6 fantastic outdoor activities in Austin in spring

Besides its music scene and exceptional cuisine, Austin is also known for its wide open spaces. And when it comes to outdoor, there is no better time to explore the city as the spring, when the weather is perfect and the vegetation back to life.

Warm enough to be pleasant, but not too hot to be uncomfortable, spring in Austin offers the best time to go hiking in the woods and near waterways in and around the city. Hiking trails and bicycle paths through the town and offer excellent opportunities to enjoy perfect weather and beautiful natural surroundings.

Here are our favorite fantastic things to do outdoors in Austin in the spring.

Leanne Fromm

1. Explore the natural history of Austin Zilker Botanical Garden

Near downtown Austin, overlooking the rooftops of the city, the Zilker Botanical Garden is a fun place to explore and discover the natural history of Austin. Nestled in the Zilker Metropolitan Park, the botanical garden includes heritage oaks and several themed gardens linked by shaded paths.

During our visit, spring offered the time and background perfect to explore the gardens, with many trees and flowers in bloom.

We started our visit by the Pioneer Village, including a log cabin, blacksmith shop and a school, giving us a glimpse of the lives of early Swedish settlers.

The passages of the trail leading to the Japanese village of Taniguchi, with a koi pond, bonsai exhibition, a tea room and a beautiful view of the Austin skyline.

Centered around a dinosaur statue, the prehistoric garden features a waterfall and dinosaur footprint. A butterfly garden, an oak tree and a cactus garden are other areas of interest.

Pro tip: So close to the city center, the gardens are very appreciated, especially by families with children. Try to time your visit a weekday morning, if possible. We visited on a Monday, but it was still very busy, especially at midday.

McKinney Falls State Park in Austin, Texas in the spring.
Leanne Fromm

2. Spend an afternoon at McKinney Falls State Park

Within the city limits of Austin, you will find a beautiful state park surrounding McKinney Falls. Extremely popular in the summer when most visitors spend their time swimming at Onion Creek, a spring visit offers the perfect time to hike and enjoy the park without the crowds.

The main attraction of the State Park McKinney Falls is a series of limestone ledges on which flows Onion Creek, creating waterfalls. The park offers hiking and biking trails, and fishing opportunities, swimming and camping.

The hike to Lower Falls – and beyond, the ruins of Homestead McKinney – was my favorite in this park. The trail takes you through an ancient rock shelter, through a forest, to Onion Creek and the falls. After crossing the creek, the trail continues through wooded areas to the McKinney Homestead, a limestone home that once belonged to Thomas F. McKinney now left to the elements. The full trail is a loop, but we turned around back to the farm to spend more time at the creek.

The upper falls, a few feet from the parking lot, are easier to access and offer more open space to spend time by the creek.

3. Hike Walnut Creek Metro Park

Both paved and unpaved on miles of trails, 293 acres Walnut Creek Metro Park offers miles in northern Austin.

You’ll find five easy hiking trails with little or no elevation gain, ranging from 1 to 3 miles in length. It only takes half an hour to complete the famous 1.3 mile path. However, it may be a good place to explore the park as it connects with many other trails for hiking adventures.

Some trails cross the creek or follow its banks, providing a great outing into nature. Besides the trails, the park offers pleasant walks in wooded areas where you can feel miles from the city; paved bike paths and unpaved BMX tracks; play ground; and sports complexes.

However, especially in the spring, my favorite spots were the unpaved trails in wooded areas, past the creek.

Bull Creek in Austin, Texas in early spring.
Leanne Fromm

4. Hiking along Bull Creek District In the park that bears his name

The 47-acre Bull Creek District Park, with multiple entrances through town, follows Bull Creek and features beautiful limestone outcrops, several springs, waterfalls in the creek, and wooded areas along its banks.

The complete track Bull Creek is 3.8 miles long and popular throughout the year. However, a visit midweek in the spring when the water is still too cold for swimming, allowed us to enjoy some solitude along several sections of the trail.

