8 Best Places to Hike in Austin

Austin is an excellent place to live or visit, not just for its extensive weird and kooky music scene and nightlife, but for the amazing natural habitats in and surrounding it. Austin is the state capital of Texas and borders the beautiful Hill Country region. This means that there is a whole world of options for hiking just outside of the city limits, with limestone rock formations, waterfalls, swimming holes and beautiful woodlands filled with wildflowers.

Even within the city limits, there are some incredible hikes and parks which are being developed and maintained by the city, meaning you’re never too far from a relaxing dip in the freshwater of a river or lake, after a titillating hike in Texan nature. Check out our 8 top picks for the best places to hike in Austin, to find the right hike for you!

 

1. River Place Nature Trail

If you’re looking for a real workout, River Place could be the perfect hike for you. There are three trails in the River Place Neighborhood: Little Fern, Canyon, and Panther Hollow. With 5-6 miles of Hill Country woodlands to explore, this is a trail that could bring you back time and again. All of the three trails converge at one spot, the Panther Junction, so it’s easy to plan a hike in these woods that suit your needs and experience level. 

Our top pick is the Canyon Trail. This 2.3-mile trail is popular for training, due to the numerous sets of stairs and elevation changes. Hike this trail downhill from the trailhead to Panther Junction, for a slightly easier hike, with about 400 feet of climbing. Or hike it in reverse for a challenging 900 feet of accumulated climbing. If you’re looking for a real challenge, start at the trailhead and turn around at Panther Junction: this option gives you 4.6 miles of trail with 1300’ of climbing along the way. If you like to go hiking with your dog, we’d recommend you bringing along your furry friend, as this park is dog-friendly, and you may want an extra bit of help to pull you up the last of the steps!

This lovely, peaceful woodland will give you a great break from the hustle and bustle of the city. But it’s main selling point is the work-out value. It’s also a great place for bird watchers: come here to sight the golden cheek warbler. Remember to bring your cash at the weekends (there’s a $10 fee for people and animals to help with the upkeep of the park)

 

Pros: 

  • Many options of interconnected trails
  • Strenuous and great for training

 

Cons: 

  • $10 fee at weekends for hikers and pets
  • Not good if you want an easy hike

 

A photo of Austin, Texas

Since it’s surrounded by nearby lakes, Austin is the perfect place to go paddle boarding and kayaking.

 

2. McKinney Falls State Park

McKinney Falls State Park is only 13 miles from downtown Austin, within the city limits, so makes for an easy weekend or day trip for city dwellers. This is a stunning park, where you can listen to the smooth waters of Onion Creek flowing over limestone ledges, and splashing into pools, where you could give your weary feet a rest from hiking. The trails lead through gorgeous, peaceful Hill Country woods. 

If you’re looking for other activities as well as hiking then this park has got you covered. Here you can also stay at one of the 81 campsites, all with water and electric hookups, or rent one of their 6 quaint little cabins. You can also go fishing or swimming in Onion or Williamson creeks. The 2.8-mile Onion Creek Hike and Bike Trail is also great for strollers and road bikes, due to its hard surface. There are also some great wildlife viewing opportunities: painted bunting and other songbirds, raccoons, armadillos, and deer. 

Our top pick of hiking trail in McKinney Falls State Park is the Rock Shelter Trail. This is an easy, 0.7-mile trail, which is great for family groups and all skill levels. It’s also a great, easy hike to take your dog on, but they must be kept on a leash. Take a quick loop through a breathtaking natural rock formation, under overhangs of limestone cliffs, and seep in the history: here Native Americans have used the spot as a shelter for thousands of years. This is also the perfect hike to view and enjoy the stunning creeks below, as you adventure over cute little wooden bridges, and through the lovely Hill Country woodlands. 

 

Pros: 

  • 13 miles from Austin, in city limits
  • Waterfalls over limestone ledges
  • Native American site of interest

 

Cons: 

  • Dogs must be kept on a leash
  • Quite a short trail, not too challenging

 

 

3. Barton Creek Greenbelt

Barton Creek Greenbelt is a fantastic option for hiking for those living in or visiting Austin. It’s super accessible, you can even get a bus from the center of the city to Zilker Park, a city park, to enter Barton Springs. Due to its accessibility, and the fact that lots of people come here to swim, this hike can get a little busy. So make sure to come during the week, or off-season, if you want to avoid the crowds. 

Despite being located so centrally, this hike will really make you feel like you’re out in the sticks. This is due to the variety of natural features you can surround yourself in, in the Greenbelt. You can go hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing and play paddle sports in and around the forests, river, caves, and waterfalls. This is also a great location to go bird watching or to walk in the woodlands amongst the pretty wildflowers. 

