Pedernales Falls State Park
Just 30 miles west of Austin is Pedernales Falls State Park. Trail conditions range from easy to fairly challenging. Choose between the Twin Falls Trail, a less than one-mile hike headed towards the scenic overlook of the twin falls, or brave the more strenuous six-mile Wolf Mountain Trail. Trek through the humble canyons, admire the vast wildlife, stumble upon a hidden waterfall, and end it all with a dip in Arrowhead Pool. You may even come upon a kaleidoscope of butterflies in Butterfly Garden or spot fellow park-goers enjoying the trails on horseback.
River Place Nature Trail
River Place Nature Trail is a hidden escape nestled in Austin’s northwest community. The roughly five- to six-mile trail ranges from moderate to difficult. You’ll start your hike at a boardwalk, pass a serene pond home to various turtles, and notice the unique dwelling plant life. The first one-and-a-half miles follow along Panther Hollow Creek, which makes for a refreshing start to the hike. Along the way you’ll find modest waterfalls and deep depressions formed in some of the stream beds. On the way back take the Little Fern Trail for more run-ins with water! The only downside to this trail is the crowds. On weekends and afternoons the trails fill up with an abundance of walkers, so plan your hiking time wisely.
Walnut Creek Trail
Not far from downtown Austin is Walnut Creek Trail. This trail is family friendly and possibly just around the corner from you, residing in a North Austin neighborhood park. Popular with mountain bikers, the trail is somewhat rocky but only comes out to roughly 1.3 miles in length. You might come across a stream or two but there’s no swimming area on this hike. Baseball fields and playgrounds surround your path; perfect for the last-minute hiking adventure.
Hamilton Pool Preserve – The River Trail
If you live in or around Austin I’m sure you’ve braved the long line of cars waiting to discover the once-hidden paradise that is Hamilton Pool. I wonder, though, if you’ve ever ventured beyond the pool preserve. When starting the park trail, you’re met with a sign leading in two directions; the right arrow points to the well-known Hamilton Pool, but the left points to a lesser-known River Trail. This hike is often overlooked but arguably just as beautiful. The one-and-a-half-mile River Trail screams beauty as you walk on the rocks half-swallowed by deep green moss, encounter large rock tunnel formations, and look down onto the steady flowing riverbed that follows you through your journey. This hike is moderate in difficulty and may seem strenuous due to the uneven terrain, but the reward is well worth it. At the end of the trail you’re met with stairs that lead to the parting of trees and the beautiful sight of the large flowing river. Feel free to rest on the beach area or cool off with a swim; the best Texas hikes are the kind met with water. This trail is often not very crowded because most park-goers travel for the Hamilton Pool. However, it’s important to note Hamilton Pool Preserve is on a reservation-only basis from May 15th through September 30th and slots for the summer fill up fast. Plan your trip in advance and make reservations through Travis County Parks.
McKinney Falls State Park
This park made the list not only for its unique beauty but also for the rich history it holds. Excavators once found the skeleton of a mosasaur in the rocks at Onion Creek, which flows just alongside McKinney Falls State Park, and the upper part of the falls has ancient volcanic rock formations. The park is also named after Thomas F. McKinney, who owned the land in the mid-19th century. A hike through Rock Shelter Trail takes you to his house, which still stands today. The park has roughly nine miles of trail options, and the best part? Swimming is allowed in the upper and lower falls! Take a hike through Texas history and end it all with a dip in the fortifying falls.