Beautiful hiking trails, no crowds at Doeskin Ranch

Cody Ackerman of the REI Outdoor School, left, helps Jean Bogardus across a creek. Pam LeBlanc/Austin American-Statesman

Cody Ackerman of the REI Outdoor School, left, helps Jean Bogardus across a creek. Pam LeBlanc/Austin American-Statesman

 

Looking for someplace to hike where you’re more likely to spot hawks and deer than other visitors?

Check out the Doeskin Ranch Unit of the Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge. I headed there this morning for the latest in the Best Hill Country Hikes with Fit City series, a collaboration with REI.

Several creeks flow through the preserve. Pam LeBlanc/Austin American-Statesman

Several creeks flow through the preserve. Pam LeBlanc/Austin American-Statesman

 

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Hikers gather at the trailhead at Doeskin Ranch. Pam LeBlanc/Austin American-Statesman

Our small group spent a few hours roaming the refuge, part of more than 25,000 acres set aside to protect habitat that’s important to endangered species, including the black-capped vireo and golden-cheeked warbler that nest here.

Cody Ackerman of REI’s Outdoor School in Austin led the excursion, sharing a bit of the property’s history and answering questions about the plants and animals that live in the area.

We headed out first on the short Creek Trail. We ambled past the ruins of an old log shed, a remnant of the land’s previous incarnation as a ranch. From there we hiked along the creek, marched like ants through fields of waving, rust-colored grasses and up a few easy switchbacks to a lookout point at the top of a ridge where we could see for miles into the Hill Country. Along the way we paused to inspect a garden of wooden boxes designed to serve as nesting boxes for bees.

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Wooden boxes provide refuge for bees. Pam LeBlanc/Austin American-Statesman

More than 5 miles of trails crisscross the Doeskin Ranch Unit, which is open from sunrise to sunset year round. (Trail runners take note; the terrain is perfect for a run.) The paths weave through prairie and woodland forest, along creeks, into an old oak forest and to the top of a plateau.

The land became a National Recreation Trail in 2005.

Want in on the next Fit City hike? The excursions start at 9 a.m. and last about two hours. Cost is $20 for members or $25 for non-members. Register here.

Here’s the upcoming schedule:

  • April 17 – Pedernales Falls State Park
  • May 15 – Wild Basin Preserve

If you go: Doeskin Ranch is on RR 1174. From Austin, take U.S. Highway 183 north to Highway 29. Head west, toward Liberty Hill, then turn south onto RR 1869. Travel about 10 miles, then turn left onto RR 1174. The parking lot is on your left. for more information about the Balcones Canyonlands, go here.

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