This is a moderately difficult trail, at 13.8 miles long. The Greenbelt itself encompasses more than 8000 acres of barely developed land and woodlands. Come here to hike through miles of well-marked trails, and to feel humbled by, or climb, the dramatic sheer limestone cliffs. And at the end of the hike, when you’re hot and tired, cool off in one of the picturesque swimming holes. 

 

Pros: 

  • Located centrally, but feels remote
  • Forests, river, caves, and waterfalls
  • Well-marked trails

 

Cons: 

  • Can get crowded
  • 13.8 mile-long trail, not good if you’re looking for an easy hike

 

A river in Texas.

Austin is also home to some of the best hiking in the country, with many nearby natural swimming areas.

 

4. Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve

The Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve consists of 227 acres of Texas Hill Country native habitat, just west of Austin, in the Westlake Hills. Here there are 2.5 miles of interconnected trails to choose from, which range from 0.6 to 1.5 miles, going up to 902 feet above sea level. One of the best things about hiking here is the educational value. 

Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve was founded in 1974 to protect the pristine Texas Hill Country, and to provide nature education programs to the local community. By visiting this Preserve, you’ll be supporting their ongoing scientific research and the preservation and maintenance of the Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve. You can even attend some of their interpretive environmental education programs, to learn more about the surrounding natural habitat. Or take yourself to the main office, and pick up a leaflet and map for the self-guided trail, providing you with all you need to know about the park’s amazing variety of trees and plants. 

We would recommend following the Madrone Trail. It’s just a bit longer than half a mile, so an easy hike, but it has lots of changes in elevation to keep you challenged. This would be a great recommendation for a really hot day or a group of slightly less experienced hikers. This lovely, easy, hike also meanders past a little waterfall. Whichever trail, or trails, you choose to hike here, you’ll be surrounded by beauty. This site used to hold a shallow sea, so there are intriguing rock formations all around you. But, take note. Bikes, pets, smoking, and picnics are all prohibited within the preserve boundaries, so this isn’t a great option if you want to take your dog or you’re looking for a location for your family picnic!

 

Pros: 

  • Different lengths of interconnected trails to choose from
  • Waterfall and intriguing rock formations
  • Educational programs and self-guided trail

 

Cons: 

  • Bikes and picnics are prohibited within the preserve boundaries
  • No dogs allowed

 

5. Turkey Creek Trail

This trail is a great option for you if you’re looking to have a relaxing, back-to-nature experience, especially if you want to bring your dog off-leash. The Turkey Creek Trail has plenty of water access all along it, a perfect way for you and your dog to cool off during a hot day. This trail is also not very heavily trafficked, despite being close to Austin, so it’s a great option for you if you want the feeling of remoteness while also reaching an accessible location. 

In the heart of Emma Long Metropolitan Park on Lake Austin, this 3-mile hike is a lovely, easy excursion, full of stunning scenery. At 3 miles long, it’s moderate in difficulty: but, at one end of the trail, it loops back around, and here you can jaunt off on some of the other smaller trails if you want to give yourself a more strenuous hiking experience. The elevation gain is up to 170 feet, so there are some climbs towards the back of the trail that will offer you a bit of a challenge. 

The hike pathway meanders and crosses over the creek bed many times, making this perfect for a hot hiking day. However, if you’re heading out in the rainy season, remember to bring some waterproof shoes and tread carefully, otherwise, you could be squelching along for the rest of your hike. Four our guide on how to waterproof your hiking boots, click here. After the hike, if you’ve got a bit hot on a sunny day, cool off in the relaxing waters of Lake Austin. 

 

Pros: 

  • Dogs allowed off-leash 
  • Many options of trail for a variation in difficulty
  • Access to Lake Austin

 

Cons: 

  • Heavily trafficked hike
  • Be careful in the rainy season

 

A picture of a lake.

For some of the best hiking experience, you can camp by one of Austin’s nearby lakes.

 

6. Southern Walnut Creek Trail

The Southern Walnut Creek Trail is Austin’s first Urban Trail, part of a network of trails that are being developed in East Austin, in the city limits. Located in Walnut Creek Metropolitan Park, this is a perfect solution if you’re looking for a challenging hike, which is uber accessible. The trail begins at Govalle Park and ends in the vicinity of Johnny Morris Road and Daffen Lane. 

