A Longhorn’s Guide to Exploring Austin
by Dixon Hankins, Associate Director for Outdoor Recreation
Planning to explore Austin’s great outdoor spaces? Check out these tips from the UT RecSports Outdoor Recreation program to maximize your adventures.
DO A LITTLE RESEARCH
Most websites in Austin have produced their version of a “Best Outdoor Activities in Austin” list. Finding a list from your favorite source is a great way to start building your itinerary. We definitely recommend visiting some of Austin’s most famous outdoor attractions — Barton Springs Pool, Zilker Park, Lady Bird Lake, Mount Bonnell, the Barton Creek Greenbelt, the Hike-and-Bike Trail, etc. — and encourage you to keep reading to learn how you can make the most of these trips and also discover hidden gems.
With the rapid growth of Austin comes increased popularity, crowding, and stress on local parks. Some of the busiest areas now have reservation systems to help maintain park capacity and save people the hassle of getting turned away when a park is full. Be sure to plan ahead, sometimes weeks in advance, and make your reservations early. Even if reservations are not required, visit the website of your destination before you depart to find information about hours and how to best prepare for your adventure.
START YOUR ADVENTURE EARLY
Want to have Austin’s best green spaces all to yourself? Visit during less popular times! Many staff of the outdoor program avoid crowds by visiting Austin’s most popular trails and parks on weekend mornings. It requires getting out of bed early, but you’ll be enjoying a post-adventure nap while everyone else is battling crowds during the hottest part of the day. If you’re looking for a little outdoor solitude, we recommend visiting parks and trails during the week.
KEEP IT LOCAL
Don’t forget about your neighborhood park! According to the Austin Parks and Recreation Department, there are 299 parks in Austin. While most of these don’t end up on a top 10 list, they still have something to offer. We encourage you to walk or bike to your nearest park and develop a personal connection to green space that is often overlooked. You might be surprised to find hidden gems you did not know were right in your backyard. Next, see if your park has a volunteer day and connect even more by helping keep it beautiful. Pease Park is just west of the UT campus and features 84 acres of trails and parkland that includes the recently renovated Kingsbury Commons at the southern end.
ENJOY THE SPRINGS
Thanks to hard rock systems and aquifers, central Texas has numerous natural springs. In addition to historical and environmental significance, these cold springs provide an amazing respite from the summer heat. Springs and other swimming holes are some of the most popular summer destinations. Refer to the Plan Ahead section above before heading out.
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF RAIN
Creeks that aren’t filled by springs can slow to a trickle or be completely dry without rain. But heavy rain can transform a park. We highly recommend visiting parks and greenbelts a few days after heavy rain when much of the debris and sediment has washed out, leaving behind a clear-flowing stream. Depending on the amount of rain, it doesn’t take long for these areas to become dry again, so timing is key. Take advantage of these opportunities to see parks in a new way.
EXPLORE STATE AND COUNTY PARKS
In addition to local parks, there are six state parks within about an hour drive of Austin and six more between 1–2 hours away. Check out this map from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and go explore as many as you can!
You can also find details about 25 Travis County parks here.
FIND ADVENTURE WITH RECSPORTS
If you have any more questions about finding adventure in Austin or need to rent gear, visit us at the Outdoor Center in Gregory Gym. You can also join your fellow Longhorns on one of our adventure trips where we provide all the transportation, gear, food, and guided instruction for a modest fee!
We hope to see you out and about in Austin’s green spaces or on one of our adventure trips. Wherever you go, always remember to Leave No Trace. Happy trails!