The South Llano River State Park has something for just about everybody
South Llano River State Park, outside of Junction, Texas, has something for just about everybody. This public oasis deep on the western edge of the Edwards Plateau offers the cool waters of the South Llano River, miles of trails, and a list as long as your arm of birds who flock to the feeders.
Of course, you might be able to find other things to do besides fishing, mountain biking, tubing, hiking, or bird-watching in the tree-shaded campground.
The park is named for the spring-fed South Llano River, a tributary that flows north to meet the Colorado River. The 50-mile-long stream, one of the most pristine in the state, joins with the North Llano at Junction.
Technically, the South Llano River State Park encompasses only 524 acres of river bottomland covered in pecan and oak trees. But the park abuts the 2,200-acre Walter Buck Wildlife Management Area, which gives visitors access to a wide range of trails, scenery, and wildlife.
The Buck family moved to Kimble County in 1910 to build a cattle and goat ranch on the arid land. In 1977, Walter Buck Jr. bequeathed the property to the state as parkland. The gate swung open to visitors in 1990, using the ranch house as the park headquarters.
One of the gifts that came with the wildlife management area was 18 miles of old ranch roads that make perfect hiking and biking trails. You can explore the trails for hours and not see another visitor. The paths earn an intermediate rating, primarily due to a couple of gnarly hills.
If you attack steep climbs like they are merely speed bumps, then the 1.2-mile round-trip hike to the scenic overlook is not to be missed. The climb is on a paved, one-lane road that leads to a panoramic view of the pecan grove surrounding the campground and the rugged hills on the horizon.
Partly owing to the park's remoteness and to the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department's success at managing a healthy ecosystem, the chances of spotting some of the natural residents are pretty good. During fall and winter hunting seasons, portions of the wildlife management area may be closed for public hunts.
Portions of the wooded bottomland in the park are also closed from October to March during turkey-roosting season. One of the largest concentrations of Rio Grande turkeys in Central Texas has used the area for more than 100 years. The shy birds can often be seen year-round strutting through the woods below the campground.
You don't have to be an avid birder to enjoy watching the activity outside one of the three bird blinds. At the juniper blind, just off the parking lot for the walk-in camping area, the park rangers have built a water trough that attracts large cardinals, the elusive painted buntings, and, if you're lucky, a rare black-capped vireo. More than 200 species of resident and migratory birds have been seen in the park.
Like the wildlife, many of the human visitors come to the park for the water. The lack of development along the remote South Llano River has kept the water free of industrial contaminates. The Llano River system is the only major watershed containing a genetically pure population of Guadalupe bass, the state fish. There also is a small oxbow lake to fish for perch and catfish.
With 2 miles of river frontage, the park is a popular place for a refreshing swim. Tubes can be rented at the park's headquarters or at South Llano Farm at the entrance to the park. You can also purchase a variety of nutty goodies from their store.
Canoeing and kayaking on the South Llano River is one of the great water-sports secrets in Central Texas. There are four companies in Junction that offer rentals and shuttle service; for a list, go to www.junctiontexas.net.
South Llano River State Park is three miles south of Junction off of U.S. Highway 377. With only 57 campsites offering water and electricity and a dozen tent sites (no electricity), it is best to make your reservations early. Reservations can be made at 512/389-8900; the park headquarters can be reached at 325/446-3994 or at www.tpwd.state.tx.us.
875th in a series. Day Trips, Vol. 2, a book of "Day Trips" 101-200, is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.