Goodwater Loop 3 Day Backpacking Trip
Written by ExploreMore Backyard Guide, Sarah De Leon
When is the last time you said “yes” to something that scares you?
Back in March a friend of mine who runs ExploreMore DFW reached out to me with an offer to go on an all women’s 3 day backpacking trip in Hill Country. I immediately said yes! And then I immediately started thinking… oh no… what did I just get myself into? What if I hold everyone up? What if I can’t carry the weight? What if no-one likes me? Can I even do this??
Now here I am two months later and after a long, grueling, and magical 3 days, I can wholeheartedly say that YES! I absolutely can! And damn does it feel good!
The Goodwater Loop, also known as the San Gabriel River Trail, is a 26.9 mile loop around Lake Georgetown and the San Gabriel River. Lake Georgtown is a 1,200 acre lake located about 7 miles outside of Georgtown’s historic town square, and around 30 miles north of Austin. The Turquoise waters are home to several species of bass, along with catfish and crappie, which makes it a popular spot for anglers.
Boating, swimming, and camping are also available and attract outdoor enthusiasts from all over. Not many people however seemed to be aware of the backpacking loop, and we saw few others attempting it. Although the unseasonably hot May weather could have had something to do with that.
There are several camping areas surrounding the lake, and therefore several starting points for the loop and different ways to break it up along the way. I’ll give you a day by day breakdown of our trip, but I love that there are options to make it unique and adaptable to each person. Because of that, access to water, and being so close to the city and therefore having cell service the whole time, this is a great trail for backpacking newbies like myself. Developments are starting to close in so you’ll occasionally see a house backed up on the trail, or hear a dog barking in the distance, but otherwise it still feels like you’re in the middle of nowhere and gives you the solitude that you expect while in the backcountry.
We started on Friday morning by meeting at the Cedar Breaks Trailhead where we got aquainted, stuffed our packs (we were able to rent gear to test out thanks to The Texas Trailhead), and headed out for our first 6 miles. We chose to take the loop counterclockwise, and for several reasons, I’m glad we did. It started with around 2 miles on a paved road crossing the dam, I’m glad we got that part out of the way early on, and it did offer panoramic views of the lake and surrounding areas. Like a little preview of what we’d be seeing over the next couple of days. The rest of the day went by fairly easy and quick, much better than I was expecting for my first day out carrying my entire life on my back. The Terrain on this first stretch was pretty manageable and took us through fields of blooming cacti, wildflowers, and tall prairie grasses. Some sections were a little rocky, but overall not too difficult.
We made it to our first site, Jim Hogg Park, early enough to take some time to relax and enjoy each others company. After a snack and a break, a few of us took off for the lake and let me tell you that was the best decision we could have made. The water was so clear, inviting, refreshing, and just what our muscles needed after a day on the trails under the blaring Texas sun. I think we stayed here for a couple of hours because it just felt so good! We played, laughed, swam, jumped off the fishing pier, and overall just felt like children. Why don’t we do things like that more often?
After a while we finally pulled ourselves out and headed back for camp where we had dinner and did some journaling. One of our guide leaders put together a wonderful lesson about Joy… when we’ve felt it, how we miss it when its gone, and how to create more of it. I truly enjoyed getting to open up with these women and share our stories, passions, and fears. Day 1 left us feeling exhausted in the best way and we were all snuggled up in our tents and hammocks by the time the sun went down.
Jim Hogg Park was practically glamping by backpacking standards. Each site had its own covered picnic area and potable water, as well as bathrooms and showers on the grounds. As nice as these luxuries are, it comes with a price. People. Lots and lots of people. Mostly camping in RV’s with loud generators and listening to music or watching movies at all hours. Needless to say that even though we were exhausted, none of us slept very well that first night. But if you’re looking for a site with small luxuries and good access to the water, this is still a beautiful spot to stay and unwind.
Saturday morning had us up before dawn and leaving the campsite by around 7:30. A later start than we planned, but with 12 women and maybe half of them packing up camp for the first time, what could really be expected? The day started out beautifully, with a shockingly different landscape from the previous day. We found ourselves winding through trees, climbing rocky hills, and screaming for joy into sunlit valleys. Everything just seemed so green and alive here. We knew we had around 10 miles to go that day so we took more frequent stops, and made it to Russel Park for a lunch break by the water feeling tired but ready to take on anything.
