Crispy flowers cling to life in early summer at Grelle Recreation Area. The park is a patch of green in the increasingly developed community of Spicewood. Staff photo by Dakota Morrissiey

Crispy flowers cling to life in early summer at Grelle Recreation Area. The park is a patch of green in the increasingly developed community of Spicewood. Staff photo by Dakota Morrissiey

Some of the best access points to the fabled hills and shores of the Highland Lakes are through the numerous Lower Colorado River Authority parks and recreation areas. The LCRA is best known for its management of water and energy in Central Texas, but it has also cultivated awesome outdoor opportunities, including at Grelle Recreation Area.
Grelle Recreation Area is a simple, straightforward patch of green on the south side of Lake Travis, just a few minutes from Spicewood. The unassuming park is barebones, harboring 18 campsites on a dried-out tributary of the Colorado River, but hiking gold is hidden in the 8.3-mile trail network.
You can find Grelle at 640 CR 412 in Spicewood, which is less than 3 miles from a cup of coffee at Yellow Dog Coffee Co. and barbecue at Opie’s. Use Grelle as a basecamp for further exploration without straying too far from the main road. Popular swimming hole Krause Springs is next door, and Narrows Recreation Area and Muleshoe Bend Recreation Area are both a short drive away.
Admission is $5. The payment station is unmanned, so operate on scout’s honor and place your cash in an envelope and leave it at the entrance.

Grelle Recreation Area

A wide-open view of Grelle Recreation Area from the Wild Turkey Trailhead. The hills in the distance mark the boundaries of Little Cypress Creek and the Colorado River. Staff photo by Dakota Morrissiey

Grelle Recreation Area lies on the convergence of Little Cypress Creek and the Colorado River, but the past few years have been extremely dry and hushed the flow. You won’t get main river access here when Lake Travis is down, but it is still a scenic spot for hiking or camping. During my visit, I could see a thick band of vibrant vegetation growing across the park, a reminder of where the creek would be in rainier days.
The campsites are mostly nestled among oak groves clustered near the main entrance to Grelle. From what I saw, site No. 11 is prime real estate with a great view. You won’t get lost cruising the main road. No matter which way you go, you’ll end up at the entrance or the main trailhead.

Grelle Recreation Area

Grelle Recreation Area’s Wild Turkey Trail plunges in and out of a thick Ashe juniper forest. Staff photo by Dakota Morrissiey

My hike was short and sweet. I took the Wild Turkey Trail as a one mile out-and-back, which leads you to the park’s greater trail system and mostly follows a stubby branch of the Colorado River. The roads might be easy to navigate, but you should download a trail map if you plan to tackle the entire network. The 8.3-mile system is divided into 16 named trails with a couple dozen different convergences and plenty of chances to get turned around. I’d recommend plotting out a specific loop, like Wild Turkey to Broke Spur to Bridal Pass to Cottontail Loop and back the way you came. Stick to the map and keep an eye out for trail markers.
I have been to Grelle in the past, and the best trails are deeper in the park, like the Overlook Trail and Mustang Ridge. An intrepid hiker should plunge in for the the most beautiful views and more rugged trails.

Grelle Recreation Area

The Wild Turkey Trail is often cut through by small meadows and dry creekbeds, evidence of wetter times. Staff photo by Dakota Morrissiey

I was satisfied with the Wild Turkey. You’re immediately immersed in a dense, shadowy Ashe juniper forest that is intermittently interrupted by dry creekbeds and riparian habitats. Note that most people call juniper “cedar” and think it’s invasive, but it’s actually a native tree that helps keep our hills from eroding and provides crucial nesting habitat for the endangered golden-cheeked warbler. Having said that, I suffer from cedar fever every winter and have reason to hate it.
But this was a summer hike, so I could breathe freely. I took the trek on a Monday afternoon, so the park and trails were empty. The woods were thick with the drone of cicadas and the singing of straggler songbirds that hadn’t yet migrated for the year. A few crispy flowers remained along the trail, but the creekbeds and belly of the Colorado still had tons of the best-named flower in the world: Texas frogfruit.

Grelle Recreation Area

Texas frogfruit flowers fill the dried bed of Little Cypress Creek at Grelle Recreation Area. Staff photo by Dakota Morrissiey

Something I appreciate about all LCRA parks is that you usually have them to yourself. They might be the best-kept secrets in the Highland Lakes for hikers, campers, and nature lovers. They’re a great alternative to crowded Texas State Parks and have far fewer rules and restrictions than most public spaces. If you just want to have a fun time outdoors, consider camping at Grelle Recreation Area and getting lost on the trails.

KNOW BEFORE YOU GO

HOURS: Sunrise to sunset
FEES
Day entrance:

  • Ages 13 and older — $5
  • Ages 12 and younger — Free
  • Seniors 65 and older — $2
  • Horse and rider — $12

Facility rental:
(Two-day entrance fees included)

  • Campsite — $27.50
  • Group campsite — $38.50

MORE INFORMATION

  • Pets are allowed
  • Restrooms on site
  • Designated equine trails
  • Designated mountain biking trails

dakota@thepicayune.com