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Kelly Weimert

APR 18, 2019

Austin is known for its general weirdness, awesome live music, and delicious grub — but what really makes our city shine are the scenic wilderness trails that’ll let you forget you’re in a city altogether.

If you’re looking to take a break from the hustle and bustle of city life, check out this list of our favorite hiking spots to add a heavy dose of nature to your fitness routine.

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 is your best bet. Barton Creek Wilderness Park is home to this intermediate, five-mile trail. A lot of people favor this spot for its waterfalls and swimming holes, so expect to see many faces along the way. 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 families. Here you’ll discover a magical land of caves, waterfalls, and a historic natural rock formation Native Americans formerly used as shelter. Perfect for an educational day of family, fitness, and fun.

What sort of list would this be without the mention of the trail around our beloved Lady Bird Lake? The convenient trail is a 10-mile loop with a number of access points. 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, enjoying skyline views and access to the river. Bonus: 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 lucky travelers in Emma Long Metro Park, offering a moderately difficult, three-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 definitely give that heart a serious workout. 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 tough, uphill climb home.

For a family fun day, this one-mile Butler Park trail is great for all ages. You’ll be graced with plenty of shade as you and your little ones stroll along this easy, Instagrammable route. And if boredom is a concern, it shouldn’t be because peacocks are strutting around every corner looking to entertain you throughout your walk.

This natural preserve off of West Gate and William Cannon is yet another refuge in the middle of city life. There are lots 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.

This is a light traffic loop trail, perfect for a laid-back, after work jaunt for those living in South Austin. Open from March to October, this mostly-paved trail features a waterfall and easy terrain for those recovering, rehabbing, or looking to take their pup for a scenic stroll.

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 top 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. There are two trail systems: the more developed of which is the Southern Walnut Creek Trail at 7.3 miles in length; the Northern Walnut Creek Trail is still under development, with only four trailheads open at this point. Swimming holes are scattered throughout the park, and forget the leash — most of Walnut Creek is a off-leash zone for your four-legged companions. Fitt tip: during the spring, this park becomes covered in a blanket of wildflowers.

The Violet Crown Trail began construction in 2006. Currently, the segment open is six miles long and includes the hike through the Barton Creek Greenbelt. Eventually, the trail will extend through Sunset Valley and end at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. You bet your boots that this is an intense hike! FYI: this is going to be the longest trail in Texas one day — the plan is to make it 30 miles long!

This park is managed as part of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve in Westlake. The 2.5 miles of trails are a relatively easy hike at to explore, but this area is as great of an educational experience as it is an outdoorsy one. 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 three-mile hike descends into a creek bed, so it starts off with some pretty steep switchbacks. From there on though, it’s smooth sailing — the trail was a volunteer project and is mostly a well-paved stone path. It’s an easy, mindless stroll, but the highlight is definitely the beautiful (but man-made) waterfall.

Do you like seeking out elusive hikes? If so, we found just the thing for you. Bright Leaf Nature 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.

If you’re thinking the Greenbelt never ends, we’re right there with you. Shoal Creek is another pocket of the Greenbelt stretching into Tarrytown. The entire trail is around a 6.5-mile loop that runs along the creek. And there’s plenty to explore — the path passes through Pease Park, and there’s even an off-leash area for your pup!