Doeskin's hikes begin on a prairie bottom land. One of the trails leads up to the hilltop pictured above in Autumn colors.
From Austin, head north on US 183 to Cedar Park. Turn
left onto FM 1431 and continue through Janestown and Lago Vista. Turn right onto FM 1174
and head north for 5.6 miles. The entrance to the preserve will be on the right.
The Hike: Doeskin Ranch is part of one of the newer National Wildlife
Refuges. In an area of 80,000 acres, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hopes to acquire at least 46,000 acres to preserve habitat for the area's endangered species. A side benefit of this important work is the wonderful trails that we get to enjoy.
At the top of the hill the trail loops around a pocket prairie.
Of the two trail areas open within the refuge, Doeskin Ranch is the largest in terms of trail length (The other trail is Warbler Vista
, near Lago Vista). In all there are about 3.7 miles of trails, broken up into three loops of various sizes. Since the total length of the trails is less than 4 miles, all three loops can easily be done at once.
We started our hike at the waypoint marked "Trailhead". Here you'll find a restroom and a
few notice boards and interpretive guide holders. Our plan was to tackle the harder loop
first, which the preserve calls the Rimrock Trail. From the trail junction point at the
trailhead we head southeast, in the general direction of the hill that overlooks the parking area.
Looking down the hill to the Doeskin Ranch entrance.
The trail crosses a small creek, the Doeskin Branch and then turns to the east with a more
direct line uphill. Although parts of the hillcountry can be quite steep in small segments, there are not too many places where one finds switchback trails. Yet here they are. The erosion dampening twists and turns reminded us just a little bit of our trip to Big Bend a couple of years ago.
Descending down the hill and heading back to the trailhead.
When cresting over the top of the hill the sky opens up as the Cedar gives way to a small
prairie. The trail loops around the mesa-like hilltop. A portion of that loop is called
the Shin Oak trail by the Refuge. The trail descends down a few more switchbacks, eventually joining an old jeep trail that was used when the land was a working cattle ranch.
The Rimrock Trail is the most difficult hike at Doeskin and accounts for Doeskin's overall
rating. Rewards often accompany work and that's the case here as this particular loop provides the best views and most solitude in the refuge. We did not see another person on this portion of our hike.
A couple of stream paths are easily traversed with stepping stones.
This loop, like the others, begins at the Trailhead waypoint. It's
doubly important to start this loop at the trailhead, since the interpretive guides are
found here and hiking the trail in a clockwise direction will ensure you encounter the
markers in their intended order.
Looking uphill at the trail just hiked. Doeskin Ranch includes an interesting mix of prairie and Juniper-Oak brush, a bit more natural than much of the Hillcountry these days.
The Creek Trail heads northeast from the trailhead, is relatively flat and covers about .6
miles. The building near the start of the hike was most likely used to store corn and other goods. The trail loops around, darting between segments of woodland and prairie.
About half of the trail parallels the Doeskin Branch creek. As the interpretive guide states, much of the creek's year-round flow can be attributed to small springs along its banks. Dry spots upstream and gushing segments downstream indicate the location of some of the springs, even though if they are heavily covered by vegetation.
Pond & Prairie Trail: This trail is the easiest of them all and covers a scant .4
miles. Suitable for people of all ages, it circles a small pond and provides a nice observation point from which you can view the combination of prairie and woodland that the refuge is trying to maintain.
Overall: What a great surprise! On a beautiful, pleasant day, we almost had the
entire trail to ourselves. We encountered a total of two people and both of those were
walking the trails near the trailhead. The solitude was enhanced by the relatively quiet
surroundings. The best vista at Warbler Vista overlooks the busy FM 1431. Here, there are
few cars to disturb the peace. I can see why the birds like it.