Here's a whole bunch of hikes you can do with your dog or yourself in Austin
There's just something about hiking with a dog, isn't there?
We've been hitting up some Austin trails lately and thought we'd do a roundup of some of our favorite spots in the area. You can do these hikes with your dog, your friends, yourself, your family or even an enemy if you want.
This is not a comprehensive list of places to hike with your dog in Austin or Central Texas. If we did that, we would never stop writing. We'll start in the Austin area before heading to farther out spots:
Barton Creek Greenbelt
What kind of journalists would we be if we didn't bring up Barton Creek Greenbelt when discussing the Austin hiking scene? There's plenty of greenbelt to choose from, but we've singled out two spots: the Spyglass entrance and Twin Falls.
The Spyglass trailhead is at 1601 Spyglass Drive near Zilker Park. Once you hike down the entrance's hill, take a right or a left; you really can't go wrong with either direction. On the left, you'll be taken to the Flats and Campbell's hole. If you hike the whole 1-ish mile route, you'll eventually pop out in the parking lot of Barton Springs Pool. The Flats, when dry, is a big, flat rock formation. We suggest treating it like a jungle gym, except when it rains. Then you should definitely be wading in the water that collects. The Flats lead down to Campbell's Hole, which is a small swimming pool when conditions are right. Check conditions before heading out if you want to swim.
If you're not feeling like a swim or are looking for a longer hike, take a right at the bottom of the Spyglass trailhead. If your heart desires, you can take this trail all the way up the greenbelt.
Twin Falls is definitely a hike to do regularly and to show some Austin magic to out-of-towners. This rocky trail's start is at 3918 S. MoPac Expressway. The trail will take you down to the creek and, again, we suggest jumping and playing on the rocks and creek beds for maximum fun. We went on a recent weekend, and there was plenty of water flowing.
This trail was super busy on a Sunday. If you can swing it, try heading out early or go during the week to avoid crowds.
A note about algae: Harmful blue-green algae has been found in Barton Creek Greenbelt and Lady Bird Lake. Keep your dogs out of the water and make sure to rinse them off if they do end up in the water. The algae is most dangerous to pets if ingested. Keep an eye out for the following symptoms: excessive drooling, vomiting and diarrhea, foaming at the mouth, jaundice, blood in urine or dark urine, stumbling, loss of appetite, trouble breathing and muscle twitches. The city has an algae webpage that is updated at www.austintexas.gov/page/algae.
Hike and Bike Trail
The Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail that runs through the city has access points all along it, including near South Congress Avenue, South Lamar Boulevard, South Pleasant Valley Road, Riverside Drive and Zilker Park. The trail takes you the 10-ish miles around Lady Bird Lake. You also can opt for shorter, 3-to-4-mile excursions. There are doggie bags and water fountains for your pet along the trail.
Roy G. Guerrero Park and Secret Beach
Yes, y'all, a secret beach.
OK, so it's definitely not a well-kept secret, but that is its name. This beach connects to Roy G. Guerrero Colorado River Metro Park, which is also on our list. So, buckle in.
Secret Beach can be found by parking at Krieg Fields off South Pleasant Valley just south of East Cesar Chavez Street. Once you park, head north until you find the trail that leads down to the water. If you're looking for a short walk and some fun dawdling, you can hang on the sandy beach. If it's summer, we definitely recommend taking a dip.
For a hike, though, you have to find the trail. If you avoid the beach and keep going straight along the trail, you should find the path that connects to Guerrero Park. The trail has lots of connecting routes along it and you could spend some time getting lost out here.
Roy G. Guerrero Colorado River Metro Park has a disc golf course, a playground and trails. While it can get busy, we have found it isn't as crowded as spots like Twin Falls on the weekend. You don't have to take Secret Beach to get to the park, which is at 400 Grove Blvd. in Southeast Austin, and it also has plenty of parking.
McKinney Falls State Park
McKinney Falls State Park requires no road trip or, really, serious planning, to visit. It's just outside Del Valle and features seven trails and a swimming hole so nice it feels illegal that you can visit it for just $6 per person. Trail options range from a half-mile to 3.1 miles. Dogs are allowed, but they must be leashed, and they are not allowed to swim. Trust us — they won't even notice that they're not allowed to swim. There is so much nature to sniff and pee on, your dog will be plenty busy. More information and online reservations: tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/mckinney-falls.
