Austin Outdoor Activities

Enjoying the outdoors in Austin can be as easy or as tough as you want. You can wander a woodland path along a city greenbelt, or join in a rugby game in Zilker Park; swim laps in Barton Springs or play a round of golf just five minutes from downtown Austin; opt for an evening of tennis or take a kayak ride on Town Lake.

Austin has some 16,000 acres of parks, trails and greenbelts with Zilker Park, the crown jewel, in the heart of the city. Inside the park are playing fields, jogging and bike trails, a disc golf course, the city botanical gardens, picnic sites, playscapes and quiet woodland areas. The most picturesque areas within the park include a rose garden that is a favorite location for bridal photos and the Taniguchi Oriental Garden, created by the immigrant father of a noted Austin architect. The quiet, authentic Zen atmosphere in the garden is a great way to escape from the rush of downtown.

Lining the banks of the Colorado River downtown is Town Lake Metropolitan Park. The Colorado River flows through the nearby Highland Lakes -- Lake Austin and Lake Travis are the closest to Austin -- and winds down to the Gulf of Mexico. For years, local residents have wanted to rename Town Lake after First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson who was the driving force behind creating the green space in downtown Austin, but Mrs. Johnson demurred. That did not stop Austinites from honoring her with the creation of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in southwest Austin, another great Austin green space.

Austin is the city of golf legends like Harvey Penick, Tom Kite and Ben Crenshaw and while Austin has some top flight private golf courses it is also home to six acclaimed municipal golf courses that offer affordable options. Two of the municipal courses, Hancock and Lions Municipal, are within a 15 minute drive from downtown.

The city's Parks and Recreation Department manages 28 municipal tennis court complexes and there are 27 neighborhood swimming pools, many of them with picnic sites and basketball courts nearby.

In addition to the city's 208 parks, there are 25 hike and bike trails and greenbelts in Austin. Most areas are considered safe, but there is a curfew with trails opening at 5 a.m. and closing at 10 p.m. The city's parks have their own police force. The downtown hike and bike trail is particularly busy in the early morning, at lunchtime and after work as walkers with dogs, runners and bicyclists work out.

Austin is a dog friendly city and the city council recently passed an ordinance permitting restaurants to allow dogs on their outdoor patios. There are 12 leash free areas set aside in city parks for unleashed pets, including the soccer fields in Zilker Park, but elsewhere in the city dogs are required to be licensed and leashed. The city also provides Mutt Mitt boxes in parks so pet owners can clean up after their pets.

Austin also manages 11 nature preserves, some of which are open to the public while others can be viewed by special arrangement. One of Austin's secret places is the Mayfield Preserve, 22 acres near the Tarrytown neighborhood on 35th Street, that offers a glimpse of life in 19th century Austin. The preserve has lily ponds, woodland and even several resident peacocks.

Austin Area Outdoors
Travis County also operates 20+ parks in the area; many of those along the lakes are equipped with boat ramps. The Lower Colorado River Authority maintains 64 parks and primitive areas on Lake Travis and 20 on Lake Austin, plus numerous other facilities West and East of the city along the river. There are also 24 Texas State Parks within an easy two hours of Austin.

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