Austin is awesome for so many reasons, not the least of which is its natural beauty. Here we present a list of hiking trails for your enjoyment. Start at the beginning for a leisurely stroll befitting beginners, or work your way to the end of the list for a real challenge. Either way, you’ll find a place to connect with nature and recharge your batteries.

Butler Hike and Bike Trail


Butler Hike and Bike Trail

With the completion in June 2014 of a mile-long boardwalk, the Butler Hike and Bike Trail now makes a complete 10-mile loop around Lady Bird Lake, stretching from MoPac on the western edge to Pleasant Valley on the eastern edge. This wide, flat trail passes numerous Austin landmarks, including Zilker Park, the Long Center, and the towers of downtown.

Good for: All ages. Stroller-friendly.

Bikes okay? Yes.

Dogs okay? Yes, if leashed.

Parking: Available at any of the access points along the trail—Butler Park (1000 Barton Springs Rd.), Zilker Park (2100 Barton Springs Rd.), Auditorium Shores (920 Riverside Dr.), Fiesta Gardens (2100 Jesse E. Segovia St.), Roy Guerrero Park (400 Grove Blvd.) or Lamar Beach (1200 Cesar Chavez St.).

Admission: FREE.

Mount Bonnell Staircase


Stairs to the top of Mount Bonnell

This spot in Northwest Austin, officially known as Covert Park, is more tourist destination than hiking trail, but we include it here because it offers a steep climb of 106 steps, which is some great exercise, rewarded with a sweeping view at the top. You’ll see Lake Austin below, the Hill Country to the west, and downtown Austin to the east.

Good for: All ages, but not stroller-friendly.

Bikes okay? No.

Dogs okay? Yes, if leashed.

Parking: Available along the street at 3800 Mount Bonnell Rd.

Admission: FREE.

Walnut Creek Park Trails


Water Crossing at Walnut Creek Park

This 293-acre park packs a whopping 15 miles of shady trails, most of which are easy to moderate, with a few steep sections. Several trails cross the creek. The park also boasts a playground and swimming pool, for extra fun before and after the hike.

Good for: All ages. Some trails are stroller-friendly.

Bikes okay? Yes. Very popular with mountain bikers.

Dogs okay? Yes. Includes a popular off-leash area.

Parking: Available at the swimming pool lot at 12138 N. Lamar Blvd.

Admission: FREE.

McKinney Falls State Park Trails


Waterfall at McKinney Falls State Park

This state park lies a mere 13 miles from the state Capitol Building, making it a popular destination for getting away from it all. The paved, 2.8-mile Onion Creek Trail welcomes bikes and strollers. The 2.75-mile Homestead Trail, accessed by crossing the Lower Falls, may be hard to reach after heavy rains. The northern stretch of the Homestead Trail provides access to a 2.25-mile Flint Rock Loop. Unfortunately, the Halloween flood along Onion Creek in 2013 caused the closure of both the Rock Shelter Interpretive Trail and the Smith Visitor Center.

Good for: All ages. Only the Onion Creek Trail is stroller-friendly.

Bikes okay? Yes.

Dogs okay? Yes, if leashed.

Parking: Available inside the park at 5808 McKinney Falls Pkwy.

Admission: $6 per person, FREE to children age 12 and under.

Turkey Creek Trail


A flat portion of the Turkey Creek Trail

Access this trail off City Park Rd. in Emma Long Park. The 2.75-mile trail begins with a short section of stairs, but then widens and flattens out. It crosses Turkey Creek several times, requiring a bit of balance to keep your feet dry. At .75 miles in, the trail narrows and splits into a loop. One half of the trail gains elevation and rises above the creek valley, while the other side continues along the creek bed.

Good for: All ages, but most of the trail is not stroller-friendly.

Bikes okay? No.

Dogs okay? Yes. This park is very popular with dogs and their people.

Parking: Available at the trailhead (no official street address marks the trailhead, but Google Maps places it at approximately 1650 City Park Rd.).

Admission: FREE.

Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve


Wild Basin Preserve

This Travis County Park in West Lake Hills is home to 2.5 miles of trails on 227 acres and an outdoor education venue managed by St. Edward’s University. The trails offer striking views of protected woodland, grassland, and stream side habitats. On weekdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., drop by the small Visitor’s Center and peruse the collection of guidebooks on native rocks, plants, and animals.

Good for: All ages, but most of the trails are not stroller-friendly.

Bikes okay? No.

Dogs okay? No.

Parking: Available at the Visitor Center at 805 N. Capital of Texas Hwy.

Admission: Suggested donation of $3 per adult, $2 for seniors and children 5-12. Spring for the $1 brochure to make the Arroyo Vista Loop an interpretive hike.

Bull Creek Greenbelt Trail


Dam at Bull Creek

This park has such a history of the dramatic results of flash flooding that you can now see the jumbled concrete walls of an abandoned attempt to dam the creek for swimming. This is a great location to explore water; the creek runs shallow and rapid in some spots, but collects in gentle pools in others. The 3.5-mile trail crosses the creek multiple times, requiring balance to keep from getting wet. Depending on the time of year and recent rains, there are several waterfalls and swimming spots along the trail.

Good for: All ages, depending on the length of the hike. Not stroller-friendly.

Bikes okay? Yes.

