A Local’s Guide to the 8 Best Hikes in Austin
While Texas as a whole might conjure up images of arid desert-scapes, Austin is remarkably green, with many opportunities for hiking—and cooling off in a swimming hole along the way! The city is set on Edwards Aquifer, where spring water flows through a honeycomb of limestone passageways. This mineral-rich water source and the Colorado River, which flows directly through the city in the form of Lady Bird Lake, provide necessary relief and endless entertainment during a seemingly endless summer.
In a city with nearly year-round sunshine, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to get outdoors by trying out these best hikes in Austin, including:
- Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail
- Barton Creek Greenbelt
- McKinney Falls State Park
- River Place Nature Trail
- Turkey Creek Trail
- St. Edward’s Park
- Southern Walnut Creek Trail
- Mary Moore Searight Park Trail
Let’s get started!
1. Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail
Frequently recognized as one of the most hiked and biked destinations in the country, this 10-mile trail in the heart of downtown Austin curves along Lady Bird Lake, offering views of the Austin skyline and opportunities for stopping to relax with a snack in parks like Auditorium Shores (on the west side) or Fiesta Garden (on the east side).
This Austin trail is a feast for the eyes and the perfect blend of nature and city views—and, not to mention, people-watching! As you’re hiking, be sure to check out the boardwalk running along the south side of the water, which feels peacefully secluded from the hustle and bustle of downtown Austin.
2. Barton Creek Greenbelt
The Greenbelt lining Barton Creek is the epitome of urban hiking in central Austin. It is a frequent destination for hikers, mountain bikers, rock climbers, dog walkers, and swimming-hole seekers, too. Almost all of the trails in the 12.68-mile Barton Creek Greenbelt network lead to beautiful views after even just a short hike in, so they’re ideal for explorers with limited time. Hiking here is a great excuse to get away from your desk for the afternoon to get those creative juices flowing!
Sculpture Falls and Twin Falls are popular Greenbelt spots for soaking in the natural limestone tubs brimming with cool spring water early in the summer, and both are easy three-mile round-trip hikes. Or, you can start from the Hill of Life for a steeper three-mile round-trip hike to the same Greenbelt swimming spots, which will have your heart pumping on the upward slope back out.
3. McKinney Falls State Park
Just due east of downtown Austin, McKinney Falls State Park is carved with smooth limestone pools and waterfalls, and hikers can seek relief from the heat at the upper falls or the lower falls. The dog-friendly park features several easy hiking trails, and those who boulder or mountain bike will also find great spots for adrenaline-pumping Austin adventures.
This is also one of the most centrally located places to camp in Austin, so bring a tent and choose from more than 80 campsites, all with electricity and running water, as well as six cabins for rent.
4. River Place Nature Trail
A 5.5-mile out-and-back route that gains some serious elevation, River Place Nature Trail is one of the most challenging and rewarding hikes in the Austin area. It comes with beautiful views of a riverfront park and a hidden waterfall. There are also benches scattered throughout the trail where you can take a break from hiking up the stairs and admire the views.
Pro tip: On weekends, there is someone stationed at the start of the trail to collect $10 from those hiking, but entry is free during the weekdays.
5. Turkey Creek Trail
This 2.8-mile round-trip trail inside Emma Long Metropolitan Park is the one part of the park where dogs are allowed to join your hiking adventures—and off-leash, no less! The tree-shaded trail here traverses a creek bed and is a favorite destination for hikers with four-legged friends who want to cool off in the water when it’s flowing. Although this is a fairly flat hiking trail, roots and often slippery rocks make it moderately challenging, so just be aware of where you’re stepping as you’re hiking.
If you have even more time to explore this Austin park, Emma Long contains many more longer hiking trails that you can complete before or after a visit to the Turkey Creek Trail.
6. St. Edward’s Park
The trailhead of this three-mile triangle in northwest Austin is engulfed with cacti, and each spring, nature rolls out a stunning carpet of wildflowers for Austin locals to enjoy. A series of trails lead to scenic Bull Creek, which provides ample swimming opportunities during the summer months.
The park’s two most popular routes—Creek Trail and Hill Trail—offer completely different opportunities to choose your own adventure. The former is a shady riverside stroll past flora, fauna, and foaming waterfalls, while the latter is a steep ascent up the park’s towering limestone bluffs to enjoy superb views of the twisting creek.
7. Southern Walnut Creek Trail
This East Austin trail offers seven miles of wide, flat, and bike-friendly concrete paths perfect for runners, road bikes, and inline skates. Southern Walnut Creek is certainly one of the most manicured trail systems in the city, with multiple access points from north to South Austin along the city’s eastern edge (and more miles of expansion planned).
Begin at Govalle Park and travel down to Johnny Morris Road to get a good idea of the current span of this Austin park. You’ll pass under major roadways while enjoying the peaceful forest, fields of wildflowers in spring, and a gurgling creek, with minimal elevation gain and plenty of water fountains along the way.
8. Mary Moore Searight Park Trail
Nestled in a leafy, residential area of South Austin, this easy 2.1-mile loop is located in the heart of a beautiful 344-acre park. The outer trail also connects to a series of inner trails, so you can switch things up easily depending on your time constraints and fitness level.
Leashed dogs are welcome on this shaded trail and often enjoy splashing in the creek when there’s water in it. It’s important to note that it’s very easy to miss the trail markers here, so you may want to have a GPS with you—or just be open to a bit of adventure! However, if you do get lost, you’ll eventually find your way back to where you began, as everything is built on a loop system.
Check these beautiful hiking destinations off your list when you join Landing, which offers fully furnished apartments in Austin with flexible lease terms. Stay for as little or as long as you’d like to forge your own path through this green, nature-loving city!
Looking for more hiking inspiration? Check out our blog post, “The 15 Best Hiking Trails in the U.S. to Check Off Your Bucket List.”