Sometimes a park is so bad, so disturbing on a level that you feel deep in your core, that you just have to purge it from your system.
I’ve wrestled with the idea of assembling an exposé of Turkey Creek for quite some time. Is it worth the energy to bad-mouth anything, much less a park? Normally I’d chalk up any bad experience as just that, an experience, and go on my way.
But, not with Turkey Creek…
Maybe it’s just the filth. Maybe it’s also a combination of shady characters, poorly maintained trails, broken glass, or the sewage line posing as a “creek”. Possibly it is mosquitos the size of cockroaches (or just the roaches themselves) that I find so offensive. And, even though my car did not get broken into, the amount of debris in the parking lot leads me to believe that I may be the only one.
Scare you off yet?
Because I want to have this park all to myself!
Since you’ve bothered to stick around past the first commercial break, I suppose you’d like to know what I really think about the Turkey Creek trail at Emma Long Metropolitan Park.
For starters, consider everything I said at the beginning of this post to be 100% the opposite of reality. The trail is very well maintained, and I’ve never had a bad experience there.
So. How about a list…
1: Dogs Dogs Dogs!!!
Easily the #1 reason for coming to Turkey Creek is the dog-friendly nature of the park. I’d still enjoy it as a casual hiker, but it’s even better with a canine companion!
Fortunately Austin is pretty good when it comes to off-leash options for your and your pooch. Walnut Creek, Red Bud Island, and all the smaller dog parks are great. Many of the bars and restaurants are dog-friendly, and we’ve even got a couple of dog park / bar combinations. (Yard Bar, and our favorite, Doghouse Drinkery) However, Turkey Creek continues to be my go-to spot for exploring with Janet.
For starters, this trail is officially an off-leash trail. I know a lot of dog owners like to take it upon themselves to think any public space permitting dogs means they can leave the leash in the car, and I’ve been guilty on a few occasions myself. (Think Bull Creek or the Greenbelt.) But, that really isn’t safe for the dogs or fair to the other patrons on the park. Even though YOUR dog may have trained with the Presidential K9 Club and be fluent in five languages, other dogs are probably not. Moreover, some people just don’t like dogs. (Hey, we can’t all be perfect.)
Much of what makes Turkey Creek such a good off-leash trail are the geological features that make the area safe, and fun for everyone…
Of course you start off in the parking lot. No surprises there. BUT I would strongly encourage everyone to keep their dogs on a leash until they get at least 50 yards down the trail. The lot is very close to the road, and I’ve seen plenty of people dive way too fast past the park. Drivers also tend to use the parking lot to make a u-turn when they realize they’ve misses the main entrance to Emma Long Park. None of these folks are considering or even expecting to see dogs in the lot. Stay safe, and stay leashed until you actually get into the woods.
But once you get into the woods, it is a doggy (and human) paradise. The majority of the trail follows the actual Turkey Creek and is contained to a decent size ravine. Not only does this make for an interesting hike, but it discourages the pups from running too far to either side. It also keeps the trail cooler than most parks during the Texas summer. There is plenty of shade, and usually at least some water in the creek to make hot days a little more bearable.
That being said, I’ll usually opt to leave the dogs at home if I know temperatures are going to be above 95 degrees. Even if the air doesn’t seem too hot, consider that their bare paws are going to have to deal with a lot of hot, jagged, rocks. (Also something to consider in parking lots. Put your hand on the asphalt next time it’s 100 degrees out. Now imagine walking on that!)
2: It’s a Darn Good Hike
Most of the trail stays close to the creek and it crosses several times. Depending on the time of year, you may encounter a small river, a muddy creek bed, or no moisture at all. Dress accordingly and just assume that your feet will get wet and/or muddy. Trying to find a dry crossing, or jumping from rock to rock just isn’t a good game plan.
As far as the trail itself is concerned, you could make a pretty nice loop just by staying in the ravine, but there is a lot more park on the second level. Make a point to check out the couple of trail maps while you’re walking because it is pretty easy to get of the path. On your first couple of visits you won’t want to stray from the official path, but pretty soon you’ll want to explore a little bit more of the “upper deck”.
The accompanying image shows you both the standard trail map, and what I consider to be the bonus area of Turkey Creek. The northernmost loop takes you up a hill to the sunny part of the park, and if you stay on the trail, you’ll only spend a little time up top and quickly come back down. However, there is an additional loop (which I have circled in red) that can almost double the length of the trail. Keep in mind that this part of the trail is not marked, and it is pretty easy to take a wrong turn. I’d suggest keeping your phone/GPS with you the first few times, and tackle it in small pieces. Worst case, you’ll end up back on City Park Road and have a long walk ahead of you. (I see someone doing that almost every time I visit.)
*Please note that there is an archery range just north of the park. There are signs everywhere telling you to keep out. So listen to them. And, if you see a fake deer, you’ve gone too far!
3: Getting There
Okay, this isn’t necessarily a good thing, but it may help to have some pointers. For starters, DO NOT follow directions to Emma Long Park. Technically Turkey Creek is within the park, but they have separate entrances. (And you have to pay to visit Emma Long) If you’re going to use Google, search for Turkey Creek Trail, or use the link below.
You will drive past the entrance for Emma Long, so don’t be tempted to turn left. The road will continue to curve to the right, and the parking lot is on the right. The trail isn’t that hard to find, but I somehow managed to take a wrong turn on most of my first few visits.
In all honesty, part of me intended to leave just the first page of this post available. As Austin continues to grow this little park starts to feel pretty full. The trail itself is long enough to still get a good dose of solitude, but parking is becoming an issue on some days, and there is a tendency to bottle-neck at some of the creek crossings.
But that’s okay. I tend to go on off-days, and I don’t mind braving the hot or cold. besides, people and pups deserve to be able to explore the outdoors freely, and there really isn’t any other park quite like this in Austin.
If you see me, say hi! I’ll be the guy with the goofy shoes, and the black lab with the pointy ears 🙂