Numerous city parks, well-groomed greenways, rugged greenbelts and the lovely Lady Bird Lake make Austin a unique city for outdoor explorers. With the Colorado River winding through downtown, there are opportunities to find shaded paths and quiet waterside retreats in the heart of the Texas state capital. Or take a short drive northwest of town […]
Numerous city parks, well-groomed greenways, rugged greenbelts and the lovely Lady Bird Lake make Austin a unique city for outdoor explorers. With the Colorado River winding through downtown, there are opportunities to find shaded paths and quiet waterside retreats in the heart of the Texas state capital. Or take a short drive northwest of town into the heart of Texas Hill Country for a more remote getaway.
In the spring, the iconic bluebonnet bloom makes for stunning photo opportunities, and in the heat of summer, the popular lake and riverside trails provide shaded hikes and ample swimming and tubing opportunities. In the fall and winter, the trails are routinely dry and the temperatures cooler than in the summer, making Austin a year-round hiking destination.
Although you won't find too much elevation gain in the gentle hills of south-central Texas, the rolling terrain provides enough of an aerobic challenge for more serious hikers while offering plenty of options for families and beginners. Get started with this list of 10 popular hikes as rated by the Hiking Project community to explore the greater Austin area.
Winding its way through west Austin, the Barton Creek Greenbelt is an urban outdoor enthusiast's playground. With hiking, biking, climbing and an abundance of swimming holes to enjoy in the summer, the park takes advantage of the shaded banks and limestone bluffs of Barton Creek. The eastern half of the greenbelt is traversed by the Violet Crown Trail connecting to Lady Bird Lake and the extremely popular Barton Springs at Zilker Park, on the western half, the Barton Creek Greenbelt Trail explores areas like Sculpture Falls, Twin Springs and Twin Falls, offering a slightly less traveled trail, but don't expect to be alone on this popular path. There are multiple access points, some with dedicated lots and some with on-street parking, so be sure to arrive early to ensure you are able to find parking on the weekends or holidays.
This particular hike follows the northern spur of the Barton Creek Greenbelt. Starting from the northern end, the hike heads down the Hill of Life, a short but steep downhill leading to Barton Creek. From here, the trail flattens out to a wide and well-maintained path as it meanders along the creek. Enjoy the shade of the juniper and oak woods and have the opportunity to take in the view at several tranquil creekside spots.
The highlight of the route is about 1.5 miles into the hike: Sculpture Falls. This wide pool is a popular swimming hole and hang-out spot in early summer when the water is high. Even when the water level is lower, you can still explore the shallow pools or rock hop across the protruding boulders. Beyond Sculpture Falls, the trail continues at an easy grade. Eventually, you will reach Twin Falls, a similarly popular wading pool and swimming hole. You can either turn around here or continue further onto the Violet Crown Trail to extend your exploration of the greenbelt. Remember to save enough energy for the short but grueling climb up the Hill of Life to return to your car.
Previously known as Town Lake, Lady Bird Lake is central to Austin's outdoor recreation scene. As a downtown getaway, the Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail offers some of the easiest access to trails in downtown Austin, and the area is very popular with hikers, runners, bikers and families for that reason. The 216-acre lake is actually a man-made reservoir along the Colorado River that has become the jewel of downtown. With options for kayaking, canoeing and stand up paddle boarding in addition to hiking and biking along the shores of the lake, the area provides the perfect weekend outing for a combination of trails and water sports.
The temperate climate of the area means you can enjoy the trail year-round. Come early or during off-hours if you are looking for solitude as generally this popular trail is well-used on weekends and weeknights. There are several access points, and you can choose to explore the full loop or create a shorter hike using one of the bridges across the lake. The trail is well-maintained, a combination of fine gravel and pavement, and, along its length, you will have access to parkside amenities like restrooms and water fountains.
The Lady Bird Lake Trail, which was once known simply as Town Lake Trail, was renamed along with the lake to honor First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson. The full loop around the lake is just over 10 miles long. For the route shown on Hiking Project, start from the parking area by the Mopac Bridge. The hike starts on the north side of the lake, heading past Austin High School and winding along the water. At just over a mile, you will come to the first pedestrian bridge across the lake which you can utilize to make a shorter loop.
