Chalk Ridge Falls Park is just the kind of gem you would expect to stumble upon when exploring the Texas Hill Country. Located just about 10 minutes away from Belton, Texas, the park is a favorite with nature lovers and waterfall chasers. This scenic park offers a peaceful escape with its lush woods, turquoise waters of the Lampasas Rivers, pretty cascading waterfalls, and a network of hiking trails.
Let me take you on a journey through Chalk Ridge Falls Park, exploring its natural beauty, the hiking trail to Chalk Ridge Falls, and what to expect along the way – including the famous suspension bridge!
Where is Chalk Ridge Falls Park located?
Chalk Ridge Falls Park is a 90-acre park in Bell County, Texas. It is located along the Lampasas River downstream of the Stillhouse Hollow Dam. In fact, you can see the dam from the parking lot. The park provides a serene setting for visitors to connect with nature. The park is a part of the broader Stillhouse Hollow Lake area and offers a variety of recreational opportunities, including picnicking, birdwatching, fishing, and, most notably, hiking to the waterfall.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers maintains the park. There is a fairly large parking lot at the park entrance in view of the dam. A restroom and trash bins are also located here. When we visited the restroom was clean and well-stocked with toilet paper as well as hand sanitizer. A sign marked Nature Trails guides visitors to the start of the trails. Dogs are welcome but must be on a leash.
The park address is 5600 FM1670, Belton, TX 76513. It is open from dusk to dawn.
Why visit Chalk Ridge Falls?
Chalk Ridge Falls used to be a hidden gem in Central Texas, known only to locals, until it suddenly exploded on social media. The park received an influx of visitors from as far as Austin and Houston and the trails started getting pretty popular and crowded. However, the fame has kind of settled down in the last couple of years and now you would find a decent sized crowd on summer weekends. Plan a trip off season and weekdays and you are likely to find the park mostly to yourself.
So what is it about Chalk Ridge Falls that draws so many visitors?
This is a captivating waterfall that while small in size is a thing of beauty. The waterfalls cascade over limestone formations, creating a mesmerizing sight and a perfect backdrop for photos. Visitors can get up close to the falls or relax by the pools below. On warm Texas days, many hikers take advantage of the crystal-clear pools at the bottom of the falls for a refreshing swim. It’s a great spot to cool off and enjoy the natural beauty of the park.
Best Time to Visit Chalk Ridge Falls
The best time to visit Chalk Ridge Falls is in the summer when the falls are rushing. Families love to hike to the falls and swim and cool down in the stream. The park has beautiful fall foliage in January and colorful wildflowers in spring, making them equally popular to visit. The waterfall is the thinnest in winter months and at times, you can find a really small stream in January. It’s still always full enough to be heard all the way from the trails though – so it helps in navigating to the waterfall.
Chalk Ridge Falls Trail Description
Hiking to Chalk Ridge Falls, while one of my favorite things to do near Belton, should come with some warnings. The trails are not well-maintained or well-marked and the park can be hard to navigate. We often kept getting lost or taking another trail and had to keep orienting ourselves to the sound of the waterfall. Also there are no restrooms once you hit the trails.
Be on the lookout for signs warning about toxic algae – this blue green algae called cyanobacteria often grows in the summer months when the water is low and stagnant. A particularly large algae bloom even closed the park down towards the end of last summer. In general, we recommend staying away from large mats of algae. With all the warnings out of the way, here’s a detailed trail description.
The trail is a 3 miles out and back hike. It takes about 2 hours to complete at a leisurely pace. It is of moderate difficulty level and involves wooden pathways, stairs, stream crossings, and a suspension bridge. Toddlers and preschoolers can complete the hike with some help, older kids will be fine on their own. The trail is not good for babies in strollers – you will need a hiking carrier if you have infants. Being dog-friendly, you will see a lot of 4-legged friends on the trail.
The trail starts at the parking lot as a wide gravel path along the banks of the Lampasas River. You will keep seeing the river to the side – there are wooden stairs to take you down from the berm to the river bed at frequent intervals.
There are also a couple of observation overlooks on the upper portion of the trail, they act as good bird blinds. They are also good to soak in the serene beauty of the water, watch for wildlife, and perhaps even spot a variety of bird species. As far as we could tell, the trail marked red took us down to the waterfall while the blue kept climbing the bluffs.
As you venture deeper into the park, you’ll find yourself surrounded by lush woodlands, providing a refreshing respite from the Texas sun. The trail meanders through a forested area, offering glimpses of native flora and fauna. The trail gets rocky in places as you go further. You will descend a wooden stairs and then walk over a really long wooden bridge that crosses a stream. This stream was running dry when we visited in January but was quite full in May.
For a fun detour – take the stairs down from the wooden bridge and walk upstream for a quarter of a mile – you will find a kind of narrow canyon with caves which are fun to explore. Back on the main path, and you will come across some more stairs as you go deeper into the woods. One more bridge later, you’ll come upon the highlight of the trail – a suspended suspension bridge!
Note – you will see the waterfall in the distance before you come upon the bridge!
This cable suspension bridge is the last thing you would expect to come across in Texas! It’s pretty ancient and suspended over the blue stream below. The water under the bridge often mirrors the surrounding trees creating a stunning sight. Few of the wooden steps in the bridge are missing or broken – but that just seemed to make it more cool for the kids! When there’s a breeze, the bridge sways quite a bit and it can feel scary if you’re standing at its center.
Cross the bridge and continue on the trail to reach the beautiful cascading waterfall. The water cascades over the limestone ridge, making for a beautiful spectacle. You will find a large flat area near the base of the falls and a swimming hole which is full in the summer. It is an amazing sight to see the water gently cascade down the rocks.
The waterfall is approximately 1 mile from the trailhead. The trail continues for half a mile past the waterfall but it is even more unkempt and full of fallen trees and overgrown shrubs up to 3.5 feet high. Plus there’s nothing really exciting beyond the waterfall and swimming hole. As a result, you won’t see many people going till the very end.
After spending time at the falls, you can retrace your steps along the same trail to return to the trailhead. Be sure to pack out any trash and leave no trace to help preserve this beautiful natural area for future generations.
The park also has a lot of side trails besides the Chalk Ridge Falls trail which are fun to explore if you have more time. Be sure to bring sturdy hiking shoes, water, and insect repellent before setting out on the trails.
Chalk Ridge Fall Photos
Chalk Ridge Falls Park on Stillhouse Hollow Lake is a true natural treasure. The waterfall and the park’s serene surroundings are sure to enchant most visitors at the park. It makes a great day trip from Austin or from the city of Temple in Bell County.