Max O'Roark pushes his bike past patches of prickly pear at Colorado Bend State Park.
Max O'Roark pushes his bike past patches of prickly pear at Colorado Bend State Park. Credit: Brendan Gibbons / San Antonio Report

Several people have told me that Colorado Bend is their favorite state park in Texas. After our last trip there, I’d have to say it’s mine, too.

Colorado Bend is a 5,330-acre park with something for everyone. The park offers 35 miles of trails, most open for hiking and bicycling. Water flowing from the park’s upper regions has cut caves and sinkholes throughout the property, as well as forming Gorman Falls, the tallest waterfall in Texas. Kayakers and anglers can easily access the Colorado River, which twists its way past the campground.

The signature attraction is Gorman Falls, where admirers can watch the tumbling water flow off sheets of travertine rock, formed by the deposition of minerals from the falls. Ferns decorate the sides of the walls and create a cool, green oasis under the trees.

Most visitors also spend their time down on the river, fishing for bass and catfish, or kayaking through the sluggish water. Campgrounds near the river and on top of the plateau have drive-up, walk-in, and backcountry sites ranging from $10 to $15 a night.

On this trip, my third time at Colorado Bend, we ended up seeing some parts of the park I had never seen before – Spicewood Canyon and Lively Loop. These trails didn’t disappoint, and it made me feel like it’ll take three more trips to appreciate all that Colorado Bend has to offer.

My friend Max O’Roark and I started our trip Friday by overloading his Subaru with excessive amounts of gear for a one-night trip. We packed the vehicle with bikes, boots, tents, a cooler, cameras, clothes, basically everything we needed for a 24-hour multisport adventure.

Max, a friend of mine since middle school days in Colorado who recently moved to San Antonio, at first asked me what I could tell people that would make them want to drive nearly 3 hours from San Antonio. By the time we left, he was calling the park “Little Bend,” arguing that its rugged beauty is second only in Texas to Big Bend National Park.

Max O'Roark and his overly loaded Subaru at a trailhead at Colorado Bend State Park.
Max O’Roark packs his overly-loaded Subaru at a trailhead at Colorado Bend State Park. Credit: Brendan Gibbons / San Antonio Report

The plan was to meet up with my friend Joedy Yglesias and some of his Navy buddies. (He’s probably your friend, too. It seems like everyone in San Antonio knows Joedy.) Joedy was supposed to get in later, so we decided to crank out a 5-mile bike ride on Lively Loop, which circles through some of the oak savannahs that make up the park’s higher elevations.

By bad luck, we started out on the one short stretch of extremely rocky terrain, and Max broke his rear derailleur within minutes. We adapted, with him trail running and me mountain biking. We both cruised at our own paces along the flowy, open double-track that made up most of the loop. It was some of the smoothest and fastest mountain biking I’ve ever done in the Hill Country.

The sun was going down when we got to the campsite, and we tried to find Joedy’s friend Kevin by walking up to people in the darkness and asking, “Excuse me, are you Kevin?” Because this is Texas, people were reliably friendly in response. “Nope, I’m just camping and fishing,” one guy replied. He invited us back over for cocktails later.

We eventually found the group and settled into late dinner and campfire talk. I dropped some grilled chicken into the fire, fished it out, dusted it off, and we ate it anyway.

In the morning, most of the group trickled away to fish for white bass, but Max and I wanted to get some miles in. We hiked up the steep and rocky Spicewood Canyon, where a clear creek laden with minerals has created a series of terraces and pools that form gorgeous swimming holes.

If you make a loop, the trail is about 4 miles total, and The Trailist recommends taking the hiking-only Spicewood Springs path up and coming down the hike-and-bike Spicewood Canyon trail. A vista at the top of the ridge on Spicewood Canyon offers expansive views of the creek, the Colorado River and bluffs in the distance.

For us, the highlight of the trip came when Joedy, an experienced caver, took us exploring in a little-known cave on the property. We had the proper helmet and three light sources per person, but it’s probably not something Max and I would have done without Joedy.

Joedy Yglesias slides into a cave entrance at Colorado Bend State Park.
Joedy Yglesias slides into a cave entrance at Colorado Bend State Park. Credit: Brendan Gibbons / San Antonio Report

Cavers have always been secretive about their spots because well-known caves tend to suffer broken formations, stolen fossils, and graffiti scrawled on walls. People leave trash behind and disturb sensitive animals like bats. The spread of the bat-killing fungus that causes white-nose syndrome, which can hitch a ride on cavers’ clothes and gear, is a more recent reason for the secrecy. White-nose syndrome was first discovered in Texas in 2017.

If you want to experience Colorado Bend’s caves, the easiest way is to go through the park’s official cave tour company, Nichols Outdoor Adventures. The second-easiest way is to get involved with the caving community by attending the monthly meetings of Bexar Grotto, the local caving club for San Antonians. They’re a pretty welcoming group.

Everyone had to get back to San Antonio relatively early, so Max and I found ourselves at a burger joint in the nearby town of Llano about only a day after leaving San Antonio. We were sorry to leave Colorado Bend so soon but grateful it had given us so much to do in such a short time.

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Brendan Gibbons

Brendan Gibbons is a former senior reporter at the San Antonio Report. He is an environmental journalist for Oil & Gas Watch.