For lovers of the outdoors, the entire city of Austin feels like a playground.
As the capital of Texas, Austin has no shortage of urban attractions from checking out the historic Capitol building to bar hopping across downtown’s unique neighborhoods to exploring the sprawling University of Texas campus and its many on-site museums.
What makes Austin so great though is that it alongside all of that, it offers its residents and visitors a hefty helping of outdoor activities too for those who love to soak up the sunshine — and there really is a lot of sunshine seeing as the city gets like 300 sunny days per year.
The point is, there are some places in the country where you have to sacrifice your proximity to nature to enjoy big city living, but Austin is definitely not one of those. Wherever your base may be in the city, you can expect easy-to-reach opportunities for hiking, biking, boating, swimming, and more. Here is just a sampling of the many amazing outdoor things you can do in Austin.
Related Read: 8 Must-Do Weekend Road Trips from Austin, Texas
1. Check Out the Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail
Winding through the heart of Austin is the Colorado River (aka Town Lake or Lady Bird Lake), and following its gentle curves is the Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail.
Totaling 10 miles, this scenic trail is popular with runners, cyclists, and sightseers as it offers excellent views of the ever-expanding downtown skyline and pleasantly keeps the water by your side. Some highlights of the trail include the boardwalk, which extends over the water; the Auditorium Shores park; and the Stevie Ray Vaughan statue.
Pro tip: The trail can get pretty busy on the weekend, and that plus the trail’s downtown location means parking isn’t always the easiest. If you’re driving here, you can find a parking spot along S. Lakeshore Boulevard, near Festival Beach, under MoPac, or at the Long Center.
Related Read: 10 Best Hikes in Texas for Top-Notch Lone Star State Scenery
2. Paddle Lady Bird Lake
So there’s fun to be had around Lady Bird Lake, but there’s also fun to be had on the lake. When the weather is nice, you better believe you’ll see plenty of colorful kayaks, paddleboards, and canoes dotting the lake’s blue-green water.
Don’t have your own paddleboard or kayak? Not to worry — you can rent one from Rowing Dock, Live Love Paddle, or Zilker Park Boat Rentals, which are all in the immediate vicinity. Since the water is calm and doesn’t require any difficult navigating, you definitely don’t need to be an experienced paddler to enjoy the activity.
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3. Swim at Barton Springs Pool
Barton Springs Pool isn’t your average city municipal pool. For starters, it receives far more love from locals than you might expect from a public pool. But that’s not so surprising when you think about how it’s been a popular place for swimming for literally thousands of years.
Secondly, the pool’s water is fed from underground springs, which means you can expect the temperature to hover around a brisk 68 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit no matter the season. It doesn’t get much more Austin-y than coming out here on a summer day for a refreshing dip and some sunbathing on the grassy slopes on either side of the water.
Related Read: 12 Refreshing Swimming Holes Near Austin, Texas
4. Go Up Mount Bonnell
For some of the best views in the whole city, take the hike up Mount Bonnell, which actually isn’t too much of a hike at all. There are about 100 or so steps you’ll need to climb to reach the top, and once you get there you’ll be greeted by a stunning view of the river — and some pretty swanky houses that have the luxury of being right on its shore.
Local legend says if you climb up Mount Bonnell three times with someone then you’re supposed to get married, but even for the non-romantics and those traveling solo, this spot is well worth a visit.
Pro tip: Time your hike to catch a gorgeous Hill Country sunset from the top.
Related Read: 10 Adventurously Romantic Getaways in Austin, Texas
5. Hike the Greenbelt
It won’t take too long when you’re in Austin until you start hearing murmurs about the “Greenbelt.” Full name: Barton Creek Greenbelt. This 12-mile stretch of green space weaves through south Austin and is one of the most popular places for the resident city dwellers to get into nature.
There are multiple access points, but some of the main trailheads are at Loop 360, Spyglass, Gus Fruh, and Violet Crown Trail. As you spend more time venturing along the Greenbelt, you’re sure to find your favorite spots depending on whether you’re there to hike, swim, or rock climb.
