5 Places to Enjoy the Outdoors in Austin, Texas
Austin, TX, is the city we called home before hitting the road for full-time RV travel. It is where we spend a little of each winter and still the place we call home because of its "keep it weird" community and connection to nature - even in a city setting.
If you plan on visiting the musical capital of the world, be sure to make time to enjoy the outdoors during your stay and explore any of these five locations.
1. Zilker Metropolitan Park
Zilker Park is a designated green space within Austin city limits that covers 351 acres. Even more impressive than the amount of land that it covers is the fact that within the park there is something for everyone!
On any given day, the park hosts people partaking in all sorts of activities. If you are interested in sports, you can find pop-up soccer games, volleyball, frisbee, football - and even quidditch, for you Harry Potter fans. Zilker also has an 18-hole disk golf course for those looking to enjoy a stroll through the park while still being active.
If you are seeking a more relaxing day, then no worries, there are plenty of folks just out enjoying the beautiful weather. Lay out on a blanket, pack food and drinks, and take advantage of the endless green grass. Have pets? Well, you are in luck. You can let your well-behaved pooch roam free with all the other dogs.
Zilker Park is also the location for festivals and events throughout the year, from the holiday trail of lights to the Zilker Kite Festival. Living up to its music capital claim, Zilker hosts Austin City Limits and thematic festivals like "Blues on the Green." Be sure to check local publications for which events are happening.
2. Barton Springs Pool
Barton Springs Pool is the perfect way to cool off on a hot Texas day! The pool itself is fed by an underground spring. Because of this, the water temperature averages between 68-70 degrees year-round, making it perfect for a dip any time!
If you're looking for a unique morning wake up, get to the springs before 8 a.m. for a free swim. Locals swear by the healing properties that the springs can provide. For those that like to work out in the morning, head to a free November Project workout downtown, or a lake run around Lady Bird Lake trail, and cool off with a swim in the springs afterward.
Want to keep it weird? On the night of a full moon, Barton Springs has evening swimming. Bring your swimsuit and be ready to howl at the moon with locals. It's an experience you won't soon forget!
3. Lady Bird Lake
We've learned to love when cities have a body of water running through them. It usually means running trails, waterside parks, and lots of options for watercraft. This is what you get, and more, in Austin!
The Lady Bird Lake trail is a ten-mile loop that can be walked, run, or biked. Ten miles may seem like a lot, but there are shorter loop options because of bridges and lots of spots to stop for taking in views or popping into local restaurants for a bite to eat.
Any point on the trail has a view worth stopping for; whether it's of the water or the city skyline behind it. This could be made into an all-day adventure! If you're planning to bike the path, be sure to have a bell and consider going early. This was one of our favorite Sunday morning activities when we lived in the city; biking the loop before it got crowded.
If trails aren't your thing, then getting out onto the lake may be for you! There are several businesses that rent kayaks, canoes, rowing equipment, and stand up paddleboards. For those that travel with their own watercraft, public boat launches are placed throughout the trail. One of our favorite stops on the water is branching off of the lake and paddling to just outside of Barton Springs. At this point, the water is shallow enough to comfortably take a dip. Don't be afraid to explore and go further on the lake, you just might find a secret island.
4. Barton Creek Greenbelt Trail
The Barton Creek Greenbelt Trail, also simply known as 'The Greenbelt,' is the perfect way to feel as if you're getting into nature when still near the city. There are multiple entry points into the trail ranging from Barton Springs to further up the highway. Since the trail is managed by the City of Austin's Park and Recreation, go to their website for detailed maps.
The trail itself is 13.8 miles and ranges from rugged tree terrain to creeks and waterfalls. There are several spots along the trail that allow for swimming and wading in the water! Pack a hammock, sunscreen, and snacks for a day spent on the Greenbelt!
It was on an overlook of the Greenbelt looking down on Barton Creek that Mark proposed. This is also near where we would spend lots of weekends getting a quick hike in and then spending the day relaxing creekside. For anyone wanting to leisurely explore with the option to swim, the Greenbelt is a great option.
5. Mount Bonnell
Mount Bonnell is one of the highest points in Austin and, because of that, considered the place to go for skyline and water views. Getting to this view requires walking up a staircase of 102 steps, but it is well worth it to get to the overlook above. Take a few moments to catch your breath and then take in the overlook of the 360 bridge and downtown. This is one of the many places we would take visiting friends and family, and suggest you spend time enjoying the scenery and conversation before jumping into picture taking.
Since we have so many favorites, here are a few honorable mention outdoor locations to check out when visiting Austin:
- Graffiti Park
- Congress Bridge for sunset bat viewing
- The Long Center
- Dog Island
- McKinney Falls State Park
- Hamilton Pool
RVer Camping Tips
Austin being a city means that it can be difficult to find somewhere to camp near downtown, especially for a reasonable price. Pecan Grove is at the heart of the downtown scene, but reservations are required, so call ahead.
When wintering in Austin, we choose to stay a little further out at McKinney Falls State Park. It's 20 minutes from downtown with a fourteen-day max, and on top of supporting Texas State Parks, the fee is very reasonable. Just be sure to get your Texas State Parks Pass to avoid entrance fees! Chances are, if you're driving to Austin, you'll pass several other state parks along the way to stay at to make the pass worth it.
Other parks in the area include Austin Lone Star RV Resort, Royal Palms Park, and Be-Aire Park. You will just want to do your research and call ahead.
Did we miss your favorite outdoor spot or activity in Austin? Let us know in the comments!