Even though Austin is one of the largest cities in the country with a vibrant downtown and major traffic headaches, the city also has ample natural acreage. To prove this point, look no further than Zilker Park. But there’s so much more to Austin’s outdoor recreation than one park large enough to host one of the world’s most famous music festivals.
If you’re one of those people who likes to explore nature on foot, Austin has plenty of hiking trails to satisfy your wandering itch. But remember to pack bug spray because it doesn’t take long for that metaphorical itch to become a real one after running into a few mosquitoes.
These treks won’t take you very far from civilization, but you will step into a facet of Austin far away from music festivals, noisy bars, eclectic restaurants and traffic snarls. Consider one of these destinations for your next walk in the woods.
1.) Turkey Creek Nature Trail
Turkey Creek Nature Trail sits inside Emma Long Metropolitan Park in northwest Austin on the north shore of Lake Austin. For Austin newbies and directionally-challenged old Austinites, Lake Austin is the stretch of the Colorado River between Mansfield Dam at Lake Travis and Tom Miller Dam at Lady Bird Lake.
The park is leash-only for dogs except on the roughly 2.5 miles of Turkey Creek Nature Trail. This trail crosses the creek several times, so both dogs and human can enjoy a splash in the water. In the Texas heat, splashing in a creek is about as refreshing as it gets.
Remember to be courteous to other hikers and leave nothing behind — including your dog’s poop.
2.) Barton Creek Greenbelt
If you drive on MoPac Expressway in southwest Austin on a Saturday, you’ll see many vehicles parked along the frontage road. Why are they there? Those cars represent the people enjoying the Barton Creek Greenbelt which includes swimming holes and a nearly eight-mile trail with multiple access points.
The many ways to access the trail give you the chance to find your your favorite area to hike when you have limited time. And you can scope out the best parking areas for when you usually venture to the greenbelt.
Don’t feel like you have to do the whole eight miles in one hike. Take your time and enjoy the Barton Creek Greenbelt.
3.) Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve
Within the 227 acres of beautiful hill country terrain of Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve are 2.5 miles of trails to enjoy. With ups and downs, you’ll be sure to get a nice workout. The preserve sits on the east side of Capitol of Texas Highway (a.k.a. Loop 360) a few thousand feet north of the intersection with Bee Caves Road.
Travis County and St. Edward’s University share ownership of the preserve. The university runs the Wild Basin Creative Research Center which serves as the preserve’s welcome center and visitor information hub.
4.) McKinney Falls State Park
With nearly nine miles of trails broken into manageable pieces for casual hikers, McKinney Falls State Park is a great place to explore Austin’s beauty. When you go, make sure you visit the upper and lower falls.
Many of the trails have their own special attractions. For example, the 2.8-mile Onion Creek Hike & Bike Trail has the remains of the former residence of John Von Hagen, Thomas McKinney’s horse trainer. This structure and other sites within the park date back to the 1850s.
5.) Roy G. Guerrero Colorado River Metropolitan Park
Remember when the California Angels were called the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim? Just when you thought a name couldn’t be any longer, you discover Roy G. Guerrero Colorado River Metropolitan Park. The name seems unnecessarily long, but it perfectly describes the park. It’s on the Colorado River and in the middle of a major city. More specifically, the park is nestled on the southern bank of the Colorado River in East Austin adjacent to the Austin Community College Riverside Campus. In addition to the nearly two miles of trails, the park has athletic fields, a disc golf course, a BMX area and a not-so-secret beach.