The Barton Creek Greenbelt is one of the most popular natural attractions in Austin, but new Austinites might have trouble navigating the nearly 13 miles of hiking trails. Now that Phase 1 of the Violet Crown Trail has opened, there’s an additional six miles waiting to be explored.
So where do you begin? Consider which activity you enjoy the most (hiking, biking, swimming, rock climbing), then decide which access point will meet your needs. Consult this guide, then go out and explore!
1. Trail’s Head – Zilker
The most eastern access point is located at Barton Springs Pool and is considered the beginning of the Greenbelt trail. It’s a fantastic location for beginner hikers. The trail is mostly wide and flat, but it’s not as shaded as other locations. I don’t come to this spot often, because it’s nearly impossible to find parking on the weekends. The best time for optimum enjoyment would be weekday mornings.
Directions: From I-35, exit on Riverside and head west. Drive 1.5 miles to Barton Creek Rd and turn left. Drive one mile past the Lamar intersection and the Zilker Park entrance will be on the left. The access point is west of Barton Springs Pool.
2. Campbell’s Hole Access Point (West)
The next entry point offers easy access to the swimming hole known as Campbell’s Hole. The pool is a short hike north of the trailhead. It’s an impressive area and isn’t as crowded as some of the other swimming holes. If you head south, you’ll discover the Enclave, a limestone wall popular for rock climbing. Other climbing walls include the Great Wall, New Wall, Terrace and Random Walls.
There is no parking lot at this entry point since it’s located in a residential neighborhood. Spaces are limited along the street.
Directions: From Mopac/Loop 1, exit on Barton Skyway and head east. Barton Skyway ends in a half a mile. The entry point is located at the ‘T’ intersection of Barton Skyway and Spyglass Drive across the street from Taco Deli.
3. Campbell’s Hole Access Point (East)
This is one of my favorite entry points, because there is more street parking available than the West entrance. Plus if you hike north, you can access Campbell’s Hole. The hike is a little longer, but it gives you the chance to enjoy the scenery more. The bend at the north end of the pool is framed by the overhanging cliffs. For the adventurous type, go off the path and climb the cliffs for an astounding view of the Greenbelt.
Directions: From South Lamar, head northeast on Barton Skyway. Take a right on Barton Hills and left on Homedale Drive. The entry point is across the street from Barton Hills Elementary.
4. Gus Fruh
This access point leads to one of the most popular swimming holes in the Greenbelt, Gus Fruh Pool. The water is deeper than Cambell’s Hole and the creek bed is wider. Rock climbers can hike south of the entry point to the limestone wall known as Urban Assault. Urban Assault is the white buttress on the west side of the creek.
The entrance point is located in a residential neighborhood, where street parking is limited. It’s an incredibly popular spot and parking is sparse on the weekends.
Directions: From Barton Springs Rd, turn south onto Robert E. Lee Rd. Take the first right on Barton Hills Drive and drive two miles until you reach the trailhead sign on the right. It is near the intersection of Barton Hills Dr. and Horseshoe Bend Cove.
5. Main Access Point – Loop 360
This is considered the main access point to the Greenbelt and offers the most exciting hiking trails, extensive rock climbing and abundant parking spaces!
The fork to the left offers my favorite hiking trail in the Greenbelt. You’ll encounter magnificent rock structures, beautiful landscapes and tiny swimming spots along the way. Be careful though, the trail can get narrow and extremely rocky. The terrain is desirable for mountain bikers.
The fork to the right brings you to the Seismic Wall or Maggy’s Wall, one of the prime locations for rock climbing. Serious climbers can bring their equipment to scale the beautiful limestone cliff. If you hike east of the wall, the trail is nice, but the creek begins to dry up.
This access point offers the best area for parking. It is located off to the side of an office parking lot where there are plenty of spaces.
Directions: From southbound 360, turn left at the first stoplight after Mopac/Loop 1. The office park includes South Austin Orthapedic Clinic and Thiel Pediatric Dentistry. Turn left into the parking lot. The entry point is at the north end of the parking lot.
6. Gaines Creek and Twin Falls
This access point features the popular swimming holes, Twin Falls and Sculpture Falls. Take a short hike upstream and enjoy the scenery before you reach the lovely Twins Falls. Continue north for about three miles to reach Sculpture falls, where the water is deep and the terrain is great for cliff jumping. Since Twin Falls is more crowded, the hike up to Sculpture Falls is worth it. The moderate trail is ideal for hikers, runners and mountain bikers.
This is one of the more difficult access points to reach and there is limited parking along the side of the service road.
Directions: On southbound 360, exit to Mopac/Loop 1 South. Stay right and continue on the Frontage road. Park alongside the road, just past the on-ramp and before the curve. If you reach the overpass, you’ve gone too far.
7. Trail’s End – Scottish Woods Trail
The western entry point is technically the ‘end’ of the trail, but it should come with a warning label. This is the most strenuous hike of the Greenbelt and is not for the faint of heart. The trail features the infamous Hill of Life. The steep slope has a 300-foot change in elevation in less than half a mile. There are loose rocks, concrete ledges and no overhanging trees for shade. If you’re not in prime condition, avoid this spot.
The view at the top of the Hill of Life is quite stunning and Sculpture Falls is actually closer to this access point than Gaines Creek. If you crave a hiking challenge, this spot has a lot to offer. The access point is in a residential neighborhood, where street parking is limited.
Directions: From Hwy 360, turn West on Scottish Woods Trail. I recommend parking on Scottish Woods trail before you get to Camp Craft Rd. The access point is located just east of the ‘T’ intersection of Scottish Woods Trail and Camp Craft Rd.
8. Violet Crown Trail – Phase 1 – 290
The Violet Crown Trail follows the Greenbelt trail from Barton Springs, but now continues south and onto the Gaines Creek Greenbelt. The new section features a spectacular view of a cave, but you’ll have to hike 4.5 miles with some steep, rocky areas to get there. There are several creek bed crossings so make sure to pay attention to the trail.
Directions: The trailhead for the new section is located at the shopping center and intersection of Brodie Lane and Hwy 290. There is ample parking, but try to park west of Spec’s. Cross the parking lot entrance at the light. Take the crushed granite pathway that runs along the service road. The trailhead will be on the left.
So what are you waiting for? Get out there and start your adventure! Share your favorite Greenbelt spots and let us know if you have additional tips!