UPDATED JUL 14, 2020
Have we hiked the Barton Creek Greenbelt just for the Insta photo op? You betcha. But there’s more than this local fave to explore. Here are the best hiking trails to hit up in Austin.
This heavily trafficked one-mile loop has a split personality. If you decide to take on the south side at Bull Creek, you’ll find an uber-challenging rocky bluff that makes for awesome climbing. But if you’d rather take it easy and soak in the sights, the north side offers a flat, simple trail with swimming holes along the way.
For a moderate hike and some killer scenery, Sculpture Falls in Barton Creek Wilderness Park is always a safe bet. The five-mile trail's moderate in difficulty, and a lot of people favor this spot for its waterfalls and swimming holes, so you’ll pass many other hikers enjoying the view. It’s also super dog-friendly, so feel free to bring your furry companion to enjoy it too.
Keeping within the confines of McKinney State Park, this one-mile loop is great for an educational day of family, fitness, and fun. Over the course of the hike, you’ll discover a magical land of caves, waterfalls, and a historic natural rock formation Native Americans used as a shelter.
This one stretches the definition of "hike" a little, but the famed 10-mile loop is a must. With entry at Downtown, Zilker, and Butler Park, it feels like a natural refuge right in the heart of the city. Dogs, joggers, walkers, and strollers populate this busy route that boasts gorgeous skyline views. There are also stops along the way to rent paddleboards and kayaks if you’re looking to cool off from the Texas heat.
The Turkey Creek Trail treats travelers in Emma Long Metro Park to a moderately difficult, 2.5-mile out-and-back route along the Colorado River. Dogs love this spot because they’re free to run off-leash on the mostly flat terrain. It can get pretty busy on the weekends, though, so if tranquility is your priority, this is a better weekday adventure.
The River Place Nature Trail isn’t for the faint of heart, but it will get that heart rate up. The entry point is on Big View Drive and the trail winds for six miles. If you’re willing to take on some intense hills, you’ll be handsomely rewarded for all that huffing and puffing with the beautiful sights — waterfalls, ponds, and some friendly neighborhood turtles abound throughout this challenging trail.
This lesser-known trail in the Greenbelt is full of natural adventures. The trail begins at the hilltops of Camp Craft Road and meanders through a three-mile descent to Twin Falls. If you decide to make the trek after heavy rains, you’ll find waterfalls and plenty of spots to take a dip – which you’ll likely crave before taking the strenuous, uphill climb home.
This natural preserve off of West Gate and William Cannon is yet another refuge in the middle of city life. There are lots of different looping trails here, so you can take in an easy one-miler, or wander and explore for more than four miles. It’s also home to a lot of critters, so expect to come across any number of deer, rabbits, butterflies, and lizards.
If less foot traffic and more nature are on your hiking agenda, check out the two-mile trail at Roy G. Guerrero Colorado River Park, just east of I-35. All skill levels will enjoy this peaceful, scenic route along the water, where you’re likely to run into a wild animal or two. You’ll also discover a secret beach somewhere along the way, perfect for cooling off and catching a few rays (per Austin rules, we can’t tell you exactly where — you’ll have to hit the trail to find it.)
This heavily-forested park is a favorite in North Austin. And here there are two trail systems: the more developed of which is the Southern Walnut Creek Trail at 7.3 miles in length; meanwhile, the Northern Walnut Creek Trail runs 3.5 miles from the park to nearby Balcones District Park. Swimming holes are scattered throughout Walnut Creek, and forget the leash — most of the park is an off-leash zone for your four-legged companions. Fun fact: during the spring, this park becomes covered in a blanket of wildflowers.
The Violet Crown Trail began construction in 2006. Currently, multiple segments comprise 13 miles of trail and include the hike through the Barton Creek Greenbelt. Eventually, the trail will extend through Sunset Valley and end at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. There’s regular construction as they expand the trail, so check their website for updates before visiting. Upon completion, this trail will be 30 miles, making it the longest trail in Texas!
This 227-acre park is managed as part of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve in Westlake. The 2.5 miles of trails are a relatively easy hike to conquer. Plus, Wild Basin is a habitat to tons of native wildlife and plants, including some endangered species.
If you head across the street from Mountain View Park in North Austin, you will find the Spicewood Valley trailhead. This nearly three-mile hike descends into a creek bed, so it starts off with some pretty steep switchbacks. After you conquer the initial slope, the rest of the hike is on a well-paved stone path. It’s a calm, easy stroll with a beautiful man-made waterfall serving as the main attraction.
Bright Leaf Nature Trail is perfect for those who want a different kind of hiking experience. This trail is a privately owned, 200-acre plot of land in Austin that is only accessible for hiking with a guide. The hike is four miles long and gives visitors a chance to reflect, meditate, and learn in the beauty of the Texas Hill Country.
Editor's note: COVID-19 may have affected the operations of these areas, check with the parks service before heading out.
Get the latest news on Austin’s fitness scene.