Nothing cools you off on a hot summer day like a spring-fed swimming hole. Krause Springs in Spicewood (404 Krause Spring Road, Spicewood, 78669) is one of the best around! Located about 35 miles west of Austin off State Highway 71, Krause Springs has 34 springs that feed a man-made pool and a natural swimming area.

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You can visit just for the day ($7 age 12+, $5 ages 4 – 11, free for ages 0 – 3) or camp overnight ($14 age 12+, $6 ages 4 – 11, and $14 per RV camp site). Credit cards are not accepted at this time so bring cash. Guests sign a liability waiver upon entering.

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When we arrived, we took a look around the lovely garden near the office.

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We thought this caterpillar was pretty interesting.

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Next, we walked along the paths and saw many picnic areas surrounded by beautiful trees.

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From the path, we could see the manmade pool. It is fed by very cold spring water (68 degrees according to their web site). Get ready to get chill out!

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As you walk, you will be able to observe some of the springs flowing near the pool.

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The boys were ready to jump in! This pool has a shallower section (about 3 feet) and a deeper section (about 8 feet).

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Here’s a view of the swimming hole from an overlook.

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After swimming in the manmade pool for about an hour, we were ready to head down to the swimming hole.

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The stairs closest to the manmade pool are a little steep. There’s another set of stairs farther down the path.

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The swimming hole has both sun and shade. It was gorgeous!

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The waterfall surrounded by maidenhair fern was stunning. I haven’t seen anything else like it (in Texas at least)! The boys were fascinated by the “rainbow” that was created by the sun shining through the water as it fell. They played in this area a long time. We thought that the water here was not quite as cold as it was in the manmade pool above. When you are swimming, be aware that the natural swimming area has an uneven surface on the bottom. You can go from shallow to deep in one step.

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The rope swing was extremely popular.

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One thing to be aware of while enjoying the natural swimming area is that it is very slippery. Not only did we see a few people slip, my 12-year-old son hit the ground pretty hard near the end of our visit. That took the wind out of his sails. Definitely wear sturdy shoes that can keep you stable both in the water and out. To leave the swimming hole we went back up these stairs, which were less steep.

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We walked some more along the paths trying to find the second waterfall fed by the springs. From the map, we could tell it was slightly northeast of the swimming areas.

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We found plenty of springs!

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After some stubborn searching by this mom who wouldn’t leave without seeing the second waterfall, we finally located it. We couldn’t find a way to walk down the hill to get closer to it, so I took this picture with the zoom lens of my camera. (Yes, it’s a little hard to see.) With our mission accomplished, we were ready to head back to Austin after a quick stop at Opie’s to pick up some BBQ for dinner.

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Austin Active Kids Opinion: One of the prettiest swimming holes we’ve ever seen, just come prepared with sturdy shoes.
Outing Time: We stayed 2.5 hours but we might have been there longer if we’d have brought more food and drinks with us. Krause Springs could easily be a half-day or full-day outing. Since it’s got a campground, you could even stay overnight!
Reminders:
Don’t forget to bring cash for the admission fee since credit cards are not accepted. ($7 age 12+, $5 ages 4 – 11, free for ages 0 – 3) or camp overnight ($14 age 12+, $6 ages 4 – 11, and $14 per RV camp site)
It’s very important to bring sturdy shoes that can keep your feet stable in and out of the water.
There aren’t any lifeguards at Krause Springs. Swimming safety gear is a must for children still developing their skills. Also pack floats, sunscreen, hats, towels, and plenty of snacks and drinks. You could even bring along a picnic and take advantage of the many picnic tables provided.
While this is definitely one of those beautiful swimming holes I’ve ever seen, I would be hesitant about taking children under age 5 without the helping hand of at least one other adult. If your children are younger or still developing swimming skills, it’s probably a good idea to have a plan for how you will keep them monitored safely. Also, the natural swimming area is just that–natural. Don’t be surprised if you see fish, turtles or even a snake.
Summertime office hours are 9 am – 9 pm and the springs are open year-round. Here are some FAQs from the Krause Springs web site. It’s helpful to know ahead of time that Krause Springs has a “no dogs” policy.
Before you go, you might want to read Top Tips for Families Visiting Krause Springs by R We There Yet Mom? Here are more descriptions of Krause Springs from Austin Post, Austinot and CultureMap.
This 2012 Daily Texan article describes some of the history of Krause Springs.

