If you enjoy the outdoors and hiking, chances are you’ve traveled across the state, and even the country, in search of a good trail. A few years ago, I hiked more than 300 miles of nearby trails, researching my book Best Hikes with Dogs: Texas Hill Country and Gulf Coast. Here are a few favorites within a short drive of Austin proper, dogs optional.
Off Highway 71 east just past the airport, Southeast Metro County Park has soccer and baseball fields visible from the highway. But turn right just inside the park and head to the backside for the Primitive Trail, a 2.2 mile loop with some moderate hills, a couple of ponds and a great view or two.
Follow the wide, crushed-granite trail to a shaded overlook with a view of the Capitol and University of Texas tower. The trail starts just before the overlook, with numbered markers every 200 feet; turn left to follow them in order (or right if you’re feeling rebellious). The trail features a number of wooden bridges and benches, and just before Marker 13, a pond ringed with cattails has a wooden platform for catch-and-release fishing or just looking for frogs.
There’s another pond a bit farther on, and near Marker 38, you can see downtown from another platform. The trail rises and falls a bit with wooden steps on the slopes in places. The rest is mostly dirt with some areas of grass, rocks and alternating wooded and open areas. Just after Marker 62, you are back at the t-intersection with the trail from the parking lot.
The Lake Georgetown Good Water Trail encircles Lake Georgetown. It’s a total of 26 miles, but multiple access points also make it possible to hike shorter bits and pieces (see map).
The Tonkawa people, or Tickanwatic, called this area near the North Fork of the San Gabriel River “land of good water,” hence the trail’s name. It winds through dense juniper stands, hardwood bottoms and prairie grasslands, and along limestone cliffs that border Lake Georgetown, a Corps of Engineers facility.
Start at Russell Park to hike the entire loop counter-clockwise (keep the lake on your left and you won’t get far off track). The first 1.3 miles are asphalt road across the dam, which can be avoided by leaving a car at Cedar Breaks and driving to Overlook Park, off of DB Wood Rd, to start. The trail winds through open brush and shady areas, areas of large trees and open spaces with water visible in the distance some of the time.
Eventually, you cross a stream and wind through more trees before reaching Jim Hogg park. The narrow dirt track that quickly becomes rocky and rugged, winding through junipers with some scrambling over rock and roots, across a rocky drainage, more woods and across a gurgling stream.
The next access point is Russell Park. From there, the trail twists through juniper woods, then closer to the lake shore and into open grassland and patches of large trees. Eventually the trail veers away from the lake, through fields of tall grass, across a small creek, then along the San Gabriel River for a short way before crossing a bridge into Tejas Camp. This is a good spot to take a break or camp overnight.
From here, you hike along the river, then through fields and up and along the edge of a tree-covered ridge above the clear, blue water of the lake. After crossing a low levy, you’ll climb a steep, rocky hill, then descend to Sawyer Camp.
From there, the trail climbs, crosses a dirt road, and traces an earthen dam forming a pond. You’ll go up and down the rocky hills, through thick junipers and prickly pear cactus, over two wooden bridges, to a parcel of land where Crockett Springs feeds a pool and a waterfall. There are remains of previous settlers around the springs. Later, you ascend to the top of the cliffs and follow the lake shore along very rocky, moonscape-like ground, then through trees to Cedar Breaks.
Cedar Hollow, Walnut Springs and Sawyer camping areas are free; Tejas Park has water and toilets, and Cedar Breaks and Jim Hogg have full services. Drinking water is available only at Overlook, Cedar Breaks, Jim Hogg and Tejas.
Lake Bastrop South Shore Park was untouched by last year’s fires. The 4.2-mile North South Trail goes between LCRA parks on both ends of the small lake. Leave a car at one end and drive to the other, or hike both ways. There are restrooms at both ends, and kiosks with trail maps.
Starting from the south, you’ll traverses slightly hilly terrain on a dirt track often strewn with loose rocks, and go through small meadows filled with flowers in spring and golden grasses in fall. Most of the route is close to the lake. The trail crosses a power line right-of-way, a dirt road, and a number of wooden bridges which are named on the map.
The second half covers more level ground, on a softer dirt and sand track under pine trees. Near the end, it skirts an arm of the lake, crossing a narrow dike before heading back into woods. You’ll intersect Buzzard Point Trail, which leads to the same parking lot but adds about a half mile, or turn left to finish the North South Trailway without including Buzzard Point.
The South Shore Park is a great place to spend the weekend, with camping, RV hookups, limited-use cabins, a group shelter, boat ramp and additional trails. The North Shore Park has picnic areas and a boat ramp. Before or after your hike, fuel up on burgers, chicken sandwiches and more at Bastrop Road House on Highway 21 about a mile before the turn-off.
All you need is a little determination, a good sense of direction (or humor, if you get lost) and sustenance to hit the trails and escape for a while.