Continuing on, you will pass the tall buildings of downtown Austin. At 2 miles, the trail turns more southeast, passing the Rainey Street Historic District and heads under Interstate 35. The east end of the trail loops around the end of the lake, passing several parks before winding back along the south side of the lake. As you hike back toward the trailhead, you will pass Vic Mathias Shores, a park which overlooks downtown across the water. If you’re not quite ready to head back, enjoy a quick detour along Barton Creek past Zilker Park before returning to the trailhead.
Located outside of Austin, Hamilton Pool Preserve is a popular weekend getaway, and reservations are required to visit Hamilton Pool between March and October. If visiting in the off-season, be aware that you will still need a reservation on the weekends and during Travis County holidays. The preserve features amenities such as well-maintained hiking trails, picnic tables and portable toilets. You can join a guided hike to learn more about the history of Hamilton Pool and the wide variety of native plants and animals found at the preserve. Swimming is allowed at the pool, but there is no lifeguard on duty so use caution and make sure to bring towels and a change of clothes as the water can be quite cold. The pool is sometimes closed due to bacteria levels, so call the park's public information line at 512-264-2740 for current conditions.
Though the hike to the pool is short, it is scenic and leads to a remarkable destination. Starting from the main parking area, head northeast until reaching a trail junction with Hamilton Pool Cutoff. Here, turn right to head to Hamilton Pool. If you have the time and would like the additional mileage, taking a left on the Hamilton Pool Cutoff will take you to an alternative wading spot and swimming hole on the Pedernales River.
You can't miss your destination. At the end of the trail, Hamilton Creek forms a 50-foot free falling waterfall that cascades into the wide, blue waters of Hamilton Pool. Here, you can choose to explore the well-marked trails under the overhanging limestone cliffs and along the banks of the pool, or take a dip to cool off and enjoy the clear water on a hot day. Once you’re done enjoying the area, simply retrace your steps back to your car.
Though not as well-known or popular as the Barton Creek Greenbelt in downtown Austin, the City of Lakeway Hamilton Greenbelt Trails offer an equally scenic hike along a mature and shaded preserve. With miles of well-maintained trails along the Hurt and Yaupon Creeks, the greenbelt offers options for hiking, biking or running. The trails are flat and easy, making this an ideal area for families looking for mellow on-trail exploration followed by a picnic or a dip in the creek. With a variety of trail lengths and difficulties, highlighted by shade, waterfalls, creek crossings and scenic views of Lake Travis, the greenbelt is perfect for new and experienced hikers alike.
This hike starts from the parking area off Lohmans Crossing Road, where you will find bathrooms and water. Head out on the Hamilton Greenbelt I Trail, a flat, well-packed crushed gravel path. In places, there are sections of singletrack that run parallel to the main path. From the Hamilton Greenbelt Trail, use the Hamilton Greenbelt II Trail and then the Hurst Hollow Connector to reach the Hurst Hollow Trail; this trail trends north and has some sections of rocky footing and more technical terrain. You may spot deer along the trail in the shaded understory.
At the far end of the trail, loop around the Hurst Hollow Loop Trail, where you can access the shoreline across a wide, grassy beach, if you want to dip your feet in the water. Looping back south, you will pass a shaded overlook with a railing and bench, a pleasant spot for a break. Continue on the Clubhouse Trail to the Palos Verdes Trail. These two trails are narrower and a bit less crowded. Enjoy the solitude before hopping back on the Hamilton Greenbelt Trail to return to the trailhead.
Located within Austin's city limits, McKinney Falls State Park is a popular state park and for good reason. With opportunities for camping, hiking, biking, bouldering, geocaching and picnicking, the park offers something for everyone. The scenic Onion Creek is the highlight of the park, and you can enjoy wading, fishing or swimming in the creek to round out your day. With 81 campsites as well as six cabins, you can choose to extend your stay for a long weekend or holiday outing. There is an entrance fee for adults, and if you bring your pet, be sure to keep them leashed, and be aware that pets are not allowed in the water.
