Outdoor enthusiasts are pretty lucky here in Austin. We’re graced with scenic trails and beautiful views right in our own backyard (see: Town Lake (Lady Bird) and the Barton Creek Greenbelt).
For those who have ran the trail and hiked The Greenbelt countless times, we’ve put together a list of our favorite hidden gems in Austin that may not be on your radar. All the trails are free and are within a 30 minute drive from downtown. Check ’em out!
1. For the challenger – River Place Nature Trail
Surrounded by greenery and tall trees, this trail will take you to a different world; a world that is shaded and cooler (great for the hot, summer months). After climbing many stairs, your heart rate will soar and you’ll reach high levels of elevation that you wouldn’t find anywhere else in Austin. The trail is extremely clear and is impossible to get lost on. Make sure you stop at the creeks and waterfall to cool off. If you’re looking for a challenging hike, this ones got your name all over it!
Pro tip: If you’re a moderately-experienced runner, run the trail. It’s worth it!
Distance: 5.5-6 miles (round trip; no loop)
Dog friendly: Yes
Terrain: Mostly dirt, stairs, some water crossings
2. For the explorer – Walnut Creek Trail
This neck of the woods is a popular spot for both hikers and mountain bikers. Comprised of a huge, 15-mile mass of land, Walnut Creek is an explorer’s dream. There are tons of unmarked paths, so you may get a little lost; but that’s more fun, right? With multiple winding paths and few obstacles, undertaking part of the trail is perfect for beginners. The hike offers plenty of overlooks, so don’t forget to stop and smell the roses on the way up. And of course, cool down in the beautiful creek on the way down.
Pro tip: Wear good shoes. The rocks can be pesky!
Distance: 15 mile loop
Terrain: dirt, loose gravel, small and large rocks, tree roots
Dog friendly: Yes; dogs must be on a leash
3. For the solitude seeker – Turkey Creek Trail
Located near The Emma Metropolitan Park, you may be lucky enough to see some wildlife on the drive up! This trail is a very cool, secluded spot where you’ll find a creek that runs along the trail. Although primarily flat, you will find parts of the trail that have moderate elevation changes as well as water crossings. This is the place to be one with nature; but, don’t forget that bug spray!
Pro tip: No, really, lather yourself in bug spray. Horse flies are not your friend.
Distance: 2.8 mile loop
Terrain: Loose rocks, dirt, tree roots
Dog Friendly: Yes
4. For the peaceful adventurer – St. Edwards Park
Referred to as the “country within the city,” St. Edwards Park is a perfect balance between finding peace and chasing adventure. Surrounded by forest-like areas, there are lots of hidden trails, great elevation, phenomenal views, a waterfall, and a creek. This trail has everything you need for a peaceful getaway and truly is the best of both worlds.
Pro tip: If you’re looking for a more challenging trail with elevation, take the hill trail. Keep your eyes peeled on the way down and you will find a rope swing and swimming hole for all your adventure needs!
Distance: 2-4 mile loop (depending on the trail – hill or creek)
Terrain: mostly dirt, rocks, gravel, and some tree roots
Dog Friendly: Yes; dogs must be on a leash
5. Don’t forget about the convenience of Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve
Located off of Loop 360, you can access the preserve easily, making it a great spot for families and visitors to Austin. It’s a short trail comprised of multiple paths and terrain (dirt, large rocks, loose gravel, tree roots). There are some hills with relatively high elevation, and multiple overlooks that show off a great view of Austin. With a perfect, easy-to-get-to location, be sure to check out this trail for a weekend adventure.
Pro tip: Trails are marked very clearly, but here’s a trail map to help out since there are multiple networks of trails.
Distance: 2.5 mile round trip
Terrain: Dirt, loose gravel, rocks, tree roots
Dog Friendly: No
Written by Danielle McIntosh