On the edge of Texas Hill Country, perched over the Balcones Fault and surrounded by limestone slopes and broad stretches of prairie strewn with bluebonnets, Austin is a pretty city with plenty of green places to play. Despite the warm climate, locals and visitors alike flock to Austin's cold water springs and creeks, its disc golf courts and gardens, and bring bicycles and kayaks to trails of all sorts. If you're wondering where the best city parks in Austin are so you can get in on the fun, these are nine favorites.
1. Zilker Park
This 350-acre park is a slice of green heaven, lined with hiking and biking trails. The park also provides access to the famed Barton Springs natural swimming pool
and Barton Creek Greenbelt
. Find boat rentals, a miniature train, a playground and a botanical garden, too. On weekends from April to early September, admission is $5 per car. The park celebrated its centennial in 2017.
2. Emma Long Metropolitan Park
The only Austin city park to offer overnight camping, 1000-acre Emma Long Metropolitan Park (aka 'City Park') on Lake Austin, 16 miles northwest of downtown, has good swimming, sunbathing, fishing and boating. It often attracts a partying crowd, especially at weekends. Advance online reservations required.
3. Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
Anyone with an interest in Texas' flora and fauna should make the 20-minute drive to the wonderful gardens of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
, southwest of downtown Austin. The center, founded in 1982 with the assistance of Texas' beloved former first lady, has a display garden featuring every type of wildflower and plant that grows in Texas, separated by geographical region, with an emphasis on Hill Country flora. Spring is the best time to visit, but there's something in bloom all year. The Wildflower Center hosts a variety of events during National Wildlflower Week in May.
4. UMLAUF Sculpture Garden & Museum
If the weather's just too perfect to be inside a climate-controlled building, stroll the open-air UMLAUF Sculpture Garden & Museum
, located south of Zilker Park. Within the sculpture garden and the indoor museum, there are more than 130 works by 20th-century American sculptor Charles Umlauf, who was an art professor at UT for 40 years.
5. Mt. Bonnell
On the weekend, you might find yourself tiptoeing around a wedding ceremony at Mt Bonnell
, the highest point in the city at 775ft. This pretty overlook has impressed day-trippers since the 1830s. At sunset, climb the short but steep stairway for broad views of Lake Austin (a section of the Colorado River) and the homes along the nearby hillsides. From the summit, follow the trail both left and right for a variety of views. There is no parking from 10pm to 5am.
6. Austin Disc Golf Courses
Bartholomew District Park is a hilly disc golf course north of downtown, near the old airport, while Roy G Guerrero Disc Golf Course is newer with a two mile long stretch dotted with 18 holes suitable for beginners and skilled players alike. That's in addition to other courses run by the City of Austin at Zilker, Mary Moore Searight, Circle C Ranch and Davis Spring Special Parks.
7. Balcones Canyonlands Preserve
50 square miles of greenspace are scattered across Austin metro, encompassing many of the individual parks on this list (including the Barton Creek Greenbelt, Emma Long Park, and Mount Bonnell Park) as well as numerous other privately and publicly run tracts throughout Travis County. You can explore above ground hiking trails at St. Edwards Park
and underground crevaces at Westcave Preserve
, soak in cold springs at Hamilton Pool Preserve
and go fishing at Commons Ford Ranch.
There's a lot to explore – Balcones Canyonlands Preserve
is home to eight endangered species as well as numerous birds and other critters.
8. Mary Moore Searight Metropolitan Park
Home to a disc golf course, tennis courts, a playground and hiking trails, this South Austin fave is just over a mile west of I-35 (exit Slaughter Lane). It's named for Mary Moore Searight, whose family ranched cattle on this land for decades before she, an avid birder, insisted it be turned into a park. Many of the other features here, including Slaughter Creek, are named not for a historical massacre, but for the family who preceded the Searights.
8. Barton Creek Greenbelt
From Zilker Park, this refreshing multiuse path unfurls for more than 8 miles along Barton Creek. Hike, bike and splash around. There are several access points, including the entry path near 1601 Spyglass Rd. Leashed dogs are OK.
9. Ann & Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail & Boardwalk
With 10 miles of trails looping around and over Lady Bird Lake, the Ann & Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail & Boardwalk
is a popular and convenient spot for exercise. The trail runs most of the way along the lake's northern side, which is the south edge of downtown Austin, and along the lake's southern side, buffering South Austin. The trail crosses the lake on several bridges, so you can adjust your total distance fairly easily.
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