Besides its music scene and outstanding food, Austin is also known for its great outdoors. And when it comes to the outdoors, there is no better time to explore the city than spring, when the weather is perfect and vegetation is just coming back to life.
Warm enough to be pleasant, but not too hot to be uncomfortable, spring in Austin offers the best time for hiking in the woods and near waterways within and surrounding the city. Hiking and biking trails wind throughout the city and offer great opportunities to enjoy the perfect weather and gorgeous natural setting.
The following are our favorite fantastic things to do outdoors in Austin in spring.
1. Explore Austin’s Natural History At Zilker Botanical Garden
Near downtown Austin, with views of the city skyline, Zilker Botanical Garden is a fun place to explore and learn about Austin’s natural history. Nestled within Zilker Metropolitan Park, the botanical garden features heritage live oaks and several themed gardens, connected through shaded pathways.
On our visit, spring offered the perfect weather and background to explore the gardens, with several trees and flowers in bloom.
We started our tour with the Pioneer Village, featuring a log cabin, blacksmith shop, and schoolhouse, giving us a glimpse into the lives of the early Swedish settlers.
The trail of passages led to the Taniguchi Japanese Village, with a koi pond, a bonsai display, a teahouse, and gorgeous views of the Austin skyline.
Centered around a dinosaur statue, the Prehistoric Garden features a waterfall and dinosaur footprints. A butterfly garden, an oak grove, and a cactus garden were some other areas of interest.
Pro Tip: So close to the center of the city, the gardens are very popular, especially for families with children. Try to time your visit for a weekday morning, if possible. We visited on a Monday, but it was still very busy, especially at midday.
2. Spend An Afternoon At McKinney Falls State Park
Within the city limits of Austin, you’ll find a gorgeous state park surrounding McKinney Falls. Extremely popular in the summer, when most visitors spend their time swimming in Onion Creek, a spring visit offers the perfect time to hike and enjoy the park without the crowds.
The main attraction of McKinney Falls State Park is a series of limestone ledges over which Onion Creek flows, creating the waterfalls. The park features hiking and biking trails, along with fishing, swimming, and camping opportunities.
The hike to the Lower Falls — and beyond, to the ruins of the McKinney Homestead — 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 forested areas to the McKinney Homestead, a limestone home once owned by Thomas F. McKinney now left to the elements. The full trail is a loop, though we returned turned back at the homestead to spend more time at the creek.
The Upper Falls, just a few feet from the parking lot, are easier to access and offer a more open area to spend time near the creek.
3. Take A Hike At Walnut Creek Metro Park
The 293-acre Walnut Creek Metro Park offers miles upon miles of trails, both paved and unpaved, in north Austin.
You’ll find five easy hiking trails with little or no elevation gain, ranging from 1 to 3 miles long. It only takes half an hour to complete the popular 1.3-mile trail. However, it can be a perfect start for exploring the park because it connects with several other trails for longer hiking adventures.
Some trails cross the creek or follow its shores, offering a great outing in nature. Besides the trails, the park offers pleasant drives in forested areas where you can feel miles away from the city; paved biking trails and unpaved BMX trails; playgrounds; and sports complexes.
However, especially in the spring, my favorite spots were the unpaved trails in the forested areas, following the creek.
4. Hike Along Bull Creek In the District Park Named After It
The 47-acre Bull Creek District Park, featuring multiple entrances through the city, follows Bull Creek and showcases gorgeous limestone outcroppings, several springs, waterfalls in the creek, and forested areas on its shores.
The full Bull Creek trail is 3.8 miles long and popular year round. However, visiting mid-week in spring, when the water is still too cold for swimming, gave us the opportunity to enjoy some solitude along several stretches of the trail.
We used the Lakewood Drive entrance, hiked through a forest, followed the creek, then crossed it and followed it on the opposite side. Spring was especially enjoyable to hike along this trail, watching the new buds sprout on the tree branches and the waterfalls babble in the creek.
We noticed the small waterfalls throughout 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 longhorn cattle introduced. The waterfalls help add more oxygen to the creek, which helps wildlife (especially fish) thrive.
Besides the trails along the creek, the park offers opportunities for picnics in the shade of mature oak trees.
5. Learn About Native Flora And Fauna In The Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve
The Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve offers a great introduction to the native flora and fauna of Austin and its surroundings. An island within the city, it protects 227 acres of wilderness and is a valuable habitat for rare and vulnerable species, including the endangered golden-cheeked warbler.
Open for hiking every day, from sunrise to sunset, the preserve offers about 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 preserve, before the heat of the summer, and when the vegetation is just coming back to life. Less popular than most other parks in Austin, the preserve offers a great place to find some solitude; when we hiked through it in mid-March, we seemed to be the only visitors.
Pro Tips: Everything in the preserve is protected, so visitors are required to always stay on designated trails. On weekdays, you can just drive up to the preserve and walk through; on weekends and holidays, you might need a reservation and be charged a day-use fee.
6. Enjoy A Meal Outdoors In A Food Truck Park
Austin is famous for its food truck scene, and it’s worth exploring it while enjoying a meal outdoors. Often set up in so-called food truck parks surrounding several picnic tables, they offer various ethnic meals. Everyone can pick their favorite and enjoy it together as a picnic.
While visiting Austin, we had lunch at several of these food truck parks in town. It makes an outing with friends or family members who prefer different food easy and convenient.
I noticed families with kids stopping often, where the parents could order Thai food and the kids could get tacos from the next truck and burgers from another. Then the whole family sat at a picnic table and enjoyed their meals together.
The convenience is not the only thing that makes these establishments Austin’s favorite food stops. The meals are always outstanding, both in the old favorites and the new trucks popping up on every corner. We had some of our best meals served by a food truck in Austin.
Bonus Outdoor Activities Outside Of Austin
Surrounded by several state parks, Austin offers great outings just outside of the city for outdoor enthusiasts. The following are only two activities we enjoyed in state parks outside the city.
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 both Austin and San Antonio come here to swim and enjoy other water activities, I found that spring was a great time to visit this park.
Still too cold for most people to swim, the Guadalupe River in spring offers a gorgeous backdrop for several hiking trails.
I enjoyed a leisurely hike along the river, popular even in spring, with people picnicking along the shores — some even swimming by midday, when it was warmer. We took another hike, this one away from the river, where we only met a few other hikers and enjoyed solitude in long stretches of the trail. It was so quiet. In fact, my daughter spotted an armadillo along the trail.
Learn About The Unique Palm Variety At Palmetto State Park
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 large diversity of plant and animal life. It doesn’t seem to belong to Texas.
The palmettos surround the swamp of the park, found in its western and northern areas. Besides hiking trails among these palms, the park offers opportunities for picnic, camping, and river activities.
The San Marcos River and the oxbow lake both offer opportunities for kayaking, paddle boating, and fishing. In the spring, the most enjoyable activity was hiking among the palmettos because the weather was still cool enough for enjoyable hiking but not hot enough for water activities.