Spring is the perfect time for visiting Austin, Texas, especially for those who are looking for things to do outdoors. The weather is perfect, and you can find plenty of parks and outdoor places to enjoy the gorgeous surroundings filled with waterways, creeks and lakes, hills, and forested areas.
And while there is plenty to do in the city itself, if you have extra time to explore, several nearby places offer fantastic day trips to enjoy the season and learn about the geology, nature, and history of the region.
Part of the appeal of the capital city of Texas is its proximity to the Texas Hill Country, with its gorgeous scenery. You’ll also find historical sites and nature preserves surrounding the state capital of Texas. From state parks to caves, nearby cities, and historic places, here are several day trip destinations from Austin perfect for spring.
1. Guadalupe River State Park
About 80 miles from Austin, Guadalupe River State Park, one of the prettiest parks in the state, is a great day trip destination — especially in spring. A popular park for both Austin and San Antonio residents, it gets busy on weekends, especially in the summer when it offers a respite from the heat of the cities. In fact, tubing down the river (renting a tube and floating down the river) is a must-do bucket-list item for visitors.
However, if you visit in spring before tube rentals are available, the park offers opportunities to hike along the trails both in the forest and along the river. Still cold for swimming (though you’ll see several people in the water), the river offers a perfect backdrop for several trails.
You’ll find 13 miles of hiking and biking trails in the park, featuring gorgeous views of the valley and the rushing river flanked by giant cypress trees. The trails range from half a mile to 3 miles long, but you can combine several for an opportunity to explore the surroundings longer. None of the trails are too strenuous, though you might find a few uphill areas.
In spring, you also have a better chance to see wildlife along the less-traveled trails, like the armadillo my daughter noticed while hiking. Before hitting the trails, stop at the Discovery Center, especially fun if you have children with you. Regardless of age, though, it offers a great opportunity to learn about the environment in the park.
2. Palmetto State Park
About 60 miles south of Austin, Palmetto State Park offers an unexpected tropical environment, featuring the unique variety of dwarf palms it is named for. Multiple sources of water, including the San Marcos River, assure this environment that doesn’t seem to belong in Texas.
Besides the dwarf palmettos, the park is home to Spanish moss, woody vines, forests, and extensive marshes. I felt spring was the perfect time to visit this park — before heat combined with humidity would make hiking through it uncomfortable.
Though small, the park offers plenty of fun activities, and hiking is only one of them. The Palmetto Trail offers an easy stroll among the dwarf palms. You can also bike it or try bird watching along the trail. Or, try your hand at fishing in Oxbow Lake off the pier. Here, as in all state parks in Texas, you do not need a permit to fish.
The park also offers a history lesson about the Civilian Conservation Corps and their work in the National and State Parks during the Great Depression. You’ll notice the rock building near the parking lot, the water tower along the Palmetto Trail, the road through the park with the river crossing, and several other projects which were all built during the early 1930s.
3. Inner Space Cavern And Georgetown
Even closer, only about 30 miles north of Austin, the Inner Space Cavern offers a look at a unique underground environment. While caves are great destinations no matter the season, visiting in early spring had the added benefit of seeing still hibernating bats in the cave.
One of the best-preserved caves in Texas, the Inner Space Cavern has been welcoming visitors since 1966. Besides the bats, gorgeous formations, large rooms, and narrow corridors make the cave visit a perfect destination for a day trip from Austin.
You have three tours to choose from when visiting the Cavern. The most popular, the Adventure Tour, lasts about an hour and leads through a paved, lit trail through the largest rooms with the most spectacular formations.
The Hidden Passages Tour, the one we chose, is longer and offers a closer look through the cave, passing through narrow walkways on uneven terrain. On this tour, we each carried our own flashlight, feeling like explorers. But we were nothing like those who take the longest, hardest trail who go underground for 4 hours, occasionally crawling through tiny spaces.
Besides the tours, you can learn about the cave at the visitor center, where you’ll see a display of artifacts, rocks, and animal bones they found inside.
When done visiting the cave, you can explore the lovely Georgetown for the rest of the day. And, if visiting in April, enjoy the red poppies in town by visiting the Red Poppy Festival if you are there on the right weekend.
4. San Antonio
If you are interested in history, you can’t miss a day trip to San Antonio, about 80 miles from Austin. Founded in 1718 around the mission of San Antonio de Valero (known as the Alamo), the city has a history worth exploring. Famous throughout the world, the Alamo is the main reason most people visit this city.
Visiting the Alamo in early March takes on a special significance since it marks the anniversary of the Battle of the Alamo. Walk around the mission’s grounds, watch hands-on demonstrations of historical artifacts, or take a guided tour to learn more about the mission’s history.
If you enjoyed the Alamo, drive to the other five San Antonio Missions, all incorporated into the National Park site, and the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in Texas. Though it’s worth visiting them all, if you only have time for one, stop at Mission San José as it features the largest and most elaborate structures.
You can’t leave San Antonio without taking the River Walk, especially pretty and pleasant in spring. Time your walk close to sunset, and stop for dinner at a restaurant overlooking the river for a special evening before heading back to Austin.
- Visiting the Alamo is always free, but to enter the mission church you need a timed entry ticket (still free, but limiting the number of people who enter), and they sell out fast.
- Get an early start if you plan to visit San Antonio as a day trip from Austin to avoid traffic between the two cities.
5. Pedernales Falls State Park
About 40 miles west of Austin, Pedernales Falls State Park is a popular destination for the city residents. This means you need to make sure you get a pass before showing up at the park entrance. Although not required, to ensure you can enter the park, be sure to get one since they turn away visitors once the park reaches capacity.
The park, centered on the Pedernales River, encompasses about 5,200 acres in the Texas Hill Country. Named by the Spanish explorers for the flint stones they found along its shores, the Pedernales River is short, flowing only about 100 miles altogether in Texas.
Within the park, the river flows over and around huge limestone slabs. Calm most of the time, the river is notorious for sudden changes during flash floods, turning it into a dangerous, turbulent waterway.
Over 20 miles of hiking and biking trails, besides another 10 miles of equestrian trails, offer plenty of opportunities to explore the park and its wildlife. One of the easiest, but also most popular trails, the Pedernales Falls Trail is about half a mile long and leads to an overlook of the falls.
6. Take A Drive To See Wildflowers
Texas is known for its wildflowers, especially the bluebonnet, which is the state flower of Texas. The gorgeous blooms blanket several areas near Austin in April. I missed the spectacle because they weren’t blooming yet when I visited in March, but I plan on timing a visit for mid-April next time.
Walking near or through a field of gorgeous bluebonnets makes a day trip from Austin worth it. Several towns in the state use the blooming season as a base for bluebonnet festivals.
The closest Bluebonnet Festival featuring live music, parades, and other entertainment besides the wildflower show is in Burnet, about 50 miles from Austin. Known as the “Bluebonnet capital of Texas,” the small town has an old-world charm and even features a giant bluebonnet statue.
If you don’t mind a longer drive, you can visit the “Official State of Texas Bluebonnet Festival” in the town of Chappell Hill about 90 miles from Austin. If you don’t feel the need to take part in an actual festival dedicated to bluebonnets, drive about 20 miles north from Downtown Austin to the Brushy Creek Lake Park for gorgeous displays of wildflowers.