The Homestead Trail Loop is one of the more popular routes in the park, hitting the highlight of Lower McKinney Falls before passing several historic buildings and winding through shaded woods where you have the opportunity to spot local wildlife. From the parking area, the trail starts on a broad sandstone slab that slopes down to Lower McKinney Falls. Here you will have to cross Onion Creek, an easy task when the water is low in late summer, and a slightly more challenging crossing when the water is high after a recent rain. Make the crossing carefully regardless of water level, walking along the sculpted stones to reach the other side and the pool formed by the falls—a popular swimming hole in the summer.
Once past the falls, the trail continues uphill, past several old buildings that were once part of the Thomas F. McKinney homestead, winding through oak and juniper groves where you may spot white-tail deer. At its northern end, the trail passes a junction with the Flint Rock Loop Trail before looping south back to the trailhead.
Located a short drive west of Austin, Pedernales Falls State Park offers a unique getaway along the Pedernales River. The river's scenic setting makes for an enjoyable day hike or you can spend a night at the park for an overnight excursion. With activities like hiking, swimming, mountain biking, wading, tubing, kayaking and horseback riding, you have plenty of ways to explore the area after paying the entrance fee. The park's centerpiece, the Pedernales River, is a wide river that is most often tranquil, although after heavy rain it can be turbulent as is evidenced by the dramatically carved limestone slabs of the riverbed. The limestone bluffs along the river create a rugged landscape, offering challenges for more experienced hiking and biking enthusiasts. Or take a short stroll to the river on family-friendly trails to enjoy the cool waters and quiet pools on a hot day.
The hike to Pedernales Falls is a short 1-mile round-trip, but it packs a lot of scenery into its short length while also offering hikers the option to extend their outing on other nearby trails. This hike explores the main Pedernales Falls area, a beautiful set of waterfalls cascading over large limestone slabs. From the main parking area, look for the Pedernales Falls Access Trail at the northwestern corner by a large kiosk. The trail is wide, flat and mostly gravel. Head right at the fork in the trail to reach an overlook of the falls.
Once you are done taking in the view, backtrack to the main Pedernales Falls Trail and head west. You will come to a second, lower overlook that has a stone wall and is a scenic spot for photos. Continue on the trail to reach the falls, which have carved pools and potholes in the limestone. Enjoy exploring the area, although don't cross the river, as the opposite shore is private property. Wading and swimming are allowed, but be sure to read the park's swimming safety tips before taking a dip. When you are done at the falls, you can either head back to the trailhead or continue your hike on the other trails at the park for a longer outing.
Situated just north of downtown, Emma Long Metropolitan Park offers a mix of urban park amenities like manicured lawns, picnic areas, pavilions and a swim beach, combined with some of the more rugged singletrack trails to be found without heading further out of town. There is an entry fee for the day-use area, or you have the option to stay overnight at one of the park's campsites which must be reserved online. If you are taking advantage of an overnight stay at the park, you will likely want to explore the trails and waterfront and can enjoy the area by hiking, mountain biking, boating and swimming.
The Turkey Creek Trail is a delight for hikers looking for a slightly more technical excursion than the groomed trails found downtown. This 2.8-mile round-trip loop takes hikers on a singletrack adventure that feels more rugged and remote than might be expected given the park's proximity to downtown Austin. The trail starts from the southeast corner of the parking area and winds south along Turkey Creek briefly before turning north. You can expect to find rocks and roots and some sections where you will want to watch your footing. If you choose to bring your four-legged friend, be sure that they can also comfortably navigate more technical terrain. In places, the trail is wider and well-kept, and in other sections, it is a bit overgrown. Turkey Creek is a small, but clear stream, that adds a scenic element to the hike. The trail eventually loops back to the south, and a gradual, steady descent will bring you back to the trailhead.
With nearly 11 miles of hiking trails and a unique granite rock formation to explore, Enchanted Rock State Natural Area is a worthwhile weekend excursion. Although it will necessitate a slightly longer drive to get to the park, the trip is well worth the effort to explore central Texas Hill Country. With hiking, camping and rock climbing available, more adventurous visitors can work up a sweat, and those looking for a more relaxing day on the trails can choose to picnic, bird watch, geocache or, if spending the night, stargaze.
