Play Nature

The Best Parks in Austin for Wilderness, Workouts, and Recreation

It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood park. When you’re ready to enjoy the great outdoors, Austin offers everything from nearby playgrounds to not-too-faraway forests. But with over 250 parks in the city limits, decision fatigue sets in fast.

Before you resign yourself to another day of sitting on your couch, covering your house pants in a fine dusting of Cheeto powder, take a look at the best parks in Austin. Here are 15 places so pretty, they could inspire an agoraphobe to get outside.

15 of the Best Parks in Austin

Exploring the parks is one of the best free things to do in Austin. There are activities for all types. From disc golf to hiking to family picnics, one park can provide a lot of different ways to spend your day. The green spaces listed here are located all over Austin. Find the one closest to you or explore them all (those house pants might be in the closet for awhile).

1. Auditorium Shores at Town Lake Metropolitan Park

900 W Riverside Dr.

This 40-plus acre park on the south side of the Colorado River provides lots of open space for outdoor recreation. The park is centrally located in the Bouldin Creek neighborhood.

When you want to get in touch with your inner flower child, check out one of the outdoor concerts or festivals hosted here. The rest of the year, enjoy the hike-and-bike trail along Lady Bird Lake, the off-leash dog area, and the many picnic tables.

2. Barton Creek Wilderness Park

3755 S Capitol of Texas Hwy.

With over a thousand acres, this park is home to the Barton Creek Greenbelt, which features a 13.8 mile out-and-back hiking trail. In addition to hiking, the park offers some of the best Austin nature.

Barton Creek Wilderness Park has wooded trails, a nature preserve with scenic views, and a creek with a waterfall. It’s a paradise for bird watchers. And for outdoor adventurers, there are opportunities to go mountain biking or rock climbing.

3. Bull Creek District Park

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6701 Lakewood Dr.

If you’re in Northwest Hills, Bull Creek District Park is one of the best places to enjoy scenic wildlife. With a stream running through it, Bull Creek offers swimming and fishing. Plus, there are volleyball courts, educational kiosks, mountain bike trails, and a dog-friendly hike.

4. Circle C. Ranch Metropolitan Park on Slaughter Creek

6301 W Slaughter Ln.

Don’t let the name scare you. Slaughter Creek couldn’t be more serene. This Austin park stretches for nearly 600 acres and offers some of the best hiking in Austin, including the Slaughter Creek Trail and Violet Crown Trail.

If you’re more sports fan than mountain man, Circle C. Ranch Metro Park also features a disc golf course, volleyball courts, basketball courts, and a playground. You can also access the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center — a botanical garden with native Texas wildflowers — from the park.

5. Covert Park at Mount Bonnell

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3800 Mount Bonnell Rd.

This hilltop park has the highest peak in the city. But at just 775 feet, you won’t have to worry about altitude sickness. Still, if you’re looking for a hike that includes a bit of elevation gain, this is the place to find it.

To get to the top, you’ll have to climb a thigh-burning 102 stairs. But once you’re there, you’ll be rewarded with views of downtown Austin, the 360 bridge, and the Colorado River. This is one of the best parks in Austin for photo ops, and it’s perfect for a romantic picnic. If your one true love happens to have four legs, this park is also dog friendly.

6. Emma Long Metropolitan Park

1600 City Park Rd.

With over 1,000 acres of parkland, the Emma Long Metropolitan Park offers hiking on Turkey Creek Trail and swimming in Lake Austin.

And if you want a weekend getaway without having to leave the city, Emma Long Park has primitive and premium campsites. Primitive campsites have no water or electricity, while premium campsites have both and are close to the permanent restrooms and the shower complex.

This park does have an entry fee. It’s $1 if you arrive by foot or bike, or $5 per vehicle on weekdays and $10 per vehicle on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and public holidays. If you plan on visiting regularly, you can save money by buying a multi-entry pass.

7. Mayfield Park and Nature Preserve

3805 W 35th St.

This historic estate is located between Tarrytown and the Colorado Foothills. It’s not too far from Covert Park at Mount Bonnell, so if you’re feeling ambitious, you can explore both on the same day (but maybe pack a protein bar — nobody likes a hangry hiker).

Mayfield Park is part of the National Register of Historic places. The property features a historic cottage, plus two cottage gardens that will charm you with palm trees, peacocks, and water lilies. This main section of the estate takes up 2 acres, but there’s an additional 21-acre natural preserve with walking trails.

8. McKinney Falls State Park 

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5805 McKinney Falls Pkwy.

McKinney Falls may be overseen by the state of Texas, rather than the city of Austin, but it’s still super accessible for Austinites. Located just inside the city limits in Southeast Austin, this park offers incredible hiking.

Trails include the Onion Creek Hike-and-Bike Trail — an easy, paved route — plus more rugged trails, like the Homestead Trail, which leads to the remains of an early Texas homestead, and the Rock Shelter Trail, where you can see a shelter built by the areas early settlers.