Red Bud Isle, an off-leash dog park, is a unique and fun place for beloved canines and dog-savvy families to run off some energy. The 13-acre park is located at 3401 Red Bud Trail, just below Tom Miller Dam, where Lake Austin ends and Lady Bird Lake begins. The island was created in 1900 from the rubble of a dam that collapsed during a major flood.

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When we arrived on a weekend morning around 9:30 am, the parking lot (which has about 20 parking spaces) was completely full. Because the boys really wanted to visit, we found street parking about 1/3 mile away on Lake Austin Blvd. near LCRA Redbud Center. (Parking meter rates apply 7 days per week.) Walking across the bridge on Red Bud Trail to the park was a little scary and we don’t plan to do that again. In other words, if the parking lot is full, the best thing to do is wait in line with other cars until spots open up or come back another time. This Austin American-Statesman article from 2012 describes the parking challenges.

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After our nail-biting walk across the bridge, we arrived at the park a little rattled. Of course, we saw an empty parking spot when we got there!

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Our border collie was thrilled. She had fun interacting with the many other dogs.

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The boys wanted to take a look along the water’s edge.

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It’s really beautiful.

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I especially loved this tree….

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….and was amused to see a fishing rod holder from the old days, when Red Bud Isle’s primary function was as a low-key and relaxed fishing hole for locals.

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The boys were charmed by this adorable 7-week-old puppy named Moose.

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Moose is getting socialized at a young age!

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This stunning bald cypress tree was the City of Austin’s “Large Tree of the Year” in 2009 (and there’s a plaque to prove it).

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The root-filled southern edge of the island is very scenic. It’s tempting to balance on the tree roots, but be careful…one of my sons fell in when he took his mind off his balancing act momentarily.

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If you have time, follow some of the offshoot paths along the trail. They will take you toward the water and you will find lots to explore!

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Austin Active Kids Opinion: Red Bud Isle is perfect for dogs and the people who love them, as long as you can find parking!
Outing Time: 45 minutes to an hour
Outing Distance: The trail on Red Bud Isle is about 1/2 mile, plus there are little offshoot paths back and forth to the water. Since we couldn’t find parking in the parking lot, the walk to our car parked on Lake Austin Blvd. was 1/3 mile each way.
Reminders:
Red Bud Isle is open to the public 5 am – 10 pm. Talk to your children ahead of time about safety around dogs they don’t know. If your kids or dogs are skittish around new doggie friends, then this is probably not the outing for you. The function of Red Bud Isle is as a dog park. Only make plans to visit if you feel confident that everyone in your family will be comfortable interacting in this atmosphere.
While plenty of dogs enjoy swimming at Red Bud Isle, their human companions are prohibited from joining in the fun. (That doesn’t mean people don’t do it.)
Read more about Red Bud Isle from Austin Explorer, Do512Family, Austin Top 50 Fun in the Sun and Free Fun in Austin.

If packing a lot of equipment and staying overnight are not in the cards for you but you’d still like to have a Texas state park experience, give Blanco State Park a try. This 104-acre park is located on US Highway 281 in Blanco, about 50 miles west of Austin. (The address is 101 Park Road 23 but use 29 Main Street, Blanco, TX, for GPS.) The primary feature of the park is the beautiful Blanco River.

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Blanco State Park opened in 1934. You can read more about the park’s history here.

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The Civilian Conservation Corps helped create the infrastructure for the park during 1933-34, including this pavilion.

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Before jumping in the water, we wanted to explore the Caswell Nature Trail (shown on this park map).

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The trail has its own parking area and this picture shows where to enter.

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There is some shade on the trail, which is under 1/2 mile long.

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When you are halfway along the trail, look for this access point heading down. Your return trip is closer to the river.

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Check the events calendar for trail walks with a master naturalist. We had just missed one scheduled for the previous day.

