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12 Best Hikes in Austin, TX

Written by Brad Lane
Jun 23, 2020

A major appeal of Austin is its access to the outdoors. Amid the skyscrapers of downtown and the urban development of the city, several natural spots encourage time spent outside. The crown jewel of hiking trails in Austin, the Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail, is the first place to visit when the weather is nice. And the weather is often nice in Austin.

Other in-city hiking trails, like the Barton Creek Greenbelt and the Turkey Creek Trail, also dive deep into nature within city limits. McKinney Falls State Park is also within the city limits and provides a trail system that connects two waterfalls and a swimming hole. If it is swimming holes you're looking for after a hike, the quarter-mile trail leading to Hamilton Pool is also just right for you.

Places like St. Edwards Park offer amazing views of Hill Country on a variety of trails, as does Mount Bonnell, one of the highest points in the city. Interesting rock formations, spring-fed swimming spots, and peacock plumage are also encountered on some of the best hikes in Austin and the surrounding area.

1. Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail Editor's Pick

Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail is a defining aspect of Austin's appeal. Named after a former mayor and his wife, this 10-mile trail borders downtown and spans either side of Lady Bird Lake. The city's skyline is within view for much of the paved trail, as are the scenic waters of Lady Bird Lake.

Millions of people bike, run, and walk on the Butler Trail each year. The trail connects to several riverside attractions, including Zilker Park, home to the Austin City Limits music festival. Auditorium Shores and Deep Eddy Pool are other points of interest on the Butler Trail.

On the south bank of Lady Bird Lake, east of Congress Avenue, the Boardwalk on the Butler Trail is particularly fun to visit. Viewing areas, public art, and thousands of LED lights span this concrete and steel boardwalk that extends over a mile. Entry points like Blunn Creek and International Shore lend access to the Boardwalk.

2. Mount Bonnell, Covert Park

Colorado River from Mount Bonnell

Mount Bonnell offers one of the most panoramic views of the region within city limits. It's a short hike to reach the peak of Mount Bonnell, within Covert Park, but the 102 limestone steps leading to the top still make it feel like a workout.

Mount Bonnell offers one of the highest natural vantage points in the city at 775 feet. The view atop includes the Texas Hill Country, the Austin skyline, and most prominently, Lake Travis on the Colorado River.

Mount Bonnell offers a tremendous western view, which makes for amazing sunsets atop the mountain. These breathtaking moments also make the evening a popular and often crowded time to visit. Room is available at the top to avoid some of the congestion, and visitors should practice extreme caution when approaching the cliff edge.

For an add-on adventure, the peacock-infused grounds of Mayfield Park offer 26 acres of walking trails nearby.

Address: 3800 Mount Bonnell Road, Austin, Texas

3. Barton Creek Greenbelt

Barton Creek Greenbelt | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

In south-central Austin, this greenbelt stands above the others. Alongside a beautiful flat path through natural surroundings, Barton Creek Greenbelt also offers a variety of other ways to enjoy the day. Lining all 12 total miles of the Barton Creek Greenbelt system are opportunities to rock climb, swim, and mountain bike.

Several access points line the Barton Creek Greenbelt. The greenbelt begins near Barton Springs Pool at Zilker Park. Swimming and wading in Barton Creek is only possible when water levels are high. Otherwise, users enjoy hiking the dry creek bed. Other prominent points of interest on the Barton Creek Greenbelt include Cambell's Hole and Sculpture Falls.

Official site: https://austinparks.org/barton-creek-greenbelt/

4. Turkey Creek Trail, Emma Long Metropolitan Park

Northwest of the city, the Turkey Creek Trail is a popular place to let the dogs run free. Pets can roam off-leash on this 2.5-mile trail within Emma Long Metropolitan Park, a 30-minute drive from downtown Austin. The trail begins at the end of City Park Road and makes a lollipop loop from there.

The trail crosses Turkey Creek several times as it follows the banks. These crossings are generally easy to navigate, though more challenging if water levels are high. The well-marked loop trail gains little elevation, and by going counterclockwise, hikers avoid the bulk of the climbing. Mile markers along the trail help keep hikers on course.

Address: 1401-1711 City Park Road, Austin, Texas

5. Onion Creek Hike and Bike Trail, McKinney Falls State Park

Lower Falls, McKinney Falls State Park

Ten miles southeast of the Texas Capitol, McKinney Falls State Park is a natural getaway within city limits. This expansive state park features camping, hiking trails, and one of the best waterfalls in Texas.

Nearly nine miles of trails make their way through McKinney Falls State Park, and the Onion Creek Hike-and-Bike Trail is the main path that connects them all. The Onion Creek Trail circles the park in just under three miles, including a stretch near Upper Falls on Onion Creek. Upper Falls is a popular spot to swim and fish when the weather is warm.

The trail is a hard surface and is suitable for hiking, biking, and pushing a stroller.

Several trails branch from the Onion Creek Trail, including a northern trail network that passes by Lower Falls and the McKinney Homestead.

Address: 5808 McKinney Falls Parkway, Austin, Texas

Official site: https://tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/mckinney-falls

6. Southern Walnut Creek Trail

Southern Walnut Creek Trailhead

On the east side of Austin, the Southern Walnut Creek Trail offers residents and tourists an excellent corridor for hiking or biking. Currently, Southern Walnut Creek extends over seven miles north from Govalle Park to Johnny Morris Road. Future installments of the trail will add a dozen more miles to the pathway and connect to more neighborhoods in North Austin.

