Austin may be the bustling and always eventful capital of Texas, but in a city with more than 30,000 acres of parks, travelers have plenty of space to indulge in classic Austin activities like picnics, disc golf, volleyball, free concerts, hiking and biking.
U.S. News spoke with local experts to identify a few of the top parks in Austin to take in the scenery without stepping too far away from the city center.
Zilker Metropolitan Park
Known as the crown jewel of the Austin parks system, Zilker Metropolitan Park offers everything from quiet spaces for picnics to lively concerts and festivals, like the Austin City Limits Music Festival. It’s even home to popular spots like Barton Springs Pool, Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum and Zilker Botanical Garden. Additionally, the Zilker Zephyr train offers a 20- to 25-minute tour of the park ($3 for adults and $2 for children).
[Read: The Best Hotels in Austin.]
“There’s the hike-and-bike trail, you can rent canoes, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards, play disc golf, there’s a leash-free dog zone, and they have sculpture gardens,” says Steven Leigh, chief concierge at the Archer Hotel Austin. Because it’s right in the heart of downtown, the park also has exceptional city views. It's open from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m.
For picturesque sights of the city, head to the scenic overlook at Mount Bonnell, Austin’s highest point at nearly 800 feet. “It’s up stone steps, and looks down over sleepy Lake Austin and the downtown skyline,” says Tony Ingargiola, concierge at the Four Seasons Hotel Austin. From there, you can also catch a glimpse of the 360 Bridge.
[See: A photo tour of Austin.]
Chris Johnson, concierge and greeter at The Driskill, says, “It’s the only place you can get a panoramic view of the entire city. You see the ever-changing downtown landscape, and it’s lovely for sunsets.”
Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail and Boardwalk at Lady Bird Lake
This crushed granite trail and boardwalk is one of Austin’s most popular recreational areas. A 10-mile loop around Lady Bird Lake, this trail tours several of the city’s best parks, including Zilker Metropolitan Park, Lamar Beach at Town Lake Metropolitan Park and Eilers Park. The boardwalk, which includes seven viewing areas over 7,250 feet of walking area, is open from 5 a.m. to midnight daily.
“I joke with guests that when they finish the trail, I’ll have a Realtor ready because they’ll fall in love with Austin,” Ingargiola says. “The trail has beautiful views and the boardwalk.” Runners, bikers, dog walkers and nature enthusiasts can cut up the trail in a number of ways to make it shorter or longer while immersing themselves in Austin’s natural scenery.
Mayfield Park and Preserve
“Mayfield Park is beautiful," says David Scheffke, front office manager at the Hotel Ella. "It has great walking trails and it’s by Laguna Gloria,” a site of The Contemporary Austin art museum. “The cool thing about this park is they have wild peacocks. You can take pictures from afar and walk around while they roam.”
[Read: The Best Things to Do in Austin.]
A historic cottage, 2 acres of gardens and lily ponds adorn this park just north of Tarrytown, and the 21-acre nature preserve that surrounds it is filled with wildlife. It’s on the National Register of Historic Places and is open daily from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Walnut Creek Metropolitan Park
Nestled in the middle of North Austin is Walnut Creek Metropolitan Park, which is open from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. Its 290 acres include Walnut Creek Pool and miles of trails, plus sports courts, barbecue spots, off-leash dog areas and 26 playgrounds. It’s a favorite of dog walkers, hikers and bikers due to the hilly landscape that’s filled with stunning cliffs and creeks.
Town Lake Metropolitan Park
Town Lake Metropolitan Park resides on Lady Bird Lake in South Austin, and within it are Butler Park, Auditorium Shores at Town Lake Metropolitan Park and Vic Mathias Shores at Town Lake Metropolitan Park. This lakeside area showcases the Palmer Events Center, The Long Center for the Performing Arts and the Dougherty Arts Center, plus a 35-foot hill with breathtaking views.
Famed South by Southwest music events and the Stevie Ray Vaughan statue can also be found there, along with water features such as the Liz Carpenter Fountain. The Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail passes through as well. The park is open from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m.
McKinney Falls State Park
“I recommend McKinney Falls; I had no idea there were so many waterfalls in Texas,” says Kimi Nakato, director of front office at the Hotel Granduca Austin.
The 745 acres of Southeast Austin’s McKinney Falls State Park draws locals and tourists because of the waterfalls on Onion Creek, in addition to trails, wildlife and classic Texas bluebonnet wildflowers. Smith Rock Shelter and the McKinney Homestead, both on the National Register of Historic Places, are ideal for escaping from the Texas heat and grabbing Instagram-worthy photos. The park is open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Adult entry costs $6, while children 12 and younger are free.
To experience more of what Austin has to offer, check out the U.S. News Travel guide.
Ellis graduated cum laude with a bachelor's in English from Virginia Tech (Go Hokies!) and is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, Texas Freelance Association, Freelance Austin, and Women Communicators of Austin. You can find her on LinkedIn and her website, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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