Other highlights of the park include biking, bouldering, picnicking, swimming, and fishing in the creek. (You don’t need a license to fish.) And if this sounds like too much excitement for one day, you can camp at one of the 81 campsites or six cabins. There’s a $6 entry fee for anyone over age 12.

9. Mueller Lake Park 

4550 Mueller Blvd.

This lakeside park is set on 30 acres of green space in Mueller, a planned neighborhood. It has an open-air amphitheater and stage. Plus, there’s an interactive playscape, a picnic area, a loop trail, and public art work. This is one of the most family-friendly parks in Austin. You won’t have to worry about accidentally wandering into areas that require advanced boy-scout skills.

10. Pease District Park 

1100 Kingsbury St.

With Hyde Park, West Campus, and the University of Texas nearby, Pease Park is easily accessible from some of the best Austin neighborhoods. It was the first public park and is still one of the best parks in Austin.

Right in the heart of the city, Pease Park offers the Shoal Creek Greenway, plus limestone bluffs, big shade trees, and beautiful green spaces that will make you feel like a time traveler — Is this the Texas of centuries past?

When you’re ready to get back to the future, check out the park’s art installations, splash pad, volleyball courts, basketball courts, and modern playscape.

11. Red Bud Isle 

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3401 Red Bud Trl.

If parks mean nothing to you unless your pal with four paws can come, head to Red Bud Isle. This is an island in the middle of the Colorado River between Westfield and Westlake Hills. It has a lakefront, off-leash dog park, where your pup can splash and play. Plus, you two pals can hike, canoe, and kayak — just make sure you bring a life jacket for Fido.

12. Roy G. Guerrero Colorado River Metropolitan Park 

400 Grove Blvd.

Right across the river from downtown Austin, this park is set on Lady Bird Lake and offers access to a white, sandy beach along the Colorado River — Secret Beach. (It’s not a very well-kept secret, so make sure you bring your swimsuit.)

The park features softball and baseball fields, a batting cage, volleyball courts, mixed use fields, a picnic area, BMX biking, walking trails, and a playground. If that’s not enough recreation for you, check out the Roy G. Guerrero Disc Golf Course. It may not be on the list of Austin‘s best traditional golf courses, but it certainly offers the finest disc golf in town.

13. Walnut Creek Metropolitan Park

12138 N Lamar Blvd.

This nearly 300-acre park in North Austin is the definition of “something for everyone.” Amenities include a swimming pool, a BMX bike course, volleyball and basketball courts, a playground, an off-leash dog area, a picnic area, barbecue pits, and horseshoe.

If you’re in it for the wildlife, Walnut Creek also offers quintessential Austin nature. You can take up bird watching, go splish-splashing in the creek, or enjoy scenic views from the wildlife area.

14. Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve

805 N Capital of Texas Hwy.

Located in West Lake Hills (one of Austin‘s best suburbs), Wild Basin is the strictest park on the list. If this park were a teacher, it would definitely slap your hand with a ruler, and the list of classroom rules would read something like this: No camping, biking, swimming, or off-trail hiking, and no picnics or pets!

So why put up with all these rules? Because, if you’re on your best behavior, you’ll be rewarded with some of the best Austin nature.

All these rules are designed to protect the park’s delicate ecosystem, which is home to native Texas wildlife, including endangered species like the Golden-cheeked warbler. Just remember to leave no trace.

15. Zilker Metropolitan Park and Nature Preserve

2100 Barton Springs Rd.

This is definitely a case of saving the best for last. Home to the famous Barton Springs Pool, Zilker park is the iconic Austin park and should be the first stop for any Austin visitor.

In addition to the famous swimming pool, this park offers a picnic area, a playground, disc golf, volleyball courts, and a nature and science center. You can also enjoy the Zilker Botanical Garden, which includes the artful Taniguchi Oriental Garden.

Zilker Hillside Theater is also part of the park and plays host to outdoor concerts, a summer musical, and Shakespeare in the park. The Austin City Limits Music Festival also takes place in Zilker.

Get Wild at the Best Parks in Austin

Grab your best friend or your furry friend (or maybe they’re one and the same), and head to a nearby bit of wilderness in the city. These parks are putting nature and recreation within reach, and every one of them is worth a day trip — looks like your weekends just got busier.

Whether you unleash your inner-child at the Pease Park splash pad, take an epic selfie at the top of Mount Bonnell, or take a dip in the river at Secret Beach, there’s always an adventure waiting for you at the best parks in Austin.

Author
Erika Marty

Erika is an avid traveler who has been to more than 60 countries where she finds food, activities, and hidden locales for touring like a local. When she’s not writing, she enjoys mountain biking, hiking, and planning her next adventure.

Learn more about Erika

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