15 Totally Spectacular Hikes in Austin for All Levels
By Kay Rodriguez
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Updated October 12, 2021
Austin – home to the University of Texas, SXSW, Sixth Street, and those trendy “Keep Austin Weird” shirts. There are SO many reasons to love this city’s quirky and offbeat atmosphere, and the abundance of hiking trails in Austin is certainly one of them. Whether you’re an Austin local or simply visiting to see the city, hiking in Austin is a must for experiencing the beautiful nature areas the city has to offer. We’ve compiled a list of 15 of the most scenic hikes in Austin to help you plan your next outdoor adventure!
A note on transportation: Austin does have tons of walkable and bike-able areas, as well as public transportation, but we’d strongly recommend renting a car or driving your own if you want to experience most of these hikes in Austin. For hiking near Austin, a car is essential.
Most Beautiful Hikes in Austin
Distance: 0.5 miles
Location: Northwest Austin
(Okay, okay, we know that 0.5 miles is barely a “hike,” but we felt that this iconic Austin hiking trail was worth a mention!)
While it’s a very, very short trail, Mount Bonnell is one of the best (mini) hikes in Austin for the views alone. It’s also a hike you can tackle in less than an hour, so if you’re on a time crunch, it’s a nice way to spend some time outdoors and soak in the views of the Colorado River and the massive homes lining the hills nearby. While we’ve rated this hike as easy, it does begin with a staircase/incline, so be prepared to hike uphill for a little while to get to the viewpoint.
Violet Crown Trail
Distance: 1.8 miles (3.6 miles out and back)
Location: Southwest Austin
The Violet Crown Trail is an urban development project in Central Texas which will eventually span 30 miles. For now, only Phase I is the only part of the trail that’s open, but construction of the rest of the trail is currently underway. While just under 2 miles of the trail are complete, this is still one of the coolest hikes in Austin, because it’s literally making history as part of Central Texas’ first regional trail system. Along the trail, you’ll find beautiful rock formations, waterfront views, and well-groomed gravel paths.
Lady Bird Lake
Distance: 10 miles total (can be shortened)
Location: Downtown Austin
Lady Bird Lake, also known as the Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail, is a popular running, biking, and hiking trail located just south of downtown Austin. For those visiting the city and staying downtown, Lady Bird Lake is a fantastic, wooded trail to explore some of Austin’s urban nature areas. Along this waterside trail, you’ll catch gorgeous views of the Austin skyline, lovely dirt paths surrounded by trees, and tons of locals wandering about with dogs, families, or on their own. While the full loop trail is 10 miles long, you can shorten it by crossing back into downtown on one of the many bridges spanning the Colorado River.
St. Edwards Park
Distance: 2.7 miles
Location: St. Edwards Park
The green and red trails at St. Edwards Park are a local family-friendly favorite. The park is a beautiful spot for hiking in Austin, with lovely rock formations lining the waterfront, and trees everywhere. Within the park, you’ll find several networks of trails running through wooded, rocky, and waterfront areas. Be sure to follow the arrows along the trail to stay on track!
Barton Creek Greenbelt
Distance: 13.8 miles
Location: Zilker Park area
As one of the most popular places for hiking in Austin, Barton Creek Greenbelt is a local favorite for a stroll through a naturally beautiful part of the city. Here, you can find lovely waterfront views, waterfalls, and colorful wildflowers during the warmer months of the year.
The trails are mostly shaded, so it’s a perfect year-round hike that will make you feel like you’re in the countryside (even though it’s just minutes away from downtown). It’s also dog-friendly so your favorite pooch can explore too! Unfortunately, sometimes the creek dries up, but the trail is still quite beautiful nonetheless.
As one of the protected areas, the Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve is a fantastic spot for hiking in Austin. With views of the surrounding hills, small creeks, and a beautiful forested area, this is an easy trail that’s suitable for hikers of all levels. Unlike most of the trails on this list, dogs are not allowed in the preserve, so if you’d prefer a pet-free hiking area, this is a great option. Most hikers at the preserve tackle the Laurel, Yaupon, Possum, and Arroyo Vista Loop, which takes you through the park area and offers lovely views of nearby hills and forests.
Hamilton Pool Preserve Trail
Distance: 1.8 miles
Location: Hamilton Pool Park
Home to one of Austin’s most famous natural landmarks, Hamilton Pool Preserve is a beautiful, short hike that brings you to a unique and beautiful swimming hole in Austin. With its teal waters, beautiful cave-like rock formations, and waterfalls, the Hamilton Pool Preserve Trail really packs a punch when it comes to beautiful, picturesque hikes in Austin. Don’t forget to bring your swimsuit – during the warmer months it’s definitely worth taking a dip in the water!
Note: Because of the growing popularity of this trail, you are now required to make a reservation in advance to enter the preserve. There’s an online reservation fee of $12, plus $8 per adult when you arrive on-site.
River Place Nature Trail
Distance: 5.5 miles
Location: Northwest Austin
For more experienced hikers looking for challenging hikes in Austin, the River Place Nature Trail is a fantastic option. With some steep inclines and descents, as well as challenging terrain throughout, this hiking trail has tons of tricky staircases and narrow pathways. There are also several cool rock formations and lakefront areas here, as well as a waterfall.
Note: There is a $10 fee to enter the River Place Nature Preserve.
