Hike and Bike Trail and Boardwalk at Lady Bird Lake
Town Lake is in the middle of the city, with ten miles of mostly flat paths looping around the shoreline. Parts of the path are board, but most of the trail is paved or hard earth that’s good for road bikes as well as mountain bikes. You can rent one from a B-Cycle station nearby – and/or rent a kayak, canoe or paddle board on the north or south shores of the lake. You can also launch your own boat at points along the waterfront. Check out the Austin-American Statesman Bat Observation Center at dusk to watch 1.5 million bats take flight.
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
Put some color in your day and walk through the 284-acre native plant botanic garden at the University of Texas. The center also puts on special events like moonlight walks and native plant education. Admission is $10 for as long as you want.
Barton Creek Greenbelt
Barton Creek Greenbelt has 7.9 miles of trails perfect for hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing and swimming. Multiple access points mean you can tackle the park little bits at a time or take a day and do the entire length. And access us free. Barton Creek is popular with locals on the weekends, so go on a weekday.
McKinney Falls State Park
When the park fills up on a weekend – and it usually does, entry is closed for the rest of the day. There are nine miles of hiking and biking trails, fishing holes, campsites and a chance to swim next to the falls. Keep watch for ruins of a homestead built in the mid-1800’s. Admission to McKinney Falls State Park is $6 per person.
Emma Long Metropark
Emma Long Park is situated on Lake Austin and is the only city-owned park that offers camping. There’s a motorcycle and mountain bike tracks and opportunities for fishing. $5 entry fee per car ($10 on weekends), campsite rental extra.
Hamilton Pool is just west of Austin in Dripping Springs. Reservations are required for entry from May through September. Call the info line on their website to ensure the park isn’t closed because of too much rain or bacteria in the water. When you go, bring your swimsuit, a picnic, and a blanket to relax on between dips in the waterfall-fed pool.
Get outside and take the dogs. Walnut Creek Metropark has two off-leash areas, hiking and mountain biking trails, playgrounds and basketball and volleyball courts. Let the dogs play in the creek (or have your own wade), play some baseball or relax in a shady spot.
You can swim, rent a kayak, picnic on the lawn, relax by the river, play a round of Frisbee golf, enjoy theater at the Zilker Hillside Theater – and you do it all without leaving the 351-acre park. It’s free unless you want to rent a standup paddle board or take a dip in spring-fed Barton Springs Pool.
Mount Bonnell and Mayfield Park
Hike to the top of Mount Bonnell and look down on a canopy of trees, the city below, and giant mansions with matching boathouses on the Colorado River. Then hustle down the road to Mayfield Preserve where you can wander the gardens, visit the free-range peacocks, and take a short hike. All free.
Roy G. Guerrero Colorado River Metropark
You’ll find a few soccer and baseball fields, volleyball courts, a disc golf course and miles of walking and biking trails that lead to the river in this sprawling green space. If you’re looking for shady paths where you won’t be disturbed by a lot of other people, this is your park.