Dogs okay? Yes, if leashed.

Parking: Available at 6701 Lakewood Dr.

Admission: FREE.

Hamilton Pool Preserve Trail


Hamilton Pool

This popular spot for swimming and hiking is part of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve. Park officials limit the number of visitors inside the canyon, and on weekends a line forms to enter the park. In addition, the pool is often closed to swimming due to contamination from runoff. After heavy rains, the trail to the Pedernales River can be closed to hikers for preservation. Even so, make the effort to visit this Austin treasure; you’ll be glad you did. The trail from the parking lot runs a little over 80 feet of rocky descent to a decision point: make a right turn and hike a quarter mile to the stunning pool or make a left and hike two-thirds of a mile to the Pedernales River. 

Good for: All ages; strollers not allowed.

Bikes okay? No.

Dogs okay? No.

Parking: Available at the park at 24300 Hamilton Pool Rd. When the lot reaches its limit of 75 vehicles, park officials control entry.

Admission: $15 per vehicle. The pass also gets you access to Reimers Ranch—another Travis County park just down the road—for use the same day.

St. Edwards Park Trails


St. Edwards Park

This little gem of a park lies west of Capital of Texas Hwy. along Spicewood Springs Rd. The 80-acre park follows a portion of Bull Creek and provides about 4 miles of interconnecting, well-marked trails. This is a great place to learn trail signs and work on map-reading skills.

Good for: School-aged kids ready for a little adventure. Not stroller-friendly.

Bikes okay? Yes.

Dogs okay? Yes, if leashed.

Parking: Available in the park lot at 7301 Spicewood Springs Rd.

Admission: FREE.

Barton Creek Greenbelt


Barton Creek

This trail stretches nearly 8 miles, making a V-shaped southerly dip from Zilker Park to the Lost Creek neighborhood in West Lake Hills. The trail follows Barton Creek, and varying spots are wide and flat or narrow and rugged. The trail is popular with mountain bikers, rock climbers and those who enjoy its seasonal swimming holes. The length and ruggedness of the trail make it a great place to train youth groups for long hikes and backpacking.

Good for: All ages, depending on the section of the trail. Near Zilker Park, the trail is wide and flat. Further west, the trail at times becomes rugged and steep, more appropriate for school-aged children. The steepest and most rocky parts are at the Scottish Woods end of the trail, which is appropriate for middle school and high school aged children.

Bikes okay? Yes.

Dogs okay? Yes, if leashed.

Parking: Available at multiple access points—Zilker Park (2100 Barton Springs Rd.), Spyglass (1500 Spyglass Dr.), Homedale (2010 Homedale Dr.), Gus Fruh (2642 Barton Hills Dr.), Loop 360 (3755-B Capital of Texas Hwy.), Twin Falls (3918 S. Mopac Expy) and Scottish Woods Trail (1710 Camp Craft Rd.).

Admission: FREE.

Lake Georgetown, Goodwater Loop


Goodwater Loop Trail near Camp Tejas

The 28-mile Goodwater Loop trail encircles Lake Georgetown. This trail offers something for everyone: easy access and wide trails near the access points, narrowing to steep and rugged stretches farther out, with lots of elevation changes and gorgeous views of the lake. This is a good trail for training youth groups for long hikes and backpacking. Elementary-aged kids will enjoy short hikes out and back.

Good for: All ages, depending on the section of the trail. Stroller-friendly in short stretches only near the access points.

Bikes okay? Yes, but rarely encountered on the trails.

Dogs okay? Yes, if leashed.

Parking: Available at multiple access points—Cedar Breaks Park (2100 Cedar Breaks Rd.), Russell Park (2101 County Road 262), Jim Hogg Park (500 Jim Hogg Rd.) and Tejas Camp (4560 County Road 258).

Admission: FREE for day hikers.

River Place Nature Trail


Steps at River Place Nature Trail

This 3-mile trail is about as rugged, steep and challenging as you are likely to find in the Austin area. The solid but narrow trail follows Panther Hollow Creek in a wooded canyon. If you’re looking for a challenge, you will be hard-pressed to find a better training ground. The center portion of the trail, which has been under construction for months, is now open. This is a great trail for teaching topographical maps or training youth groups for long hikes and backpacking.

Good for: School-aged kids ready for adventure.

Bikes okay? No.

Dogs okay? Yes.

Parking: Available at Woodlands Park at 8820 Big View Dr. Two other access points offer limited on-street parking along River Place Blvd.

Admission: UPDATE: Beginning March 2, 2019, there is a $10 per person fee to hike this trail if you are not a resident of the River Place Limited District (must show ID). There is also a $10 per animal fee if you take a dog. Children under 12 are free with a paid adult.

8 Basics for Happy Hiking

Depending on the length and ruggedness of your intended hike, you’ll need to bring one or more of these hiking essentials:

1. Water (in bottles or a backpack system)

2. Sun protection (sunscreen, hat and sunglasses)

3. Sturdy shoes or hiking boots

4. First aid supplies (bandages, antibiotic ointment and pain reliever)

5. Rain gear (jacket and pants)

6. Map and compass (or GPS system)

7. Phone (note that some locations lack coverage)

8. Snacks (trail mix, jerky, pretzels and dried fruit are all good choices)

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By Sherida Mock

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