City Guide / Austin

12 of the Best Hikes in Austin to Explore in 2024

By Veronica Meewes | Feb 2, 2024
The sun sets over the Barton Creek Greenbelt in Austin, Texas.

If you’re about to land in Austin, Texas, enjoying the great outdoors should be at the top of your to-do list. 

“Hiking in Texas” might make you think of hot walks in the desert as tumbleweeds blow past — but think again. Austin is on the Edwards Aquifer and is home to part of the Colorado River, meaning that fresh spring water runs through this city, lending to limestone passageways, green expanses, and some of the best hiking in Texas — and maybe America.

Explore this city’s endless summer with the following 12 trails. There’s something for everyone, from beginners to experts.

Hiking in Austin: Is it Worth it?

The short answer to this question is a resounding “yes.” Picturesque waterways and unique flora and fauna line Austin’s hiking trails, making the scenery as enjoyable as the feeling of accomplishment once you’ve gotten your steps in. 

Plus, since Austin (also known as ATX) has everything from metropolitan bikeways to off-the-grid nature preserves, you can use the city’s trail system to squeeze in a quick wind-down walk or unleash your wilder side on a more intensive weekend excursion. Plus, many of these options all double as bike trails if you’re hoping to get a quick cycle or mountain bike in to shake things up.

The 12 Best Hikes in Austin

Whether you’re looking for a place to walk the dog or shake out your limbs, the Austin hiking offerings have you covered. Explore the best hiking in the Austin area with the following 12 trails:

1. Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail

Panorama view Downtown Austin, Texas, US along Colorado River at daytime with cloud blue sky. View from Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail and boardwalk at Lady Bird Lake, unidentified man running

Located right in urban Austin, this loop along Lady Bird Lake cuts right through the heart of the city, making it the perfect option for a zero-travel or after-work jaunt.

Length: Up to 10 miles (you can exit the trail at one of several bridges to choose your own distance)

Difficulty: Easy to difficult 

Time: From a few minutes to hours, depending on how long you stay on the trail

Why it’s great: Hikers and bikers alike love this destination because it’s easy to access, affords stunning views of the town lake, and allows for a choose-your-own-adventure style experience. You can ride, run, or walk the entire 10 miles of the loop or take a quick detour before stopping off for a snack at Auditorium Shores (on the west side) or Fiesta Garden (on the east side). Plus, this trail boasts a great view of the city skyline to help you get familiar with Austin’s beauty.

2. Barton Creek Greenbelt

Hiked with dog in Barton Creek Greenbelt in Austin Sculpture Falls Hike on a sunny day

Barton Creek, which runs from Zilker Park west to Austin’s Lost Creek neighborhood, has a bit of everything, with opportunities not only for hiking and biking but also for climbing and swimming.

Length: 12.68 miles in total (with the option to do shorter hikes)

Difficulty: Intermediate and up

Time: From a few minutes to hours, depending on the route or activity you do

Why it’s great: The Barton Creek Greenbelt is one of the best hiking trails in Austin for adventurers who don’t want to travel far to get some fresh air, thanks to its location in the urban center. Disconnect from a busy day with a short hike along the Hill of Life trail or a dip in the natural limestone pools of Sculpture Falls and Twin Falls. If you’re seeking a more intensive outing, check out one of the greenbelts climbing walls or hike the whole trail system. What’s more, you can bring your dog along for the fun.

3. McKinney Falls State Park

Onion Creek Spilling Over Limestone Ledge at Lower Falls McKinney Falls State Park Austin Texas

McKinney Falls is a delightful in-Austin destination for boulderers, pet parents (it’s dog-friendly), and campers alike. 

Length: Trails from 0.5 to up to around 3 miles

Difficulty: Easy to moderate

Time: Trails under an hour, though you can stay as long as you want (including overnight if you camp)

Why it’s great: McKinney Falls State Park is a city oasis that’ll make you feel as if you’ve gone deep into the wilderness. With limestone waterfalls and pools, the park’s rocky terrain is equal parts visually stunning and adrenaline-driving. This state park is an excellent place to boulder, take a relaxed nature walk, or spend the weekend camping. McKinney Falls has 80+ campsites and six newly renovated cabins that can accommodate you and the family, including the canine members. Home to Onion Creek and Williamson Creek, this destination also provides an opportunity to fish and some gorgeous waterscape views.

4. River Place Nature Trail

Credit: www.do512family.com

Enjoy Texas hill country at the River Place Nature Trail, which provides some of the best hiking near Austin.

Length: 5.5 miles

Difficulty: Moderate

Time: Around 3 hours

Why it’s great: River Place Canyon Trail is a moderately difficult route with some elevation gain and stair-work for runners or hikers trying to work those glutes. The park is also excellent for low-impact hikes with views of a lake or hidden waterfall, birdwatching, and nature-contemplation on one of space’s many benches.

5. Turkey Creek Trail

Credit: Tripadvisor user welltravelledok

Located in Emma Long Metropolitan Park, this short trail is ideal for brief walks with or without the dogs, who can accompany you off-leash. 

Length: 2.7 miles

Difficulty: Easy to moderate

Time: Around an hour

Why it’s great: The Turkey Creek Trail is a great place to start exploring Emma Long Metropolitan Park before working your way up to some of the space’s longer, more strenuous routes. Shady and off-leash dog-friendly, the Turkey Creek Trail provides a place for you and your canine friends to explore and even take a refreshing dip in the creek. Just be sure to wear proper hiking footwear, as the trail has slippery roots and rocks.

