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Palmetto State Park

Trail (2.71)15
(1.70) (2.03)
3.00 Miles N/A
Yes N/A
$3.00 More Info
Gonzales Gonzales
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Getting there: From Austin head south on Highway 183. Proceed through Luling and turn right onto Park Road 11 south of town. The park ranger station is two miles down the road on the edge of the town of Ottine.

This impressive stone building was constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930's.
The Hikes: Palmetto State Park is one of those parks that serves as a reminder that there are exceptions to almost every rule. Bastrop and Buescher State Parks highlight the Lost Pines. The Lost Maples have their own park. Palmetto State Park showcases a wet, swampy terrain that seems out of place in Central Texas. However, this oasis is the remnant of what was once a much larger area that covered Texas long ago.

The most impressive building in the park is the impressive Refectory, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930's when the park land was acquired. The stone structure seems to burst forth from the earth due to the way the CCC laid the foundation stones for the structure.

The park includes four short trails between .15 and 1 mile in length. The Palmettos lend an exotic air to the surrounding terrain. Although the area is swampy the ample tree cover provides some relief from the direct light of the Sun.

The trailhead signs and interpretive trail guide box at the start of the hike.
The River Trail: Like all trails at Palmetto, it's a short stroll through flat, muggy terrain. The swamp-like conditions could mean oppressive heat in the middle of summer, but on our visit during August the heavy tree cover over most of the trail help offset the high temperatures.

The trail begins at the waypoint "Trailhead" on the map. There is a sign along the side of the road and a wooden box in which interpretive trail guides that are used for both this hike and the nearby Palmetto Trail. The guide includes some excellent illustrations so we suggest that you pick one up.

Soon after starting the trail descends to the terrace above the river's banks.
The trail descends down a set of stairs towards the San Marcos River soon after the trailhead. From this point on the trail will follow along the banks of the river for almost a quarter mile. The banks of the river consist of loose dirt that is easily eroded away by the river, so there are few spots at which to get really close to the water.

The trail conditions were improving after the disastrous floods that plagued much of Texas a couple of months earlier. While the trails were cleared of debris, there was plenty of branches and brush piled up here and there along the trail as a reminder. The surface of the trail is often sandy, particularly along the river's banks.

The section of the trail along the river bank gets the most Sun and is the most sandy.
After covering a bit over .15 miles the trail comes to a Y, marked on the map by the waypoint "Y-Left". The guide did not indicate which way to go, so we choose left to complete the loop in a clockwise direction. It turns out that this is not the way you want to go if you wish to follow the interpretive guide in numerical order.

The heavy tree cover provides relief from the Sun away from the river.
As the trail turns to the south and prepares to return back to the trailhead the hiker is presented with the closest approach to the river. It's possible to get down to the level of the water, though the river is often murky in this section due to the nature of the river's banks. The soft soil is easily carved by the river, which can result in it changing direction in a geographically defined moment's notice. Elsewhere in the park lies an oxbow lake that was created when the river changed course and cut off the flow of water from a former path, which turns into a pond.

The trail turns away from the river and a change in vegetation becomes apparent quickly. There is more shade due to the thick tree cover and whereas the river banks seemed to have a wider variety of foliage there seems to be much greater concentrations of fewer species here such as Elms and Hackberries.

The trail makes it way back to the Y split earlier and then retraces its steps upstream and back to the trailhead. We recorded a trail distance of half a mile and completed the hike in 52 minutes, which included time spent reading the interpretive trail guide.

A view along the well shaded trail. Note the few Palmettos to the right.
Hiking Trail: Unlike the nearby River Trail and Palmetto Trail, the Hiking Trail does not provide an interpretive guide. That allows for one to concentrate on their hiking and letting their mind wander as they stroll through the forest.

The trail begins at the waypoint "Trailhead" on the map. Not long after starting, in fact too short a distance to include another waypoint on the map, lies an interesting little sight along the trail. We can't tell you exactly what it is since that would give away the answer to the Geocache hidden in the park during our visit.