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After we finished the trail, we headed toward the eastern section of the park to explore the river. Many families were enjoying picnics and activities along the riverbank.

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We then walked back toward the western side of the park, which is visible when you driving along US Highway 281. This area has a dam and a “pool” (pictured below). While the water in the pool is very shallow, the water above the dam is pretty deep. Trees along the riverbank provide some shade when you swim in that area.

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Austin Active Kids Opinion: Blanco State Park is easy to get to and easy to enjoy, too!
Outing Time: About 2 hours (not including driving to Blanco) but you definitely could stay longer.
Outing Distance: About a 1/2 mile
Reminders:
Blanco State Park is open 8 am – 10 pm for day use visitors. Office hours are 8:15 am – 4:45 pm. To pay the entry fee for day use after 4:45 pm, look for the “iron ranger” which is a red steel post that says “pay here.” It’s on your left as you drive in, on the side of the headquarters building. The admission fee is $4 per adult. Kids 12 and under are free.
There are no lifeguards on duty at Blanco State Park. Make sure to bring your children’s swimming safety gear as well as floats, inner tubes, hats and sunscreen.
Pack plenty of snacks and drinks, especially water. There are several picnic areas throughout the park so you can bring a picnic along if you’d like.
Pets are allowed must be on-leash.
Tube and canoe rentals are available at the park.

Read more about Blanco State Park from CultureMap, about.com, and Hill Country Outdoor Guide.

The 227-acre Wild Basin Preserve (at 805 North Capital of Texas Highway, Austin, TX, 78746) is part of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve and its 2.5 miles of trails are the perfect place to see nature in action!

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Wild Basin is located off of Loop 360 about a mile north of RR2244 (Bee Caves Road). There are signs for Wild Basin in advance of the turn. Once you turn in, you’ll find a gravel parking lot that leads to the research center and trails.

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It’s a good idea to plan your trail route in advance, especially if you have young children with you.

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We noticed this big spider almost right after getting out of our car.

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Our first stop was the Creative Research Center building, where we found a lot of information about Wild Basin, including maps, an interpretive trail guide, and nature displays. Wild Basin became part of St. Edwards University in 2009. According to their web site, “Wild Basin Preserve was founded in 1974 thanks to a 25-year grass-roots effort. The preserve was established despite enormous development pressures and was saved from the region’s rapid development and growth. St. Edward’s acquired Wild Basin and took over the land management duties in 2009, and expanded to include interdisciplinary creative research in 2011. The Wild Basin Creative Research Center continues to be a treasured educational resource that provides extensive learning opportunities for students.” To read more about the history of Wild Basin, click here.

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We couldn’t wait for our walk on the wild side in the Wild Basin Wilderness!

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We planned a 1.25 mile journey, starting from the north access of the Arroyo Vista Loop. (See marked up map below.)

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We enjoyed the beautiful Hill Country views and solitude.

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The trails are very well-marked. The markers along with the map we picked up provided all of the information we needed for a successful and fun hike.

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My son had brought along a little set of binoculars. They came in very handy at the overlook!

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While the trail is easy to follow and well-maintained, there are some spots where you need to pay attention to your footing. As with most local creeks, the walk to get to the water is downhill and then uphill on the way back out. We were happy to be in the shade!

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For some reason, the boys were really fascinated by this fuzzy, fern-like little plant. We saw a velvet ant but weren’t able to take a picture. We also saw a tiny frog, a baby toad and an Eastern musk turtle (also known as a stinkpot turtle).

We were thrilled about all of the critters we were seeing. The land around Bee Creek provides for quite a diverse habitat. If you want to keep track of what you observe and share this information with others, you should check out the Wild Basin Biodiversity Project through the iNaturalist app.

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The first creek crossing was very beautiful. The water was clear and cool.

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You’ll enjoy going across this rock path.

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We had an easy time navigating the trails except in one spot. If you follow the same route we did (marked up map below), make sure to stay on the Creek Trail as you are westbound to get to the waterfall. There is a northward turn to the Woodland Trail that you could easily take by accident if you are not paying attention. Thankfully, we made it to the waterfall….what a sight! If you have children with you, watch them closely in this area because there is a drop-off.

