Maybe the Texas two-step isn’t your idea of fun when it comes to working up a sweat. That’s okay, it doesn’t have to be. Austin is made for everyone, and that includes all kinds of outdoor nuts, from bat-watchers to belly-floppers. It’s time to shake a leg and take a crack at a few of the city’s awesome outdoor attractions.
Lady Bird Lake Hike and Bike Trail
Love to feel the burn? Lace up your kicks, and hit the 10-mile-long Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail at Lady Bird Lake for killer views of both the city and nature. Check out the song lyrics by Texas tunesters punched into the metal, western-style belts fixed to the boardwalk’s bridge railings — strange, but cool. If you’re a blues fan, swing by the memorial for Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Zilker Park and Barton Springs Pool
Austin’s Zilker Park is a 351-acre city park where you can play disc golf and volleyball, run, swim, jog, or just chill on the lawn under a shade tree. The cherry on top of Zilker Park is Barton Springs Pool. Underground springs feed the pool, and the water temperature averages about 68 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit all year long. (There’s a small fee to use the pool.) When Robert Redford was five, he learned to swim at Barton Springs. Hey, if it’s good enough for the Sundance Kid, it’s good enough for your best belly flop.
At the park’s Lady Bird Lake, give stand-up paddle boarding a shot, hop in a canoe or kayak, or grab a rod and reel for some fishing. There’s also a mini train, the Zilker Zephyr, that can chugga-chugga you and the kids around the park for a small fee.
On Zilker Park’s western edge, Austin Nature and Science Center gives kids plenty to get their sticky little hands on. They can learn about wildlife and plants, check out a Dino Pit Fossil Dig, and trade their favorite rocks, seeds, and shells for animal bones, shiny minerals, and fossils. Grown-up alert: The Austin City Limits music festival rocks Zilker Park in the fall.
Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge Bats
With no evil vampires in sight, it’s not exactly a “Twilight” experience — or is it? Join the party — or at least the unbelievable crowd makes it feel like a party — to watch the bats fly out from under Austin’s Anne W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge at — you guessed it — twilight. So, apparently, it is a twilight experience.
North America’s biggest urban bat colony — about 1.5 million to be exact — calls the bridge home. Hundreds of people line up on the bridge every day to see the bats as they fly out to hunt their tasty insect dinners. The best times to see the bats are evenings at dusk from April through October.
Reimers Ranch Park
Twenty-five miles southwest of Austin, Reimers Ranch Park rounds up nearly 2,500 acres of outdoor fun. It’s not a dude ranch, buckaroo, so maybe leave the 10-gallon hat at home, but you can go horseback riding. If horses aren’t your thing, shred on mountain biking trails, scramble up some massive rocks, or go swimming or fishing for white bass in the Pedernales River.
Reimers Observatory has two huge telescopes, so you can scout the night sky for satellites and aliens and check out the Milky Way and craters on the moon. The observatory is super popular, so be sure to book ahead.
McKinney Falls State Park
It’s a safe bet that the coolest thing about McKinney Falls State Park — tucked 13 miles outside of Austin in the Hill Country — is the swimming pool under the falls. Or maybe it’s the ancient natural rock shelter. Besides swimming and playing “The Flintstones,” you can fish, bike, camp, and hike in the park. Pitch a tent at one of the 81 campsites, or rent one of the gussied-up cabins. Kids can become Junior Rangers and borrow Explorer packs with gear like binoculars and a magnifying glass to help them check out the park. They even earn some swag in the form of Junior Ranger pins.
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