The Cactus Rocks trailhead. Trail guides are available nearby.
From Highway 183 in Cedar Park turn south onto FM 1431
and drive for about 14 miles, passing through Lago Vista. On the west side of Lago Vista
look for the Balcones Canyonlands NWR sign on the right and turn onto the gravel road. Drive up
hill on the gravel road for three quarters of a mile and park next to the interpretive
trail guide display.
The Cactus Rock part of the trail follows along a ridge, just below some rimrock.
The Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge is administered
by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It's name causes some to confuse it with the
separately administered Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Program. The two efforts share
a common goal of setting aside vital habitat for endangered species, such as the
Golden-cheeked Warbler and the Black-Capped Vireo.
For hikers, the preserve offers an added benefit of some fine hiking opportunities. The
refuge consists of several large tracks of land in western Travis County and eastern Burnet County. The Warbler Vista parcel includes two trails that we connect together for this one hike.
Only the portions of the trail with a view a couple of others break out of the heavy vegetation.
Near the waypoint "Trailhead" one can find a display with interpretive trail guides that
provide insight into the geology of the area and the species that make their home here.
Along the trail, markers indicate which numbered section of the guide describes a feature or species present. The markers on this trail are the best I have seen anywhere. They're like a piece of art all it's own.
Our hike heads west on what the refuge calls the Cactus Rocks Trail. It follows a contour near the top of a ridge, just below some rimrock. The trail along the ridge is not terribly uneven, save for a couple of quick descents and ascents to traverse dry gullies. Generally there is plenty of cover provided by Ash Juniper, Spanish Oaks, Live Oaks and even some Shin Oaks.
The Vista Knoll portion of the trail tends to be rockier and a bit more challenging.
The name for this trail comes from some cacti that appear to be growing out of large
limestone boulders. Actually, the fractured, pitted and uneven surface of the rock allows the collection of enough soil to support some plants, including cactus, which can be seen near the interpretive guide station number 8.
Approximately half a mile into the hike the trail intersects what the refuge calls the
Vista Knoll Trail, a 1.2 mile balloon route that starts at the "Alt Trailhead" waypoint.
Turn to the left and head south to get great views of Lake Travis and the hillcountry.
The loop trail almost encircles a small hill, providing views from many angles.
The Vista Knoll portion of the hike is a bit more challenging that Cactus Rocks as it
descends down a backbone ridge and back up to the knoll from which the trail derives its
name. There's rockier terrain here and less tree cover, both of which help contribute to
it's spectacular views.
The waypoint "View" at the southern-most tip of the knoll loop marks the best location
for sightseeing. The spot provides a wide vista showing miles of hillcountry punctuated
by a twisting Lake Travis in the distance.
Lake Travis can be seen in the distance, winding its way through the hillcountry.
Completing the loop and doubling back to the original trailhead will result in a hike of
just under 2 miles. Proceed quietly down the trail and you might happen upon some of the
wildlife to be found in the refuge. On our visit we observed White tail deer,
butterflies, dung beetles, a lizard hunting moths in the leaf litter, and a baby praying
mantis, which I had never seen before. Unfortunately we made no sightings of the birds
for whom the preserve was created.
FM 1431 provides easy access to the refuge, but it also presents something of a mild
nuisance. The traffic zooming by at high speeds create noise that is never truly
overwhelming, but never totally absent. Less noise and fewer reminders of civilization
so near by would make this hike almost ideal for a short and easy stroll through the