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The waterfall was not flowing very heavily but it is still a beautiful scene. (Small waterfall is approximately in the center of this picture. Here’s a photo of what the waterfall looks like when there’s more water.)

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After seeing the waterfall, we were ready to complete our hike. While parts of the trail had been relatively shady, this last section was sunny. As we finished the final 1/2 mile, it was mostly uphill and the temperature was around 90 degrees. We were pretty hot and tired by the time we got back to our car. Save some energy (and water) for this part of the hike. Also, build in extra time in case you are moving a little slower.

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THE RUNDOWN:
Austin Active Kids Opinion: A wonderful nature adventure close to the city!
Outing Time: About 1.5 hours
Outing Distance: Between 1.25 – 1.5 miles

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Reminders:
Trails are open to the public for self-guided hikes from sunrise to sunset daily. The office (including restrooms) is open weekdays 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. No admission fee is required but $3 donation per person is recommended.
Take plenty of water and wear comfortable, sturdy shoes. Remember that everything on the preserve is protected. Do not disturb any plants, animals or rocks.
You can read more about Wild Basin from Free Fun in Austin, Austin Top 50 Fun in the Sun and Austin Explorer .
Watch this St. Edwards calendar and other local community calendars for a variety of events and programs held at Wild Basin throughout the year.

We’d heard there was a nature center in San Marcos so we decided to see what it was like. Not to mention, we can never turn down a chance to see the beautiful San Marcos River!

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The San Marcos Nature Center is located at 430 Riverside Drive in San Marcos, right off of I-35.

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The nature center is relatively small but my sons really enjoyed examining the different creatures. Here’s a snapping turtle.

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These tree frogs were pretty cute.

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Even this rough green snake wasn’t too scary.

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There’s a “Wildscape” behind the nature center, featuring native plants from the area.

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The nature center is adjacent to Crook Park.

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From there, we followed a path that led us to the Wildlife Habitat Park.

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We wondered where this trail would lead.

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Wow! A perfect spot to sit and enjoy the river.

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This area is part of Ramon Lucio Park, which also has baseball and softball fields.

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It was a relaxing place to take a break.

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We then backtracked and crossed Cheatham Street to Rio Vista Park (555 Cheatham Street).

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There are three “drops” or falls, that make up Rio Vista Falls. The kayakers going over the falls were pretty impressive. In warmer weather, this area is full of people enjoying the river on tubes and floats.

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We could not get over how the river was flowing. We are already talking about making sure we visit San Marcos again in warmer weather so we can find a nice spot to go swimming!

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Austin Active Kids Opinion: Fun nature exploration just a short trip from Austin!
Outing Time: Under 2 hours (not including driving to San Marcos)
Outing Distance: About a mile
Reminders: Admission to the San Marcos Nature Center is free. Hours are: Monday – Friday from 10 am to 5 pm, Saturday from 10 am to 4 pm and Sunday 11 am – 5 pm. Bring your own snacks and drinks.
When you’re around the San Marcos River, remember that it’s a natural body of water and that there aren’t lifeguards on duty. For questions about swimming or tubing in the San Marcos River, call the San Marcos Convention and Visitor Bureau at 512-393-5930 or visit their web site.
Check out this map link for a close-up of the area where we walked around.
San Marcos has a lot of greenspace to explore. Here’s a comprehensive list.

If you’re looking for a quick and quirky outing, stop by Sparky Park in Central Austin (3701 Grooms Street 78705).

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This half-acre pocket park brings creative and whimsical art to an old electrical substation.

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The Grotto Wall at Sparky Park is part of the City of Austin’s Art in Public Places program. Here are more details from the City of Austin website:

