Yesterday, I navigated cactus-dotted scrubland caked in orange dust. Today, I’m negotiating a slick gorge decorated in green hanging gardens. It feels like two different trips, and, in a sense, it is: I threaded together a dozen trails to flow the desert and upland savannah into a damp karst canyon that hides a 65-foot-tall waterfall. In doing so, I’ve created a multiday epic that touches every highlight in this dayhike-oriented park. That’s the way it should be: The longer you look, the better you see.
Turn-by-turn from the Cedar Chopper Loop trailhead
Like most backpacking trips in Hill Country, this one requires creativity: Begin in the middle of the figure eight (leave yourself a cache in your car for day two), and link the Lemons Ridge Pass, Lively Loop, and Windmill Trails 4.4 miles through a desertscape to the Windmill Backpack Camping Area .
Next day, string together the Windmill, Lively Loop, Gorman-Windmill Connection, and Gorman Falls Trails 3.4 miles to a tributary of the Colorado River.
Venture upstream on the 1-mile, out-and-back Gorman Spring Trail to see the namesake bubbler (scan for Texas’s state fish, the Guadalupe bass).
Back at the Colorado River, take Old Gorman Road (dirt doubletrack) south to the Cedar Chopper Loop parking lot and your cache at mile 10.5.
Tack on leg two: Trek 3.5 miles east through karst Dogleg Canyon (trailside sinkholes and permit-only caves here) and up the shady River Trail to the River Backpack Camping Area path, which wends upstream to campsites by Texas’s Colorado River.
Back on the main trail, thread together the River and Lemons Ridge Pass Trails 4.2 miles to close the circuit where you started at the Cedar Chopper Loop parking area.
Campsite 1: Windmill Backpack Camping Area (mile 4.4)
Pitch your tent in the prairie, where mountain cedars provide some shade. But this quiet desert site feels straight-up Texas, complete with prickly pear cactuses and nighttime coyote yips. Note: BYO water.
Campsite 2: River Backpack Camping Area (mile 14.4)
Camp on a flat spot trimmed with Queen Anne’s lace and cattails. Easy access to the lazy Colorado River makes water duty a breeze—and means you’ll have thirsty visitors, like armadillos.
DO IT Trailhead 31.041102, -98.485403; 30 miles west of Lampasas on CR 446
Season October to May Permit None, but you need to reserve campsites online for $10 apiece. Custom map($15)