Some of the best things to do in Austin can be found outside, thanks to the city’s beautiful parks, best hikes and outdoor activities. But while you can always count on Zilker Park, Mount Bonnell and the Barton Creek Greenbelt for a good time, you may be looking for something a little quieter and lesser known known after making your way through the best parks and gardens. When you want to escape the crowds, take in the sunshine and great outdoors at one these hidden parks around town.
Hidden Austin parks
Once an electric substation, the aptly named Sparky Park is a small, artsy pocket park in the Central Austin/Hyde Park area. It all came to be when the City of Austin commissioned local artist Berthold Haas to design a wall that would mask the unsightly electrical machinery. The Gaudi-influenced grotto wall is a mosaic made from glass, marbles, seashells, petrified wood and other found materials, and its whimsical design serves as the perfect backdrop for a quirky photo shoot or a nice pit stop on your walk around the neighborhood.
Tucked away from Highway 71 and across from the Bee Cave police station is Bee Cave Sculpture Park, a seven-acre park with a mix of permanent and rotating sculptures ranging from the fanciful to the abstract. Visitors are free to wander the grounds, which include a spring-fed pond, and check out the eclectic art, and there are tables and chairs available for those who want to set up a picnic. While small, this hidden spot makes for a relaxing retreat, especially if you’re already in the area shopping at the Hill Country Galleria.
Roy G. Guerrero Park itself isn’t quite so hidden with its large stretch of land that includes baseball fields, volleyball courts, picnic tables and playgrounds. But nestled inside of it is a shallow stretch of the Colorado River that some locals refer to as Secret Beach. To get there, park in the Montopolis Youth Sports Complex lot, keep right on the walking trail and head down the steep hill where you’ll find the sandy “beach.” While swimming isn’t allowed and the water level can vary, you’ll most likely see people wading or off-leash dogs splashing in the water.
Another lesser-known spot close to Roy G. Guerrero Park is Circle Acres. Interestingly enough, this nature preserve in the Montopolis neighborhood was once a quarry and then a landfill, and it has since been restored to an education center for environmental sustainability by the nonprofit Ecology Action of Texas. The nearly 10 acres are a unique mix of forest, wetland and grassland environments, making it an urban haven for wildlife. Visitors can enjoy the trails, picnic tables, pavilion and wildlife viewing area.
Many locals are familiar with Emma Long Metropolitan Park, but just a bit further west and on the opposite side of the Colorado River is Commons Ford Ranch Metropolitan Park. This 215-acre serene sanctuary boasts lovely views of the water, short hiking trails and volleyball courts. Unfortunately, swimming isn’t allowed here but you can still enjoy water activities with the boat ramp and fishing pier. There’s been a great deal of effort to restore this prairie area with native floral and fauna, so keep your eyes peeled for interesting wildlife and wildflowers.
Sandy Creek Park, located on the northern portion of Lake Travis, is one of the quieter coves in the area. Visitors can swim, hike, camp and fish across its scenic 92 acres. Birding enthusiasts also have the chance to spot the rare golden-cheeked warbler here. For those who are interested in camping overnight, no reservations are required but spots are available on a first-come, first-served basis. There’s drinking water, restrooms and barbecue pits available, just don’t forget to bring your own firewood.
People flock to the Oasis and Hippie Hollow Park, but there’s another spot nearby worth checking out: Tom Hughes Park. The secluded park’s rugged terrain includes limestone outcroppings and thick woodlands, and getting down to the water involves walking down steep primitive trails (parents, keep this in mind for your kiddos). Due to its low number of visitors, this quiet park makes for a nice place to have a picnic or watch the sunset. If someone happens to be manning the entrance shack, there is a small fee to enter, and unfortunately, pets are not allowed.
Ramsey Park is a beloved fixture in the Rosedale neighborhood—and for good reason. Recently renovated, this park is small but mighty: It has everything for a fun family outing, including multipurpose fields, basketball courts, tennis courts, playgrounds, barbecue pits and a swimming pool. One of its best features is a large jungle gym, and there’s a limestone amphitheater where you might catch a Shakespeare performance put on by Something for Nothing Theatre Co.
An entertaining spot for the little ones, Champion Park is in Cedar Park, sandwiched between Brushy Creek Lake Park and the Brushy Creek Greenbelt. The most notable features of the place are a large, covered discovery sandbox (where kids might just dig up some “dinosaur bones”), a dino-themed playscape, larger climbing boulders and a whale’s tail sprayscape where kids can cool off. Along with its picnic pavilion, Champion Park makes for a great location for a family fun day or a kid’s birthday party.
Mills Pond is a tranquil hideaway in the Wells Branch area of Austin. The main draw here is taking a reflective stroll or going for a run on the trails that circle the pond at the center of the park. The pond also has a fishing pier where you can post up and catch some catfish, bass and crappie, and a dock where all non-motorized boats are welcome. While there, you’ll probably spot a number of ducks, geese and cranes, which all serve to complete the peaceful scene.