Art in Public Places, in collaboration with the North University Neighborhood Association (NUNA), commissioned Berthold Haas to create permanent public art for a former Austin Energy substation site that was recently transformed to a public park. Named by residents for the electrical sparks that sometimes came from the substation, Sparky Park was converted into parkland by the City’s Parks and Recreation Department. In one corner of the park, several communication towers remain, surrounded by a curvilinear cinderblock wall that became the focal point for the public art project.
Grotto Wall at Sparky Park transforms an existing cinderblock wall into a sculptural landscape of trees and curiosities. Stone harvested and donated from a ranch in the Hill Country is laid in horizontal layers, alluding to an open landscape. Whimsical trees, constructed with petrified wood and stone, resonate with the natural trees in the park. Berthold worked closely with the neighborhood throughout the making of Grotto Wall. Objects contributed by residents are playfully embedded in the wall, sometimes revealed in the seashell canopies of trees as if they were fruit. Arches extend from the wall and rest on columns that define passageways for discovery. The columns are crowned by reflective gazing balls and sections of the old substation’s energy towers. Mementos of the parkland’s history characterize Berthold’s mélange, telling the story of the pocket park and the community who made it happen.

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Here’s the view from the street.

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My kids had fun walking around and looking at the details of the wall.

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The boys are still talking about all of the fossils and petrified wood.

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Here’s even more petrified wood.

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Look at the colors….

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….and attention to detail.

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The old substation building is still standing.

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There’s also a small lawn where kids can run and play. Or, if you plan ahead, you can bring a picnic lunch or snacks to enjoy.

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Austin Active Kids Opinion: Austin at its best–unique, whimsical & fun
Outing Time: 30 – 45 minutes
Reminders: Sparky Park does not have restrooms or water fountains.

Texas state parks aren’t just for summertime! We recently visited Pedernales Falls State Park (2585 Park Road 6026 78636) near Johnson City. While we didn’t go swimming, we found plenty to do! The park is open 7 days per week with admission $6 per person age 12 and up. Kids under age 12 get in for free. From the entrance, we had a lovely Hill Country view.

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Our first stop was a short 1/4 mile trail to the Twin Falls overlook.

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The trail was very scenic and had helpful markers along the way. We had a fright when we heard a rattlesnake’s rattle! We didn’t see the snake and we quickly proceeded down the path, away from where we heard the noise. Stay on the path at all times where you can clearly see what’s in front of you. We were certainly glad we did!

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You can’t actually go down to Twin Falls; you view it from an overlook.

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These steps take you to the overlook.

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What a pretty view!

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The fall foliage enhanced the scenery.

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Now it was time to head back up.

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Next we drove to the main attraction: Pedernales Falls. This section of the river has stunning views and a beach-like area. The path to the river is easy to follow.

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We could see the river down below from an overlook area.

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Just a few more steps and we’d be there!

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The river washes over layers of limestone. According to the park’s web site, “These river limestones belong to the 300-million-year-old Marble Falls formation, and are part of the southwestern flank of the Llano uplift. These layers of limestone were tilted by the uplift, then eroded long before early Cretaceous seas 100 to 120 million years ago covered this part of Texas and deposited sands, gravels, younger limestones and marine fossils.”

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We were amazed by the water cascading out of a spring and into the river.

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My 11-year-old son found a cute little frog.

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The Pedernales River was flowing beautifully. While the water might be enticing, there is no swimming in this section of the park.

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This almost looks like a doorway, doesn’t it?

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Once over the falls, the water is calmer.

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The beach area was a magnet for the boys!

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They were so excited about spotting this cool lizard, blending in with the sand.

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We walked along the river bank and came across this beautiful scene.

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Over 150 bird species have been spotted at Pedernales Falls State Park, including this blue heron!

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We did a lot of exploring during our short visit to Pedernales Falls. The late fall season had darkness creeping up on us quickly. The only downside to an afternoon at Pedernales Falls is the climb back up the bluff. My 8-year-old son put it succinctly, “Everyone hates up.”

