With a shiny new high-rise popping up in downtown Austin nearly every week, it’s hard to believe how much lush green-space we still have here. From spring-fed pools to shaded trails, it’s fairly easy to find somewhere to escape in nature. If you’re visiting Austin or you’re a local looking for new inspiration, check out our list of some of our favorites right here in the heart of Texas.
Here’s some of our faves.
You absolutely can’t miss Zilker Park. A sprawling park in the heart of the city, Zilker has been an Austinite favorite for decades. With gorgeous views of downtown and 351 acres of nature to roam, the park is usually bustling with people and dogs (especially on the weekends). Check out @zilkerbark on Instagram to get a preview of the adorable dogs that frequent the park. Bring a soccer or volleyball to play a pickup game with friends (or jump in a game with some locals) or a picnic blanket and a good book to relax and soak up some Texas sun.
We recommend parking along Lou Neff Road, which circles the main portion of the park or in the large gravel lot at 2228 Stratford Dr.
More info about Zilker Park can be found here.
Ladybird Lake Hike and Bike Trail (aka the Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail)
Run, walk, or bike along this (mostly) gravel trail that circles Ladybird Lake. The trail has gorgeous views of the lake and downtown Austin. You’re sure to see some Austinites and their dogs on the trail. Here’s a great map of the trail that shows trail routes, water fountains, and restrooms
Barton Springs Pool
Barton Springs is a 3-acre spring-fed pool nestled within Zilker Park. It’s one of the most beautiful and unique spots in Austin, so you’ll definitely want to check it out! The pool is pretty chilly, with an average temperature of 70 degrees year-round, but it’s the perfect respite from the Texas heat on a hot summer day.
No pets, food, or drinks (other than water) are allowed at Barton Springs, so be sure to leave them at home! They are strict about enforcing the rules, and you’ll get kicked out of the pool if you’re caught drinking an alcoholic beverage. If you really want to bring your pup or a 6-pack, you can try the “free side” of the pool, directly downstream of the actual pool. On Google Maps, the free side is listed as “Bark’n Springs Canine Water Park,” but I can assure you all of the locals call it the “free side.”
If you’re visiting the actual pool, be sure to bring a towel to lay on and a pair of goggles so you can look for fish underwater!
More info about Barton Springs Pool here.
The 360 Overlook is one of the best places to watch the sunset in Austin. Located on the North side of the Pennybacker bridge, this rocky cliff gives you a stunning view of Lake Austin and the hills of Westlake. You should see a row of cars parked along the road by the start of the bridge. From there, walk towards the bridge and begin hiking up the side of the cliff (it’s not a difficult hike, but it is a rocky incline so I’d recommend closed-toed shoes).
Bats at the Congress Avenue Bridge
The bat is a lesser-known symbol of Austin. You may have seen bats on Austin T-shirts or seen the bat statue on Congress Avenue, but most out-of-towners don’t picture bats when they think of Austin. However, Mexican free-tailed bats are the “unofficial mascots of Austin” (AustinTexas.org). Over a million Mexican free-tailed bats call the Congress Avenue Bridge home. From March to early fall, you can see thousands of bats emerge from under the bridge just after sunset (typically between 7:30 and 9:45 PM). It is definitely a sight to see!
Learn more about watching the bats here.
Another great spot to watch the sunset is Mount Bonnell. After climbing 106 stairs, you reach a gorgeous scenic overlook with views of Lake Austin, the 360 (Pennybacker) Bridge, downtown, and the hills of Westlake. Here’s a site with more info about Mount Bonnell.