At approximately 7.3 miles, and heading in a grand loop that traverses the river of Tor Branch multiple times, this area has many options for walks of different lengths and difficulties. There are many different activities you can get involved in here, and one of the main benefits of this park is that it’s open all year round! This means, whether you’re living in Austin or visiting, you’ll always have access to nature on your doorstep, no matter the season. However, due to the clay paths, it’s not recommended to go hiking here when there’s been heavy rain, for your safety and to protect the walking paths from damage. 

With wonderful views of the river and Walnut Creek Park, this is a great option for hiking. However we’d also recommend it for a day trip: it’s a popular place to come and hang out by the creek, and sunbathe on the beaches, while your dog or children play in the water. And with its accessibility, you might just find yourself returning to this park time and time again. 

 

Pros: 

  • Views of the river and Walnut Creek Park
  • Bathe or sunbathe next to Walnut Creek 

 

Cons: 

  • Can get busy
  • Can’t go hiking when there’s heavy rain

 

7. St Edwards Park

This hidden, 80-acre park is a popular spot providing dog-friendly trails and opportunities for swimming amid lush greenery and woodlands in small waterfalls & ponds. It’s a mecca for trail runners, hikers, bikers and dog owners in the nearby area. Come here to trail through the trails meandering along the creek, climb uphill trails with incredible views from atop a bluff, and through exposed meadows filled with prairie grasses and cacti. And to end your hike, suspended in the cooling waters, head to the small swimming hole with a rope swing.

For a longer, more strenuous hike, check out the main trail: Hill Trail. This moderately challenging hike will take you up limestone bluffs, and once you’re high enough, you can enjoy the gorgeous views overlooking the clear waters of Bull Creek. This is the largest hike in the park and takes you on a circle around it, from which you can plan your own journey along lots of smaller side trails that branch off. This option allows you to be a bit more spontaneous in your hike, as you can see where your legs and the views take you. However, we would recommend taking a picture on your phone of the trail map at the parking lot when you enter, as sometimes these trails can be a bit winding and confusing. 

But for an easier, family-friendly option, we would recommend the Creek Trail. It’s also a great way to finish off your day after you’ve hiked the more challenging Hill Trail. This is a 2 mile out-and-back round trip hike which will reward you this stunning views of sheer rock faces along the quieter section of Bull Creek. Choose this option for stunning views and access to the creek, and to walk along the park’s exposed prairies. 

 

Pros: 

  • Exposed meadows filled with prairie grasses and cacti
  • Swimming hole 
  • Beautiful views

 

Cons: 

  • Take a picture of the trail map, they can be winding and confusing
  • Trails not clearly marked

 

8. Blunn Creek Nature Preserve

Our last pick of hikes in Austin really is in the center of Austin. However, this hike is less frequently visited than many of the other centrally located parks, especially compared to the Greenbelt, which is almost always full on a sunny day. Although it’s hardly primitive camping, Blunn Creek Preserve is a great option if you want to go hiking right in the center of the city, but want to avoid the crowds. 

The rugged trails of Blunn Creek Reserve will make you feel like you’re not even in the city: perfect for those needing a quick escape from busy city life. Leading through canopies of thick trees, over a few creek crossings, and over challenging rocky terrain, this will give you the back to nature experience without the necessary travel. 

From this trail, you can also get some great views of the city, especially of downtown Austin, or St. Edward’s University. If you’re taking a hike here in the summer, take a dip in the nearby Big Stacey Pool to cool off. 

 

Pros: 

  • Right in the center of the city
  • Creek crossings
  • Rocky terrain

 

Cons: 

  • Not remote
  • You can still hear the sounds of the city

 

A picture of a wall.

After a long week of camping, don’t forget to visit Austin’s bustling downtown area.

 

Final Verdict:

Austin is a unique city. Not just because of its famous weirdness. Yes, you’ll be surprised, walking down the streets of Austin to see a hippy, with dreadlocks, wearing cowboy boots. Here’s a place where liberal values, and a world-renowned music scene, meets southern charm. And no wonder Austinites are so chilled out! With miles of hikes and stunning natural features, even within the city limits, there are so many options for hiking in Austin that you’ll never get bored. We’ve broken down what we think are the best places to hike in Austin, try them out and see for yourself how stunning this city can be. 

 

 

Riley Draper

Riley Draper

Riley Draper is a writer and entrepreneur from Chattanooga, Tennessee. As a world traveler, he has been to more than fifty countries and hiked some of the most elusive trails in the world. He is the co-founder of WeCounsel Solutions and has published work in both national and global outlets, including the Times Free Press, Patch, and Healthcare Global. When he's not writing, he's probably on a hiking trip or climbing in the mountains.