Outdoor Austin Activities
Outdoor Adventures in Austin
The Texas capital is teeming with city and nearby state parks, with plenty of trails and rivers to please hikers, bikers, kayakers and swimmers alike.
The great thing about Austin is that outdoor activities abound year-round, and no matter what you’re into—hiking, biking, kayaking or swimming—there’s something for you on your Austin vacation. Check out our local guides favorite Austin outdoor spaces, from the rocky trails of state parks to the clean blue waters of the Colorado River.
One of the most popular Austin hiking locations is the hike and bike trail that borders Lady Bird Lake. The lake, named after the late “Lady Bird” Johnson, wife of former President Lyndon B. Johnson, is actually part of the Colorado River, and runs through the middle of town, dividing North from South Austin. Take a detour from the hike and bike trail to visit nearby Zilker Park, which has a playground for kids, the Zilker Zephyr Miniature Train that leisurely chugs through the park, as well as botanical gardens including a Japanese garden, rose garden, xeriscape (a water-conserving landscaping method) garden, butterfly trail and more.
For more natural beauty—and some great hiking trails—check out McKinney Falls State Park and Bastrop State Park. McKinney Falls is located within Austin city limits in the southeast part of the city. It has paved walking trails that are great for families and rougher trails for more strenuous hiking and mountain biking. Bastrop State Park, about 30 miles southeast of Austin, offers a wide variety of hiking and biking trails through the beautiful “Lost Pines,” a famed region of loblolly pine and hardwoods.
For a great sunset view of the city, climb up the natural rock slab steps of Mount Bonnell. Located in West Austin, this is the highest point within Austin city limits. If you’re in the area before dark, you might want to check out Mayfield Park, a quaint nature preserve of ponds and flowers famous for its free-roaming peacocks.
Runners in Austin now have a new way to learn about the city. City Running Tours offers guided running tours of historic locations in the city. Participants choose their pace, mileage and start time, and can be picked up downtown or at their hotel.
In the city that Lance Armstrong calls home, you’d better believe there are some good Austin biking opportunities. In addition to the aforementioned hike and bike trail at Lady Bird Lake and trails in the state parks, the hills of West Austin offer adventurous bikers breathtaking views of Texas Hill Country. Be sure to check out the view from the Loop 360 bridge.
Another popular Austin biking location is the Veloway in Slaughter Creek Metropolitan Park. The Veloway is located in a secluded part of the park, 3.1 miles of paved asphalt making the ride both peaceful and much safer than riding on the roads.
With soaring summer temperatures in Austin, you’ll probably want to submerge yourself in water if you visit at the hottest time of year. Barton Springs is the best-known Austin swimming location. Located in Zilker Park, Barton Springs is a spring-fed rock pool open year-round, though its consistent 68-degree water draws only the bravest swimmers in the winter. Barton Springs is home to the endangered Barton Springs salamander, and was the subject of the 2007 documentary about Texas land development, “The Unforeseen.”
McKinney Falls State Park, mentioned above, has a nice swimming area (call ahead for creek conditions, tel. 512-243-1643). One of the best swimming holes near Austin, though, is Hamilton Pool Preserve, a natural rock pool of clear blue-green water located 30 miles west of the city. The pool also features a beautiful 45-foot-high waterfall that gushes in rainy times and slows to a trickle during droughts. If you go when it’s not too hot out, the area around Hamilton Pool also offers some great hiking trails to explore.
Pace Bend Park, around 30 miles west of Austin on Lake Travis, also has some great swimming spots. The park is characterized by limestone cliffs and caves bordering the lake, and is also a great place to hike, fish and sail.
For Austin kayaking and canoeing enthusiasts, there are several rowing centers along Lady Bird Lake that offer Austin canoe or kayak rentals by the hour or the day (see, for example, www.texasrowingcenter.com). If you have a way to transport your canoe or kayak, other sections of the Colorado River also make for beautiful and more secluded paddling. Lake Travis to the west of town, with the craggy limestone cliffs mentioned above, is also a popular favorite.
Sate your cravings for sweet or spice at these eclectic restaurants and venues, from Tex-Mex and BBQ to sustainable restaurants, as well as Austin’s competitive Airstream trailer treats and cupcake joints.