Discovering the Rarely Seen Backcountry at Reimer's Ranch

Posted by: Emily Tam

Known for climbing hotspots like Sex Cave, lots of people know how good Milton Reimer’s Ranch is for its rock formations. Mountain bikers and hikers also know it well for its 20 miles of trails (and growing), including everything from beginner-friendly strolls to pro-level, Triple Black Diamond singletrack. It’s even a great destination for horseback riding, as it features several equestrian-only trails.

With its access to the Pedernales River, Reimer’s Ranch also offers a great relief for swimmers seeking an alternative when they get turned away from the easily crowded Hamilton Pool, just down the road. And at only about a half-hour from Downtown Austin, it’s an easy day trip for anyone wanting to get out of the city and into Hill Country nature.

Reimers Pool in the fall
Reimers Pool in the fall Dave Brown

First opened in 2005, Reimer’s Ranch is a relatively new Travis County park that has a lot to offer. They’ve recently added new facilities and continue to improve their offerings—including a new observatory that will begin providing star-gazing sessions in 2015. But since its opening, beyond its regular attractions, hardly anyone has seen all the rugged backcountry and adjacent tracts of native land that surround the park.

When the summer crowds thin out, however, the park offers guided tours of its sacred backcountry, which includes walks on unnamed, undeveloped trails—many of which aren’t as much trails as they are just paths of least resistance. As you walk, park guides will tell you the natural history of the place and point out some of the native flora and fauna that have inhabited the land for thousands of years.

Reimer's Ranch guide Nathan Kaplan points out ferns in a creek-side cliff in the park's rarely seen backcountry.
Reimer's Ranch guide Nathan Kaplan points out ferns in a creek-side cliff in the park's rarely seen backcountry. Dave Brown

They’ll also tell you about its more recent history as ranchland. Things like how the Reimer family used it for grazing goats until the goat industry bottomed-out, when they shifted to sheep grazing. And how Mr. Reimer bought it from Mr. Hamilton, who owned it in the 1800s and grazed cattle there. You will see evidence of its ranching past in things like partially hidden, really old homestead and ranch equipment: remnants of an old wood burning stove in a bunch of bluestem grass over here, or an old horse-drawn plow laying permanently at rest in a cactus patch over there.

You’ll also learn how before its days as a true Texas ranch, native tribes called the land home, including the Apache, Comanche, and other tribes. If you look closely where the soil has been disturbed, there’s even a chance you just might find an arrowhead, or at least a chert rock that was worked by an Apache perhaps 300 years ago.

As evidence of how little known these tours are, I was the only guest on this guided hike. I had basically a private tour, led by two guides who showed me around their backyard—a very big backyard. They took me past the boundary gates, and into the Pogue and Hogue tracts, the rugged stretches of land between Reimer’s Ranch and Hamilton Pool Preserve. There, they brought me to Pogue Creek and down to Pogue Pool, which, even though it remains technically unnamed, that’s what they called it, “because, well, it just makes sense.” I saw the seeps from which the creek originates, and the clear, deep water which is populated by perch and bass; I saw cypress trees that are probably 500 years old; and sycamores stretching their roots into the cool waters; and at least three different species of ferns clinging to the cliffs that wall the creek. There was also a large snake skin, either from a rattler or a cottonmouth, and lots of other wildlife.

This is the rarely seen backcountry at Reimer’s Ranch, where you can get a real experience of old land, where not everything is named or landscaped or paved or made easily accessible. Where hardly anything is controlled. Where almost everything is wild. If you want to enjoy rugged, Texas Hill Country land in its true natural state, you must make a visit.

Backcountry tours are included in the $10 park entrance fee and run fall through spring, October through May, Saturdays only, at 10:00 am. The gathering point is in the mountain biking trailhead’s parking lot. Just pay your park entrance fee to the ranger at the main entrance booth, and they’ll tell you where to go. The tour lasts between one to two hours, depending on your group’s pace. The guides are pretty casual about it. Just be sure to wear sturdy, closed-toe shoes – no heels or flip-flops – because you will be walking off-trail, surrounded by things that can poke and bite. Enjoy!