Research has shown that spending time in nature is good for the brain—hugging trees can literally reduce stress! Luckily the Austin area has no shortage of parks and trails to explore. Take a break from Austin’s traffic and find some inner peace at these often-overlooked hiking destinations.
Turkey Creek Trail: Your dog’s new favorite spot
This 2.5-mile trail is a great place to cool off on a warm day—it crosses Turkey Creek multiple times, passing through shady ashe juniper and oak trees. Be sure to stop at Fern Wall, a fern-covered limestone cliff that drips water into an emerald pool below. This trail doubles as an off-leash dog park and is a great way for you and Rover to get some exercise. The trailhead’s parking lot is along City Park Road just outside the main entrance gate to Emma Long Metropolitan Park.
McKinney Roughs Nature Park: Well-maintained, diverse trails near Bastrop
McKinney Roughs is a 1,100 acre park situated on the Colorado River between Austin and Bastrop. It features almost 18 miles of hiking trails, 12 of which are accessible for equestrian use. Begin your hike at the visitor center, which contains exhibits interpreting the park’s plant and animal life. For a particularly nice 3.5-mile hiking loop, take the Pine Ridge Trail through some loblolly pines and up to a scenic overlook, then descend to the Cypress Trail for great views of the Colorado. Return to the visitor’s center via the Riverside Trail. Admission is $5.00 per adult.
Southeast Metropolitan Park’s Primitive Trail: A secret trail for solitude
This 2.5-mile loop trail is virtually unknown, and definitely underrated. The trail winds through varied terrain including shady woods, sunny patches with prickly pear and sunflowers, two fishing ponds, and a ridgeline with a view of the Austin skyline. For extra mileage, there is a side trail to a third pond and bird blind. Both trails have plenty of hilly sections, so you’ll get a great workout! The trailhead parking lot is located in the back corner of Southeast Metropolitan Park in Del Valle.
The Good Water Trail at Lake Georgetown: Miles and miles of trail to tackle
The Good Water Trail is one of the longest trails in the area—it encircles Lake Georgetown for a distance of approximately 26 miles. There are developed campgrounds at several locations around the lake, so it is possible to complete the loop as a multi-day backpacking trip. For a great day hike, start at the Cedar Breaks trailhead, which is located at mile marker 0, and hike 2.5 miles west to Crockett Gardens, a spring that feeds a moss- and fern-covered waterfall. On the way you’ll have views of the lake. The trail has sharp rocks, so wear good shoes or boots.
River Place Nature Trail: Beauty and the beast
The River Place Nature Trail is one of Austin’s absolute jewels. The trail’s lower section in particular is stunning, with views of the rushing cascades and turquoise pools of Panther Hollow Creek. The trail also has 1,000 feet of elevation gain in only three miles, so if you’re looking for a quad-busting workout, you’ve found it. You know a trail is serious business when it has “emergency exits!” The lower trailhead at the “Boardwalk Kiosk” on Big View Drive has a parking lot and restroom across the street.
Wild Basin: Family-friendly nature preserve
The trails at Wild Basin Preserve let you get up-close and personal to iconic Hill Country terrain. You’ll climb to expansive views of green hills, and descend ravines to creek crossings and shady woods. Take the Creek Trail to see a picturesque waterfall. Wild Basin has 2.5 miles of short interconnected trails, so it is easy to create loops and design a hike of any length—perfect for hiking with the kids. The preserve protects the endangered Golden Cheeked Warbler and other at-risk plants and animals, so dogs, bikes, and picnics are not allowed.
Reimers Ranch Park: Hiker, biker, and climber paradise
Reimers Ranch is known primarily as a rock climbing and mountain biking destination, but the park’s 18 miles of trails are also great for hiking. A highlight of the park is “Climber’s Canyon,” which can be accessed from the main parking area. As you scramble over and around huge boulders, the canyon descends deep into the terrain, and limestone cliffs and caves rise above you. The bottom of the canyon opens onto the Pedernales River, where a hiking trail extends in both directions. Turn right and hike for less than a mile to reach a sandy swimming beach. Park admission is $10.00 per vehicle.