One of the things I love about Austin is its greenbelts – swaths of greenery sprinkled throughout the city. The biggest and best-loved in town is the Lady Bird Lake Hike and Bike Trail. Lady Bird Lake is a portion of the Colorado River that goes through the middle of town (it is dammed on both ends – so though it resembles a river through town, it’s a lake. Go figure). Lady Bird Johnson was instrumental in the beautification project that started in the 1960s, and the result is a gorgeous 10-mile looped trail. Come out any day of the week and you’ll find joggers, bikers, dogs, parents with strollers, and hippies with guitars getting in their exercise in the center of town.
Another great greenbelt is the Barton Creek Greenbelt in South Austin. Go for a hike around here and you’ll completely forget you’re in the city. You can also go rock-climbing and caving (or the more awesome term for it, spelunking).
Summertime in Austin is all about swimming. Not just any swimming, but natural, outdoors in the woods, don’t-need-a-membership-to-a-country-club swimming. There are TONS to choose from in the Austin area.
Barton Springs is the crown jewel. It’s a gigantic, spring fed pool in a gorgeous setting, minutes from downtown. There are fanatics who swim there everyday of the year. I’ll be honest – I love the idea of Barton Springs, but it’s just too cold (68 degrees year round). The one time I’ve had fun swimming in there is when I had goggles on and was swimming around so fast looking at crawfish that I didn’t notice the cold as much. All the other times I’ve just dipped in a toe and then worked on my tan.
There are a couple of other swimming holes dotted along Barton Creek upstream from Barton Springs. I’ve just found out about Campbell’s Hole. It’s a pebble beach and a “reliable” pool, meaning that even when the rest of the creek dries up, there’s probably water there. Bonnie and Clyde hid out there! I think you access it off of the Spyglass Access Point, or the one behind Barton Hills Elementary. Twin Falls is also nice, but crowded and is dried up a lot. You get to it by parking near where Mopac Expressway crosses over the Barton Creek Greenbelt. Sculpture Falls is even further upstream. I have no idea how to get there but I mean to find out this summer.
Hamilton Pool is more of a drive, and sometimes in the summer it gets so crowded that you can’t even get in, but it’s like a little paradise. It’s surrounded by a limestone grotto with a waterfall, and all these pretty ferns everywhere make you think you’re almost in Hawaii. The water is warmer too, so you can actually feel your toes when you’re swimming around. You can jump off rocks, too, and who doesn’t feel like a kid then?
Blue Hole in Wimberley is so small-town Southern and quaint you’ll want to bring apple pie and iced tea to enjoy the scenery. (Word to the wise, get your pie at the Wimberly Pie Company down the street. Awesome stuff). It’s a relatively deep part of a creek that’s surrounded by tall cypress trees. There are ropes to swing on, and if you’re like the crazy local townies, you can climb up the trees and jump off too.
Krause Springs in Spicewood is GORGEOUS. Can I use that word enough on this page? Anyway, if I had to pick the most gorgeous of this list, this would be it. It’s also on a creek and is made up of several “lagoons” along a waterfall. It’s also surrounded by cypress trees, making most of it be a shaded paradise. Unfortunately, I think it’s also the most crowded on the weekends, and full of people who like to blare their stereos and smoke and throw their Bud Lite cans on the ground. I bet it’s wonderful during the week.
And summer is not complete without a visit to Schlitterbahn, the most awesome super-bad coolest waterpark on the planet. Yes, that’s right. I revert to being a 13-year old when I think of the place. It’s in New Braunfels, TX, also about 45 minutes away. A good portion of it is built in a natural, shaded setting along the Comal River, so you aren’t frying in the sun while you wait to jump headfirst down a chute. The best part about it is that you can bring in your own cooler of food and BEER. Or vodka-soaked watermelon, if that’s your thing. So no need to shell out $20 for a shriveled up hotdog and a watered down MGD.
Camping & Hiking
With all the rivers and hill country getaways within 2-3 hours of Austin, there’s great camping and hiking too, though the summer months are just too hot to even think about it. My family and I like to make reservations for spring and fall trips. My favorites are:
- Pedernales Falls State Park – Also a good May choice, as it’s on the Pedernales River. During a wet season, there are awesome rapids to tube down. When its drier, you can wade and float too. They’ll try and scare you to stay out of the falls area due to flash flood warnings. It works for me, but friends have had fun swimming in these areas too.
- Enchanted Rock – A good April choice if it’s a good year for wildflowers, or also a nice place to go in the early spring or late fall (no swimming to tempt you into the cold). Oy, the wildflowers! We went on a good year – the locals say spring of ’07 will go down in history. You would not believe all the bluebonnets. There’s a drive you can take nearby called Willow City Loop that will KNOCK YOUR SOCKS OFF. Anyway, even if there aren’t any wildflowers, Enchanted Rock is an amazing place to hike. There’s even a cool caving crevice thing you can climb down. My husband and I did it once, and it was super fun — even though I’m a total novice and slightly claustrophobic. Oh – all the spots are walk-in, so no RVs allowed. And pack light.
Bastrop State Park – Update 2012 – Bastrop State Park suffered a horrible forest fire in 2011 and most of the pine trees were lost. It’s a shame, because it was a fun place to camp and also stay at their 1930s cabins that were built by the CCC. I’ve heard that they were able to save all of the cabins, but there is probably not much to see when you are there.
- McKinney Falls State Park – This park is in or at least very near Austin city limits, so for some reason I never think of trying their campgrounds. But, my family and I love to hike here on Sundays. There’s this enormous granite field full of pock marks where little pools have eroded away the rock. They make awesome splashing holes for kids to play in after a rain. My kids love to bring their matchbox cars and zoom them around on the terrain. There are 2 different falls to admire and swim around, and there’s even a rock shelter – if you use your imagination you can pretend it’s a spooky cave with the kids. We have a blast every time we go.
Creative commons images: Canoe photo by stpierre. Barton Springs by ercwttmn. Krause Springs by jessicareeder. Hamilton Pool purchased on istockphoto.com. McKinney Falls photo by my amazing friend Stacie Gurule. All others by me!