Outdoors in Austin

These local parks and trails remain open during Austin's shelter-in-place

These Austin parks and trails remain open during shelter-in-place

Zilker Park Austin skyline
Zilker Park is open, though the Botanical Gardens are not. Austin Parks and Recreation Department/Facebook

Until April 13, Austin and Travis County are subject to a stay at home/work safe order to further contain the spread of COVID-19. That means leaving home only for essential activities, including certain types of work (you know who you are), accessing health care, obtaining necessary supplies and — good news! — engaging in outdoor activity.

We all know that being outside and around nature and physical activity are both good for us —and especially now. That doesn’t mean anything goes when you’re out-of-doors, though.

Here’s the verbatim language from the city order: “Individuals may engage in outdoor activity, such as, by way of example and without limitation, walking, hiking, bicycling or running provided the individuals comply with Social Distancing requirements as defined in this section.”

And those social distancing requirements are “maintaining at least a six-foot distance from other individuals, washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds as frequently as possible…, covering coughs and sneezes…, regularly cleaning high-touch surfaces,and not shaking hands.”

So hit the trails, the greenbelt, the nature preserve, but seek out areas with fewer people. City of Austin’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management asks that if you see a crowded park, please find an alternative location.

Hit the trail, but be smart
For example, the Butler Hike-and-Bike trail around Lady Bird Lake can get crowded and narrow in places, so the Trail Foundation has asked Austinites to avoid it for now. Better possible options include the Shoal Creek Trail, the Walnut Creek Trail System, Southeast Metropolitan county park’s three-mile Primitive Trail, and Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge.

In addition, follow these safe practices while you’re out and about:

  • Do not get together with groups to exercise. Public gatherings of any number of people occurring outside a single household or dwelling unit are prohibited at this time.
  • Maintain six feet of distance with other people, including passing someone on a sidewalk or trail.
  • Let others know when you’re passing and step aside when people pass you.
  • Do not participate in any contact sports.
  • Do not go out and exercise and do not use parks or trails if you are experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms (fever, cough, shortness of breath).

Keep it low-key and hygienic 
Wherever you go, avoid touching gates, hand rails, exercise equipment such as chin-up bars, or water fountains. Best not to let the kids use playscapes either. Feel free to hug the trees, though, and walk, toss sticks into the water, sit under a tree or blow bubbles.

It’s important to keep your activities low-key; you don’t want to hurt yourself and have to call first responders. They’re busy with more important things and don’t need the potential exposure.

What's open, what's closed
Local parks, including Zilker, are still open. Most of Pease Park is open to the public, excluding the portions closed for a long-running renovation project. However, a majority of city park facilities (the Zilker Botanical Gardens, for example) are closed, as are some parks or areas within parks. Check here for a list of closures before heading out.

All city-operated pools, including Barton Springs and Deep Eddy, are closed. Austin-owned tennis courts, playgrounds, recreation and cultural centers, and golf courses are also closed during the shutdown.

Other options are some of the many state parks within an easy drive of Austin. Follow the same safe practices at these outdoor spaces. Also, be aware that parks have limited their programming and closed public access to park headquarters, visitor's centers, and park stores and are not accepting check or cash payments until further notice. Use self-pay stations or pre-purchase and print camping and day-use permits through the Texas State Parks Reservation System.

Check the Texas State Parks Alert Map regularly for the latest information about the status of parks. For example, at press time, the cabins at Bastrop and Inks Lake State Parks are closed and Buescher and Pedernales Falls parks are entirely closed.

Whether out in nature or at home, you may want to consider these tips about isolation from astronauts — who know a thing or two about it firsthand.