Where is the best place to hike and observe wildlife near Bryson? Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge, which offers more than 32,000 acres with approximately 3,500 acres open to the public. Other areas of the refuge can be accessed by guided hikes or volunteering. The refuge is stunning, and the best part is that as a refuge for endangered species, it can never be developed, so its natural beauty can be enjoyed for generations to come.
Birds, Birds and More Birds
The refuge was established in 1992 to provide permanent habitats for the endangered golden-cheeked warbler and black-capped vireo.
The golden-cheeked warbler only nests in Central Texas. Old-growth Ashe juniper tree bark is a preferred nesting material. If a female warbler cannot find any, she does not build a nest. Clearing juniper woodland areas for urban expansion, livestock grazing and road construction degrades their natural habitat. The refuge maintains the trees, so the birds have a place to nest and raise their young. Visitors to the park are most likely to see them from early March to the end of July.
The black-capped vireo was recently taken off the endangered species list due in part to the successful efforts to maintain their habitat in the refuge. The vireo can be seen from late March to mid-April.
Approximately one-third of threatened or endangered species native to Texas make their home there. The refuge has been identified as an internationally Important Bird Area, an official designation indicating its unique importance to birds.
Birds aren’t the only wildlife at Balcones Canyonland National Wildlife Refuge. Mammals, amphibians, insects and reptiles make their home in the refuge. Visitors often spy fox, raccoons, rabbits, bullfrogs, toads, geckos, dragonflies and various species of butterflies. A number of plants can also be found, including petunias, yucca, amaranth, asters and more.
The refuge features eight miles of trails. Trails are quiet, well-marked and offer many opportunities to view wildlife. Favorite trails include:
- Cactus Rocks Trail: A moderate 1-mile trail loop that meets up with the Vista Knoll and the Ridgeline trails to create a longer hike if you so choose.
- Vista Knoll Trail: Another moderate trail that offers a view of Lake Travis. To reach it, you must first take the Cactus Rock Trail.
- Ridgeline Trail: This short 0.7-mile trail is good for families as even young children can manage it.
- Indiangrass Trail: A longer hike can be had by taking this 1.5-mile trail close to Marble Falls.
Before You Visit
Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge is open from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday excluding federal holidays. The entrance gate is timed to open and close automatically just before and just after regular business hours.
The public use areas are Doeskin Ranch on FM 1174 in Bertram, Warbler Vista located five miles west of Lago Vista on FM 1431 and the Shin Oak Observation Deck on FM 1869 near Liberty Hill. Admission is free.
Pets, camping and open fires are not allowed. All-terrain vehicles, dirt bikes and other such vehicles are not allowed on or off refuge roads.
The refuge headquarters is northwest of Austin. It is located on FM 1431 approximately five miles west of Lago Vista, one mile east of the intersection with Cow Creek Road/CR328.