Now a perfect spot for these moisture loving plants, this natural bowl used to contain boiling mud.
After a couple of turns in the trail a sign to the left indicates the presence of a Mud Boil. Yet, what appears here instead looks at best to be a vegetation rich depression in the ground. This is one example of the changing landscape in the area. Not that long ago this area was wetter and more geothermally active. Artesian springs dotted the landscape and hot springs and other formations created mud boils like the one that used to be here. The activity stopped in the 1970's, probably due to the changes brought about by the wide spread drilling for both oil and water in the area.

These natural depressions in the terrain retain moisture even after the standing water evaporates away. It's terrain like this that the Palmettos love.
At about .2 miles into the hike the trail splits into a Y at the waypoint "Y-Left". We proceeded to the left to complete the loop of the trail in a clockwise manner. Either choice should suffice on this trail.

Much of the trail is well covered by trees, which are predominately Elms and Hackberries here. Though fewer in number here than on the Palmetto Trail, there are numerous Palmettos in this area of the park also.

The surface of the trail is dirt with a few sandy spots. Like the rest of the park, there is almost no elevation change, which makes for an easy hike.

Palmetto State Park displays a number of signs warning people about the presence of snakes. The only snake that we observed on our three hikes in the park was on the Hiking Trail. The snake was some distance away from us on the opposite side of a small temporary pond. Startled by our presence, the snake froze for a few minutes until it finally slithered off behind a tree. While being on the lookout for snakes is always a good idea, there's no reason to allow the fact that snakes find the park a great place to live spoil your visit.

The trail completes a loop, returns to the Y and then retraces a path back to the trailhead. We found the trail to be just shy of 1 mile and we completed the hike in 38 minutes. Without an interpretive trail guide we were able to complete the longest hike in the park as fast as, if not quicker, than the others.

The Palmetto Trail gets its name from the abundant Dwarf Palmettos that line the trail.
Palmetto Trail: This short hike is the signature hike of the park. It includes the largest concentration of Palmettos that you're likely to see in this part of the country.

The Palmetto Trail is one of two trails in the park that features an interpretive trail guide that describes many of the plants that can be found here. The guide is available in a box at the trail end, which you will pass on your way from the parking area at the Refectory.

This tower is part of the man-made system that keeps the area moist enough to maintain its Palmetto population.
A short distance after the trailhead the path comes upon a water tower partially shrouded by the forest. What's a water tower doing here? Human activity in the area has drastically changed the environment. Oil and water pumping in the area has altered the flow of underground water that the Palmetto groves relied on for moisture in the past.

In order to save the Palmettos that remained here, the Civilian Conservation Corps built an artesian well to pump water from deep underground and bring it to the surface. The water tower stores some of the water before it is released at the surface.

Palmetto leaves are a favorite spot for several land snail species. Some individual plants hosted scores of snails.
The trail is very flat and easy to navigate. Very often the trail is framed by thick stands of Dwarf Palmettos. Although Palmettos can grow to as high as 18 feet tall, that does not happen much within the park boundaries. Instead, those within the park have the tops of their foliage stand between three and four feet tall. During our visit in August the Palmettos had already passed the flowering stage and were bearing small spheres of fruit on stalky stems.

The Palmetto leaves are a favorite spot for several land snail species. One of them, Stenotrema leai cheatumi, was first discovered to science in this very area. In addition to the Palmettos, the snails seem to prefer the bark of the hackberries over those of other trees.

The trail is quite easy to hike. This small bridge even makes getting over the small gully easy.
The Dwarf Palmetto is more common along the Gulf Coast from Louisiana to Florida. The population of Palmettos here are somewhat out of their typical range. In this regard they share some characteristics with the Lost Pines or Lost Maples. The plant's exotic shape, combined with the fact that they seem out of place in South Texas leads the feeling that one is walking through an ancient landscape.

The trail parallels the road towards the northeast before returning to the road at the waypoint, "End". We recorded the hike at .15 miles and we covered the distance in about 30 minutes, with some of that time spent reading the interpretive trail guide descriptions. Although we recorded a hike distance less than that of the publicized one third of a mile, the Palmettos and the interpretive guide make this the one hike that you should take if you only have time for one trail in Palmetto State Park.