6. St. Edward’s Park

Running water over a flat limestone rock in a shallow river in the daylight at St. Edward

If you like peeping plant life, St. Edward’s Park is for you with its wild 80-acre expanse of lush woodlands. 

Length: Various trails under or around 2 miles

Difficulty: Easy

Time: Around an hour

Why it’s great: “Scenic” doesn’t come close to describing this photo-worthy destination. Cacti line the trailhead of this triangle in northwest Austin, and gorgeous carpets of wildflowers roll out across the park’s plains in the springtime. The park’s popular Creek Trail provides a shady riverside stroll past flora, fauna, and waterfalls. Another favorite, the Hill Trail, offers a steeper ascent up the park’s towering limestone bluffs, from which you can enjoy superb views of a creek below. On a hot summer day, take one of the trails that leads to Bull Creek and cool off in the water.

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7. Southern Walnut Creek Trail

Credit: www.austintexas.gov

Calling all bikers, walkers, and rollerbladers: The Walnut Creek trail system is home to around 20 miles of paved urban trails that transport you from the bustle of the city to a shady oasis.

Length: Up to 15 miles, with options for shorter routes thanks to the trails’ multiple access points

Difficulty: Moderate

Time: From a few minutes to hours, depending on the route or activity you do

Why it’s great: The Walnut Creek Trails are manicured city routes that wind through lush landscapes that make you forget you’re in a metropolitan area, even though the park weaves under and around several busy roadways. The trail covers more than 7.3 miles, with different access points to let you hop on or off wherever you need. Enjoy tree-lined paths dotted with wildflowers (in the spring) that run along a creek. Go on your own or with your dog, run or jog, bike or blade — whatever suits your fancy.

8. Mary Moore Searight Park Trail

Credit: Emily Waggoner at www.alltrails.com

Enjoy residential hiking in Texas on this foliage-forward trail in a 344-acre park in South Austin.

Length: 1.8 miles

Difficulty: Easy

Time: Under an hour

Why it’s great: The Mary Moore Searight Park Trail provides the perfect starting point for exploring an expanse with more to offer when you’re ready to take on longer, more challenging trails. Bring your leashed dog, as there’s a creek for your furry friend to explore, and your GPS, since the trail markings can be easy to miss — especially when you’re busy taking in the lush surroundings. That said, the “Not all who wander are lost” adage holds true on this trail: You’ll eventually find your way back to where you started because the route is a loop.

9. Covert Park at Mount Bonnell

Climb to the highest point in the city to take in the views from Mount Bonnell Park

Length: 0.5 miles 

Difficulty: Easy to hard, depending on the route 

Time: Around 10 minutes

Why it’s great: This may be one of the hardest hikes in Texas if you’re not a fan of natural stairs (there are 106 of them), but the views are worth it. Plus, there’s an easier gravel route to the top of the park for those who prefer a more relaxed stroll and want to see the views. Go at sunset for a dreamy, colorful show — just don’t expect to be the only one who had that same idea.

10. Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve

Credit: Larry D. Moore, Wikipedia

Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve, on 227 acres, is home to various trails ideal for light hikes.

Length: Various trails under 2 miles

Difficulty: Easy

Time: Around an hour

Why it’s great: The Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve between the Texas hill country and plains is the ideal spot to explore the region’s flora and fauna — especially birds. Take in a waterfall, rest your legs on one of the park’s benches, or enjoy vistas of hilly landscapes. You’ll just have to leave your dog, bike, and snacks at home since picnics, pets, and wheels aren’t allowed in the park.

11. Mayfield Park and Nature Preserve

Located in central Austin, Mayfield Park and Nature Preserve provides a perfect escape from city life.

Length: Under a mile

Difficulty: Easy

Time: Stay for a bit or an entire afternoon

Why it’s great: Stroll past a historic cottage and through its lush surrounding gardens (complete with waterlilies) and get to know the park’s resident peacocks. And if you’re planning a small event, like an intimate wedding or get-together with friends, get in touch with the space’s administration to book, as it’s an idyllic setting for these types of gatherings.

12. Hamilton Greenbelt 

Credit: www.lakeway-tx.gov

The Hamilton Greenbelt trails near Lake Travis are great for explorers who want to follow the beaten path or carve their own. 

Length: 2.7 miles (for the main Hamilton Greenbelt trail)

Difficulty: Easy 

Time: Around an hour

Why it’s great: The Hamilton Greenbelt trail network is home to both marked hiking and biking routes and less manicured ones, so you (and your canine friends) can explore as you please. While you’re there, check out the Chapel of the Four Seasons and its manicured garden surroundings.

Start planning your Austin trip today

Join Landing, which offers fully furnished apartments in Austin with flexible lease terms. Stay in this nature-loving city for as little or as long as you’d like and start exploring Texas’ great outdoors like a local. 

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Veronica Meewes

Veronica lives in Austin, Texas, where she writes about food, beverage, travel and lifestyle for a number of media outlets and brands. She's currently working on her fourth book project, a drinks guide to Austin, and her work has appeared in Forbes Travel Guide, Food & Wine, Texas Monthly, Tasting Table, GOOD, PUNCH, The Today Show, The Local Palate, Cosmopolitan, Vera, Serious Eats, EatingWell, Austin Monthly, Fodor's, Vinepair, Texas Highways and more. When she's not seeking out the best food and drink around the globe, you can find her hiking, swimming, doing yoga, enjoying all the live music Austin has to offer, and exploring with her pup Banjo. Follow her on Instagram @wellfedlife and visit www.veronicameewes.com.