McKinney Falls State Park

By: Vivian Elizabeth Smyrl

Type: General Entry

Published: April 1, 1995

Updated: July 31, 2020

McKinney Falls State Park is at the confluence of Onion and Williamson creeks, on Scenic Loop Road thirteen miles southeast of the state Capitol between Interstate Highway 35 and U.S. Highway 183 in southeastern Travis County. The land was once covered by a sea, which was broken by the eruption of now-extinct Pilot Knob, located just south of the park. The area was inhabited by Indians as early as 6000 B.C.; the rockshelters along Onion Creek were used as campsites by ancestors of the Tonkawa Indians 2,000 years ago. The first landowner was Santiago Del Valle, who purchased a large tract of land, including the site of the present park area, in 1832. The park is named for Thomas F. McKinney, who bought part of the Del Valle tract in 1839 and established a home there. James Wood Smith bought the McKinney homestead in 1885 and used the land for grazing cattle and for farming; his grandchildren, Mr. and Mrs. J. E. "Pete" Smith and Miss Annie M. Smith, donated 638 acres to the state of Texas as a park in 1970.

The park was opened to the public in 1976. Among its recreational facilities are camping and picnic sites, playgrounds, and a hike-and-bike trail. White-tailed deer, wild turkeys, quail, squirrels, armadillos, raccoons, and a variety of songbirds inhabit the park. Among the chief attractions are the waterfalls on Onion and Williamson creeks and the Smith Rockshelter.

Swimming was banned at the park in 1981 because of high levels of bacteria in the water. The ban was not lifted until 1993, when the Austin City Council approved an agreement for testing the water safety. During the twelve-year ban, the number of visitors to the park fell from 6,000 a day to 1,500. Park officials hoped that the reopening of the swimming facilities would prompt an increase in tourism. In 1993 the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department was planning to build a climbing facility at McKinney Falls State Park. The 14,000-square-foot facility, which would be funded through donations and grants, would be large enough to accommodate 200 to 300 climbers at a time. The complex might relieve overuse of natural sites such as the Barton Creek greenbelt and Enchanted Rock. It would also provide a site for programs involving youth at risk, as well as a training area for rescue teams.

Austin American-Statesman, June 21, 1993, Paul Anthony Prause, "A Capital Park: Austin's McKinney Falls," Texas Parks and Wildlife, June 1990.

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Vivian Elizabeth Smyrl, “McKinney Falls State Park,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 18, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

April 1, 1995
July 31, 2020