Texas

The 10 Best Hiking Trails in Austin, Texas

by Cindy Brzostowski
Updated October 26, 2022

best hikes near austin tx
Barton Creek Greenbelt. Photo: Kim Hefner

Austin is many things. It’s the bustling capital of Texas, it’s a college town, and a tech magnet. But it’s also one of the greenest and most outdoorsy cities in all of America.

Rivers, creeks, natural springs, miles of hiking trails, and parks are loaded throughout the city, giving Austin the perfect mix of big-city vibes and natural escapes.

Locals love the city’s numerous outdoor spaces, so visitors should expect to see lots of Austinites joining them on the trails (many with their canine companions). With some trails running straight through town and others giving off a bit more of a rugged vibe, both locals and visitors alike can find a hike that fits their vibe.

Here are 10 trails in Austin you need to check out, from the iconic Barton Creek to the historic McKinney Falls and more.

1. Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail

austin hikes - ann and roy butler trail
Photo: Flickr

Why you should go: The views of the river and downtown are amazing and photo-perfect.

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Distance: 10.5 miles
  • Elevation gain: 250 feet

If there’s one trail you’ve probably heard about or seen in Austin, it’s the Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail. Hugging the shores of the Colorado River (which the locals call Lady Bird Lake) directly in the center of the city, it’s a beautiful place to go if you’re looking for an easy stroll with some stunning views of the downtown skyline.

Locals run, bike, and walk the trail daily, creating an awesome sense of community. And while it can get busy, it never feels overly crowded. Bike rentals are available along the trail and there are tons of stopping points worth checking out like the South Congress Bridge, which is known for its population of a million Mexican free-tailed bats. There are also numerous kayak and paddle board rental spots along the way if you feel like hitting the water.

2. Barton Creek Greenbelt

austin hikes - Barton Creek Greenbel
Photo: Zak Zeinert

Why you should go: The creek is so lush and beautiful, you’ll forget you’re in the middle of the city.

  • Difficulty: Easy to moderate
  • Distance: 13 miles
  • Elevation gain: 607 feet

Another popular spot for locals is the Barton Creek Greenbelt, a long stretch of green space with multiple access points, swimming holes, and even some caves. There are around 13 miles of hiking trails to wander around, some more crowded than others, and it’s hard to say which section is really the “best” since there’s a lot to love throughout the entire corridor.

If you feel like tackling the whole thing, you can start either at the Trailhead access point at Barton Springs Road, close to Barton Springs and Zilker Park, or the Trail’s End access point at Camp Craft Road, which is near the steep Hill of Life that’s favored by mountain bikers. For the true experience, dipping your toes in Barton Creek or the naturally-fed Barton Springs pool is an absolute must.

Related Read: 12 Refreshing Swimming Holes Near Austin, Texas

3. Turkey Creek Trail in Emma Long Metropolitan Park

 

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Why you should go: This one’s a favorite of dog owners since it’s all off-leash.

  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Distance: 2.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 250 feet

Over at Emma Long Metropolitan Park on the west side of town, you can find the Turkey Creek Trail. The trailhead starts right at the park’s small parking lot and meanders north until making a loop and coming back down. The whole hiking trail is off-leash, so it’s a fun one if you have a dog or enjoy making new a furry friend, and there are a couple of creek crossings along the way, which water-loving pooches are sure to appreciate…and people with ill-chosen footwear, not so much.

One of the trail’s highlights is a rock wall covered with emerald-colored ferns. If you can, bring water shoes or flip-flops because, depending on the season, the little quarry where the wall is can sometimes have a small stream running through it, and after heavy rains can even fill up to a shallow pool.

4. River Place Nature Trail

Why you should go: You’ll be feeling this steep hike, but you’ll also be loving the views at the top.

  • Difficulty: Moderate / Challenging
  • Distance: 5.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,800 feet

River Place Nature Trail is actually a trail system with three separate paths: Little Fern Trail, Panther Hollow Trail, and Canyon Trail. The last one accounts for a majority of the walkable area, and it’s the part you don’t want to miss if you want the most challenge (and biggest reward).

That challenge comes from the trail’s elevation — hello 2,763 wooden steps! So, expect your heart to beat a little harder as you make your way along. From the start by the boardwalk, it’s pretty much all uphill from there. If you power through though, you’ll be treated to gorgeous views of the Texas Hill Country.

Related Read: 10 Gorgeous Texas Hill Country Cabin Rentals

5. Homestead Trail at McKinney Falls State Park

austin hikes - homestead trail
William C. Bunce

Why you should go: History lovers will enjoy this state park hike that takes you past structures from an old homestead.

  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Distance: 3.1 miles
  • Elevation gain: 160 feet

McKinney Falls State Park has a few different trails, but one of its best is the Homestead Trail. It’s the longest hiking trail in the park, and it’s notable for the historical points of interest along the way. Take this route and you can see remnants of the McKinney homestead, which was built by slaves and used from 1850 to 1940.