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Austin Active Kids Opinion: A wonderful (and close-by) outdoor experience!
Outing Time: About a 1-hour drive from Austin in no traffic. We spent a little over two hours there but easily could have spent much more time.
Outing Distance: About 1 – 2 miles during whole visit.
Reminders: The full range of activities available at Pedernales Falls State Park includes picnicking, hiking, river swimming, tubing, wading, mountain biking, fishing, bird watching, and horseback riding. There are many trails to hike in Pedernales Falls State Park. Since we were visiting for a relatively short time, we weren’t able to explore the park fully. Always remember that you are in a natural environment and you might run across animals who call the park home.
When visiting Pedernales Falls State Park, it’s important to keep this reminder from Texas Parks & Wildlife in mind: “The Pedernales River running through the park can flash flood with little or no warning. The water in the river can rise from a placid stream to a raging torrent in a few minutes. If you are in the river area and notice the water beginning to rise, you should leave the river area immediately. Flash flooding is a common phenomenon in the Texas Hill Country, and park visitors are encouraged to be alert to weather conditions.”
The park offers a variety of educational opportunities. There is a calendar of upcoming events and you can contact the park for special tours. We didn’t check one out, but the park has Junior Ranger Explorer Packs available for free.
Please note that the park will be closed to the public the following upcoming dates for wildlife management activities:
Monday December 2 at 8 a.m. until Friday December 6 at 8 a.m.
Monday December 16 at 8 a.m. until Friday December 20 at 8 a.m.
Monday January 6 at 8 a.m. until Friday January 10, 2014, at 8 a.m.

Wimberley’s Blue Hole is the perfect summer swimming spot, with cool, clear water shaded by huge cypress trees. The swimming hole is part of 126 acres of parkland along Cypress Creek preserved and beautified by the City of Wimberley along with many other partners and volunteers.

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Blue Hole is located on Blue Hole Lane and there is plentiful free parking. Wristbands are sold from the office pictured below. Admission fees are: kids 0-3 free, ages 4-12 $4, ages 13-59 $8, and 60+ $4.

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We took a short, gently sloping walkway down to Cypress Creek.

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The boys couldn’t wait to jump in!

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As you can see, the water’s so clear my son’s feet are visible. We entered the creek in a shallow area where many younger children were playing.

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Blue Hole was a like an oasis from the hot Texas sun. The water was very refreshing.

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This tree stump was popular with kids of all ages, especially because the water is pretty deep here.

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My son had fun on the rope swings.

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When it was time to rest and have a snack, we went to the beautiful lawn and relaxed in the shade.

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There are a few picnic tables but they were all occupied when we arrived. Just take along a picnic blanket or camping chairs and you’ll be all set. While you can bring in your own food and drinks, glass is prohibited.

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A master plan for Blue Hole Regional Park was approved by the Wimberley City Council in 2007. The thoughtful planning process is demonstrated in the beautiful facilities……

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…..and extra details like this inviting scenic overlook.

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In addition to the remarkable swimming hole, Blue Hole Regional Park also has a playscape, trails, basketball court, volleyball court, and athletic fields.

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THE RUNDOWN:
Austin Active Kids Opinion: Just about the most perfect swimming hole you can imagine!
Outing Time: About a 45-minute to 1-hour drive from Austin in no traffic. We spent two hours there but easily could have spent the whole day.
Reminders: There are many volunteers supporting the operations of Blue Hole Regional Park but there aren’t any lifeguards on duty. Remember to pack swimming supports for children who need them and bigger kids (and parents) would probably enjoy having floats to relax on, too! Also pack sunscreen, picnic blanket or chairs, snacks or lunch, and drinks. With your wristband, you can leave and come back until Blue Hole closes for the day. Click here for hours and admission fees.
Free Fun in Austin visited Blue Hole earlier this summer and you can read more from CultureMap, Austin360.com, and Texas Highways. If you’d like to make some other stops while you are in Wimberley, other attractions to consider are: Jacob’s Well Natural Area, Cypress Creek Nature Trail Park, scenic and historic downtown district, the cowboy museum or a drive along River Road.

If you’re ready for an all-day adventure, plan a visit to Waco’s Cameron Park Zoo and Mayborn Museum Complex. Cameron Park Zoo, located at 1701 North 4th Street, is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.

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Every detail has been planned out at the 52-acre natural habitat zoo, from the beautiful animal enclosures to this colorful shade canopy.

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We loved watching the Galapagos tortoise, who was staying cool in the mud.

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Kids can stay cool, too, with this small splash pad and shaded treehouse playscape.

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Don’t miss the huge Brazos River Country exhibit! You might not be able to tell by the entrance but this leads to a substantial section of the zoo.

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The boys loved the aquarium.

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The alligators were just “hanging out.”

