There are a few hills in the Texas Hill Country that look much different than all the rest, and they make up one of the state’s most popular parks. Enchanted Rock is an enormous bubble of pink granite that abruptly rises 425 feet above the surrounding landscape.
No surprise, the most popular thing to do here is hike to the top of the dome. We’ll do that in a moment, and we’ll walk around it. But the first challenge…
… is just getting into the park. Before visiting, I had read that the park tends to fill up early, but I didn’t pay much attention to that warning. So, I drove along Ranch Road 965, until I suddenly came upon this parking lot in the middle of the road. And here I sat, occasionally rolling forward a few feet. Other people got out of their cars, and tossed a Frisbee around at the side of the road (which worked well, until it went over the fence and into the parking area).
As I got closer to the park entrance, I realized the line was actually twice as long as I had thought, since there was an equally long backup of northbound traffic, coming from Fredericksburg. Cars were taking turns as they turned into the park entrance. But even then, a slow creep awaited, just to get to the entrance station.
By the way, take note of the porta-potty at the entrance. This was the only facility for everyone who were stuck in their cars. And if you were traveling solo, there’s no way you could walk up to it. In other words, empty your bladder in Llano or Fredericksburg, and don’t drink too much from the cooler before you get here.
There was a single toilet at the welcome center/toll booth, but it was overwhelmed with a long line, and in desperate need of a cleaning.
After a two hour wait, Enchanted Rock needed to really wow me, to make me feel like I hadn’t wasted my time. I resolved to hold onto my parking spot for as long as possible, and do all the hiking I could before leaving. I started, of course, with the trail that leads to the summit of Enchanted Rock.
In many places, there isn’t much of a trail, just a wide, clear area of sloping rock. It’s somewhat like walking on the roof of your house.
About 1/3 of the way up, and around the point where the Echo Canyon Trail splits off from the Summit Trail, you’ll spot a few “mushroom” rocks…
… which make for some interesting photos. We’ll take the Echo Canyon Trail in just a moment — for now…
… continue up the sheer rock face of Enchanted Rock.
On the way up, looking towards the northeast, you’ll have a great view of Freshman Mountain peeking up over the horizon.
And once you’re at the top, you can look to the southwest, past Echo Canyon, to Little Rock, a smaller version of Enchanted Rock.
The top of the hill is a very wide, and mostly flat area, where people wander around, trying to figure out exactly what they should do, now that they’ve arrived.
Here are a couple of suggestions: first, you can try to hunt down the USGS elevation marker.
Then, look for this pile of boulders on the north side of the hill. They hide a secret!
Slide underneath the boulders, and you enter a not-so-secret passageway, that’s tall enough to stand up in, in some places.
You may need to crawl or slide along on your rear in other spots. There are a few crude arrows drawn on the rocks to point you in the right direction, and ruin many of the photos you’d like to take.
The passageway is the gateway to this spot, where Enchanted Rock Cave begins. If you didn’t remember to bring a flashlight (and I didn’t), you’ll have to turn around at this point, or tag along behind someone who did.
Enchanted Rock Cave is actually a gap, or fissure, between the rocks, that’s capped. It runs about 600 feet, and spits you out at some other point on the hill. While I didn’t give it a try, I have read other accounts that say the gap can be a tight squeeze, especially if you’re carrying a backpack, and there are some steep drops near the end of the passageway that could be dangerous for careless or inexperienced visitors.
Instead of tackling the cave, I focused my attention on this lonely tree nearby. It seemed to be perched in a perfect position, on the edge of the huge granite boulder, somehow anchored in a crack, with roots that inexplicably gathered enough water to keep it alive.
I left the summit, and headed downhill to the turnoff…
… for the Echo Canyon Trail, which squeezes in between…
… Enchanted Rock (on the right) and Little Rock (on the left). This trail, coupled with the Back Side Trail (also called “Base Trail”) and Turkey Pass Trail, will take you all the way around Enchanted Rock. It’s not quite as exciting as the more popular Summit Trail, but there are a few features worth photographing along the way.
One photogenic rock is this mushroom rock, perched just above the descent into the deepest part of Echo Canyon. Keep heading over the scattered menagerie of boulders…
… and you end up in this nice flat area, that almost feels like a separate park, with a few huge boulders as its centerpiece. Two trails leave here — both go to Moss Lake, but the one on the left also passes by an outhouse. If you don’t need the rest stop, take the trail on the right, which will lead to the Back Side Trail.
I didn’t see much worth photographing on the Back Side Trial. Along the way, numerous side trails lead up to the side northwest face of Enchanted Rock, providing access to spots used by rock climbers. You will want to keep following the arrows carved into wooden markers.
The route starts getting interesting again…
… when you turn onto Turkey Pass Trail. This trail squeezes in between Enchanted Rock (on the right) and Freshman Mountain, then later Turkey Peak (on the left).
It’s a nice walk, and quite lonely — especially when you consider the number of visitors who squeezed into the crowded parking lot.
You’ll enjoy a few more good views of the sloped edge of Enchanted Rock…
… before making a climb back uphill, and around the foot of Turkey Peak. You can take a side trip up to the top of Turkey Peak, but after so much walking, my feet were politely asking me to call it quits.
You’re on the right path if you skirt the edge of this muddy lake, around the point where Turkey Pass Trail intersects with the Loop Trail, which will take you back to the parking area.
By the way, if you want to make a larger loop around the park, you can take that Loop Trail instead of the route I outlined here. The loop trail is roughly 5 miles, round-trip, but (on the map, at least) it looks less exciting, since it swings further out from the park’s most interesting features, the granite domes.
As I left the park (around 5 p.m.), I noticed that the entry lines had dwindled down to nothing. I drove a mile or two south of the park entrance, then stopped and turned around to take this picture.
[tmt_info =””]Entrance fees at Enchanted Rock are $6 per person. Campsites are $17 during the peak season (as of 2011, check here for updates). Campers should definitely make reservations.[/tmt_info]