Bull Creek in Bull Creek District Park in Austin, Texas.
Leanne Fromm

We used the entrance of Lakewood Drive, covered a forest, follow the stream, then walked through and went through to the other side. The spring was especially nice to go hiking along the trail, looking at the new buds sprout on the branches of trees and babbling waterfalls in the stream.

We noticed the small waterfalls in the park. In fact, I found out that Bull Creek was called Cascade Creek until the 1860s when they renamed it, either for the last buffaloes roaming the area or for the introduced longhorn cattle. Waterfalls help add more oxygen to the stream, which helps wildlife (especially fish) thrive.

Besides the trails along the creek, the park offers opportunities for picnics under the shade of mature oak trees.

Preserve Wild Basin Wilderness in Austin, Texas.
Jeff Fromm

5. Learn more about flora and wildlife in the wildlife reserve pool

The Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve provides a great introduction to the native flora and fauna of Austin and its surroundings. An island in the city, it protects 227 acres of wilderness and is a valuable habitat for rare and vulnerable species, including warblers endangered golden cheeks.

Open for hiking daily from sunrise to sunset, the reserve offers approximately 3 miles of designated hiking trails through the forest, either to a waterfall or to the creek.

Spring is the best time to experience this reserve before the heat of summer, and when the vegetation is just back to life. Less popular than most other parks in Austin, the preserve provides a great place to find solitude; when we hiked through it in mid-March, we seemed to be the only visitors.

Pro tips: Everything in the reserve is protected, so visitors should always stay on designated trails. On weekdays, you can just drive up to the preserve and to walk through; on weekends and holidays, you may need a reservation and pay a day-use fee.

6. Enjoy Al fresco Dining at a Food Truck Industrial Park

Austin is famous for its food truck scene, and it’s well worth exploring while enjoying an al fresco meal. Often placed in what is called food truck parks around several tables picnic, they offer various ethnic meals. Everyone can choose their favorite and enjoy together as a picnic.

Visiting Austin, we had lunch at several of these parks from city to food trucks. It makes going out with friends or family members who prefer different foods easy and convenient.

I noticed families with children, stopping often, where parents can order Thai food and children could get tacos from next truck and burgers another. Then the whole family sitting at a table picnic and enjoyed their meals together.

Convenience isn’t the only thing that makes these establishments Austin’s favorite restaurants. Meals are always in circulation, both in old favorites and new trucks popping up around every corner. We had some of our best meals in Austin by a food truck.

Bonus outdoor activities outside of Austin

Surrounded by several state parks, Austin offers great out-of-town outings for outdoor enthusiasts. The following are just two activities we enjoyed at state parks outside of town.

Explore Guadalupe River State Park

About an hour’s drive from Austin, Guadalupe River State Park is popular for water activities. Busiest in the summer when people from Austin and San Antonio come here to swim and enjoy other water activities, I have found spring to be the perfect time to visit this park.

Still too cold for most people to swim, the Guadalupe River in spring offers a magnificent backdrop for several hiking trails.

I enjoyed a leisurely hike along the river, popular even in spring, with people picnicking along the banks – some even swimming at noon, when it was warmer. We made another hike, this far from the river, where we encountered a few other walkers and enjoyed the solitude on long stretches of the trail. It was so quiet. In fact, my daughter spotted an armadillo along the trail.

Leanne Fromm

Learn more about The unique Palm Variety State Park Palmetto

Palmetto State Park, about an hour’s drive from Austin, features a forest of the dwarf palmettos it is named for. This unusual area has a tropical feel, with a great diversity of plant and animal life. It doesn’t seem to belong in Texas.

The palms surround the marshes of the park, which is in its western and northern regions. In addition to hiking trails among the palm trees, the park offers opportunities to picnic, camping and river activities.

The San Marcos River and Oxbow Lake Two provide opportunities for kayaking, paddle boating and fishing. In the spring, the most enjoyable activity was walking among the palm trees as the weather was still cool enough for pleasant hiking but not warm enough for water activities.

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