“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity,” John Muir.
It’s truly a beautiful gift to live in Austin among our multiple green belts. Whether you have a newborn, toddler, tween, teen and/or college-aged “baby” in for a visit, we have personally visited and tested 5 great nature hike adventures (and below is a list of 12 additional trail locations that we will visit in the coming months). These were all based on local recommendations. My 9- and 12-year olds tested out each trail for:
- Water (because who doesn’t love to hike around water?!?!)
- Ease of walking
- Distance of hike, drive distance to trail head
- Wildlife spotting
- Degree of solitude (while still feeling safe)
If you have young kids, invest in a child carrier backpack. When my kids were toddlers, they were so happy riding above my head, looking around and observing. Bring a bottle or two of water, some snacks and be prepared for your child to get wet.
- Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve: 805 N Capital of Texas Hwy
- Trail & map: 5 miles of hiking trails (including a 1.75 mile loop, but many other shorter options). Trail map (interactive map can be downloaded onto your device)
- Cost & hours: Free; Open sunrise to sunset 7 days a week
- Summary: This preserve is right off of 360. I recommend driving as far in as you can – you might get lucky and find a parking spot right at the trail head like we did. We found all of the loops a bit confusing. The trails are all downhill the first half and a solid uphill climb coming back (keep that in mind when estimating energy levels). Tree cover is scattered, so the hike can get really hot. The kids were excited to see the waterfall, but we didn’t make it that far. We saw a few birds and lots of other hikers. There was a kids table for drawing and coloring inside (but it was closed when we were there); No dogs allowed. Felt very safe.
- Laguna Gloria: 3809 West 35th Street
- Trail & map: Mileage isn’t listed, but it’s no longer than a mile and you can easily cut that short. You can pick up a map in the Driscoll Villa.
- Cost & hours: Adults $5 (Tuesdays are free); Under 10 free; Monday-Saturday, 9am-5pm; Sunday, 10am-5pm
- Summary: Beautiful, central location (don’t confuse it with Mayfield Park, which you will pass on your way). This is less of a traditional hike, and more of an outdoor adventure. It is a completely Zen atmosphere, is relatively stroller friendly (there are a couple of sets of stairs) and very easy to navigate. It was so fun to see the sculptures, and there’s little trails you can take with access to Lake Austin. You can explore the art and grounds at your own pace. Pick up a family and kid-friendly backpack stocked with art-making activities, games, and puzzles at the Reception Desk in the Driscoll Villa (cost included in $5 adult entrance fee). Find the amazing Canopy Tower made of wood, rope, steel, and wire, 15 feet 9 inches high. Minimal wildlife seen, but the lake access, tropical foliage and fun art make it totally worthwhile.
- Edwards Park: 7301 Spicewood Springs Rd., Austin, TX 78759
- Trail & map: There are several trails with a total of 2.9 miles (and a natural swimming area) in this 80-acre park. There’s a large map at the trail head.
- Cost & hours: Free; Daily from 5am-10pm
- Summary: I didn’t think the trails were well marked and wasn’t sure which trail we were hiking on, so we hiked along the trail beside the stream and then jumped in! The water is beautiful. There were a lot of off-leash dogs and hikers.
- River Place Nature Trail: 8820 Big View Dr., Austin, TX 78730
- Trail & map: 3 miles from bottom to top. Point-to-point (you’ll have to turn around). This trail has a new trail map system for both hikers and EMS. There are now QR codes on the signs and if you have a smart phone on you and QR app you can scan it and it pulls up a map of where you are on the trail. The trail markers help you know how far you are on the trail and how much further you have to hike. Note there are 3 entrances to the trail. We started from the Panther Hollow trailhead, but there’s also The Canyons Trail: 4740 River Place Blvd and the Fern Trail: 3916 River Place Blvd.
- Cost & hours: Free; 6am-9pm daily
- Summary: This trail wins best wildlife! We started at the boardwalk where there’s a great pond with a TON of turtles. We saw beautiful birds along the trail and a…tarantula! The trail is very well marked and well maintained. There are stairs making it a bit challenging on little legs, but even 15-minutes on this trail is worth it.
- Turkey Creek Trail at Emma Long: 1600 City Park Rd., Austin, TX 78730
- Trail & map: The trail is about 2.5 miles long; There’s a large map at the trail head.
- Cost & hours: Free; Sunrise to sunset daily
- Summary: The best part of this hike? The water! The trail crosses the creek a lot with many fun spots to get your feet wet. The hike has dirt, roots, trees, natural stairs, rocks and more. Turkey Creek trail is an off-leash dog area. You’ll see a lot of dogs.
Other highly recommended trails:
- Bull Creek, the Sternis track
- Zilker Botanical Garden
- Barton Creek Greenbelt: There are so many amazing trails, including Sculpture Falls, Twin Falls and Gus Fruh (and perhaps even Hill of Life, although I’d argue it doesn’t sound very kid-friendly). And we can’t forget about the Violet Crown trail.
- Great Hills Park
- Bright Leaf Preserve
- Walnut Creek Metropolitan Park
- McKinney Falls State Park
- Shoal Creek Greenbelt
- The Terrace Greenbelt Hiking Trail in Barton Hills (Vía Fortuna, Austin, TX 78746)
- Blunn Creek Greenbelt (1901 East Side Dr, Austin, TX 78704)
- Mayfield Park and Nature Preserve
- Boardwalk at Lady Bird Lake
“Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. So… get on your way,” Dr. Seuss.