Here is a report from all the hikes I’ve made in Texas.
Hikes near Austin:
Barton Creek Trail(s) – This trail, or collection of trails, is also called the greenbelt. Since it is accessible from Zilker Park and other locations in South Austin it is quite a busy trail. Popular with hikers and bikers alike. This is probably the most well known trail in the area and thus is often too crowded. But there are many side trails on the network, many of which I’ve not hiked, which allows one to get away from the crowd easily if desired.
Emma Long Metropolitan Park – Turkey Creek Trail – This trail is a 2.3 mile loop very popular with dog owners as it is a leash free area. The name of the park is a misnomer – there’s nothing metropolitan about it. In fact, it is one of the more wooded and secluded areas in Austin and for much of the trail you cannot see any buildings, houses, or signs of civilization. This is probably my favorite local trail and I’ve hiked it probably 20 times. Although 95% of the traffic stays on the main trail there are some less traveled side routes which are mostly hidden from view. These side trails provide some greater solace and sites to be seen.
Bull Creek Trail – This trails meanders along the creek and under Highway 360 for a few miles. Starting near Spicewood Springs you walk through some thick grass and trees with occassional access to the creek. There is a nice shallow crossing of the river which the trail goes over. Unfortunately there is often a lot of trash near the highway. Past the highways is large flat section of the river where water flows often at less than 1 ft deep. This is an excellent place to sit and relax or play with a dog. Going further along the trail eventually leads to what I believe is an actual dog park. Here the river narrows and is deeper and a faster but probably never dangerous but in a few spots. This trail can be a lot of fun after floods. I’ve also walked down the center of the creek the whole way during droughts when it about entirely dries up! I’ve hiked this trail about a dozen times but after my dog got a skin infection from the water there I haven’t gone back.
St. Edwards Park – Not to be confused with St. Edwards University, this park is located on Spicewood Springs north of Highway 360. The first time I came to this park I saw horses, but haven’t seen any since. There is a long trail which follows the creek for a mile or so to the East. The best park of this park is the series of trails on the other side of the creek. I’ve noticed many of the people hiking at this park do no know of the trails on the other side. This is unfortunate for them as these are the better trails. One follows a ridge along the creek and is all stone ground. The longest trail goes up to the top corner of the park and access the Balcones Wildlife Preserve. As this Preserve is off limits to dogs, Henry and I haven’t ventured into it, but it’s supposed to connect through the another park on the other side.
State Parks and more distant trails:
Colorado Bend State Park – Lampassas TX, 1 hr NW of Austin
This park would normally be uneventful except that going off trail and walking down the river itself one comes to a series of nice waterfalls. Sometimes it pays to get lost.
Bastrop State Park, Lost Pines Trail – Bastrop TX, 30 mins East of Austin
The Bastrop fire unfortunately burned many of the trees in this park. However, life comes back quickly and there are quite interesting mosses and mushrooms growing on the recently scorched forest floor. Half of this trail was off limits when I went there but there is still a good 4 miles or so that can be hiked.
Lake Georgetown Trails – Georgetown TX, 30 mins North of Austin
I’ve only done 6 miles of this trail but there is a total of 26 miles around the lake. Perfect for a marathon! There was quite a lot of burrs at the campsite I stayed at which was a lot of work to clean out of my dogs fur.
Lake Sommerville Trails – 2 hrs East of Austin
There are about 16 miles of trails here and I hiked about 13 of it one the one visit I’ve made. There is some fascinating old oil equipment along the trail. There is also a giant mud flat pond that take a few miles to walk around. The campsites are very rustic and don’t appear to be used much. There were many thorns at the campsites which I had to pull out of all my gear. I ended up stealth camping on my own site along a river. It’s quite easy to get sunburned out here even in the winter as there isn’t much tree cover.
Enchanted Rock – 2 hrs West of Austin
This is an extremely popular place for Austinites and other Texans to visit. There is a 5 miles loops around the rock and multiple trails up to the top. Enchanted rock is unique in this area. The majority of the rock has no vegetation on it. There are also caves which are popular and some rock climbing sections on the back side. Anyone coming to the area should see this park.
Pedernales Falls – 1 hr West of Austin
There are multiple miles of trails here, but the real interest is the falls themselves. There are angled sections of the river so it is not so much a downward waterfall as in most rivers but a sloped one. Between the slopes are flat sections which even mostly dry out and one can walk across the river. It produces small ponds to sit or swim in as well. This is a nice place to cool down on one of the many hot days in Texas.
McKinney Roughs – 30 mins East of Austin
This is an LCRA (Lower Colorado River Authority) park. There are maybe 8 miles here. The trek I did was after some recent rains and we were forced to trudge through a lot of wet clay. There are not many notable views or sites at the park. Generally lackluster although I’ve heard others like the place.
Hill Country State Natural Area – 3 hrs West of Austin
I can never remember if I hiked this park, but I’m fairly certain I did some years ago. It has an old windmill and other abandoned equipment. The terrain is mostly flat and the general south Texas cacti and short trees.
Garner State Park – 3 hrs West of Austin
This is probably a great park for riding horses, which makes it a terrible park for everyone else. My strongest memory of hiking this park is all the horses droppings I had to constantly avoid.
Lost Maples State Park – 3 hrs West of Austin
This is a popular park and for good reason. It has some of the only maple trees in the area, perhaps 13 miles of trails, some great views, and decent camping sites. If it wasn’t so far from Austin I’d go here far more often.
Comanche Bluffs – 1 hr NE of Austin
It took me over 4 years living in Austin to find out about the existence of this trail. Apparently no one else knows about it either; the day I hiked I was the only one out there. The trail has 2 massive bridges that were moved there piece by piece when replaced by more modern bridges in their original locations in another part of the State. The bridges are comically large for the small streams they cross. The trail goes along the edge of Lake Garner. The water looked quite bad; a dark brown. I don’t know if that’s just the color of the soil there or what is going on, but I wouldn’t swim in it. The trail is actually pretty nice and well maintained.
This park is spectacular. There are only 300,000 visitors per year which is quite small for a national park. This is probably explained by the remoteness of the park. It is over 10 hours drive from Austin. There are not many cities near the park either. The towns nearby are small but have a lot going for them. Terlingua has a well-known chilli festival, Marfa has a vibrant artist community, and Alpine has Sul Ross State University. But be sure to buy your hiking/camping equipment before you get to Big Bend because there are no outfitters within hours of the park.
The most well traveled trails are in the center of the park. This area is known as the Chisos Basin and is said to be the culdera of an ancient volcano. The trails are quite challenging and many have a few thousand feet of climbing. The highest peak, Emory, gives a great view of the area and into Mexico. Particularly stunning are the red cliffs of Sierra del Carmen across the border. The climb down from the basin to “the Window” shows some excellent water-carved rock formation. The majority of the park however is on the desert floor. These trails can be quite dangerous in the heat. Just a general recommendation on the roads: if its not a fully paved upgraded road, don’t go down it unless you’ve got a Humvee. These roads are deceptively dangerous. Both trips I’ve taken have had close encounters with vehicle damage and getting stuck in remote places. I was lucky to escape with minimal problems.