Warbler Vista – Balcones Canyonlands – Austin, Texas

Trail: Cactus Rock Trail / Vista Knoll Trail / Ridgeline Trail

Warbler Vista - Interpretive MarkerDirections: Take 183 North from Austin.  Turn left (West) onto FM 1431 and go approximately 14 miles.  Turn right into the wildlife refuge.  There is a sign on the right for the wildlife refuge right before the entrance.  It is around a turn, so you could miss it.  There is a sign for Warbler Vista at the road entrance.  Travel up the gravel road for about three-quarters of a mile and the parking for the Cactus Rock trailhead is on the right.  There are two other parking areas, but I recommend starting here.  There is a clean outhouse style restroom at this lot.

General Information:

Terrain: There is a lot of up and down, but little elevation change.  It is mostly soft ground with some rocky patches.  There are a few locations where you have to climb up and down some rock stairs.

Distance: Cactus Rock Trail: 1.25 miles round trip / Vista Knoll Trail: 1.2 miles round trip / Ridgeline Trail: 1.4 miles round trip.  I hiked all three for a total of about 3.85 miles.

Family Oriented: This is a great set of trails for families.

Dogs Allowed: No.

Hours: Open all year round, sunrise to sunset.

Fees: Free

Warbler Vista - Trail SignAbout: This trail system is located within the Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge.  This refuge was developed to protect two endangered bird species: the Golden-cheeked Warbler and the Black-capped Vireo.  The Golden-cheeked Warbler is the only bird species in the state that resides only in Texas.  It is not found in any other state in the U.S.  They also have an annual Balcones Song Bird Festival.

There are currently two sets of trails available in the preserve.  One is the Warbler Vista Trail System and the other is the Doeskin Ranch Trail System.

The Warbler Vista Trail system covers about four miles of mostly Old Ashe Juniper and Oak forest.  There are sections that are open to the sun, but it is almost all under a shady canopy of trees.  It has slight elevation changes and some areas can be steep.  There are wonderful views, especially on the Vista Knoll Trail.  You can see Lake Travis in the distance.

Warbler Vista - Lake TravisThere is an interpretive reference guide and a map at the parking area.  I suggest you pick up both, especially if you have kids.  This can be a great learning experience about the outdoors.

The Hike: I started out on the trail at about 8:30 in the morning.  It was a great 65 degrees.  I was happy over the temperature, considering that it was mid-May.  There was a wonderful breeze and since I was covered on most of the trail, plenty of shade.

I grabbed an interpretive guide and a map and headed out onto the Cactus Rock Trail.  The temperature was great.  There had been a large series of thunderstorms that had come through the day before, but the ground was only moist and not muddy.

Warbler Vista - Limestone on TrailThere were many varieties of birds singing.  They were clearly keeping their distance from me.  I did stop on the trail a few times to see if they would get closer.  On one occasion, I did see a few Tufted Titmouse arguing over a female.  On the hike I also saw: Cardinals and some finches, but no Warblers.

The trail is extremely well marked with signs at every trail intersection.  The trail itself was easy to follow.  There were benches at some of the overlooks as well as spots where you could just sit and listen to the birds.

The Knoll Trail offered wonderful views of the valley below as well as Lake Travis.  This trail has probably the most open area.  You step out of the forest of Junipers and into a field area.

The Ridgeline Trail puts you back into the forest.  There are some wonderful outcroppings of Limestone.  At the end of this trail, there is a wonderful covered observation deck.  Another great view of the area below.

Warbler Vista - Covered Observation DeckOverall, I really enjoyed this trail.  It was relaxing and being mostly covered it is a great trail to take on warmer days.  The only drawback that I found was that unlike the Doeskin Ranch trails, you did hear the traffic on FM1431.  It would quiet down at times, but there was an almost constant stream of sound.  There is also a small airfield close by and this trail seems to be on the flight pattern.  If you are looking for solitude, you may want to head over to the Doeskin Ranch trails.

I saw a total of two other hikers while there.  I think that all the trails in the preserve are not yet that well known.  I think once word gets out, all of these trails are going to get a lot more traffic, especially on the weekends.

Hoping your next hike is Relaxing, Safe and Inspiring,

Russell

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