In other portions of the hiking trail, you’ll come across the gristmill (one of the first established in the region), a section of the El Camino Real de los Tejas (a historic 2,500-mile route from Mexico to Louisiana), and an 8,000-year-old rock shelter.

For those more interested in nature than history, the park also has a bevy of rivers and creeks, and even a series of limestone falls (both upper and lower). Granted, the “falls” are more like a six-foot drop, but they’re still beautiful.

6. Yaupon Loop at Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve

 

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Why you should go: Observe native flora and fauna along this hike in a protected nature reserve.

  • Difficulty: Easy to moderate
  • Distance: 1.75 miles
  • Elevation gain: 500 feet

In Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve, you can choose from a few different loop trails depending on how long you want to hike. If you’ve got the time and want to cover the most ground in one loop, opt for the Yaupon Loop, which even goes by a short offshoot to a waterfall and crosses Bee Creek.

Stop by the preserve on a weekday, and you won’t have to pay anything, but if you come on the weekend or a holiday, you’ll need to reserve a hiking pass online or by phone and pay a day-use fee. The preserve is protected and operated by the nearby St. Edwards University and they have a few strict policies in place to ensure the safety of native species — no bikes and no pets.

Related Read: The 9 Best State Parks Near Austin, Texas

7. Mary Moore Searight Park Trail

Why you should go: This meandering hiking trail brings along a mixture of wild nature and family-friendly amenities.

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Distance: 2.1 miles
  • Elevation gain: 450 feet

In the southern tip of the city, the Mary Moore Searight Park Trail snakes its way through a metro park that spans more than 300 acres. As a metro park, you’ll find all the essentials of a city park, like playgrounds, picnic areas, basketball courts, and even a disc golf course, but it’s also easy to “get lost” in nature thanks to an abundance of trails too. An expansive wildflower meadow, leisurely creek, peaceful woodlands, and even a trail section for horseback riding are all snuggly protected in a little slice of nature right in the middle of a neighborhood.

Best of all, since it’s located in town, it’s easy to find some great restaurants, cafes, and bars just down the street from the park. What better way to finish a day outside than with a great drink?

8. Bull Creek Greenbelt

 

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Why you should go: You can see wagon tracks from the 19th century along this hiking trail.

  • Difficulty: Easy to moderate
  • Distance: 4.5 miles
  • Elevation gain: 600 feet

There’s more than one greenbelt in town! The Bull Creek Greenbelt is in the northwest part of Austin, and (unsurprisingly) follows a stretch of Bull Creek from Spicewood Springs Road down to Bull Creek District Park. If you walk the whole thing, you’ll criss-cross the Capital of Texas Highway, but with all the nature that surrounds you, it’s easy to forget you’re that close to the freeway.

One of the coolest things to see here is the wagon tracks in the limestone creekbed, which date back to the 1800s. It’s not every day you get to see a piece of history like that on your hike! Other highlights include a fern grotto and some falls where people like to swim.

Related Read: 12 Outdoor Things to Do in Austin for Adventure Lovers

9. Slaughter Creek Trail

 

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Why you should go: Hikers and cyclists both love this big loop of a trail.

  • Difficulty: Easy to moderate
  • Distance: 5 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,100 feet

In South Austin, not too far from Circle C Ranch Metropolitan Park, Slaughter Creek Trail is a large loop frequented by hikers, runners, cyclists, and horseback riders. There’s a system in place where hikers and equestrians go counter-clockwise and bikers go clockwise to manage the different traffic, so just be prepared to share the path with others.

While you will pass by some trees, the Slaughter Creek Trail is an open prairie, so the seasons can really impact your experience. During the summer, expect a hot, dry, savannah-like experience. In the spring, gorgeous wildflowers will greet you around every turn, and in the fall (which is still quite warm in Austin), you’ll see lizards, butterflies, and other creatures out enjoying the great weather too.

10. Southern Walnut Creek Trail

Why you should go: This paved trail offers a long, easy stretch for relaxed urban hiking.

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Distance: 7.3 miles
  • Elevation gain: 452 feet

In East Austin, Southern Walnut Creek Trail stretches from close to Highway 290 in the north down to Boggy Creek in the south. To hike the longest possible route, start at either the trail access point on Johnny Morris Road or the Govalle Park trail access point. Along the way, you’ll go over some bridges and through some underpasses, and if you want, you can break off to reach the East Communities YMCA and the Austin Tennis Center.

Since the trail is wide, flat, and paved in concrete, it’s particularly well-suited for parents with strollers, those who prefer even ground for their runs, and people who want to do some leisurely biking away from car traffic. In the coming years, this trail will also lead into a giant parkland that’s being developed. The John Trevino Jr. Metro Park and the Colorado/Walnut Greenbelt will turn the area into a massive green space for the city.

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