That’s hilarious in hindsight. After lunch we found ourselves in yet another type of terrain… flat, dry, and completely open to the afternoon sun. I will say that if it hadn’t been for the unexpected heat wave that came through that week, we would have been practically dancing down this stretch of trail. After a rocky first half of the day, the straight dirt path was a blessing to our feet. The afternoon Texas sun however, was unforgiving on our bodies that were still thawing out from winter. We stopped for a breath at every small patch of shade we could find, we moved quickly in search of a breeze.
For several miles here I found myself not looking up because the open trail seemed never ending. I spent hours staring at my feet just willing myself to keep walking, telling myself that those before us have endured so much worse. It was a constant mental exercise on top of physical. Forcing myself to stop and look up, searching for the beauty. Being so thankful for all of the modern amenities that we take for granted. At one point about half of us had to stop and lie down in the middle of the trail. As frustrating as this was because we just wanted to be at camp, it was completely necessary and got us through the last stretch safely. Especially because that last stretch was back to the rugged and hilly terrain, only still without much shade!
We finally made it to Sawyer Hollow Primitive Campgrounds around 5 or 6, with 13.4 miles under our boots for the day. After getting a good meal, water, and time off our feet we all felt much better and happily turned in for an early night after watching a gorgeous sunset to the west, and the nearly full moon rising opposite.
Sawyer Hollow was a complete 180 from the night before and I gotta say I loved it. Make sure to bring a filtration system with you because there is no potable water available, but you can get down to the lake (albeit a marshy area) to get water for filtering. No showers, toilets, RV’s, or even a single other person where here. There were picnic tables and hooks though, so I will say taking a camp chair is unnecessary weight unless you just really want it.
After a night of complete solitude ( other than coyotes, armadillos, and whatever other noisy critters came to visit ) we got up Sunday morning even earlier and ready to enjoy our last day. With only 6.5 miles left, and the promise of a waterfall in the middle, I think we all felt a renewed energy and excitement. We survived the day before, so now we can do anything! Right?
The trail this morning thankfully gave us more shade, but had a lot of inclines and jagged rocks to watch out for. Definitely a lot of watching our step, but when we remembered to stop and look up the views were totally worth everything we had endured to get there. Those first 4 miles of the day were fueled buy excitement and empowerment, and landed us at the place we’d all been waiting for… Crockett Garden Falls.
The Grotto greeted us with cool shade and frigid, crystal clear waters that I swear cleansed our souls the second we walked into its embrace. This is another reason I’m glad we started at Cedar Breaks and went counterclockwise, the falls felt so much more refreshing and rewarding at the end of our journey than it would have at the beginning. After prying ourselves away from the water, we were ready to bring our trip to a close. Over the last 2.5 miles we whooped for joy and got cheered on by the many people doing the day hike out to the falls.
This was a gorgeous stretch of trail with lush greenery and lake views from in the hills, so if you want to experience the falls and get in a good hike without spending all weekend doing it, this is the way to go. After the previous 25 miles for us though, I will say that last 1 seemed like it would never end, no matter how beautiful the scenery.
But it did, as all good things do. And after sharing one last drink and snack together, we said our goodbyes and parted ways. This trip and these women taught me so much more than I expected to learn when I signed up for this experience. Like how to be vulnerable, what to do when you get heat exhaustion, the importance of sisterhood, how to dig a hole/use a pee funnel, how to find joy, to feel like a child again.
So tell me, when is the last time you said “yes” to something that scares you?
How to get there
I’m linking the map for Cedar Breaks Park, since not only is that where we started, but its also where you’ll go if you just want to do a day hike to the falls. The different options for trailheads though are Overlook Park, Jim Hogg Park, Russel Park, and Tejas Park. You will need to chose and reserve your campsites in advance on recreation.gov as well as pay for parking your vehicle, but its all very reasonably priced.
As I said before, the trails change constantly and go through different types of terrain, so be prepared.