I miss the old days, pre-pandemic, when I could climb into the truck at the spur of a moment and head to a park for a day of biking, hiking or snoozing in a hammock.
Today, most Texas state parks and regional parks require advance reservations. And if you didn’t think ahead and book a spot weeks ago, you might be out of luck.
That’s why I’ve taken to exploring some lesser-known parks in Central Texas. Recently, I loaded my mountain bike into the pickup truck and aimed for Milton Reimers Ranch Park, west of Austin, where nobody needs a reservation.
I’d visited the park before––once, when writing about a local climbing prodigy who could scale its limestone walls like a gecko, another time to take a climbing class myself, and a couple of times to swim (naked, don’t tell!) in the Pedernales River.
The 2,417-acre park, which is open from 7 a.m. to twilight daily, offers three miles of frontage along the Pedernales River and is the largest parkland acquisition in the history of Travis County. It’s known for world-class rock climbing as well as white bass fishing along the Pedernales River, pleasant hiking, equestrian trails and mountain biking.
This time, I struck out to explore some of the park’s 18-miles of mountain bike trails, which are marked green (beginner), blue (intermediate) and black (expert)––just like a Colorado ski resort. We arrived at 9 a.m., just as the parking lot was starting to fill. We warmed up with a loop on the green trail, which twists through fields of golden grass and winds through a few thickets of brush and trees. In a couple of spots, the trail narrows and you have to pedal right through the base of a forked tree trunk (be careful not to catch a handlebar).
The green trail is easy but fun. You can crank up the speed, practice negotiating tight turns, and get in a great cardio workout. Near the end, stop at the pump track, where you can steer your bike on a wood-planked boardwalk that unfurls like an undulating ribbon. I made it through one time cleanly, but on the second try I accidentally mashed my brakes, flipped myself off the bike and ripped open my calf on one of the sharp pegs of my platform pedal.
We stopped by the truck to apply hydrogen peroxide and a bandage to staunch the blood, then headed back out to try the intermediate loop. This loop reminds me of the terrain you’ll find at Slaughter Creek Trail in South Austin––steep ledgey drops, some uphill grinds, a few rock gardens and tire-grabbing roots the thickness of a boa constrictor––plus more undulating singletrack. I had to get off or dab a foot down several times, but most of it’s not extremely technical for those with good mountain biking skills. I had to stop a few times just to catch my breath. We skipped the black trails. I’m just not skilled enough for them.
We liked the park so much that we headed back a few weeks later to check out the new Flow Trail. If you like your mountain bike riding tricked up with berms, gaps, jumps and pump rollers, you should give it a try.
From the parking area, follow the signs up the gradual slope (we missed the turnoff; follow the pink flagging). You’ll eventually reach the entrance area, which is marked by some (confusing) signage.
The top of the 2.6-mile trail is at 1,052 feet; the bottom is just under 900 feet. In between you’ll zing around curved berms, swing through pump rollers, and launch yourself over jumps as you swoop down the hill––or not. The course is designed so there’s an easy work-around at each major obstacle. Want to know how it feels to ride it? Watch this.
The same builders who designed the trails at Spider Mountain Bike Park near Burnet (the only lift-served mountain bike park in Texas) machine-built this trail. It’s the first of several planned downhill runs.
And pro tip: Since Austin moved into Stage 5 Covid, it’s now FREE to get into the park. Staffers aren’t handling cash, but I wish they’d have a drop box for folks who want to leave money (I’d like to support the parks, but this makes it difficult). Currently, all rock climbing activities as well as programming like monthly bird walks, night sky programs and weekly guided hikes, are not allowed due to the pandemic. Bring a mask and practice proper social distancing, and be aware picnic tables and drinking fountains are closed and no off-leash pets are allowed.
If You Go
Milton Reimers Ranch Park, 23610 Hamilton Pool Road, is located 34 miles west of Austin. To get there from Austin, take Highway 71 west through Bee Cave and turn left onto Hamilton Pool Road. Go 12 miles to the park entrance on your right.
The park, operated by Travis County, is open from 7 a.m. until dusk daily. Admission is usually $5 per person, but is currently waived due to Covid.
Eat and Drink:
Stop by nearby Opie’s Barbecue, 9504 E. State Highway 71, for a brisket sandwich before or after your ride.
In warm weather, bring a swimsuit and take a dip in the Pedernales River, which runs through the park.