Wild & Breathtaking Hikes Near Austin
Homestead Trail at McKinney Falls State Park
Distance: 3.1 miles
Location: McKinney Falls State Park
If you’re looking for a spot to go hiking near Austin that takes you away from the city and into a more serene environment, McKinney Falls State Park is a fabulous option. Beloved by locals for its scenic waterways and tree-lined pathways, the Homestead Trail is a fantastic starting point that’s accessible to all levels. This 3.1 mile trail takes you past waterfalls, swimming areas, and rocky outcroppings that are very picturesque. Note that there’s a $6 state park fee to enter the park area.
Distance: 5.5 miles
Location: Johnston City
For another waterfall-esque hike that boasts beautiful views, the Pedernales Falls Loop trail is definitely worth the day trip. Situated in a hilly, rocky area, the teal blue waters and colorful wildflowers of the Pedernales Falls area are highlights of this trail. You can also take another short (0.6 mile) hike to the falls themselves, where you can climb around the rocks and explore. As this is one of the longer hikes near Austin, it’s a great spot for a half-day adventure with family, friends, or your dog.
Enchanted Rock Loop Trail
Distance: 5.4 miles
Location: Enchanted Rock State Natural Area
Enchanted Rock is a huge, rounded rock formation that springs up seemingly out of nowhere amidst flatter plains outside of Fredericksburg, Texas. Known for being one of Austinites’ favorite recreational areas, Enchanted Rock Loop Trail is an unforgettable spot for hiking near Austin.
This 5.4-mile trail takes you to the top of the rock and around the park area, where there are lots of offshoots to see spectacular views of the surrounding countryside or scramble up some of the giant boulders in the area. Note that there is a fee to enter the park, and if you’d like to go during peak season or on weekends, reservations are required.
Lakeway Canyonlands & Mt. Lakeway Scenic View
Distance: 5.8 miles
Lakeway, Texas is home to lots of rocky, hilly terrain that’s perfect for hiking near Austin. The Lakeway Canyonlands and Mt. Lakeway Scenic View trail is composed of a network of shorter trails that will bring you to viewpoints and canyon areas, with diverse terrain to keep you challenged. Lots of ascents and descents mean that this trail is fairly challenging – definitely not for the faint of heart!
Another option in the Canyonlands area is the Lakeway Canyonlands to Rough Hollow Cove trail, which takes you to even more beautiful rock formations and views in the area.
Inks Lake State Park
Distance: 4.4 miles
Location: Burnet, TX
Inks Lake State Park is a serene state park area with a glassy lake surrounded by large boulders and rock formations. The 4.4-mile loop trail around the park is a great place for hiking near Austin if you want to escape the crowds of Enchanted Rock or other popular hikes on this list. With trails spanning from wide, smooth terrain to narrow, rocky passages, this trail offers an accessible challenge to hikers of all levels. While the trail is quite pretty, it’s fairly exposed, so be sure to bring sun protective gear – a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen – if you plan on tackling this scenic trail.
Chalk Ridge Falls Park
Distance: 3.1 miles
Location: Belton, TX
If you’re looking for hikes near Austin that have it all, the Chalk Ridge Falls Park trail is a perfect, accessible adventure for you. With waterfalls, forests, bridges, and more, this dog- and family-friendly trail is a fantastic outdoor escape for hikers of all levels. Along the way, you’ll catch creek and cascade views, quiet forested settings, and wide open Texas skies. This trail tends to get pretty full on weekends, so we recommend getting there early to avoid crowds.
Distance: 0.7 miles
Location: Round Rock, TX
As one of the more unique hikes near Austin, Westcave Preserve offers a pretty dramatic range of terrain and environments, for a wonderful day trip full of hiking and exploring. The preserve’s Grotto area is perhaps the most famous, with a pretty waterfall and rock face surrounded by lush, tropical plants that look like they belong in a rainforest. The vibrant greens of this cool, shady area are a huge contrast to the reds and browns of the rest of Central Texas. However, since the Grotto Trail is so short, we’d recommend taking a stroll through the Uplands portion of the preserve as well.
Additional Resources for Hiking in Austin
What to Pack
Breathable hiking clothes – For warmer hikes, you’ll want to wear a sweat-wicking shirt and breathable pants, like these Patagonia hiking shorts for men and women. For cold-weather hikes, we recommend dressing in layers, including merino wool baselayers for men and women, a down puffer jacket for men and women, and a Northface waterproof outer shell for men and women (a must for hiking in Seattle). And don’t forget a pair of the best women’s and men’s hiking socks!
Trekking poles – You won’t need these for every single hike, but we suggest throwing them in your car just in case. We recommend the Black Diamond Trail Ergo cork trekking poles, which are lightweight, easy to transport, and durable.
Water bottle – Having water available at all times is a huge must. To limit disposable plastic, we recommend bringing your own refillable water bottle. We’re obsessed with Hydro Flask water bottles because they keep water cold for hours.
Sunscreen and bug spray – Sweatproof sunscreen and DEET bug spray can help you avoid sunburn and bug bites, two of hiking’s most annoying after-effects. Our favorite kind of sunscreen is Sun Bum, as it is free of harsh chemicals and safe for marine life, including coral reefs.
A brimmed hat or cap – The sun can be brutal in open hikes, so always pack a brimmed hat or capfor day hikes in the sunshine.
Emergency blanket and first aid kit – We’d strongly recommend bringing a first aid kit and a lightweight emergency blanket on every hike. Why? Because the unfathomable can happen, and it’s always best to play it safe.
Durable day pack – A durable day pack is the perfect spot to stash all your hiking gear. While any backpack will do, we recommend the Osprey Tempest 20 or the Talon 22 day packs because they’re comfortable and breathable for long hikes. For more information, check out our best day packs for any terrain guide.
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