Hike in the new year

Hiking at Inks Lake State Park

Although Inks Lake State Park is booked up for New Year’s Day and weekend, hikers can still ring in 2021 the rest of the month of January, including on the Devil’s Waterhole Trail. Staff photo by Jennifer Greenwell

A New Year’s tradition at many Texas state parks is the First Day Hike, but due to COVID-19 concerns, most of those have been canceled for 2021.

However, park officials hope that doesn’t dissuade people from venturing outdoors to hike in the new year.

“You can still come out to the park and go hiking,” said Cory Evans, superintendent of Inks Lake State Park in Burnet County. “We are booked as far as day passes go for New Year’s Day, and probably the weekend (of New Year’s), but there’s still opportunities for going hiking (later in January).”

Currently, state parks, including Inks Lake, located at 3630 Park Road 4 West in Hoover’s Valley, have limited capacity due to COVID-19 and require reservation of day-use passes. Evans said one local alternative is Longhorn Cavern State Park, which doesn’t have an entry fee to hike its above-ground trails. Another hiking favorite is Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge’s Doeskin Ranch, located at 10645 FM 1174 south of Bertram and north of RR 1431. The refuge offers a moderate hike along the creek or more challenging ones, including Rimrock Trail. Doeskin Ranch is open sunrise to sunset. At Inks Lake State Park, Evans recommends the Devil’s Backbone Nature Trail. It ties into the Valley Spring Creek Trail and Devil’s Waterhole Nature Trail, which is the jumping-off spot for the hike.

“I would say it’s an intermediate trail,” Evans said. “It will take you to the bird blind, and we’re seeing some interesting birds right now. It’s a nice hike and one I would suggest.”

Another one Evans likes is the Pecan Flats Trail, which is just under 2 miles. You can extend the hike by connecting with the Woodland Trail.

“The Pecan Flats Trail is a great place for people to see the wildfire recovery of the park,” Evans said.

In August 2018, a wildfire burned several hundred acres of the southern portion of the park as well as several hundred acres on surrounding private property.

Park officials also devised a self-guided, socially distanced Scavenger Hunt Bingo Hike on the Pecan Flats Trail. Visitors can pick up one of three bingo cards at park headquarters or the park store. As you hike the trail, take photos of items on the bingo card, post them to social media, and use the hashtag #InksLakeBingo.

While organized First Day Hikes aren’t taking place, Evans said staff and volunteers were preparing for them.

“We have a great group of park hosts who have been working on our trails and getting them ready for the First Day Hikes, but even though we’re not having them, people can still come out and enjoy the trails,” he said.

Evans pointed out that, in January, the park will close a large portion of trails due to hunts. He added that the Devil’s Waterhole Trail and Devil’s Backbone Nature Trail will be open.

Other state parks to check out in January and beyond are Pedernales Falls State Park and Enchanted Rock State Natural Area. Like Inks Lake, these parks have booked up their day passes for New Year’s Day and the ensuing weekend.

State parks follow COVID-19 health and safety protocols, including socially distancing from groups not in the same household and wearing face coverings (required when inside park buildings).

Contact individual parks for more information on restrictions and closures. Follow the parks’ social media outlets for updates.

For more hiking opportunities, check out the Highland Lakes Hiking Guide.

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