Alright everyone, close your eyes and picture a place where unicorns might roam, and fairies might pop out from under mushroom-covered logs, and woodland creatures could prance and play in a lush, jungle-like secret hideaway. Got that in your mind? This is just where my imagination took me when I recently visited Westcave Preserve in Southwest Travis County.
Westcave Preserve is a 30-acre beautiful natural habitat that includes a lush canyon, a gorgeous grotto, and a cozy cave. It is a natural wonder and surely a Hill Country treasure. And because the ecosystem there is so delicate, Westcave Preserve can only be entered by guided tour.
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To be truthful, I admit that I was at first reluctant to go. My husband is always suggesting hikes with our three boys, and I always get a tiny twinge of anxiety at the thought of keeping my energetic four-year-old on the trail and out of trouble. “Will this actually be fun?” I wonder. But usually things work out well, and we all have a good time. And once my husband uttered the word “cave” my kids were begging to go.
We arrived early for a noon tour and had plenty of time to eat the snacks we had packed (only water is allowed on the hike) and to take bathroom breaks. We explored the 3,000-square-foot Warren Skaaren Environmental Learning Center. The learning center is a visitor center but also is used for classroom space for the Preserve’s public and school programs. The center includes exhibits, photographs, and artifacts that explore Westcave’s geology, water, weather, plants and animals.
Our tour group was made up mostly of adults with only one other family with children. My family, however, had the youngest in our group, and I got that sense of nervousness again about how this would pan out. The hike is a little less than a mile roundtrip, and we were informed that it would take about 2 hours. Before setting off, our guide scanned our feet to ensure that we were all wearing proper footwear (hiking shoes or sneakers preferred). And then we set off stopping several times along the way to hear about the trees and birds in this environment. We came to a lookout point, providing views of the Pedernales River below. And then we headed down a narrow set of steps on the trail (thankfully there was a railing to hold on to).
Every time the guide stopped to talk (which was very frequently) my kids would get restless. We kept our family at the very tail end of the tour because my boys had a hard time keeping quiet during the guide’s talking points. My husband and I rolled our eyes at each other, exchanging sighs of frustration and looks that indicated that perhaps we should have waited until the boys were older to do this. But the lush canyon was breathtaking. And we were also excited to see such a unique landscape so near Austin.
When we finally came near the grotto and the cave, the guide mentioned the word “snakes” a gazillion times. (I know it was this many because it gave me the heebie-jeebies each time, and it made my youngest react with a shout.) We crossed a tiny bridge looking carefully for snakes (but seeing none, whew), and then spotted the most picturesque grotto! Mist fell and caught the light, looking like tiny diamonds falling down from above. It was so pretty that I could easily tune out the current warning about water snakes and the whining from my little fellas about how slow we were going and that they were hungry again.
The cave itself was much smaller than I imagined (admittedly having done no prior research). But it was the most exciting part of the tour for the kids. My oldest was pleased to share his knowledge of soda straws and stalegmites (and even got to touch one).
After our visit into the cave, the guide mentioned that we could head back at our own pace, as long as were back up by 2pm. Of course, my family had had enough by this time, so they were eager to get back first. (“It’s not a race!”, I shouted huffing and puffing up the steps behind them.)
Overall, I am SO pleased to have gone to Westcave Preserve. It’s a magical place! But if I were to do it again, I would not go with wiggly little folks who had a hard time keeping focused enough not to want to wander off with imaginary unicorns or try to hunt for woodland creatures on their own pace.
If you go:
- Wear comfortable, closed-toe shoes
- Be sure use the restroom before the tour
- Do not take any drinks or snacks on the tour, except for water
- Do take a camera — It’s picture-perfect!
- Keep in mind that the lower part of the tour (grotto and cave) is not accessible to strollers or wheelchairs
When: Tours are every Saturday and Sunday (weather permitting) at 10am, noon, 2pm, and 4pm. (Tours are capped at 30 people.)
Cost: $10 per adult, $5 per child (4-12 years), or $25 per family (immediate family only)
24814 Hamilton Pool Rd.
Round Mountain, TX 78663
Freelance web producer, Heidi Okla is mom to three boys (ages 4, 6, and 8), and can’t pass up any opportunity for fun family adventures. Browse her literacy-focused kids activities on her blog, Read ‘Em and Leap.