We’ve gathered together some of our favorite parks and trails that are ripe for exploring this holiday season, as well as few tips for getting the most out of your park adventures. Don’t see your favorite park listed? Let us know where you make your holiday hideaway in the comments below, or on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram!
We Austinites are suckers for a good trail. Whether we’re hiking or biking, walking or running, there’s hundreds of awesome trails right in the heart of the city. There’s always the Barton Creek Greenbelt, the Butler Hike & Bike Trail, and even the Walnut Creek trails. All of which are awesome options to get out into the fresh air. This holiday season, though, we thought you might like to try out some of the paths that are just a little less traveled. Pro-tip for each of these trails: bring your four legged friend, but remember to pick up after them! Each of these trails is along a watershed, and we all have a responsibility to keep Austin’s water clean. Also, you’ll always have a more serene visit to these trails on a weekday, but none of them are ever too crowded even on weekends.
- Great Hills Park
Great Hills Park is nestled between the Oak Hills Estates and Austin Hills neighborhoods, but you’d hardly know it when you’re on the trail. Take in the scenery of moss covered lime stone and trickling streams joining the creek. The trail has good signage throughout and you can make a small loop, or take your hike to the next level by branching out on your own.
- St. Edward’s Park
This trail has gained more popularity recently, but even so it’s still got the feeling of a more secluded walk than most. The park is just off Spicewood Springs along Bull Creek, and features lots of waterfalls and swimming holes (depending on how recently it’s rained). Loop through cactus and open grasslands as well as shaded tree lined trails, generally marked with good signage.
- River Place Nature Trail
Just South of St. Edward’s you’ll find 7-8 miles of inclined trail. The River Place Nature Trail is great for it’s length, but keep in mind that it’s a one-way walk. The Northern portion offers most of the challenging hiking, but the Southern half, or the Boardwalk, has a fishing hole and an easier stroll. This trail is also along Panther Hollow Creek with some water crossings, but the depth depends on how recently it’s rained.
- The Southern Walnut Creek Trail
Hikers and bikers alike are already big fans of the trails in and around Walnut Creek Metro Park up north, but the Southern Walnut Creek Trail is still relatively under-used. This jewel starts at Govalle Park, and runs up toward Johnny Morris Rd. This trail will eventually be just one part of a regional trail system that runs as far north as Walnut Creek Metro Park, and down to the Onion Creek Greenbelt trails. For now, the trail offers paved surfaces for easy biking, walking or jogging, as well as two new bike repair stations that APF was able to install with the help of our partners at REI.
These options are sure to delight your visiting guests. From holiday happenings to historic hikes, these are great options to give your guests a little taste of Austin.
- Covert Park at Mount Bonnell
Most locals visit Mount Bonnell once and never journey back, but it’s easy to forget how beautiful this historic park really is. Treat your guests to sweeping views of Lake Austin, and learn a little about its history. For example: DYK this little gem has been a tourist spot since the 1850’s? Pro tip: hike up in the daylight and stay for sunset – your guests will be impressed.
- Zilker Trail of Lights
In one of Austin’s most popular parks you’ll find a world of holiday magic. Meander through Zilker and take in the glittering displays, catch a show on the community stage, or visit the vendors to pick up a last-minute gift. The Trail of Lights is open now through December 22nd (7-10pm), but it’s FREE until December 15th. Pro tip: If you plan to visit after the 15th tickets are $3 at the gate, but we suggest getting a zip pass so you can jump the line, get in early and have access to a few extra amenities.
- Wildflower Center Luminations
If you’re looking for a holiday event that’s a little more low key, try out the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s Luminations. Stroll the center by the twinkling light of luminarias, visit Frosty and hear some live music. This event is only on December 12 and 13 from 6-9pm. Tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for kids.
- Historic Parks
If your guests are into learning a little Austin history, why not take them to some of Austin’s oldest parks? Start at Republic Square in downtown, where Austin was born. Republic Square is where the very first plots of land were auctioned off, and is one of the first 4 public spaces ever set aside for Austin’s citizens. Next, head up a few blocks to Wooldridge Square and see the only square in Austin that still has its original design. Wooldridge features a bandstand that has been used for political rallies, concerts and even a few hippie hangouts over the years. Today it’s the site of a few of our programs (like yoga and movies in the park, as well as giant chess) and is a great spot to have lunch or hang out with a good book. After these two historic squares take 15th over to Pease District Park, originally owned by Reconstruction-era Governor E.M. Pease. There you’ll find the antique rock arches, the old tudor cottage and the Janet Fish Wall – named for one of Austin’s greatest trail champions. If you’ve got time you should also check out Ramsey Park and Mayfield Park, both of which have deep Austin roots.
Work Off the Feast
- Go Boating
Austin has plenty of great spots to get out on the water, but one of our favorites is Commons Ford Ranch a little further west than some would venture, but well worth it. There is limited parking, but if you head out on a weekday you should be alright. Bring your kayak or canoe and take in this little piece of Lake Austin. This oasis also has a variety of terrain along its 4-mile trail, so be sure to bring hiking shoes too!
- Gone Fishin’
Just south of Slaughter Lane you’ll find Mary Moore Searight Metropolitan Park. With disc golf, horseback trails, a playground, and more this park is a destination. A dedicated corps of volunteers keep the disc golf course in great shape, while Friends of Mary Moore Searight tends other areas. An off-leash dog area of Searight can be accessed on 1st street south of Slaughter Lane in the north end of the park, and many say there’s great bass and perch fishing here. If you’re up for a hike, park near the main entrance and hike South to Slaughter Creek, but if you want quicker access to the creek try the Decker Prairie Road unofficial side entrance.
- Throw a Disc
If you’re looking for a good disc golf course, there are plenty around. From Searight to Waterloo, there’s lots of opportunities to play. Our favorites are Roy G. Guerrero and Circle C. The former is nestled in East Austin off Pleasant Valley rd. you’ll have to walk a little ways back to the first tee, but this course is great for all levels because it has separate tees for beginner and advanced players. If you’re looking for a more challenging course check out Circle C. Located south of Ben White just off Slaughter, this course requires more shot variety and is moderately hilly and wooded.
Have more suggestions, or want to expand on our list? Leave us a comment! Whatever you choose to do in the coming weeks, we wish you a very merry holiday season and a happy new year!