Related Read: The Ultimate Dallas to Austin Road Trip: What to See Along the Way
6. Explore McKinney Falls State Park
There are parks big and small all across Austin that you can frolic in, but one of the very best ones has to be McKinney Falls State Park. While you’re visiting, you can hike the meandering trails, do some bouldering, swim in the creek, and go fishing for bass and catfish.
The entrance fee for the park is $6 per adult, but that’s chump change compared to the hours of fun that can be had here. Feel like extending your time outdoors? Book one of the state park’s 81 campsites! They have spots for both tents and RVs.
Related Read: The 9 Best State Parks Near Austin, Texas
7. Bike the Veloway
Maybe you like cycling but are too nervous to maneuver around city traffic or to tackle the more rough terrain in some of the parks. Well folks, the Veloway is calling your name.
Just over 3 miles long, this unique, asphalt-paved path in Circle C Ranch Metropolitan Park is reserved solely for bicycles and inline skates, so you don’t even have to deal with leisurely moving pedestrians or dog walkers. To make things even easier, traffic always moves in a clockwise direction, meaning you have less to worry about on your ride.
Pro tip: This is a great, safe spot to get some miles in if you’re training for a race.
8. Picnic at Zilker Park
Who said being outdoors has to mean exerting a lot of effort? Sometimes a relaxing picnic in the park is all you want and need. Home to the Austin City Limits music festival in the fall and the Trail of Lights in the holiday season, Zilker Metropolitan Park touts being the city’s “most-loved park.”
A big part of what makes it so special is well… it’s big. Across its 351 acres, you’ll find plenty of open lawn perfect for spreading out your blanket. Of course, there are other amenities too like a disc golf course and volleyball courts in case you do feel like moving a bit. But simply eating some nice bread and cheese while looking at the downtown skyline is great too.
Related Read: 10 Best Glamping Getaways Near Austin, Texas
9. Go Boating on Lake Travis
From downtown Austin, you’re only about 30 minutes away from the nearest lake, Lake Travis, and it’s a sizable one. Where exactly you go around the lake will depend on what exactly you’re in the mood for. Boating, of course, is one of the most enjoyable ways to experience the lake, and you’ll find numerous rental companies to charter watercraft from little wake surf boats to big party barges.
If you’d rather enjoy the lake from the shore, make your way over to Bob Wentz Park, Mansfield Dam Park, Tom Hughes Park, or the clothing-optional Hippie Hollow Park.
Pro tip: After spending some time on the water, consider having dinner at the Oasis where you’ll get an unrivaled sunset show.
10. Check out Congress Avenue Bridge Bats
If it wasn’t clear already, nature and urban life are intertwined in Austin, and there’s no place in the city where that’s more clear than Congress Avenue Bridge. During the day, it looks like any other bridge, but during the evenings from late spring to early fall, literally hundreds of thousands of Mexican free-tailed bats emerge from under the structure and fly out into the night to find food.
It’s truly a sight to behold to witness one of the largest urban bat colonies in the entire world do their thing. Come out early to claim your spot, and wait until sunset to see it all unfold.
Pro tip: The bridge can get crowded with people lining up to watch the spectacle, but you can also get a different vantage point from a boat, kayak, or paddleboard right on the water.
Related Read: 9 of the Best Day Trips from Austin, Texas
11. Tour the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
Founded by former first lady Lady Bird Johnson and Helen Hayes, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is a lovely, tranquil place to spend the afternoon.
There are just over 280 acres to wander about with different themed sections like the Savanna Meadow, the arboretum, and the more interactive Family Garden, and across all of that, there are nearly 900 species of native plants to see. Admission costs $15 for adults, but there are discounts for seniors, military, and kids.
Pro tip: Keep an eye on the center’s calendar to catch special events like native plant sales, yoga, lecture series, photography workshops, and more.
12. Stop by the Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum
Art and nature come together at the Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum. Located just across the way from Barton Springs Pool and Zilker Park, the property has a six-acre garden and accompanying gallery.
While the UMLAUF’s collection includes over 270 sculptures by Charles Umlauf, 59 of these works are always on view and then there are rotating temporary exhibitions from other artists that take place here as well. If you need to clear your thoughts, a stroll here could do just the trick.
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