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Colorado Bend State Park is prime locale for biking, trail running

Pam LeBlanc, Fit City

Staff Writer
Austin 360

BEND, Texas I'm dodging pineapple-sized rocks and zipping between narrowly spaced oaks as I careen down the Spicewood Canyon Trail at Colorado Bend State Park.

Butterflies scatter as I lurch along on my bike, intent on keeping up with one of my tour guides, Kevin Ferguson, the park's resource manager and interpreter. He's running the trail on two feet instead of pedaling, and by the time I catch him he's standing at a trailside overlook, the sweat evaporating off his skin.

Up here, we can see a trio of hikers wading through a creek far below. It reminds me of a little slice of the Costa Rican jungle, and I'm already thinking about kicking off my shoes and diving in when we get there.

"This is the Colorado River canyon as it used to be," Ferguson says. "To see these dramatic box canyons, springs and rock outcrops is pretty spectacular."

In the past five years, the park has expanded its trail system from 14 to 30 miles. In the past year alone, mostly volunteer crews have cut 3 miles of new trail and rerouted another 2. The pathways slice through grassy upland fields, spill down stony chutes and climb up technical switchbacks.

And trail builders aren't finished yet.

The 5,300-acre park, about an hour-and-45 minute drive from Austin, has long been known for white bass fishing in the spring, caving, camping along the Colorado River, and lush, fern-covered Gorman Falls.

Increasingly, though, it's developing a reputation as a destination for trail runners and mountain bikers.

The park will host its first ultra-marathon trail running race in August and has plans for mountain biking clinics and races in 2013. It's even drawing backpackers who want to do multiday trips.

"We want people to realize we've got some of the best trails in the Hill Country," Ferguson says. "It's the closest backcountry to Austin."

I started my adventure a few hours ago at the Windmill Trailhead. Park Superintendent Kelby Bridwell and I made our way down the rolling single-track through clusters of trees and patches of wildflowers to Lemon's Ridge Pass. We took a wrong turn, discovered a couple of giant mud puddles and managed to flatten a tire or two, but we eventually found our way to Ferguson at the top of Spicewood Canyon Trail.

This trail, which opened in February, traces a bluff high above a spring-fed creek. It marks the final link in a single-track, multiuse trail that encircles the entire park.

Trails around the Gorman Falls area have been reworked, too, to make them more interesting to cyclists and to solve erosion problems. Also new are the Dogleg Canyon Trail, which switchbacks up to a canyon rim, and an extension of the River Trail, which now runs all the way from the campground to the Gorman Falls area. Eventually, trails may extend into a rarely used, 740-acre swath of the park across the Colorado River.

A new trail map outlines all the routes and includes elevation profiles and trail distances, which range in difficulty level, and GPS coordinates for points of interest along the way.

"The trails are just a lot of fun," says Dawn Hill, a mountain biker and member of the Friends of Colorado Bend State Park, which has helped to build the trails. "It's gorgeous. You've got overlooks, cactus growing out of trees and rocks — anything you could possibly want for people who like the outdoors."

By the time I arrive at the spring-fed pool we spotted from the ridge, I've pedaled about 9 rugged miles.

I'm hot, I'm sweaty and I don't care that I'm not wearing a swimsuit as I dive into the pool fully clothed.

That refreshing leap convinces me — this park belongs right up there with Reveille Peak Ranch and the Barton Creek Greenbelt as one of the best mountain biking meccas in Central Texas.

Contact Pam LeBlanc at 445-3994

If you go

Colorado Bend State Park is west of Lampasas and southeast of San Saba. From the intersection of U.S. 281 and U.S. 183 in Lampasas, take FM 580 west 24 miles to Bend and follow the signs 4 miles to the park entrance. The headquarters is 6 miles past the entrance on a dirt road. Entry fee is $4 per day per person 13 and older. Drive-up campsites are $15 per night. For more information, call the park at 1-800-792-1112 or go to www.tpwd.state.tx.us/spdest/findadest/parks/colorado_bend/ . Download the new trail map atfriendsof coloradobend.com. To watch a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department video of mountain biking at Colorado Bend State, go to youtu.be/eLcItBMvqT8 . To watch a video overview of the park, go to youtu.be/vlFS7qbKE94 .