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Photograph: Courtesy Mount Bonnell

Where to hike in Austin

Lace-up and hit the best trails in and around town with our pick of the best hikes in Austin. Be sure to hydrate!

Written by
James Wong
Contributors
Sarah Medina
&
Brandon Watson
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With trails in the heart of downtown, gorgeous parks and gardens all over and a plethora of outdoor activities available, it’s safe to say that Austin’s an outdoorsy city. The near year-round sunshine means there’s rarely any excuse to stay indoors, so for hikers, this means ample chance to lace up those sneakers and take to the trees. There’s something for all levels of ability here, from easy(ish) trails like the Lady Bird Lake, a stroll over the bridge from all the big downtown hotels offering plenty of loops to end the jaunt as you please, right up to calf-blasting climbs like the mighty Urban Assault at Barton Creek Greenbelt. No matter how high a number your Fitbit regularly sees, you’ll for sure enjoy some quality time in Austin’s awesome outdoors (not to mention, work off the BBQ and tacos you’ll be consuming upon arrival). Here are the 10 best hikes for sweat, nature and city views.


RECOMMENDED: The best things to do in Austin

Best hikes in Austin

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  • Camp Mabry

Don’t be surprised if you feel a little underdressed when you arrive at the mouth of the trailhead: The historic cottage and wandering peacocks make Mayfield a popular wedding destination. But walk past the frequent parties and there are 24 acres to explore, including a path that takes you down to a dock overlooking Lake Austin and several small lily ponds filled with turtles. Be warned that this hike isn’t going to build up your quads. But if you are looking to unwind after a stressful week, it can’t be beaten.

 

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  • Walks and tours
  • Town Lake

While we like most trails because they take us away from the hustle and bustle of urban living, we enjoy the Ann and Roy Butler trail for just the opposite. Circling Lady Bird Lake (and therefore most commonly referred to as the Ladybird Lake Trail), the crushed granite path stops by some of Austin’s most beloved recreational areas like Zilker Park and Auditorium Shores. The boardwalk provides the perfect place to watch runners on a morning outing or paddle-boarders attempting not to fall into the water. Every Austinite drives by it several times a week, but the smart ones take some time to use it.

 

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  • Things to do
  • Zilker

Like Adele or Drake, the Barton Creek Greenbelt is famous enough that locals only refer to it by one name, the Greenbelt. The long stretch with seven access points has a little bit of everything. Challenging half-mile elevations like the Hill of Life? You'll find it here. Limestone climbing walls like Urban Assault? Greenbelt has that, too. Plus, there are swimming holes like Sculpture Falls and Campbell’s Hole, access for mountain bikers and a friendly culture where everybody stops to say “hello” as they pass you by.

 

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  • Greater Austin

Want to switch up your exercise routine? Skip leg day and head to River Place—one of the most challenging hikes in Austin. Each of the three trails that make up the system has something to offer. Commune with nature on the Fern Trail, which runs by a series of waterfalls. A challenging set of steps makes up the Canyon Trail, leading you past several interesting rock formations and a few scattered benches where you can huff and puff. Panther Hollow is the longest stretch, with demanding elevations in the upper part and a more restful journey through the lower—providing a much better workout cool down than any gym.

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  • Things to do
  • Camp Mabry

Sure, taking the steep climb up Mount Bonnell to take a few selfies is one of the most touristy things you can do in Austin, but there's something to be said for vacationing in your own town. One of the city's tried and true dating ideas (going all the way back to the 1850s) is to pack a picnic (ahem, Tacodeli) basket and slowly make your way up the 102 steps until you reach the full 775 feet. Once you’ve made it, give your sweetie a kiss under the limestone pavilion. They’ve earned it.

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  • West Austin

Those with young ’uns in their crew will appreciate the easy accessibility of most of the 2.5 trail miles located near the Capitol of Texas Highway. Start your day at the welcome center, where the St. Edward’s University staff has put together educational attractions like a microscope station and a bird-watching station. From there, grab a map and make your way past a waterfall at Bee Creek to a scenic overlook, looking out for the endangered golden-cheeked warbler along the way.

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  • Things to do
  • Mckinney

Every local knows it for its swimming hole, but the only state park in Austin’s borders is also a hiker's dream. The three-trail system lets you choose your own adventure. History buffs will enjoy taking the Homestead Trail, which takes you to the ruins of namesake Thomas McKinney’s stone house and gristmill. Families with very young children should opt for the stroller-friendly Onion Creek Hike and Bike Trail, while introverts can travel along the less-popular Rock Shelter Trail, shaded by limestone cliffs.

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  • St Edward

This one-mile (give or take) loop has the occasional view of downtown or St. Edward’s University, but it’s still easy to forget that you're in the middle of the city. Rugged trails lead you through canopied thickets of trees, rocky terrain and a few creek crossings. Attracting fewer visitors than some of the other city routes, Blunn Creek is perfect for quiet introspection. If you go during the summer, be sure to take a dip in the nearby Big Stacy Pool after you’ve worked up a good sweat.

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  • Ford Oaks

Sometimes the best part of hiking is getting lost. It’s easy to miss the trail markers at Mary Moore Searight Park, but that just leads to new discoveries. All the usual park accommodations, (basketball courts, a disc golf course, and a playground) are there, but you’ll want to explore the juniper and oak woodlands, which are just far enough from the weekend crowds. We like to make our way to the creek, where hanging Spanish moss makes us feel like we are in a Southern gothic novel.

  • Things to do
  • West Austin

The only off-leash area in Emma Long Metropolitan Park, the 2.5-mile Turkey Creek Trail zig-zags across the creek bed, providing plenty of opportunities for your best friend to frolic—and for you to get your feet wet. Once you reach the top of the bluff, the trees thin out and a few wildflowers bloom. Just think how many likes you’ll get when you post a picture of Rover lying in bluebonnets. 

 

Get outdoors in Austin

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