There’s more to Colorado Bend State Park than meets the eye. Sitting below the surface of this 5,000-acre state park is an intricate network of caves, drawing geologists and the curious-minded to navigate it’s eerie and dark terrain. Home to Texas’ largest waterfall, and the Colorado River, water lovers will enjoy cooling off after a long day of hiking through the park, or hooking Freshwater Drum for that night’s dinner. There’s even a Junior Ranger program in place for the little ones to enjoy.
Plan your stay for the cooler months to beat the Texas heat, and bring your extended family to stay in one of the three group sites. Count the stars, name a new galaxy, and stay awhile. This guide to Colorado Bend State Park will get you started:
Your Complete Guide to Colorado Bend State Park
History of Colorado Bend State Park
The area around Colorado Bend State Park is steeped in Native, and non-Native history. From 1492 to 1821, Spanish Revolutionaries took control of what is now Texas, commandeering trade routes established by Native Americans after centuries of use.
When the Spanish Empire was conquered by Mexican authorities, Texans decided they’d had enough. In an uprising, they rebelled against Mexico and created the Lone Star Republic.
Over a century after becoming their own republic, and being granted statehood soon thereafter in December of 1845, Texas Parks & Wildlife Department purchased part of the park in 1984, and the remainder in 1987 when the park opened with 5,328.3 acres for visitors to explore.
When to Visit
It’s no secret that summers in Texas are hot and humid, but that’s no reason to stay at home! At Colorado Bend State Park, you’re camping at the edge of the river, and have the opportunity to head underground for cooler temps in the extensive cave system carved by the powerful Colorado River.
Throughout the year, average temperatures can range from 60-degrees, to 96-degrees, and you only have to consider rain 3-6 days out of the month.
Generally, the best time to visit Colorado Bend State Park is early Spring and late Fall. In the winter months, though temperatures are lower and ideal for hiking, you’ll need a sleeping bag that’s rated to freezing, with numbers dipping into the 30s and below.
Colorado Bend State Park Weather Averages (Low – High):
January: 37 – 60° f
February: 40 – 64° f
March: 48 – 71° f
April: 56 – 79° f
May: 63 – 85° f
June: 70 – 92° f
July: 72 – 95° f
August: 72 – 96° f
September: 66 – 89° f
October: 66 – 89° f
November: 47 – 69°f
December: 38 – 61° f
*Numbers from NOAA
Local Gear Shops
Travel to Colorado Bend State Park in three-and-a-half hours or less from Abilene, Dallas-Forth Worth, Austin, or San Antonio. Consider stocking up on gear ahead of time at one of the two REI stores in Austin, or the one in Dallas.
Otherwise there are a few options for last minute items in the towns surrounding Colorado Bend State Park. Take note, once you drive into the park, it’s quite a drive to get out.
Bend General Store
Easily the closest option to Colorado Bend State Park, the Bend General Store offers some kitschy gift items as well as fishing bait and tackle, and kayak or canoe rentals. Open everyday from 7am to 6pm, 9pm on Fridays, and 11pm on Saturdays.
State Park Store at Colorado Bend State Park
If you’re looking for last minute essentials like ice or firewood, the State Park Store inside Colorado Bend State Park is your best bet. It’s conveniently located at the entrance to the established campground, about 10 miles down the road from the park entrance.
2236 Park Hill Dr
Bend, TX 76824
Activities in Colorado Bend State Park
With the Colorado River, a cave system, and over 35 miles of trail as your playground, a week spent at Colorado Bend State Park can be filled with activity, or kept low-key and relaxing. If adventure is on the agenda consider hiking, fishing, or backpacking with these suggestions.
Among the 35 miles of hiking trails in Colorado Bend State Park, the three most popular can be hiked year-round, and each offer something different to hikers.
Gorman Falls Trail
Gorman Falls Trail can be hiked on your own, or you can join a guided tour from Park Rangers on a regular basis. The 2.6 mile hike offers limited shade, but a serene waterfall at the end. Bring plenty of water, and wear sturdy shoes–the trail becomes quite rocky in some places.
Distance: 2.6 miles
Elevation gain: 344 feet
Hikers looking for more of a challenge can take to the River Trail trailhead, where over 8 miles of hiking and spectacular birding awaits. With over 155 species of bird within the park, you’ll want to make sure your binoculars are cleaned and ready to view. This trail also passes by Gorman Falls along the Colorado River.
Distance: 8.3 miles
Elevation gain: 541 feet
Spicewood Springs Trail
This loop that follows the Colorado River for a bit, also offers natural springs to dip your feet in (or your full body) on a hot day. Like the other two, dogs are allowed on this trail (on-leash), and they’ll have plenty of water access to keep them cool and hydrated. The hike is rated as moderate, but many users on AllTrails agree it’s easy.
Distance: 3.8 miles
Elevation gain: 288 feet
The Colorado River offers some of the best bass fishing in the state of Texas. Within the State Park limits, anglers aren’t required to purchase or possess a fishing license, and there’s a fish cleaning station along the shore to clean out your day’s catch.
When water levels are high enough, undertaking a single or multi-day kayak adventure can be easily accessible from within the park. There are multiple backcountry sites along the river for multi-day adventurers, and kayak rentals are available from the State Park Store starting at $10/hour.
