If you’re looking to safely venture beyond your backyard and soak up the cooler weather, try these places. These nature walks and hike and bike trails pack in a healthy dose of art, adventure and exercise – good for the whole family!
3809 W. 35th St. |www.thecontemporaryaustin.org
This nature walk combines all the best – art, imagination, beauty and nature – for a unique, outdoor museum experience. As you wander down paths of lush greenery that hug Lake Austin, art installations crop up in intriguing places: hanging from trees, bobbing in the waves, blending into the landscape or creating optical illusions. Take a photo of the exhibit map at the entrance and make your own scavenger hunt, or download the Laguna Gloria Kids Guide for an interactive experience. Or simply enjoy the stroll with surprises around every corner. Advanced reservations are required, with free entry on Thursday evenings.
Lookout Point at Zilker Nature Preserve
2835 Rollingwood Dr.
An urban trail that quickly takes you into the trees, this footpath packs a lot of variety, from city overlooks to creek beds, in a fairly short distance. Begin your trek from the large picnic area on Rollingwood Drive, just west of Zilker Park. Look across the street for the Zilker Clubhouse sign and head up Arnulfo Alonso Way (formerly Zilker Clubhouse Road) for one-tenth of a mile. The second trail on your right will take you on a short jaunt to Lookout Point for a spectacular view of the cityscape. From here, several trails lead down into the Zilker Nature Preserve. Choose your own adventure to loop through meadowland, descend to creeks at the base of cliff walls or continue on to the wooded area that abuts the Austin Nature and Science Center.
McKinney Falls State Park
5808 McKinney Falls Pkwy. | www.tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/mckinney-falls
McKinney Falls State Park offers scenic spots to hike, bike and picnic. Our family favorite is the 2.8-mile Onion Creek Hike and Bike Trail. This unimproved paved trail is mostly flat and shady, with the exception of a couple of gradual inclines. The loop winds through forested sections of the park to the green, shaded picnic grounds above Onion Creek. Stop and take a break to play at Upper Falls where water cascades over giant rock slabs. For easiest access, park at the Smith Visitor Center and look to its right for the trail entrance.
For a short, stunning half-mile walk above the creek, hop on the Picnic Trail. Experienced hikers and mountain bikers might enjoy the nearby 3.1-mile Homestead Trail, accessible by crossing the creek at Lower Falls. Look for maps and trail descriptions on the park website. You’ll want to plan ahead for this outing as day passes now require advance reservations.
1845 Simond Ave. or along Tom Miller St. | www.muelleraustin.com/thinking-green/parks
This community is so bike friendly that you can choose from bike lanes, crushed granite trails or paved pathways to take you all over the Mueller development. Older kids will enjoy how far they can go on trails unimpeded by cars, while younger riders will enjoy the variety of scenes. Depending on when you go and which direction you head, you might pass duck-filled ponds, waterfalls, playgrounds, a farmers’ market, a fire station, a sensory garden or art pieces that include a dragon and a giant metal spider that you can bike beneath.
900 W. Ninth St. | www.9thstreetbmx.com
For BMX biking, this community-built park is worth checking out. Designed for a range of skill levels, beginners roll and bob along a series of small dirt mounds while advanced riders catch air and perform tricks on higher, built-up ramps. The welcoming vibe of the park attracts all ages. Older kids might want to check out the nearby BMX and Skate Park at 12th Street and Shoal Creek Boulevard too.
151 North A. W. Grimes Blvd., Round Rock | bit.ly/33KrosJ
Load up the trikes, training wheels and big wheels for the younger set. A paradise for imaginative play, this park features a large playground accessible for all abilities adjacent to a kid-size speedway and recreated Round Rock town center. With pedal power, kids cruise down mini-streets lined with road signs and controlled by stoplights. Pop in the local library or Wag-a-Bag, visit a police and fire station, make adjustments at the mechanic or go through a car wash with real misters.
Bigger bikers can hop on the Brushy Creek East Trail that runs just below the park for 3 miles. Other kid-friendly access points on the more extensive Brushy Creek West Trail include Champion Park and Brushy Creek Lake Park.
4900 LaCrosse Ave. | www.austintexas.gov/department/veloway
What we love about this 3-mile paved loop in Circle C are the friendly bike culture, the hill country scenery and the wide, paved pathways. For a shorter ride, take the first shortcut to your right to make it a 1-mile adventure. This park is open to cyclists and skaters only. Be sure to follow posted trail etiquette and don’t forget your (required) helmet!
Northern Walnut Creek Trail
Access points at Walnut Creek Metropolitan Park, Gracywoods Neighborhood Park and Balcones District Park
A good choice for all ages and modes of transport, this 3.2-mile trail links three neighborhood parks. An added bonus, each park has a playground and green space, ideal for rest stops or snack breaks. The two-lane divided path makes for easy going by either bike or stroller as you wind along wooded Walnut Creek to cross bridges, dip below a wooden railroad bridge and wander past recreational areas. Hikers and mountain bikers who want to take things up a notch can hop onto one of the many branching dirt paths that create a network of trails throughout Walnut Creek Park.
Southern Walnut Creek Trail
Access points at Austin Tennis Center, East Communities YMCA and Govalle Park
This paved 7.3-mile trail extends along the edge of East Austin. You’ll find a map at each trailhead and regularly posted mileage signs along the way. Little legs may want to start from Govalle Park for a shaded ride through lush landscape that dips under Highway 183 and continues along the Colorado River. The YMCA access point marks a good midway point to turn around. For those with endurance, travel across scenic bridges, pass Mabel Davis Park and prepare for a steady climb to City View at the trail’s northern end.
By Annette Lucksinger
Annette Lucksinger is a mom of two and author of the guidebook and app Exploring Austin with Kids.