GILLESPIE COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — One billion years ago, magma bubbled up through seven miles of the Earth, breaking the surface and eventually cooling into a 640 acre-wide dome that rises 1,825 feet above sea level. Millennia passed until humanity first saw this wonder, and the Tonkawa tribe lived in the area for thousands of years.
Tonkawa folklore speaks of “ghost fires” atop what is now called Enchanted Rock, and they described hearing the dome creak and groan, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife. These fantastical sightings are real, but their magical nature now has modern explanations: the ghostly lights can be seen on clear nights after rain falls on the dome; the creaking is caused by friction between layers of granite.
Amidst the natural beauty of Enchanted Rock, today’s visitors to the State Natural Area have a large number of outdoor adventures to pursue. The summit, whether reached via trail or climb, is a must-see at the park.
The park is open from 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Day passes cost $8 and may be purchased at the park, by phone or online up to one month in advance.
Climbing and Bouldering
The natural area has around 40 climbing routes rated between 5.4 and 5.11a on the Yosemite Decimal System, many of which have bolted-in anchors maintained by the Central Texas Climbing Committee or CTCC. There are also a few bouldering options in the area.
Due to Enchanted Rock’s height, many routes are multi-pitch climbs, where climbers will reset their rope at multiple points on the climb. Once at the top, climbers can either walk or rappel back down.
The Natural Area’s website lists several guide companies that provide gear and expert assistance for aspiring climbers. Rock-About Climbing Adventures is one of these, and owner Adam Mitchell said Enchanted Rock has a long history in the climbing community.
“It’s a different style of climbing than what is seen around Austin, because it’s a different type of rock. Enchanted Rock is an older granite that cooled fast, so it’s really chunky granite. But since it’s old, its a little bit brittle sometimes,” Mitchell said.
According to Mitchell, two prominent styles of climbing at Enchanted Rock are slab and crack climbing. Mitchell has climbed on Enchanted Rock for around 20 years and is currently part of an effort to replace the area’s climbing anchors with a newer design.
“In the last month and a half, we changed like 80 bolts out there. We’re in the process of rebuilding the entire thing. We’ve learned a lot through the years about bolting. What we’re putting in there, theoretically, it’ll last for like, 50 to 100 years,” Mitchell said.
Austin climbers installed the first anchors at Enchanted Rock 20 to 30 years before anchors were installed on the Greenbelt’s climbing walls, Mitchell said.
For experienced climbers, Mitchell recommends the Grass Crack (5.10), Top Choice (5.10-) and Clockwerk Orange (5.11a) routes.
“Enchanted Rock has a long history of climbers and community. It’s a really good place to cut your teeth to do big stuff. It’s definitely a place to learn and grow,” Mitchell said. “It’s definitely a heady place. It’s way more of a heady place than anywhere in Austin.”
The CTCC recommends climbers:
- Know your limits and only lead if you can do so safely
- Always tie a safety knot
- Use only “clean” climbing gear that won’t cause damage
- Do not use trees or plants as anchors
- Bring at least a 70-meter rope to get full use of the climbing and rappelling options
- Contact CTCC if an anchor needs repair (email@example.com)
Stay overnight, see the Milky Way
There are 56 camping sites at Enchanted Rock, offering both primitive sites and ones with water. Groups should reserve a site ahead of time in order to stay where they want.
In addition to the day-pass fee, these sites cost $14 (primitive sites) or $20 (campsites with water) and an additional $10 fee for each additional person in the group.
The primitive sites are good short backpacking options, and they can only be accessed by a one- to three-mile hike on trails. The sites with water are only a short walk from a parking lot.
There is also a large group camp called Buzzard’s Roost that can hold up to 50 people. This site has a dedicated parking lot 0.75 miles from it.
Trails in the Natural Area range from easy to challenging. The longest trail is 4.6 miles and loops around the park’s perimeter. Many of the shorter trails can be linked to create a weekend-long adventure. Texas State Parks has a map of the trails on its website.
Enchanted Rock is also an International Dark Sky Park with a gold-tier rating from the International Dark Sky Association.
Overnight visitors will be able to see sights unavailable in Austin or many other of Texas’s communities. The park also regularly hosts stargazing and astronomy events led by park rangers.
This story is part of a KXAN series highlighting Central Texas activities — you can see our full list on our “Central Texas Things to Do” page. Do you have an idea of something we should profile? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.