Part 4: Gaines Creek/Twin Falls Trailhead to Sculpture Falls, Miles 4.25-6
This section of the Guide to the Greenbelt is a little different in that instead of picking up where we left off, we’ll start from a new trailhead. Specifically, the Gaines Creek/Twin Falls trailhead at 3918 S Mopac Expressway, Austin 78746. To reach this one, you’ll want to head southbound on Mopac and take the 360 West exit. Instead of turning onto 360, however, keep going straight. This will take you to a tiny loop of access road that will undoubtedly be lined with cars. This trailhead is very popular due to the proximity to Twin Falls, so it’s recommended to get there early or go on a weekday.
When you first step onto the trail, the reasons for its popularity become clear: it’s almost entirely shaded, a luxury in the Texas heat. The first portion of the trail will be somewhat rocky, but then lead into a steep downhill drop. At the bottom of the downhill, continue right to keep on the path to Sculpture Falls. If you go left, you’ll follow the Greenbelt until you hit a huge wooden bridge underneath the highway. You can keep on this path to get back to the split-off for the Violet Crown Trail if you know where you’re going, but it can be kind of tricky to find your way, and it’s extremely dry and rocky during the summer months.
Twin Falls on a quiet winter day
Twin Falls is unmistakable and perpetually crowded. You’ll have to do some careful maneuvering around large fallen tree trunks, piles of rocks, and families. Keep following the path to the west and you’ll pass Twin Falls, after which the crowds usually start to thin out around Mile 5. The trail then abuts Barton Creek for about a quarter mile. If there’s been a lot of rain, this area of the trail tends to get pretty flooded, so watch your footing.
Beyond this stretch, the trail meanders back into the woods. There’s plenty of shade and soft dirt – it’s a pretty gentle ride for the next mile or so. Keep a lookout for the abandoned mailbox on the right side of the trail. One thing to note is that the path will seem to fork at several points. It doesn’t necessarily matter which path you take, since all the forks will lead to Sculpture Falls. However, on the final fork, around Mile Marker 5.75, the path will go up a little bit and, if you’re not paying attention, you could pass right by the falls. If you do take the upper right path, be sure to keep watching to your left.
You should hit Sculpture Falls at around Mile Marker 6, but if memory serves, you’ve gone just a tad too far if you actually hit the marker. This is a pretty famous spot and can get crowded if the weather is nice, but it’s spread out enough that you shouldn’t have any issues finding somewhere to post up if this is your stopping point. When the water is high, the limestone pools fill up and the falls gush. It makes for some pretty good swimming or even a quick stop to cool off. The upper portion of the creek usually isn’t too deep, so it can be a nice spot to sit for a while and relax, assuming you aren’t freaked out by all the fish (ahem).
A pretty typical sight at Sculpture Falls when you pop off the trail (source)
If you hit Sculpture Falls from the Gaines Creek trailhead, it makes for a nice little 5k out and back. I did this route several times when I was training for my first 25k, and it always provokes a little nostalgia, since I hiked it with my husband when we got engaged. If you park at the Spec’s that serves as a trailhead for the Violet Crown Trail, you could make a nice, shady 5 miler out of the hike, assuming you can pick your way across the creek to the large wooden bridge.