Low-key hike/walk with some nice woodsy bits
Mary Moore Searight Park
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Distance: 5.14 Miles
I had no idea this park was here, but it's certainly popular with the surrounding neighborhoods and apartment complexes, for whom it must be a very handy amenity.
It feels a little decayed--some years ago, the park put in an extensive asphalt trail with periodic exercise stations, but now the surface is rutted and full of potholes, and for some reason all the trail maps have been removed.
It's certainly not neglected, though, as the trails are fairly busy with a mix of walkers, joggers, and dog-owners, and cyclists, plus there is a model airplane park that seems to get heavy traffic on the weekends. Not a great choice for solitude, but it is a good choice for safety-conscious singletons, at least on a fine Saturday afternoon in spring.
Like most parks in Texas, it could use more trees, but it does have some nice wooded areas (maybe 1/3 of the trail is shaded?). In addition to the asphalt trail, there are also unpaved trails that wander off into the woods, which are a little less walk-y and more hike-y, but on the whole, this is a pretty strollable, non-strenuous trail.
Main Trail partially open - a good walk with interesting plants
Buescher State Park
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Distance: 3.00 Miles
The first 2 miles of the Main Trail are now open, which means you can have a 4-mile hike, which is definitely long enough to make the trip worthwhile. Buescher offers a much lusher, greener experience than most Austin-area hikes, winding through the Lost Pines and following a small creek. There were lots of lichens, mushrooms, true moss, and Spanish moss, as well as a number of grasses, cedars, and lots of yaupon. And, of course, loblollies. We didn't notice any fire damage, but we weren't really looking for it, either, and we were there late in the day and didn't explore the park beyond the one trail that's open.
The stretch we walked didn't have a lot of elevation changes (which was fine with us) and no dramatic overlooks, but was a pleasant, intimate walk with only a few other folks on the trail.
Pretty waterfall, nice creek, interesting moss, very pleasant hike
Spring Lake Preserve
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Distance: 6.00 Miles
This is another park in the San Marcos system (http://www.smgreenbelt.org/SMNaturalAreas.htm), similar to Purgatory Creek, but with less elevation change and a bit drier.
It has typical Hill Country elements--junipers, cedar elms, opuntia, and karst-y rocks--but it also has (interestingly) a few pockets of very happy Spanish moss, plus ball moss and various lichens. A nice, limestoney creek cuts through the park, including a very lovely multi-level waterfall right by a big tree veiled in Spanish moss--it a rather magical little spot.
There's also a pond with a small dock, and a handicapped-accessible section with tons of benches and picnic tables. Altogether a welcoming, thoughtful park with enough trails to give you a nice range of options in terms of length of hike.
We entered at the south-most trailhead off of W. Laurel St, which let us walk for a bit, take a bathroom break at the Lime Kiln trailhead, and cruise on. (Plenty of easy parking, but the only bathroom (a portapotty) is at the LK trailhead.) Finding the W. Laurel St. trailhead isn't difficult, but it is weird. Park at The Meadows center (201 San Marcos Springs Dr, San Marcos, TX 78666), cross the street heading right toward the utility area with a barn/garage and trucks--you'll see a blue reflector in a tree--head that way. Pass the dumpster (for real), and on the left you'll see a trailhead and map.
Felt a bit neglected, but saw some wildlife
Slaughter Creek Greenbelt
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Distance: 2.60 Miles
I parked at the intersection of Alsatia & Currin, and the entrance to the trail system had the sort of weedy, desolate look of a vacant lot, rather than the look of a park or nature preserve--lots of Johnsongrass-looking gangly weeds and an overgrown trail. It was Halloween, so maybe my imagination was running away with me, but it felt like the sort of place where people dump bodies.
However, if you push on through, it starts looking more like a typical HIll Country landscape (little bluestem, mesquite, and juniper) and less like a derelict lot. There's a nice creekbed, and a modest bluff climbs up over it. And the animals are clearly thriving there--I saw a roadrunner, three deer, and a flood of butterflies. There's some shade, but not a ton.
Despite being surrounded by suburbia, the trail was eerily quiet--I only ever saw 2 other people, which probably contributed to my general feeling of unease.
Bottom line: I probably wouldn't go out of my way to visit this park again, though if I were a local, I'd use it in cool weather/evenings, preferably with a walking buddy or a dog.