Forget the shortcuts
The Lake Georgetown loop is great for backpacking in the Austin, TX area. The Corps of Engineers constructed lake is surrounded by a nice hiking and mountain biking trail. To do the whole loop you probably need two or three days. Along it's shore are three free backcountry campsites (Sawyer Hollow Camp, Cedar Hollow Camp and Walnut Springs Camp) that don't feature any amenities although in the past there used to be pit toilets. Now only the toilet bowl stand open in nature with no pit underneath them. If you don't want that rough you could choose to overnight at one of the three developed campgrounds. The Tejas Campground is semi developed. For water you can either filter lake water or fill up at one of the three developed campgrounds.
For our hike Tejas was chosen as the trail head since we started late Friday afternoon and needed to return late Sunday morning. We stayed south of the river and hiked to Cedar Hollow Camp where we would spend our night. The trail goes right along the North Fork San Gabriel River. It's easy to miss the trail and hike along the river bed like we did. The actual trail just briefly dips to the river bed but then continues on right above the riverbed behind a row of bushes. If you do stay by the river bed, make sure you'll hit the trail before the river turns into the lake and the shoreline becomes quite steep and rough. After that point the hiking trail goes up into the woods. This portion of the trail is shaded, hilly, has some sharp rocks, and is fairly easy to follow. Somehow I misjudged the location of the Cedar Hollow Camp stopped and scouted for it a bit to early as one can see from the GPS track. At the camp we meet one other person with a tent. There were a few picnic tables and a nice pebble beach with clean water.
The next morning a kid brought his friends for his Eagle Scout project. His plan was to clean up the campsite and rebuild the pit toilets. Quite an ambitious goal and I'm curious if he ever got to the toilets. I saw him and his friends cleaning out the shrubbery and piling it on a pile. We continued on with our hike which continued on in the woods until Cedar Breaks. There the trail hits a circular parking lot with the lone star in the middle. Follow the road out of the parking lot. At this point you can turn left and do a side excursion to the Cedar Breaks Campground to visit the bathroom and fill your water bottle. The trail itself is right along the road. Unfortunately there is no signage telling you to do so. You'll pass the park entrance booth and continue straight at the next intersection. After the intersection you will cross through a gate that keeps the traffic of this road which will lead you over the dam. This was by far the worse section of our hike as it was hot and midday when we hiked it. The road over the dam seemed never to end.
After the dam take the first paved path to the left, before reaching the gate of the dam road. The path comes to a T intersection where we choose the wrong direction and ended up walking along a road. Instead you should turn left and follow the path back toward the lake. Yes it's the right way even though it seems like you're going back, which is oh so hard after a long tiring walk over the dam. The paved path brings you to the beach area where you'll continue on a trail along the lake shore. Simply pick a decently sized trail and stay left close to the shore and you won't get lost. The trail soon goes into rugged landscape with small shrubbery and continues with no shade. When the trail reaches the Jim Hogg Campground you can either hike the long way along the lake or take a shortcut through the campground. If you cut through the campground like we did you will hit the trail again after passing through the entrance booth on the left sign. The Jim Hoggs Park sign is at that point as well.
By the time we passed the next finger my hiking partner was really exhausted and got tempted by the GPS to do a short cut instead of hiking along the trail and going through Russell Campground. I wasn't to fond of it and my lack of bushwhacking enthusiasm gave my hiking partner additional energy. After we went through some dense woods we got stopped by a fence with the signs "private property" and "no trespassing". I was ready to turn around but wasn't able to convince my hiking partner. So we ended up following the fence line a little to the creek and continue hiking along the creek we ended up jumping over a fence into another property before reaching the road. Now that we exited the Army Corps of Engineers area we had the next difficulty of entering the area again without going through private property. Needless to say, all property around the lake looks quite uninviting and not friendly to trespassers. We found a road called "Wilderness Trail" on our GPS and Google Maps (that's to smart phones which got us in trouble in the first place). We took the chance and hiked on the road through the neighborhood. The Wilderness Trail seemed to be some old abandoned park. It had a huge gravel pile at the entrance and behind it and behind it a badly washed out road winded closer toward the US Army of Engineers area. We ended up with another long bushwhacking leg until we got back to the trail. I don't think this shortcut has gained us anything. It did cause a lot of stress though, at least for me, and caused us to miss a good opportunity to fill up our hydration bags before the nights camp. I strongly recommend against taking such shortcuts and even more about crossing private properties. In hindsight I should have shortened the hike for my hiking partner.
By taking the shortcut we missed the Walnut Springs Camp by a little bit and we ended up camping a bit west. It was late and neither of us had any energy left. Both of us guessed that the campground must have been at our location at one time or another because there was another pair of toilet bows mounted on a concrete pad in the open. We set up our tents and I tried to pump water. The shore at this place was quite muddy and the wind brought all impurities to this side of the lake. For some reason the pump clogged up or failed otherwise and I was not able to filter much water for us. As we where boiling water for our dinner a ranger on a four wheeler stopped and checked us out for a while from the road and finally left without talking to us. That night I heard him ride pass the trail two or three more times.
Next morning we packed and hiked back the flat two track field path toward Tejas. Before Tejas there is an old concrete crossing over the North Fork San Gabriel River that's usable during low water flows. We took this spot to cross the river. Otherwise one can hike all the way back to Co Rd 258 and cross at the bridge there.
Check out the Official Route and Triplog.
Gate Policy: If a gate is closed upon arrival, leave it closed after you go through. If it is open, leave it open. Leaving a closed gate open may put cattle in danger. Closing an open gate may cut them off from water. Please be respectful, leave gates as found.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.