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Farther along, we saw these Huaco (or Hueco or Waco) Indian huts.

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Don’t miss this exhibit as you walk along: the Brazos at Night!

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Next was the bison exhibit, a display reflecting the Brazos River through the High Plains/Cap Rock area. In addition to viewing buffalo in the exhibit, we also saw a teepee and informative sign describing how different parts of the bison animal were used by nomadic Native American tribes.

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Next we went to the Herpetarium, where a rattlesnake appeared to be watching us closely.

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We were running out of fuel after all of our exploring, so we stopped at the Treetops Cafe for a snack and drink. Just past the cafe, we saw this friendly giraffe, who was practically posing for the camera.

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As you can see, the giraffe has room to wander!

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There is a lot of helpful and educational information at the Cameron Park Zoo.

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The elephant was very majestic.

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We saved the best for last: Mysteries of the Asian Forest!

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Here’s the Sumatran Tiger.

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We loved the Komodo Dragon!

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The kids were enchanted by these chimes you could stomp on at Jungle Jim’s Playground.

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We drove a short distance east on University Parks Drive to the Mayborn Museum Complex (1300 S. University Parks Drive). I had heard so many fantastic reviews about the museum that it seemed impossible the facility could meet our expectations.

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Not to fear! This amazing place is like visiting three museums in one: a natural history museum, a historic village, and a children’s museum. We started our adventure at Strecker’s Cabinet of Curiosities.

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Check out this huge whale skull…..

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….and this 75 million year old marine turtle fossil!

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The walk-in diorama of the Waco Mammoth site, where a herd of Columbian mammoths was trapped and buried about 65,000 years ago, was very impressive. It featured an educational video about the site as well as a plaster replica of the excavation under your feet.

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This is the exploration station for archaeology.

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We all were pretty interested in the cross-section of a Huaco Indian hut. Unfortunately, my picture of the inside did not turn out so you will just have to go see it for yourself!

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We went outside to the graceful back porch of the museum. The kids ran full-speed ahead to check out the unique buildings in the Gov. Bill and Vara Daniel Historic Village.

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The village is made up of nine wood-frame buildings that represent life in an 1890s community. The buildings were moved from Liberty, Texas, in 1986. The kids were thoroughly fascinated by this water pump and the church bell.

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The commissary was of particular interest, with lots of goods on display typical for a rural general store.

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The kids ran back into the museum through this hallway with a musical soundscape. We couldn’t wait to explore!

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There are 17 discovery rooms, all with different themes.

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This friendly guy was in the vertebrates room.

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Next, we went to the communication room.

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The transportation room was a favorite!

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And so was the energy room!

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In each room, you will find descriptive information.

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The water and bubbles room was an absolute favorite! I think the kids could have stayed at the water table all day.

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Creating the human-size bubble took patience and skill.

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A foot-friendly piano was in the sound room…..

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…..and so were these classic tube telephones.

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DJ Mixmaster B is in the house!

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The simple machines room was really a hit. This display shows how pulleys work.

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Also in this room, the kids found blocks to create a catenary arch. Teamwork saved the day!

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More fun in the simple machines room.

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In addition to the above, there are also discovery rooms for TV News and Weather, Health, Native Americans, Pioneers, Recycling, People of the World, Optics and Aunt Blanche’s Tea Room. As if that’s not enough, there’s also a massive train set!

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Through September 2, 2013, the museum features a special exhibit: Goosebumps, The Science of Fear. The kids had a blast scaring themselves silly.

