Take a Hike

20 best hiking trails to explore in Austin and beyond

20 best hiking trails to explore in Austin and beyond

Violet Crown Trail first segment Texas Conservation Corps
It's time to take a hike. Texas Conservation Corps/Flickr

Whether you're new to hiking or in search of trails off the beaten path, the Austin-San Antonio region boasts a host of gems to explore. No matter your experience level, here are 20 of the best trails in the area beckoning you to get outdoors.

Austin area

Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge
Where: Northwest
Difficulty: Easy to vigorous
Here you have the Hill Country in a nutshell: Rugged Texas landscapes with juniper and oak trees, as well as beautiful plants and an abundance of native animals (it is a wildlife refuge, after all). Balcones Canyonlands is huge and includes about 7 miles of trails. In addition to hiking, this is a great place for outdoor photography and bird watching.

Barton Creek Greenbelt
Where: West
Difficulty: Easy to vigorous
With several entry points and unofficial trails crawling across the 7-mile stretch of greenery, you can easily explore different areas each time you go. If you're just starting off, try the Loop 360 access point or the entry near Zilker Park.

Emma Long Metropolitan Park
Where: West
Difficulty: Moderate
A popular camping destination, Emma Long is a large park nestled against the banks of Lake Austin. Swimming and boating are big draws, but the varied terrain on the hike and bike trails offers an adventure that's a little off the beaten path. Depending on which trail you pick, you may find rough terrain, creek crossings, and hilltop views. Admission is $5 Monday through Thursday, $10 Friday through Sunday and on holidays.

Mary Moore Searight Metropolitan Park
Where: South
Difficulty: Easy
Mary Moore is a "love it or hate it" kind of park. The trails are easy to access for those living around South Austin, and the park's many amenities make it a great place for families. However, it's not very removed from the surrounding city so it doesn't offer much of a wilderness reprieve. Pay close attention to the trail markers, because some of the paths can get a bit confusing.

Mayfield Park
Where: West
Difficulty: Easy
Mayfield Park (the Mayfield Nature Preserve) is a great option for families or those looking for something leisurely. Choose different paths that take you through a variety of native landscapes with abundant wildlife near the Colorado River. When you find yourself close to the cottage grounds near the parking area, keep an eye out for the roaming peacocks.

McKinney Falls State Park
Where: Southeast
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Splurge for a day pass at this state park and explore the multiple trails around the land. Opt for the trails on the northern side of the park past the Lower Falls for a more isolated hike. While you walk, keep an eye out for historical relics like the old Thomas F. McKinney homestead. The cost of entry is $6 per adult; admission is free for children 12 and under.

River Place Nature Trail
Where: Northwest
Difficulty: Moderate
River Place is a beautiful neighborhood spot worth the trek to northwest Austin. The trails include an easy boardwalk, rocky staircases, and a more natural trail. Clear streams trickle in the springtime, but abundant wildlife and manmade rock formations can be found all year. A few changes in elevation offer great views of the surrounding landscape. Some of the trails are easy enough for a stroll, but other areas can be more taxing than they initially look.

St. Edwards Park
Where: Northwest
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
This lesser-known jewel has multiple trails offering a variety of experiences, from a laid-back walk with a splash in Bull Creek to an elevated trek with great views of the surrounding Hill Country. The creek is stunningly clear when the water is running and the landscape is a perfect mixture of taller trees and low-lying cactus. In a word: lovely.

Violet Crown Trail
Where: West
Difficulty: Easy to vigorous
The first 6-mile leg of what will eventually be a 30-mile regional trail opened to the public last summer. This inaugural portion shares real estate with the Greenbelt, running from the Zilker Trailhead south past the 360 Trailhead. 

Walnut Creek Metropolitan Park
Where: North
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
This haven offers a handful of different trails, most of which are long, winding paths looping around the entire park. The terrain here is varied, showcasing everything from grassy areas to wooded enclaves. Walnut Creek is dog- and bike-friendly. This is a full-fledged park, so you can also find sports complexes, barbecue pits, picnic tables, a swimming pool, and more.

Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve
Where: West
Difficulty: Easy
Wild Basin is one of the best spots to spy on native wildlife, including the golden-cheeked warbler. There are 2.5 miles of trail, but the looping paths around the preserve allow for a longer hike if you're into exploring. Admission is free, but there is a suggested donation of $2 to $3.

