Austin’s Outdoor Activities: From Water Sports to Urban Hikes

Austin is a year-round outdoor enthusiast’s playground, offering everything from scenic trails to crystal-clear lakes. Whether you’re a hiker, biker or boater, you’re sure to find your bliss in Austin. 


WATER SPORTS

Paddleboarding on Lady Bird Lake.
Paddleboarding on Lady Bird Lake. Photo credit: Nick Simonite.

Get on the water in the heart of downtown Austin at Lady Bird Lake, where you can rent stand-up paddleboards, kayaks and canoes from a number of places, including Texas Rowing Center, Rowing Dock and Zilker Park Boat Rentals. For an insider’s perspective, take a guided kayak or stand-up paddleboard tour with Austin Kayak Tours or Congress Avenue Kayaks

Lake Travis is Austin’s largest lake, with countless coves and more than 270 miles of shoreline, making it a favorite fishing and boating destination. Drop anchor and mingle with the locals at Devil’s Cove, a common party spot. Or go swimming and scuba diving at the sprawling Mansfield Dam Park (one of 15 parks that surround Lake Travis). 

HIKING & BIKING 

Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail.
Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail.

Hike the Violet Crown Trail, which will be the longest trail of its kind in Central Texas once completed. Begin at Zilker Park and hike beside Barton Creek, taking a break along the way at the blooming Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Discover a hidden escape within the city at St. Edward’s Park. Hike past winding Bull Creek, cascading waterfalls, one of the biggest cactus patches in Austin and an Insta-worthy overlook with panoramic views of the park. 

Bike along the leisurely 10-mile Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail at Lady Bird Lake, which skirts glittering waters and has postcard views of Austin’s skyline. Take a break on the Boardwalk at Lady Bird Lake and check out the bronze western-style belts embedded in the railings that are embossed with lyrics from well-known Texas songs. 

The Barton Creek Greenbelt is a great destination for mountain bikers, offering varied terrain within a beautiful landscape of cliffs and shaded groves alongside Barton Creek. Be sure to check out popular swimming hole Gus Fruh, along with the hidden Twin Falls and Sculpture Falls areas, where you’ll find shallow stream waters. 

The wooded Emma Long Metropolitan Park, situated on the shore of Lake Austin just 25 minutes from downtown, is home to one of the city’s few urban campgrounds. Its three-mile Turkey Creek Trail may be short in length, but it’s long on awesome scenery. The forest hike passes limestone cliffs and features side trails that crisscross over a creek. Or pedal a mountain bike path, surrounded by giant cypress trees. 

SWIMMING HOLES 

Sunrise over Barton Creek Greenbelt.
Sunrise over Barton Creek Greenbelt. Photo credit: Pierce Ingram.

Combine swimming with people watching at Barton Springs Pool, located in the middle of Zilker Park. This swimmer’s paradise, fed from underground springs, stays a refreshing 68 degrees year round and features grassy hills for sunbathing. 

Located in rural Texas Hill Country, Hamilton Pool Preserve is a geological wonder. This historic swimming hole was formed by the Hamilton Creek spilling out over limestone outcroppings, creating a dramatic 50-foot waterfall that plunges into a canyon. 

Swim in an artesian spring just 40 minutes outside of Austin at Jacob’s Well. The cool, clear water is surrounded by rocky ledges and shady trees, creating a picture-perfect swimming hole. 

ROCK CLIMBING

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area.
Enchanted Rock State Natural Area. Photo credit: Steve Rawls.

Reimers Ranch Park offers world-class rock climbing on highly technical cliff walls that skilled climbers love to scale. Pick from more than 300 different routes, with none taller than 50 feet. Cool off after your climbing session with a dip in the nearby Pedernales River. 

McKinney Falls State Park encompasses more than 725 wooded acres and is home to one of the oldest bald cypress trees in Texas (estimated to be more than 500 years old). Onion Creek flows through the park, forming swirling pools of water among giant rocks that are perfect for bouldering. 

Go rock climbing on the massive pink granite dome that’s the hallmark of Enchanted Rock State Natural Area. Pick up route maps from the park headquarters then set off to climb the ancient dome, exploring fascinating rock formations along the way. 

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