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THE RUNDOWN:
Austin Active Kids Opinion: These two Waco wonders are well-worth the drive up I-35!
Outing Time: About 2 1/2 hours at Cameron Park Zoo and 3 hours at Mayborn Museum Complex. We spent 2 hours each way on I-35 (in no traffic) driving from Austin.
Reminders: We arrived at the zoo around 11 a.m. and the museum around 2 p.m. We definitely could have spent more time at either place! Cameron Park Zoo fees are $9 for age 13+, $6 for kids 4-12, FREE for children 3 years and under, and $8 for age 60+. Here’s the full schedule of Mayborn Museum Complex fees. With the traveling exhibit included, the cost for me and two boys was $20 total. The Gov. Bill and Vara Daniel Historic Village hours of operation are slightly different from the main museum’s. The Mayborn Museum Complex is located on the Baylor University campus so check before you go for any upcoming special events (like football games) that will cause traffic jams. Here are links to maps of the Cameron Park Zoo and the Mayborn Museum Complex. Both facilities have gift shops.
Take along a change of clothes and towels if you think your kids won’t be able to pass up getting soaked in the splash pad at Cameron Park Zoo. It’s also a good idea to bring along sunscreen, water, and snacks.
If you have time to spare, you might be interested in these Waco attractions: Texas Sports Hall of Fame, Dr. Pepper Museum, Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum, Waco Mammoth Site, and Cameron Park (the park totals 400 acres and has much to offer in addition to the 52-acre zoo).

Georgetown’s beautiful San Gabriel River provides a lovely setting for outdoor fun, especially at San Gabriel Park and Blue Hole Park. We started out at the Randy Morrow Trail in San Gabriel Park. (We parked at the intersection of Stadium Drive and Lower Park Drive.) The trail is named after Georgetown’s first Director of Parks and Recreation, who had the vision to build a hike-and-bike trail along the San Gabriel River to connect parks and neighborhoods.

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Here’s a map of the trail around San Gabriel Park and its connections to other nearby parks. The park has a unique location: where the South and North Forks of the San Gabriel River meet.

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We couldn’t wait to walk around San Gabriel Park, which was was designated a Lone Star Legacy Park by the Texas Recreation & Parks Society in March 2012.

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We strolled along the riverbank.

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While swimming is not prohibited, there aren’t any lifeguards and it’s “swim at your own risk.”

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The ducks and geese were very friendly.

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We walked about 3/4 mile along the river. The boys just had to cross this dam.

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I walked on it, too. Here’s a picture from the middle of the river!

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Next, we went below the dam.

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My 11-year-old son found a tiny frog. (He is a strong believer in catch-and-release.)

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We were now near the eastern boundary of the park, close to the College Street bridge.

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It appears the old bridge I was reclining upon while the kids played was built by the Works Progress Administration in 1935-37. It’s no longer open to vehicles but is used by bikes and pedestrians as part of the City’s trail system.

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We began our return trip and the kids stopped to take advantage of some of the fun playground equipment. They thought this purple dinosaur–which seats two–was hilariously entertaining.

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This is another small playscape along the trail.

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My 11-year-old son liked walking perilously close to the edge.

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The boys’ generous cracker-throwing attracted an onslaught of ducks and geese.

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We escaped from our feathered friends and drove south toward Blue Hole Park, a lagoon on the South Fork of the San Gabriel River. This park is located just off of N. Austin Avenue, with the entrance at W. Second Street and Rock Street. It’s possible to hike from San Gabriel Park to Blue Hole Park. See route on this map.

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It was quite a sight!

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Like San Gabriel Park, there aren’t lifeguards and “swim at your own risk” signs are posted.

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The wading-depth water was too inviting to pass up!

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It was getting dark so we took one final look around.

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We hope we can make a return trip to Blue Hole Park and stay a lot longer!

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THE RUNDOWN:
Austin Active Kids Opinion: Your kids will love playing and exploring in these two beautiful parks along Georgetown’s San Gabriel River.
Outing Time: About 2.5 hours at San Gabriel Park and 45 minutes at Blue Hole Park. We went on a rainy day, with temperatures ranging from 75 – 80 degrees. In hotter weather, you might not be able to spend as much time.
Outing Distance: About 1.5 miles to walk along the river at San Gabriel Park (3/4 mile one way)
Reminders: San Gabriel Park has bathrooms, picnic tables, water fountains, BBQ grills, playground equipment, and more. At Blue Hole Park, you will have access to bathrooms, a water fountain, and picnic tables but no sinks. To make the most of your trip, pack towels, a change of clothes, sunscreen, water, other drinks, hand wipes, and snacks (and possibly snacks for the ducks and geese at San Gabriel Park). If you want to stay in Georgetown all day, consider visiting some other parks or their historic downtown square.