San Antonio area

Crownridge Canyon Natural Area
Location: Northwest
Difficulty: Easy to vigorous
The Red Oak Trail loop, leading to the bridge crossing Red Oak Canyon, runs 1.3 miles with an ADA-accessible surface. Looping off its far end, the 0.6-mile Bear Grass Trail has a natural surface and a few steep slopes and rocky ledges. This 200-acre natural area features a canopy-level bridge overlook, forested canyon bottoms, hillside vistas, and restored grasslands, as well as opportunities to view the endangered golden-cheeked warbler in spring and summer nesting seasons. Interpretive panels in the trailhead pavilion describe the natural history of the area.

Eisenhower Park
Location: North
Difficulty: Easy to vigorous
This rugged urban park offers several hiking options. For a hilly route with a wilderness feel, start on the Yucca Trail clockwise, winding in and out of cedars and climbing to the Cedar Flats Trail, following it through lush vegetation. Turn left and continue climbing, with a short detour to an observation tower — which offers nice views of the city — then hike up and down through rocky areas, eventually descending back to the parking area.

Friedrich Wilderness Park
Location: North
Difficulty: Moderate to vigorous
This 230-acre City of San Antonio Natural Area near I-10 has several routes ranging in length and difficulty. The 2.1-mile Main Loop is moderately difficult; add in the difficult 1-mile Vista Loop plus the difficult 0.1-mile Fern Dell and moderate 0.2-mile Juniper Ridge for a longer hike. This route will take you through diverse habitats including juniper and deciduous woodlands, grasslands, intermittent creeks, and rocky canyons. A trailhead kiosk contains maps, and low wooden markers identify plants of interest.

Government Canyon State Natural Area
Location: Northwest
Difficulty: Easy to vigorous
Nearly 40 miles of trails wander the rugged canyon lands of this natural area, ranging from 2.6 to nearly 12 miles in length. The property lies on the Balcones Escarpment, with deep canyons defining the eastern boundary of the Edwards Plateau and ridges offering scenic views. Check out remnants of old ranch operations, creeks, and dinosaur tracks. Deer, quail, warblers, and other wildlife call this park home, as do a variety of trees. The cost of entry is $6 per adult; admission is free for children 12 and under.

McAllister Park
Location: North
Difficulty: Easy to vigorous
This 976-acre park offers several trail options totaling more than 10 miles, many also popular with mountain bikers. The outer Blue Loop, a combination of asphalt and natural surface, is 6.8 miles long; the 1.7-mile Red Trail meanders across the middle of the loop. From McAllister Park, hikers can access San Antonio's Salado Creek Greenway North, which includes a 3,400-foot boardwalk along a Salado Creek wetland area by Nacogdoches Road.

Medina River Natural Area
Location: South
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
This 511-acre park includes areas on both sides of the river. Start on the El Camino Trail, past the picnic pavilion to the Rio Medina Trail, which parallels the river through tall trees. It intersects the Olmos Trail, which traverses a typical South Texas landscape of cactus, mesquite, and yucca. Hikers can expect to see a variety of birds, including owls, along with dragonflies and butterflies, depending on the season.

Mission Reach
Location: Central
Difficulty: Moderate
The San Antonio River Walk covers a total of 15 miles, but most people only know it as a tiny portion of historic downtown. The 8-mile Mission Reach section goes south, past the four sites of the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park — Concepción, San Jose, San Juan, and Espada. This paved trail traces shores of the restored San Antonio River and is open 365 days a year. It is also open to bicycling, with B-cycle bike share stations scattered along its length.

O.P. Schnabel Park
Location: Northwest
Difficulty: Easy to vigorous
This 202-acre park includes hillsides, open grassy and wooded areas, and a rocky creek bed. Hikers share the trail with rabbits, roadrunners, deer, and other wildlife. Combine Big O.P. Loop with Tower Loop and Bluff Loop trails for the longest hike.

Pearsall Park
Location: Southwest
Difficulty: Easy
This park near the Lackland Air Force Base has a dog park and disc-golf course in addition to a short trail. It also has a trailhead for the Leon Creek South Greenway, a 1.5-mile hike-and-bike trail that goes near Quintana Road. It includes a parking lot located at Old Pearsall Road, large hardwood trees, beautiful views of the creek, and trailside seating areas.