San Antonio & Austin Area Hikes

Hornsby Bend Loop
By Tom Taylor & Johnny Molloy
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Key Info
Length: 3.3 miles
Configuration: Loop
Difficulty: Easy
Scenery: River flood plain, manmade ponds, buildings
Exposure: Mostly sunny
Traffic: Light
Trail Surface: Grass, dirt, pavement
Hiking Time: 2 hours
Access: Free
Maps: Online at
Facilities: Water, restrooms at administrative offices

In Brief
This unusual trail circles a wastewater treatment facility with numerous ponds near the banks of the Colorado River. Before you cry foul, realize that this area is a haven for wildlife of all kinds, especially waterfowl and other birds.

From the Austin airport, take TX 71 east for 1 mile to FR 973. Turn left on FR 973, toward Manor, crossing the Colorado River, following it 1 mile to the Hornsby Bend Biosolids Processing Center. Turn left and follow the wide road as it narrows to pass through a metal gate. Stay with the road for 0.7 miles to near the end of the pavement by Building #10. The hike starts on the gated grassy dike beyond the end of the pavement. The northwest corner of Pond 1 West will be near the parking area.

Talk about turning lemons into lemonade! The Hornsby Bend Biosolids Management Facility provides the unpleasant but necessary job of processing sewage for the city of Austin. Normally outdoor enthusiasts would avoid such a facility. However, this plant near the banks of the Colorado River is a bird-watcher's paradise with trails for viewing the winged critters. A nice 3-plus-mile loop can be made while exploring the Colorado River and its attendant flood plain, along with four ponds where hundreds of birds may be seen. Bring your binoculars and your bird book along with your hiking stick and boots, and prepare for an eye-opening event. Another note: Critters such as bobcat, beavers, coyotes, and deer also call the 700-acre facility home. (I saw deer during my hike.)

On your first visit, the many buildings, fences, and power lines may make you wonder if you are heading the right way or trespassing. Rest assured, the public is welcome. Leave your parking spot near the end of Pond 1 West, then keep west across the gated dike with an adjacent power line. This is the River Trail. Pond 3 is to your left and is marshy with grasses and trees unlike the other ponds, which are mostly open. At 0.3 miles, the Colorado River comes into view. A spur trail leads forward to reach the river's edge. This hike, however, turns left along with the dike to continue skirting Pond 3.

You'll reach a greenhouse at 1 mile. Keep behind the building along a paved road that runs between the building and the river; leave the pavement and dip to bottomland. Ahead, the Upper Island View Trail leads to a view of an island in the Colorado. A primitive viewing blind has been constructed. The river habitat will probably have different birds than those in the treatment ponds. Night herons, cormorants, and kingfishers can be spotted along the Colorado.

Return to the River Trail. Ahead, another spur leads right toward the island. On a curve of the River Trail, the Black Willow Trail also leads to the Colorado. Finally, the River Trail leaves the Colorado and heads toward the ponds, reaching the first one at 2 miles. You are at the southeast corner of Pond 2, the longest pond. A bird blind is to your left and is a worthwhile side trip. Many birds may be visible. (There were hundreds of waterfowl in the ponds on my visit.) Season, weather, and water level conditions have everything to do with what you will see. On any given day an experienced birder will observe over 50 species. The most important tip to really seeing birds is to take your time.

The hike keeps north on the paved road to reach a dike between Pond 2 and Pond 1 East. Turn left onto this dirt road, which offers maximum water observation, with ponds all around. Reach the end of the ponds and some outbuildings. Turn right and return to your point of origin, seeing just how lemonade is made from a lemon here at Austin's biosolids treatment facility.

Published: 25 May 2004 | Last Updated: 11 May 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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