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When you think of Austin, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? You’re right on track, whether it’s music, breakfast tacos, or the green room. However, if you’re outdoorsy, you may be thinking of hiking and camping in Austin, Texas. To help you find the best places to do this in the city that never sleeps, we’ve made a list of eight favorite places to camp and hike. We hope you enjoy it.
What is the Importance of Camping and Hiking?
Although it may seem somewhat trivial or frivolous to spend an afternoon or weekend, enjoying nature can have many benefits for your physical and mental health; being outdoors reduces stress levels by encouraging us to slow down.
Studies have also shown that camping encourages us to become more active, which can help combat obesity (and, therefore, other associated diseases). Additionally, because being out in nature has been shown to promote creativity and physical activity, both of which are linked, people who regularly enjoy camping/hiking tend to be happier overall.
Regarding tangible benefits, we might consider that hiking helps build strength while giving you a better cardiovascular workout than running. Meanwhile, camping is said to improve your balance.
The Best 8 Camping and Hiking Sites in Austin
Austin is one of those locations where you don’t want to spend all your time exploring downtown or visiting museums. It’s an excellent town for fitness folks, as there are numerous parks for running, cycling, and swimming holes.
You can venture out of town to enjoy golfing at some amazing country clubs or hike through stunning state parks. If you have time to explore beyond these local attractions, there are several fantastic camping and hiking sites nearby, such as:
1. Barton Creek Greenbelt
Barton Creek Greenbelt is a great option if you’re looking for a day hike with beautiful scenery and interesting geological features. The trails are well-marked and elaborate to navigate with ease. Many people use it as an alternative to Zilker Park or McKinney Falls State Park.
There are a lot of places to stop for lunch or camp under large shade trees along Barton Creek. In some areas, water flows over smooth granite outcroppings, while in others, there are small waterfalls that tumble into deep pools at their bases.
The hiking trail is mostly shaded, so you don’t have to worry about getting burned if you go hiking during the warm months of the year. This is one of the fabulous places to go camping because you’ll spend hours just exploring different parts without ever feeling like you’ve seen everything.
It’s also one of the suitable areas for swimming because there are several spots where you can jump off rocks into shallow areas of fast-moving water. This area gets crowded on weekends, but weekdays are usually pretty quiet.
In addition to hiking and swimming, Barton Creek Greenbelt has become a popular place for rock climbing due to its many large cliffs and boulders.
2. Walnut Creek Metropolitan Park
Walnut Creek Metropolitan Park is a hidden gem only minutes from downtown Austin. The park itself sits right on Lake Austin’s shoreline. This park offers a wide variety of amenities, including hiking trails, plenty of open space for picnics or just a simple stroll through nature, picnic tables with grills, multiple fishing piers, and access to Lake Austin for swimming or kayaking.
You will find many photographers at Walnut Creek because of its natural beauty. Walnut Creek Metropolitan Park is excellent if you’re craving an urban escape from your busy life but don’t want to be too far away from city life.
3. Emma Long Metropolitan Park
Nestled up against Lake Travis, Emma Long Metropolitan Park is a popular place for local campers. It offers shaded areas to rest and open grounds to pitch a tent. This campground gets excellent reviews on TripAdvisor, but some reviewers say it’s often full during peak times.
So, it might be best to plan well in advance. The park is at 1200 Old Mount Carmel Road and is accessible by car or boat. Amenities include restrooms with showers, water faucets with sinks, and grills (No fires are allowed).
A day pass costs $5 per vehicle per day, or you can purchase an annual park pass for $30 that gives you unlimited access to all city of Austin parks for one year.
4. McKinney Falls State Park
Also known as McKinney Creek Park or Turtle Park (the latter due to its abundance of turtles), McKinney Falls is a well-loved Austin camping site. This camping park has 500 acres of land for picnicking, hiking, and canoeing.
There are more than 20 campsites available. This park has a nice beach area with swimming holes, great for families. Also present at McKinney Falls is one of two zipline tours offered in Central Texas.
The park was named after Archibald McKinney, who purchased over 12 acres in 1839. He built a dam on Turtle Creek with his own two hands. Unfortunately, he never had children, so he willed his property to Stephen F. Austin’s son, Samuel.
His family eventually donated it to the city of Austin in 1927. Today, it’s still managed by Parks & Recreation Department, and they’ve added many additional amenities like playgrounds, picnic areas, and pavilions.
5. Bull Creek District Park
Located near downtown Austin, Bull Creek is a beautiful hike for all skill levels. Whether you just want to take a short stroll or go on an overnight camping trip with your tent, you can do it at Bull Creek.
Surrounded by rocks, swimming holes, and tree-filled trails, it’s easy to forget you’re still within city limits. The park is even home to historical ruins from centuries ago!
There are many trails perfect for biking if hiking isn’t your thing. There are seven sites complete with fire pits, grills, and picnic tables as far as camping goes. However, they are first-come, first-serve, so bring a tent because they don’t have any rentals.
6. Little Longhorn Saloon
Little Longhorn Saloon is located close to Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge. As one of the few places where camping is allowed on private property within a national wildlife refuge, you can be sure that some serious thought went into its development.
The campground has a maximum capacity of 80 people and only has four sites. Each site allows for up to eight tents, so it may be best to split up among multiple sites or campers if you’re a larger group.
All fires are prohibited at Little Longhorn Saloon, but grills are available at each campsite should you cook over open flames while under canvas.
7. Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve
Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve is a popular park located just north of I-35 near Rollingwood. The preserve is home to one of Austin’s few remaining natural areas. Visitors enjoy hiking or riding on their bikes through nature trails and biking or horseback riding on some of its many tracks.
Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve also features an archery range. For those interested in a bit of wildlife watching while out hiking, wild peacocks and deer are familiar sights at Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve.
8. MoPac Trail (Loop 360)
This trail is a shorter run than many of those that are popular with hikers and backpackers. That doesn’t mean it’s easy. There are plenty of hills to keep your heart pumping. A variety of terrain keeps your mind off one long uphill slog. At just over five miles each way (from Steck Ave. to MoPac Trail), it’s perfect when you don’t want to hike all day but still want a little exercise.
Make sure you can handle some switchbacks before taking on MoPac Trail (Loop 360). If you can climb one mountain after another while carrying 30 pounds on your back, you should be fine with most MoPac (Loop 360) curves.
It’s also a great choice if you have younger kids who aren’t ready for an overnight trip or a serious trek. You’ll also see some exciting views from Mount Bonnell, which sits atop its namesake peak along MoPac (Loop 360). The scenery isn’t as breathtaking as what you’d see from Enchanted Rock State Park, but it’s still worth checking out.
The Final Word
When camping or hiking, it’s important to remember that there is no right way to go about it. Have fun! When selecting a destination for your next camping trip, consider your interests; you should never choose a destination simply because other people enjoy it.