Be aware that the park is extremely popular and parking will fill early. If you want to ensure that you get into the park on a weekend or holiday, it is best to reserve a day pass in advance as entrance to the park is limited on weekends. If making a long weekend out of your visit to the park, be sure to book your campsite in advance online. Also, come prepared with adequate sun protection and plenty of water, as there are some exposed areas, and the trails can get quite hot in the summer.
The Enchanted Rock Tour hits all the highlights of the park, taking you to the summit of Enchanted Rock itself before looping through the park on a gentle outing that is just over 6 miles in length. Starting from the main parking area, head up the wide and well-worn path toward the pink granite dome of Enchanted Rock. The hike starts on the Summit Trail which climbs steadily up to Enchanted Rock. This trail is steep in some places, but also well-worn and easy to follow. From the top of Enchanted Rock, you will enjoy splendid views of the surrounding country. For a shorter option, consider an out-and-back hike to the summit.
Once you are done soaking in the views, retrace your steps to the junction with the Echo Canyon Trail which you will use to connect to the Base Trail. This winds along the north side of Enchanted Rock before ending at the Loop Trail, a gently rolling and wide path that takes you along the perimeter of the park. Along the way, you have the option to add on a short side trip to Moss Lake and take a detour on the Scenic View Spur to an overlook with a view of the rock formations in the area. The Loop Trail eventually ends back at the main trailhead to complete your hike.
The River Place Nature Trails is a less-traveled option for hikers looking to get away from the more popular spots along Barton Creek and Lady Bird Lake. Nestled in the River Place Neighborhood, this trail system consists of three main trails that can be accessed from a couple different trailheads. There is a $10 per person fee to access the trail, and cash is not accepted, so be sure to bring your credit card. There is limited on-street parking at both trailheads, so you will want to arrive early on weekends to ensure you find a parking spot. Additionally, there is a small parking area at Woodlands Park near the south end of the trail that can accommodate some overflow parking if the on-street parking is full.
Starting from the south end of the trail, head out on Panther Hollow Trail. The trail heads around a small pond before diving into the woods. This section of trail is wide and mostly easy. At about half a mile, you will come to a junction with the Little Fern Trail and Canyon Trail; stay left at this junction to continue onto the Canyon Trail. This is the most rugged section of the hike, and you will enjoy a winding singletrack with ups, downs, stairs and more technical terrain to navigate. The rolling hills along with the natural-built stairs make this a favorite trail for local hikers and runners looking to train on more technical terrain. The trail follows along the Panther Hollow Creek before turning east to the northern trailhead off of River Place Boulevard. This section crosses Canyon Draw and Canyon Creek. Once you reach the northern trailhead, take a breather before returning the way you came.
The Lakeway Canyonlands trail system offers a unique mix of well-maintained trails, scenic greenbelts and lakeside views. The 20-acre park encompasses a scenic canyon and provides access to Rough Hollow Cove, an inlet of Lake Travis. The many shaded singletrack trails in the network offer a variety of options for those looking for a longer outing or hikers wanting a quiet stroll. Biking is also allowed on the trails if you want to see the area at a different pace. Overall, the trails are wooded, and after rain, they may become slippery so you will want to use caution, especially in the steep areas where the trail winds down toward the creek. Additionally, you can enjoy scenic viewpoints from several cliffs or overlooks along the canyon.
This hike starts from the free parking area on Trophy Drive. Take the Trophy Trail, a short winding path that heads into the heart of the Canyonlands. This will connect you to the Rim Trail. At the junction, you will find a restroom and water, so make a quick pit stop if needed. The trail has some scenic views of the creek as it follows along the rim of the canyon. In less than half a mile, use the Rough Hollow Connector Trail to access the Lakeside Greenbelt Trail across Highlands Boulevard. This wooded path is shaded and winds through small gullies and across several small creeks, adding some technical terrain and scenery to your hike.
After 1.5 miles, connect to the Peninsula Pass Trail. This trail ends with a set of switchbacks that will take you down to Rough Hollow Cove. This inlet of Lake Travis is an ideal spot for a swim or dipping your feet in the water to cool off. The area is best enjoyed in the mornings or evenings, and the overlook of the lake is a prime spot for photos. Once you are done enjoying the scenery, simply hike back out the way you came.
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