If you want to get altitude in Austin, there’s only one place to go: Mount Bonnell.
At 784 feet above sea level, Mount Bonnell is the highest point within the Austin city limits. Although Mount Barker — located just two miles north of Mount Bonnell — is higher at 843 feet, it’s technically outside the city limits. So, Mount Bonnell wins the title.
But, Mount Bonnell doesn’t just scrape by on a technicality. It’s also the highest peak in or around Austin that’s open to the public and easy to visit.
And there are a lot of reasons to visit.
We’ll explain why everyone in, around, or passing through Austin should stop at Mount Bonnell. Plus, we’ll share the best way to prepare for and spend your day on top of town.
Why You Should Visit Mount Bonnell
Two words: The view. And we’re not talking about the daytime talkshow.
Mount Bonnell offers one of the best views in Austin. If you walk the short path around this limestone peak, you can get a 360 degree look at the surrounding area.
At the base of the hill, you’ll see a beautiful view of Lake Austin with the rest of the Colorado River stretching out in either direction. You can even peek into the backyards of some of the homes along the lake, which is one of the most expensive places to live in Austin.
If you look down river to the southeast, you can take in views of the city. In the daytime, the high-rises of Downtown Austin sparkle in the sunlight, and at night, you can watch the buildings slowly light up.
If you look up river to the northwest, you’ll see Texas Hill Country and the Pennybacker Bridge. As you loop around the top of Mount Bonnell, away from the water, you’ll get a nice view of the surrounding hills and neighborhoods.
The views from the top of Mount Bonnell are so spectacular that the hill has been a sightseeing destination since the 1850s. It’s a city landmark and remains one of the most popular tourist attractions in Central Texas. The hill was even added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2015.
The History of Mount Bonnell
Mount Bonnell is one of Austin’s Historic Parks, and it’s seen its share of history, legend, and local lore.
The hill is most likely named after George Bonnell, a soldier who fought for Texas’s independence and who later became the publisher of an important local newspaper — the Texas Sentinel. But an even more famous George also visited the landmark.
General George Custer (of “Custer’s Last Stand” fame) used to take his wife to Mount Bonnell for picnics. And General Sam Houston (the first president of the Republic of Texas and the man the city of Houston is named after) was also a frequent visitor.
This site was historically used for entertainment and events (not surprisingly, since it’s still an ideal way to entertain yourself today). It was likely used for early Maypole celebrations, and in 1898, it was the site of a daring stunt.
Miss Hazel Keyes slid down a cable that ran from the top of Mount Bonnell to the south bank of Lake Austin (which, at the time, was called Lake McDonald). She was followed down the cable by her pet monkey, named Miss Jennie Yan Yan. These two daredevils prove that Austin has always been weird!
But, it’s another young woman whose name has become synonymous with Mount Bonnell. The hill is also referred to by the moniker Antoinette’s Leap. Legend has it that a woman named Antoinette once threw herself off Mt. Bonnell after her fiancé was murdered.
A happier but equally romantic piece of local legend says that a couple will fall in love on their first visit to Mount Bonnell, get engaged on their second visit, and get married on their third — making this local landmark an ideal date destination.
How to Get to Mount Bonnell
Mount Bonnell is located on the eastern bank of Lake Austin at 3800 Mt. Bonnell Rd. It’s the main attraction in Covert Park — a 5.1 acre park, originally donated to the City of Austin by Frank Covert in 1939.
Covert Park at Mount Bonnell is on the same side of the Colorado River as Downtown Austin and Tarrytown. It’s directly across the river from Westlake Hills, one of the best suburbs of Austin.
The best way to get to the park is by car. Public transport is scarce in this part of town, and although you can take the number 19 bus from the Texas State Capitol, you will have to walk 30 minutes from the bus stop to the base of the hill.
If you drive, you’ll take the MoPac Expressway to the 35th Street exit. After you exit, you’ll turn left onto 35th Street. You’ll pass Mayfield Park and Nature Preserve, and then you’ll turn right onto Mount Bonnell Road. After you turn, you’ll see the parking area for Covert Park.
There’s free parking, and although Covert Park does get busy, you’ll usually be able to find a space in the public parking lot.
The park is open everyday from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m., and it’s beautiful to visit anytime.
What to Do in the Park
After you park, you’ll climb a historic limestone staircase to the top of Mount Bonnell. It’s about 100 stairs, or 0.3 miles, to the top. The limestone steps are uneven, so the staircase isn’t stroller-friendly.
While this steep climb will get your heart pumping, it’s achievable for most people who are fit enough to climb stairs. The staircase also has a railing for visitors who need the extra support.
Once you get to the top, there’s a short path — of about 0.2 miles — around the peak. It circles out to the left and right of the staircase. Combined with the staircase, it makes for a short hike of just half a mile.
Short but sweet, Mount Bonnell provides some of the best hiking in Austin. It’s relatively easy, with the long climb up the stairs being the hardest part. Most people reach the top in about 20 minutes. You can also bring your dog as long as they stay on-leash throughout your visit. Make sure you stick to the trail to protect the wildlife.
Once you get to the top, you’ll be in full sun most of the time. There is a shady pergola at one of the lookouts, but overall the lack of shade helps provide unobstructed views. And you’ll be grateful to see the sun if you visit at sunrise or sunset. Mount Bonnell is one of the best places to watch the sunset in Austin, and sunset is one of the busiest times on the hilltop.
Beyond enjoying the incredible views, there is plenty to do at the top. Here are some of our favorite ways to spend a day on top of Austin:
- Watch the sunrise or sunset
- Go stargazing (the park is open until 10 p.m.)
- Catalog the natural plant and wildlife
- Practice your nature photography
- Go for a trail run
- Do yoga
- Enjoy a picnic at the picnic tables
- Bring your sketchbook
Mount Bonnell is also an ideal place to watch the fireworks on the 4th of July. But, it does get crowded, so make sure you arrive early.
How to Prepare for Your Day
Before you head to the park, make sure you use the restroom. There are no public restrooms in Covert Park.
Beyond that, some supplies will help you stay comfortable during your day on the hilltop.
Anyone who visits the park should bring:
- Plenty of water
- A wide-brimmed hat
- A flashlight (if you plan to descend the staircase after dark)
You can also pack a picnic for your day — just keep in mind that you’ll have to carry everything up the stairs and back down again.
Pet parents who bring their furry friend along for the hike should also bring:
- A leash
- Extra water for the dog
You may also want to bring dog boots if your pet is trained to wear them. The limestone can be hard on a dog’s paws.
Parents with young kids should bring:
- Extra water for the whole family
- A baby carrier (rather than a stroller)
- A baby changing mat and changing supplies
With just a little preparation, you can plan a fun, stress-free day — with a view.
Reach New Heights in Austin
When you want to get high — 784 feet high — in Austin, there’s no better place to go than Mount Bonnell. This hilltop is the highest point in Austin’s city limits, and it will give you a bird’s eye view of the city skyline, Lake Austin, the Pennybacker bridge, and the surrounding hill country.
Spending a day on top of Mount Bonnell is one of the best free activities in Austin. It’s a perfect date destination and is a great place to go with your dog or kids in tow. Head there at sunrise, sunset, or anytime in between to see how the cityscape changes with the sunlight.
And don’t forget to bring water, snacks, and recreational supplies like a yoga mat or sketchbook. Once you make it up the stairs, we’re sure you’ll feel like you’re on top of the world.
For more tips on the best things to do in Austin, check out ATX Guides.