Palmetto Most Palmettos don't grow more than 3-4 feet in height in the park. This specimen along the side of the road is either the exception, or not a member of the same species. (Photo by Austin Explorer) Entrance Sign This is the sign to the park. (Photo by Lone_Star) Water Sports You can boat, fish or swim in the scenic lake near some primo campsites. (Photo by Lone_Star)
San Marcos River You can walk across the scenic San Marcos River. (Photo by Lone_Star) Water Tower This water tower was built by the CCC in the Depression Era. (Photo by Lone_Star) Palmettos There is an impressive, lush, dense display of Palmettos along the Interpretative Trail. (Photo by Lone_Star)
Scenic Rest Areas This rest area is along the San Marcos River Trail. (Photo by Lone_Star) Built By The CCC This building was built by the CCC in the Depression Era. (Photo by Lone_Star) Excellent Signage This is the Ottine Swamp Trailhead. (Photo by Lone_Star)

Log Entries

Great hikes!
By texaskdog on 6/5/2016
Rating: Difficulty: Solitude:
Distance: 5.00 Miles Duration: 2 hours

Headed here from Austin and decided to do the 3 long trails together.  There was a flooded bridge on Mesquite Flats so we had to double back.  Enjoyed the swamp trail the most.

swampy except around campgrounds
By fwk2005 on 5/10/2015
Rating: Difficulty: Solitude:
Distance: 3.00 Miles Duration: N/A
Paradise Found!
By Lone_Star on 5/5/2013
Rating: Difficulty: Solitude:
Distance: 6.60 Miles Duration: 2 hours, 14 minutes

If Bastrop State Park is Paradise Lost, then Palmetto State Park is Paradise Found.

This small state park is a little, lush garden dense with Palmettos.  There are numerous trails that form a "tangled mess", but each trail is nice in its own way.  They are well-marked and easy to follow if you use the trail map provided by the Park HQs.

The park itself has numerous amenities, including a nice lake where you can swim, fish, or boat, making it a great place to take family and friends.  The camp sites here are primo.  There is a scenic walk over the San Marcos River.

By RMA on 4/26/2008
Rating: Difficulty: Solitude:
Distance: 0.25 Mile Duration: N/A

I think this refers to the office trail that goes fron the park office to the lake. Dogs are welcome as long as they are on a leash and the enterance fee is now $3.00

River Trail: Fun hike
By RMA on 4/26/2008
Rating: Difficulty: Solitude:
Distance: 0.75 Mile Duration: N/A

Went right after a heavy rain and had to walk through water four to six inches deep on very slippery trails and got a good workout carring all the mud on the bpttom of my shoes.  The park has started to put crushed gravel on their paths so the fun won't last long.  

slippery when wet
By RMA on 4/26/2008
Rating: Difficulty: Solitude:
Distance: 1.25 Miles Duration: N/A

Went the morning after a heavy rain which made this a swamp trail and quite a challenge staying  on our feet.  The park has started a new trail about half way through this one but it is not open yet.  

Oxbow Lake Trail: easy path
By RMA on 4/26/2008
Rating: Difficulty: Solitude:
Distance: 0.60 Mile Duration: N/A

It is a small dirt path around the lake.

Palmetto Trail: Not too bad.
By RMA on 4/26/2008
Rating: Difficulty: Solitude:
Distance: 0.15 Mile Duration: N/A

It is the most interesting of the trails in the park but very short.

Palmetto Trail: Great Hike
By Racer on 2/24/2008
Rating: Difficulty: Solitude:
Distance: 1.50 Miles Duration: 45 minutes

Really Enjoyed the trail.  The Palmetto trail is only 1/3 of a mile and was over way to soon.  However the trail adjacent to it which is simply labeled Hiking Trail on the state park map is 1.25 miles in length.  In all there 7 diffrent trails within the park for a total of about 3.66 miles.  Recommend doing this in Winter months, not so much because of the heat , but the mosquitoes.

River Trail: Most complete hike at Palmetto?
By Austin Explorer on 8/25/2002
Rating: Difficulty: Solitude:
Distance: 0.50 Mile Duration: N/A
The first of three short hikes we took in the park. Only saw one other couple on any of the trails all day. The interpretive trail guide includes great illustrations. Signs of the recent flooding were still present, though nothing blocked the trail. Since this is not the shortest trail in the park, it includes a guide and follows the river, this may be the most complete hike in the park.

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