Both the North and South Campground sites sit along the Colorado River so there’s easy access to a midday or midnight dip in the water. Be aware of anglers though! You definitely don’t want to get caught in their line.
Over 400 natural caves sit beneath the surface of Colorado Bend State Park. Book a tour with Nichols Outdoor Adventures to crawl through narrow passageways and discover the intricacies of a cave network. They offer three tour options: Discovery, Adventure, and Climbers. Guests will not be required to crawl on the Discovery Tour (though they’ll have the option), but crawling is integrated into the Adventure Tour, and extensive crawling in the Climbers Tour.
A guide is required to enter the intricate cave network at Colorado Bend.
Fees and Facilities at Colorado Bend State Park
As a Texas State Park, the America the Beautiful Pass ($80) and Texas State Parks Pass ($70) allow visitors to enter without paying the daily access fee. For those without either pass, the daily entrance fee is $5 for individuals 13+, and free for those 12 and under.
Campsites range in price from $10/night (Hike-in, primitive sites) to $75/night (Riverside group sites). The standard drive-in campsites go for $15/night.
Note: Entrance fees are charged alongside campsite fees, so keep that in mind when budgeting your vacation.
Camping at Colorado Bend State Park
Within Colorado Bend State Park there is one designated campground, two designated primitive camping areas, and three designated group campsites.
Roughly 6 miles into the park (about a twenty minute drive) you’ll find 47 sites with access to the Colorado River. There are no hookups, but there is potable water onsite. Each site contains a fire ring, and there’s a composting toilet as well as a communal shower to wash the dirt off your feet after a long day of trekking or caving.
“Totally primitive. Lots of wildlife, and a great view of the sky. You are camping on top of a giant mountain/hill above the Colorado River.” – The Dyrt user Kim W.
“The campsites were great with lots of shade and proximity to water & trails! Several of my friends were first time campers and they had a great time.” – The Dyrt user Hannah G.
“One of the main features of this park is the river and the easy access for fishing. During February and March there is a white bass run in which anyone with a fishing rod, reel, line and white jig can catch a fish.” – The Dyrt user Troy W.
“We camped in a water only site, which is also a walk-in site. You park by the road and then walk down some stairs to the river level, which is where the campsites are. The campsites are numbered, but it is basically an open field.” – The Dyrt user Brian V.Camp here
More Tips from Local Experts
1. Book in advance
Spots are limited and camping in Texas‘ Colorado Bend is popular, so book ahead to get the spot you want. The campground has 15 drive-up sites and 28 walk-in tent sites near the river.
If you’re keen to get away from it all, you can backpack about a mile from the parking lot and camp in the primitive campsite area. Expect to get back to basics, as there are no facilities or water nearby.
“Highly recommend getting advance campsite reservations. The first time we drove out we assumed we could walk-up but they have a lot of Boy Scout groups throughout the fall and spring. So we had to go to a nearby private camp on the river.” – The Dyrt camper Eby H.
2. Visit the tallest waterfall in Texas
As you know, everything’s bigger in Texas, so don’t miss your chance to see the state’s tallest waterfall. Gorman Creek cascades down for 65 feet to create the inspiring Gorman Falls.
Gorman Falls Trail is the park’s most popular. It’s only 1.5 miles long, but prepare for a challenging, rocky hike with a steep descent.
“Colorado Bend is beautiful and secluded. It is home to Gorman Falls, which is the tallest waterfall in Texas, but even besides that the park is gorgeous with awesome bluffs, river, trails, swimming hole, kayaking, and views.” — The Dyrt camper JJ T.
3. Go underground
There’s a lot going on under your feet: Colorado Bend has a massive cave system of over 400 caves. Channel your inner Goonies on a guided cave tour, where you’ll get down and dirty squeezing through narrow passageways and spelunking across underground rivers.
Reservations are required and don’t forget your sturdy shoes.
“You can work with a local guide and go into a cave – lots of fun and the guide was great.” – The Dyrt camper Heather S.
4. Bring a swimsuit
There are no lifeguards in the park, so get up to speed on water safety guidelines.
“The best thing about this place is the swimming,. It’s a great place to cool off during a hot Texas day.”– The Dyrt camper Sam D.
5. Stay alert on the trails
Colorado Bend State Park has 35 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails. The drainage system in the park is efficient, so trails are usually open regardless of rainfall. However, you’ll want to keep your eyes peeled so you don’t wander off course. Check out the interactive trail guide to pick out a few that suit your time frame and fitness level.
“If you take the trails near the creek though, be sure you’re able to navigate without trail markers as there are few and not very noticeable.” — The Dyrt camper James S.
6. Bring a water container for walk-in sites
Potable water is available to drive-in and walk-in campers, but the spigots are central to the drive-in area. Walk-in campers have to go up a set of stairs to access water, so come prepared unless you want to be making several return trips.
“Water for the walk-in sites are on the top of the stairs, so be sure to have something to lug water down to your campsite.” — The Dyrt camper Brian V.
7. Be aware of burn bans
If the weather has been particularly dry, the county can impose a burn ban in state parks. Colorado Bend straddles San Saba and Lampasas counties, so ask about burn bans when you make your booking.
Open fires are not permitted at any time in the primitive camping area, but you can use containerized fuel stoves.
“There is absolutely no signal and the park has a burn ban so bring your own stoves.” — The Dyrt camper Kevin T.