Hikers, cyclists, and inline skaters all enjoy the 10-foot-wide concrete path of the Southern Walnut Creek Trail. It's also an accessible path for strollers and dog walkers. Following the banks of Walnut Creek, the trail offers scenic surroundings and minimal elevation gain along the way. Several access points line the path, as do public benches and water fountains.

7. Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve

Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve

A 10-mile drive from downtown Austin, this wilderness preserve is part of the larger Balcones Canyonlands Preserve. Unlike other parts of Balcones Canyonlands, Wild Basin allows the public to tour the wooded environment on their own. Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve features over 2.5 miles of hiking trails within its 227 acres.

Trails at Wild Basin are accessible from sunrise to sunset. Several loops make up the trail system, with points of interest including waterfalls and scenic overlooks. The Wild Basin Creative Research Center within the park, operated by St. Edwards University, acts as a visitor center. The creative research center also offers public guided hikes on the second Saturday of each month.

Address: 805 N Capital of Texas Highway, Austin, Texas

8. Canyon Trail, River Place Nature Trail

River Place Nature Trail

The Canyon Trail is a challenging hiking trail in northwest Austin and part of the larger River Place Nature Trail. The path is 2.3 miles long and features several log steps and steep elevation changes. Hikers looking to do an out-and-back hike ascend over 1,300 feet, which is guaranteed to make leg muscles sore. The lush forest and scenic outlooks on the Canyon Trail make for a pretty good distraction while climbing.

Two other prominent trails at River Place Nature Trail are the Panther Hollow Trail and Little Fern Trail. Both trails connect to the Canyon Trail at Panther Junction. The Panther Hollow and Little Fern Trail each traverse approximately a half mile, with a gentle slope and wide path. These two trails are the most popular for families at River Place Nature Trail.

Address: 4998 River Place Boulevard, Austin, Texas

9. Creek and Hill Trail, St. Edward's Park

Waterfall in St. Edward's Park

In the northwest corner of Austin, St. Edward's Park offers a quiet escape into nature. A popular family destination, the park offers shaded hiking trails, dramatic bluffs, and opportunities to play in the creek. Several trail junctions greet visitors at the entrance to the park, many of which are also popular with mountain bikers in the area.

It helps to take a picture of the trail map when first visiting. The park is not big enough to officially get lost, but the trail network can be confusing even to people who visit often.

Among the network of trails, two popular routes stand out as the most common to explore: The Creek Trail and the Hill Trail at St. Edward's Park uncover two different perspectives of the natural area.

The Creek Trail offers a two-mile round trip heading north along Bull Creek. This nicely shaded corridor flourishes with flora and has features like waterfalls when rain levels are high. The Hill Trail at St. Edwards offers more of a challenge as it climbs up the limestone bluffs of the park. An excellent overland view of Bull Creek awaits hikers at the top of the Hill Trail.

Address: 7301 Spicewood Springs Road, Austin, Texas

10. Hamilton Pool Preserve

Entrance to Hamilton Pool

At under a quarter mile, the steep path leading down to Hamilton Pool isn't a very long hiking trail. The spectacular waterfall and Hill Country cave at the end of the trail, however, is a real reward for the hike. One of the best day trips from Austin, Hamilton Pool Preserve is a popular hiking and outdoor destination. The Preserve requires reservations to help cut down on overcrowding.

The quarter-mile trail is steep and can be tricky to navigate after wet weather. Hamilton Pool itself is also affected by wet weather, and the preserve may prohibit swimming after a heavy rainfall. Hot and sunny weather is the best time to hike to Hamilton Pool. When swimming is allowed, the natural grotto offers a great place to cool off.

Address: 24300 Hamilton Pool Road, Dripping Springs, Texas

Official site: https://parks.traviscountytx.gov/parks/hamilton-pool-preserve

11. Mayfield Park and Nature Preserve

Trail at Mayfield Park

For a fun place to hike with the whole family, the tranquil acreage at Mayfield Park provides a peaceful getaway within city limits. A historic estate turned public space, this park and preserve now features a lovely cottage and wide-growing garden.

Also on display at the park are a pride of peacocks that like to strut their stuff and fan out their plumage. Visitors are asked to give peacocks plenty of space when visiting the park.

Alongside the colorful gardens and wildlife, Mayfield Park features a family-friendly hiking trail system. The trails cover nearly the entire 20-plus acres of the park and navigate in small circles, which prevents most visitors from ever feeling lost.

The Lake Trail at Mayfield Park leads to a quick view of Lake Travis on the Colorado River. For a better look at the water, the nearby Mount Bonnell at Covert Park features a stunning panorama.

Address: 3505 W 35th Street, Austin, Texas

Official site: https://mayfieldpark.org/

12. Pedernales Falls State Park

Pedernales Falls State Park

One of the best state parks in Texas is only an hour's drive from Austin. The Pedernales River carves its way through the limestone bedrock of the region to create a dynamic series of waterfalls and the state park's namesake feature. Swimming is not allowed at Pedernales Falls due to the turbulent nature of the water. But the dynamic landscape does encourage safely rock hopping around.

While Pedernales Falls is the main feature of the park, several other hiking trails navigate the area. The 8.9-mile Juniper Ridge Trail at the park is as popular for mountain bikers as it is for hikers. The equally challenging Wolf Mountain Trail features scenic vistas and a few creek crossings. When visiting Pedernales Falls, take notice of park signs detailing the warnings of a river surging.

Address: 2585 Park Road 6026, Johnson City, Texas

Official site: https://tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/pedernales-falls

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