In the heart of Texas stands a rock formation with adventures for almost all of the outdoorsy types, carrying with it a bit of folklore as well.
Enchanted Rock lies in the middle of hill country, 15 miles north of Fredricksburg and 15 miles south of Llano. This pink granite dome rises to a lofty 1,825 feet above sea level, a bit taller than its sister, Little Rock, which reaches just a bit over 1,700 feet above sea level. The entire Enchanted Rock State Natural Area is around 640 acres of land made for hikers, rock climbers, and nature lovers of all different flavors.
The legends surrounding the rock tell of an epically-fought Native American battle and a princess who, wrapped in despair over the loss of her tribe, threw herself from the top in agony. There is also a tale of a man who took to the rock in hiding, desperate to protect himself from an angry, approaching tribe. The legends stand to explain the “groaning” that has been known to omit from the rock, though geology takes a different approach. The granite is known to expand and contract with the changing of temperatures, a hot, dry Texas noon to a cool, starry Texas midnight. Regardless of fact or fiction, Enchanted Rock feels alive.
On a first visit to “E-Rock,” as the locals call it, it is an absolute necessity to climb to the top. There are a million ways to scale the beast, but most visitors opt for the Summit Trail, climbing the 425 feet from the base of the mound in approximately 0.6 miles. In reality, the Summit Trail is less of a “trail” and more of a suggestion. It is a great place to start, but once you begin the ascent, there is freedom to wind around as you please, though be mindful that many areas are steeper than others and some areas appear as true vertical inclines. These walls are best left to the experienced rock climbers–those with proper equipment.
Once at the top of E-Rock, the view is spectacular. You can see for miles in every direction.
On the north end of the rock there is a cave, an area where you can escape the blaring heat of the sun, even if just for a little while. The entrance to the Enchanted Rock Cave is surrounded by massive rocks (though not so massive in comparison to the Enchanted Rock), which provide for a cool, shadowy crevice.
The trek back down the massive dome can be a little tricky. Many opt for the direct route back down the Summit Trail, however, it is a dome, and for yours truly and countless others, it can be more fun to make your own trail. Keep in mind the same caution as with the ascension–many areas are steeper than others. Yes, it is a granite rock with great traction on a hot, dry day, but it is key to watch your step.
I followed the curvature of the rock until I finally hit rock bottom (pun intended) in Echo Canyon, the area between Enchanted Rock and Little Rock–which, as its name suggests, provides for a decent echo if you try a little yodel here and there.
From the middle of Echo Canyon, there is a choice: head east toward the park headquarters or venture west, toward the Loop Trail, a path of approximately four miles that encircles the entire park. Having had just a taste of the park and wanting a little more, I directed my hike west, passing through a small grove of trees–yet another chance to step out of the sunlight.
Where the Echo Canyon Trail meets the Loop Trail, hikers meet with the first of the primitive hike-in campgrounds. The park has three different camping areas, the first being near headquarters where tent campers (no RVs in this park) can park and walk a short distance to a site with a picnic table and a fire ring, close to a modern restroom. The other two, Moss Lake and Walnut Springs, are primitive, hike-in campgrounds, each with a composting toilet nearby, ground fires not permitted. Of the two hike-ins, I would recommend Moss Lake: it is a strange oasis of forest in the middle of a seemingly desert atmosphere, and if you’re hiking during the day, you will embrace the shade these trees provide.
With the intention of setting up camp for the weekend, I arrived at Enchanted Rock State Natural Area on a Friday evening in search of a site. Since I’m a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of a person, I rarely make camping reservations, and this particular weekend was no exception. Friday night, the park was booked. As I made my way toward Fredricksburg, I stumbled upon “Frontier Outpost,” and let me just say – it was my kind of campground.
Owners John and Debbie have been running the Outpost for the past six years and have made quite the little haven. The sites are clean and cheap, and depending on when you arrive, decent in size, too. The ground operates on a first-come-first-serve basis. Some weekends are sparse, and landing a big site is not too difficult. Other weekends, music weekends, the place is packed.
The outpost itself is a little store with all of the last-minute camping needs: firewood, ice, sunscreen, refreshments, souvenirs, etc. In addition, the counter doubles as a little beer bar, and the back deck offers great outdoor seating and even a small stage where musicians come to play on the weekends. If you’re lucky, you might just see John himself pick up his guitar and play a few. The man owns and operates his own campground, meets new people from all over, and gets to jam whenever he wants–or at least when his customers convince him to get on stage. I’d say he’s living the dream.
While all of this adds up to a pretty stellar campground right near a natural phenomenon, the cherry on top is Jack the dog. As John says, Jack is the camp watch dog, but really, he’s just a big softy. He doesn’t bark, and stops at each campsite for a visit, convinced everyone is staying at Frontier just to play fetch with him. Sweetest dog in the world, I almost took him home with me.
A few tips about the park:
1. The park recommends that when hiking the trails, carry a quart of water per person. I would say this is an understatement. I hiked during the second weekend in May and packed as much water as I could carry in my backpack. I drank it all. When on the top of the rock and when hiking the Loop Trail, there are not many areas for shade, and if you’re planning a late-morning, mid-day hike, remember that it is dry and dusty in Texas and that sun can really beat down.
2. In line with #1: its best to make the summit climb in early morning or late evening. I say this for the sheer location of the sun. Views of the sunrise and sunset are, no doubt, incredible, whereas the midday sunshine, though still providing an epic view, is impossible to escape and the heat can be overbearing. Along those same lines, it is best to hike this park late Fall through Early Spring. Summer heat in a dry, draught-ridden Texas does not a pleasant hike make.
3. The Loop and Echo Canyon trails pass by Moss Lake. Don’t get excited when you see this on the map: swimming is not permitted.
All in all, a trip to Enchanted Rock makes for a great weekend jaunt, but don’t take my word for it: check it out for yourself!