Onion Creek Greenbelt
Onion Creek Greenbelt is inside Onion Creek Metropolitan Park. While a little confusing to find, this greenbelt is great if you're looking for some quiet time. We saw a total of three people while walking the trail and even got to go down along the water. To note: All the dogs we saw were off leash, so keep that in mind if you have a shy pup.
The trail, which we got to by parking at 7304 Onion Creek Drive, was flat and woody.
Emma Long Metropolitan Park
While this writer hasn't yet visited Turkey Creek Trail at Emma Long Metropolitan Park, because her dog isn't ready to be off leash around other off-leash pups, we hear it's a great spot. Our friend (and former Statesman reporter) Taylor Goldenstein told us: "Turkey Creek Trail is a doggy wonderland! There's river crossings galore, lots of place to swim and muck around in the mud and so many pup pals to meet. Highly recommend!"
Depending on what website you check, the trail is a little more than 2 miles to 3 miles long. Emma Long admission is $5 per vehicle during the week and $10 Friday through Sunday and during holidays. More information: www.austintexas.gov/department/emma-long-metropolitan-park.
Hikes in Johnson City
If you're up for a little road trip, we recommend heading west to Johnson City and knocking out two parks in one day — Pedernales Falls State Park and Lyndon B. Johnson State Park and Historic Site. When we did this, we started at the former president's ranch and then did Pedernales.
At LBJ's place, which is in Stonewall at 1048 Park Road, No. 49, there is a quick 1.2 mile trail you can take your pup, on leash, on up to the working farm, which is home to a slew of animals including chickens, pigs and cows. You can also take a peek at some bison. Load your dog up in the car and take the driving tour of LBJ's ranch. The self-driven tour is free, but you'll need to get a permit at the LBJ State Park and Historic Site Visitor Center.
Next, make the short drive over to Pedernales Falls State Park at 2585 Park Road 6026 in Johnson City. The park costs $6 a person to enter. Here you'll find a huge slab of rock and water falls on which to play. You could spend a good amount of time traipsing up and down all the rocky areas. If that's not your jam, the park has nine trails to choose from, each varying in length from a half-mile to 11.4 miles. Pets are allowed, but they must be kept on their leashes. More information: tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/pedernales-falls.
Hikes in San Marcos
A 30-minute drive south will put you in this writer's favorite Texas town — San Marcos. You could spend a whole day here visiting trails and the river. Here are three don't-miss spots:
Spring Lake Natural Area: Looking to get lost? Visit Spring Lake, which has three trailheads. Keep your dog leashed on this trail and make sure to pick up their waste, too. The natural area has more than 6 miles of trails full of big trees and meadows. Trailheads: 921 Aquarena Springs Drive, 685 Lime Kiln Road, 1414 N. LBJ.
Purgatory Creek Natural Area: Ooh, spooky. Yes, this devilish spot has trails named things like "Dante," "Limbo Loop" and "Virgil's Trail," just to name a few. It has 9 miles of trail and includes caves, fields and rocks, and you might even see some wildlife there. You can take your dog, but make sure to bring water to this spot, which has a trailhead at the intersection of Hunter Road and Wonder World Drive.
San Marcos River: OK this one has nothing to do with hiking, but you could always take a dip in the river, with or without your pup, after a sweaty hike. The water is 72 degrees year-round and clear and lovely. You could even go tubing with your dog. No matter what you choose, be kind to the wild-rice growing in the water while you're there and pick up your trash.
Tips for hiking with your dog
Bring water and snacks for you and your dog.
Check the forecast. In summer months, don't hike or go on long walks with your dog during the hottest parts of the day.
Always pick up and pack out your dog's waste.
Check the rules for each hike location before you go. Are dogs allowed? Do they have to be on leash?
Be mindful of your dog's age and condition (and yours). It's not recommended that puppies still growing bones go on long hikes (or runs). Dogs who have been living the couch potato life might need to start with shorter excursions. Check with your vet if you have any concerns or questions.