Lake (the Colorado River) and eventually flows into the Gulf of Mexico near Port O'Connor. 

This powerful and dynamic river system has provided life giving freshwater for plants, animals, and people for millennia. Today, it's one of the most well loved swimming areas in Austin. Help us spread the word about the importance of water conservation so we can continue to cool off in its shallows for generations to come.