Best Texas rivers: Barton Creek

One day, we traced Barton Creek from Dripping Springs to the greenbelt at Camp Craft Road. The stream was high, swift, emerald and translucent.

IMG_2725The next day, we followed the final mile of the creek, from the start of the greenbelt to the mouth on Lady Bird Lake at Lou Neff Point. It was even higher, more turbulent, louder and now opaque.

IMG_2749.JPGWhat a difference six hours of rain makes.

To a certain extent, the designation “river,” “creek,” or “stream” just depends on who gets there first to name it. Forty-mile-long Barton Creek is as long and robust as many a Texas river!

IMG_2721We started, naturally, in Hays County. North of Dripping Springs on Bell Springs Road, in a steep valley flush with late wildflowers, we passed wineries, distilleries and breweries. No, we didn’t tarry. Instead, we found the creek at a low water crossing, spilling into a fairly calm pool. There sat placidly a domesticated water fowl completely unperturbed by our presence.

IMG_2727We turned around — don’t drown! — and headed back to U.S. 290 and the next road, Texas 12, with its small ranches laid out like a gorgeous pastoral patchwork. We headed to Trautwein Road, where the water was even higher. Upstream, it looked more tranquil and clotted with water plants.

IMG_2726Almost immediately the canyon begins to narrow and deepen along Fitzhugh Road, where grander ranches perched on hilltops. Back to U.S. 290, then Circle Road to Rawhide Trail, past the Austin Zoo to — a dead end. As we examined the signs, including one the marked an active archeological site, we noticed a small, rectangular sign adorned with the image of a roadrunner. It included the word: “Paisano.”

IMG_2730.JPGWe had found the entrance of Paisano Ranch, the storied home to author and folklorist J. Frank Dobie, now a writers’ retreat. We thought of our friend, Sarah Bird, who described the experience in detail, and long-dead Roy Bedichek, one of our heroes and author of “Adventures of a Texas Naturalist.”

A point of poetic grace, here we discovered delicate little flowers of a light violet hue that we could not identify.

IMG_2733.JPGNext we headed to the “Y” at Oak Hill, took a left on Texas 71, and surfed the traffic uphill and down to the little gated subdivision of Spanish Oaks Club. The creek is draped with overgrowth here, and the bridge has no shoulder. We stopped on the roadside to photograph the 1850s Bohls’ cabins, which have been eerily preserved but are restricted in a private park.

IMG_2744We doubled back to Bee Caves Road and headed to the Lost Creek community. Here in Lost Creek Park, below high cliffs, we tramped out onto an old low water crossing to record the rushing water in the wider riverbed. (We skipped the Barton Creek community because access to the water there is not welcoming.)

IMG_2736Two belted kingfishers fought an airborne battle over a recently snagged fish.

IMG_2745.JPGThen for a hike. On a orphaned stretch of Camp Craft Road, we found the westernmost entrance to the Barton Creek Greenbelt. The trail here is very steep and very popular on a pretty, cool day. At its base is a cascade that made our day. It seemed the essence of the creek.

It was, however, late. The next morning, it rained from 6 a.m. to noon.

IMG_2750.JPGAs soon as the trees had stopped dripping, we headed to Barton Springs Pool. When we opened the car doors, we knew something had changed. A roar came from the creek. Even as we considered heading back up the greenbelt, we realized the action was right here, as the flood tumbled noisily over the upper and lower dams of the pool.

IMG_2752.JPGLower approaches looked wet and unappealing. No canoeing today. So we passed under the lovely, possibly doomed Art Deco Barton Springs Boulevard bridge, dodged a Girl Scout troop at the arcing trail bridge, and ended at Lou Neff, where the muddy water of Barton Creek seemed nearly as wide as the Colorado River itself.


Author: Michael Barnes

Michael Barnes writes about Austin's people, places, culture and history for the Austin American-Statesman and

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