Balcones Canyonlands NWR - Doeskin Ranch

3.70 Miles
510 Feet
Liberty Hill
More Info

Doeskin's hikes begin on a prairie bottom land. One of the trails leads up to the hilltop pictured above in Autumn colors.
Doeskin's hikes begin on a prairie bottom land. One of the trails leads up to the hilltop pictured above in Autumn colors.
Getting there: 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.
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.

Rimrock Trail: 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.
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.
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.
A couple of stream paths are easily traversed with stepping stones.
Creek Trail: 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.
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.

This storage shed testifies to the land's prior use as a ranch. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
Just past the trailhead (Photo by Riff Raff)
First creek crossing (Photo by Riff Raff)
Ascending Rimrock Trail (Photo by Riff Raff)
Start of Indiangrass Trail (Photo by Riff Raff)
Rock cairns mark Indiangrass Trail (Photo by Riff Raff)
Pink flowers in Indiangrass area (Photo by Riff Raff)
Indiangrass Trail area (Photo by Riff Raff)
Indiangrass Trail (Photo by Riff Raff)
Descending Shin Oak Trail (Photo by Riff Raff)
Second Creek Crossing (Photo by Riff Raff)
Sunset Features at Doeskin Ranch (Photo by estudio64)
View from back of Indian Grass Trail (Photo by jeffyg)
As seen from the Indian Grass Trail (Photo by heatharcadia)
It's amazing to be looking off into the hills and then look to the ground and see it covered with marine fossils. (Photo by heatharcadia)
Big Muhly grasses along the creek spur trail (Photo by plectrudis)
Sycamore by the creek (Photo by plectrudis)
Log Entries
Pretty prairie & hills landscape, especially nice creek
By plectrudis on 2/18/2017
Rating: Difficulty: Solitude:
Distance: 4.26 Miles Duration: N/A

Doeskin Ranch has lots of nice grasslands, as well as some very pretty sections along the creek.  I always drive in along Cow Creek Rd to really soak in the creek views.  The park is roughly on two levels--you park and begin on the lower level, then hike up to a plateau, then some more hills, back to the plateau, and then back down to your car.

The stretch up to the hill is a bit of a gasper (for me), but otherwise, it's a fairly moderate trail, with lots of good hill country landscape flavor.

Easy, relaxing hike with beautiful scenery
By heatharcadia on 12/30/2015
Rating: Difficulty: Solitude:
Distance: 6.00 Miles Duration: 3 hours, 6 minutes

This is a good place to go hike if you just want to wander around, take in the scenery, and think. I stopped many time to admire the hill country views or inspect plants, rocks, and fossils (there was one portion of the Indian Grass Trail where the ground is just covered with marine fossils, a reminder that this area once was a shallow sea).

I managed to walk all of the marked trails, though this involved doubling back on some portions. The total trail mileage is less than 6, but you can make it a longer hike by doing what I did. Also, walking both directions on certain parts of the trail gives you different views. My favorite views were had from the Indian Grass Trail.

The parking lot was pretty full but I did not encounter as many people as I thought I would on the trail. There were a couple of families I passed, but other than that it was pretty quiet aside from the highway sounds.

The terrain was easy for me. The most difficult part was ascending/descending Rimrock Trail from/to the main trail head, but that wasn't bad at all. If you hike a lot you should be fine.

Be sure to bring you own water; there is not a place to fill up here.

By jimmy peace on 12/7/2014
Rating: Difficulty: Solitude:
Distance: 1.50 Miles Duration: N/A
Nice Fall day, with monarch butterflies all over
By Riff Raff on 10/5/2014
Rating: Difficulty: Solitude:
Distance: 3.85 Miles Duration: N/A

Took my normal route of the Rimrock, Shin Oak, and Indiangrass trails followed by the Creek Trail loop. Lovely Fall day.

A nice quick-hit challenge
By jeffyg on 1/26/2014
Rating: Difficulty: Solitude:
Distance: 4.00 Miles Duration: N/A

Although there were a half-dozen cars at the trail-head parking lot, I only saw a few people near the trail-heads and then no one else the rest of the day as I covered all but one of the trails.  I arrived at 3pm and I covered all but the creek-side trail within 2.5 hours.  The Indian Grass trail was especially nice with some small but interesting elevation changes and the trail meandered a bit allowing one to enjoy it even though it could have been much shorter ala point A to point B.  Some varying hill-country views from different vantage points throughout the trails.  It was near 80 degrees that day and I managed to break a sweat.  I'll be back with my kids as the trails were more than interesting enough to satisfy them.  But I sure liked the solitude and "quiet" I enjoyed this first time I did it so I may go that route with it again soon as well.

By Jessica.Preston on 1/1/2014
Rating: Difficulty: Solitude:
Distance: 3.00 Miles Duration: 2 hours
Not a soul out today
By Riff Raff on 5/18/2013
Rating: Difficulty: Solitude:
Distance: 3.60 Miles Duration: 2 hours, 53 minutes

Did my usual large loop of the Rimrock, Shin Oak, and Indiangrass trails followed by the Creek Trail loop. Did not see a single person out there today once I left the parking lot area.

By crocodile235 on 5/7/2013
Rating: Difficulty: Solitude:
Distance: 5.00 Miles Duration: N/A
Great hike
By andrewsageek on 1/6/2013
Rating: Difficulty: Solitude:
Distance: 4.00 Miles Duration: N/A
First time going to Balcones so we wanted to see as much as we could. Started out on Rimrock trail and connected with Shinoak and then Indiangrass trail making one huge loop around the Ranch. The scenery was pretty nice and open on Indiangrass. Rimrock was a nice hike up to a plateau by means of switchbacks. Only downside was a large family of ~10 that came in right behind us at the start of the hike. But, we let them pass and waited a bit; didn't see them again! Except for them, we only saw a family of four pass us going the opposite direction an hour later.
Nice hike had a breeze to keep me cool
By Jack3409 on 4/23/2012
Rating: Difficulty: Solitude:
Distance: 3.50 Miles Duration: N/A

Trail was always well defined. Hardly any difficulty asending or desending. Got some good pics of  scenery

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