If you’re looking for outdoor adventure in North Texas, Lake Mineral Wells State Park is a fun getaway that’s only an hour’s drive from downtown Fort Worth. The park centers around the Lake Mineral Wells, a man-made 640-acre lake.
There are camping sites for tents and RVs. Lakeside cabins and screened-in shelters with electricity are also available. Fishing and swimming are allowed, and small boats, kayaks, and canoes can be rented inside the park.
There are around 12 miles of trails. Most of them are mixed-use and allow biking and horseback riding. Hiking is only allowed on trails that border the lake, like the Red Waterfront Trail.
According to park staff, the Red Waterfront Trail is the most popular trail in the park. It’s a one-way trail that offers gorgeous waterfront views of Lake Mineral Wells. It also leads to the popular climbing area of Penitentiary Hollow. The lakeside views, abundant wildlife, and other points of interest make this a fantastic hike. The trail is only 0.75 miles long, but the walking path is a little rocky and might slow you down a bit.
Penitentiary Hollow resembles a small canyon. Climbers are attracted to its large number of climbing routes, and hikers love to explore its rock formations on foot. There’s also a scenic overlook that’s popular with park visitors.
Parking is available at Penitentiary Hollow, so you could check it out before starting your hike at the southern trailhead. You could also start your hike at Penitentiary Hollow if you’d like. Then you would hike in the reverse direction down the trail. A trail map is available on the Lake Mineral Wells State Park website.
Getting to the Trailhead
After entering Lake Mineral Wells State Park, you’ll approach the lake and see a large parking lot with a fishing pier and a swimming area. There’s also a small convenience store if you need to stop for supplies. Keep going and stay on the main road (Park Road 71). After a half-mile, take the first left for the access road that leads to the trailhead.
The access road has many parking spaces, picnic tables, and two restroom buildings. The trailhead is near the restroom building on the south end. Here’s a map showing the trailhead’s exact location.
An Unexpected Detour
For most of my hike, the Red Waterfront Trail was clearly visible with plenty of markers to guide me in the right direction. There were trail markers spread out every 100 to 150 feet down the path.
That being said, I had trouble locating the trail during the first part of my journey. The trail started off downhill, winding around large rocks and small trees.
After hiking about 40 yards, the trail became less apparent. The path started to look more like a small game trail and then faded away. A trail marker or two helped me keep going, but eventually, I had to stop and backtrack.
Unable to find the trail, I decided to keep venturing through the woods and down to the lake. The brush wasn’t too thick, but I had to watch my step because of all the rocks. Once I reached the lake, I immediately hit the trail again and was back on track.
Points of Interest Along the Trail
After you descend to the lake, you’ll come upon a small fishing pier. Walk out and take a moment to enjoy the panoramic views of the lake and the surrounding terrain. You can see the hills curve around the lake, making their way to Penitentiary Hollow. It’s a preview where the rest of the hike will take you.
After the pier, the trail follows the lake for about a half-mile. You can see the lake the entire time. Sometimes the trail dips further into the trees, and other times you’re walking right next to the lake.
The park is teaming with wildlife. It’s common to see ducks flying across the lake and fish jumping in the water. Frogs and turtles like to hang out on rocks and driftwood close to the shoreline.
Halfway down the trail, you’ll start seeing large boulders as the terrain becomes rockier. There’s a massive boulder that’s right on the edge of the lake. It’s easy to walk up and there are great views of the park. This is a nice stopping point if you need to take a break.
Further down the trail, you’ll pass a second fishing pier. Then the trail will ascend up the hill for a short distance. You’ll then be greeted by the rock formations of Penitentiary Hollow.
The area is easy and fun to explore. You can navigate through crevices, tunnels, and small caves. Most of the rock walls surround a large open area. The walls of stone range from 20 to 40 feet high. Huge elm trees rise up from the canyon floor. These trees shoot straight up and then branch out over the cliffs.
You’ll probably see rock climbers scouting, ascending, and repelling off the cliff faces. Texas Parks & Wildlife has established over 80 climbing routes for all skill levels. The climbers I met were extremely friendly and welcomed any spectators. I saw many people receiving lessons from their friends and family. Others were skilled climbers who were taking on new routes and challenges.
Be sure to check out the scenic overlook before heading back. A stairway made of stone will lead you to the top.
The overlook offers a grand view of Lake Mineral Wells and the elm trees that rise up from the hollow. The overlook and stairway were built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression.
Know Before You Go
Penitentiary Hollow will close for safety reasons when it rains, so make your plans accordingly. The area will remain closed until the rocks are dry and not slippery.
The trail is short and only 1.5 miles roundtrip. But there are many twists and turns, and it becomes rocky at times. The rocky terrain will force you to watch your step and travel at a slower pace.
|Cost:||$7.00 if over 12|
Free for 12 & under
|Trailhead Location:||View on Google Maps|