Balcones Canyonlands Wildlife Refuge


Instead of taking the fast route, TX 71, from Marble Falls to Austin, I opted for the scenic route through the Texas Hill Country, on Ranch Road 1431.  This backroad passes through the Balcones Canyonlands Wildlife Refuge.

As the name suggests, this is a wilderness area, most suited for patient people who are willing to sit, with binoculars in hand, for hours, waiting for the area’s wildlife to show up around them.  Such an approach is not ideal for road-trippers looking to cover a lot of ground in a day.  But, there are a few things you can do here, that won’t take a lot of time.  The quickest place to visit is the Sunset Deck…

… which provides a nice view of the Texas Hill Country, looking west.  RM 1431 is on the right, and on the left, in the distance, is the Colorado River (the Texas version, not the one that runs through the Grand Canyon).

To find the Sunset Deck, you’ll need to drive a few miles up a maintained dirt road. On RM 1431, as you’re headed towards Austin, you will pass a church, then cross a bridge, then look for the dirt road on the left. It is well-marked as an access road to the Wildlife Refuge.

If you have a little more time, you can hike one of several trails in Balcones Canyonlands.  The 3/4-mile (one way) Ridgeline Trail begins at the Sunset Deck, and parallels the road until it intersects the Vista Knoll Trail, which makes a 1.2 mile loop around the top of a small hill.  Both of those trails are accessed on the Cactus Rocks Trail, which has its own parking area along the dirt road, about halfway between RM 1431 and the Sunset Deck.  I took a picture of this map, which shows the trails:

Click on the image for a larger version.

As you can see by my pictures, I wasn’t visiting Balcones Canyonlands on a particularly beautiful day.  So, after enjoying the peaceful quiet of the Sunset Deck for a few minutes, I drove back down to the paved road, and continued on into Austin.

RM-1431 eventually runs into US 183. Follow it south to TX-1, better known as the MoPac Expressway, for a quick ride into downtown Austin, or to our next stop, Mount Bonnell.

Drivelapse Video

Here’s the time-lapse, dash-cam video of the drive through the Balcones Canyonlands, from Marble Falls into the Austin area:

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