Want to log a few miles during your stay in Austin? We don’t blame you. It’s a colorful and lively city to explore by foot whether you’re pounding the pavement or hitting the trail, tracking your pace or counting your steps. Indeed, there are plenty of places to run and walk around the city other than simply down the street and back. So lace up your shoes and get moving. Need some ideas? This runners guide to Austin contains some of our favorite spots.
It’s easy to see why the 10-mile multi-use Butler Hike and Bike Trail is the most popular place to run in the city. Much of it is shaded, it’s wide enough for two or more, it’s relatively flat, offers a variety of trail surfaces from paved to packed dirt, but most importantly, it runs alongside Lady Bird Lake and offers stunning views of the water and the city skyline. You’ll see runners, cyclists, walkers and more along this route that you can slice into shorter sections thanks to several bridges that you’ll pass along the way.
Another trail with a downtown origin (or terminus), this multi-purpose path is a popular spot among local runners and cyclists. The out-and-back Shoal Creek Trail runs through parks, beneath city streets, along the banks of its namesake creek and is mostly paved with a few rough sections. The length is around 3 miles one way. Start at 38th St. and Shoal Creek Blvd. and run south toward Lady Bird Lake or at the Austin Central Library and head north.
Looking for a more rugged trail run? Head to Barton Creek Greenbelt. With some 12 total miles of trails, there are plenty of trailheads to start at and directions to travel. In many areas, you can even cross the creek bed (prepare to get your feet wet if there’s been a lot of rain recently) and complete your return trip on the other side to run in a loop instead of an out-and-back. For easy access, start at the centrally-located Zilker Park Trailhead by Barton Springs Pool.
The Onion Creek Hike and Bike Trail at McKinney Falls State Park may be just the thing if it’s a shady, natural route you're after, but without all the rocks and roots. The 2.8-mile loop is paved, beginner-friendly, features a few brief ups and downs, and on hot summer days, you can cool down in the falls after your run. Start from the parking lot by the upper falls. The park entrance fee is $6 per person 13 and older and reservations are recommended on weekends and holidays.
Another paved, multi-use path that winds through neighborhood parks and through quiet, shady wooded sections, the Southern Walnut Creek Trail is a one-way, 7-mile trail located on Austin’s east side is as popular with cyclists as it is with runners—beginner, advanced, or anyone in between—so make sure to stay alert as you run or walk the rolling route. Park in the lot at Govalle Neighborhood Park.
For an al-fresco jog in a quiet, colorful neighborhood with big trees, wide sidewalks, and the option to easily customize your route to lengthen or shorten it, head to Mueller Lake Park. Whether you choose to run a few easy loops around the paved, mostly flat lake loop or branch out into the surrounding neighborhood streets with sidewalks and bike paths, you’re sure to enjoy yourself. There’s plenty of parking around the park and plenty of places to grab a bite to eat or enjoy a cold drink afterward.
Looking for a challenge? Look no further. If you really want to get your heart pumping, whether you’re running or walking, Riverplace Nature Trail west of downtown Austin will do the trick. The trail is approximately 6 miles round-trip, features 2,763 steps, and lots of elevation gain. Free street parking is available at either end—Panther Hollow or Canyon Trail trailheads—and there’s no fee except during peak hours on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays when its $10 per person, payable via credit card.
Contributed by Alisha McDarris.
Alisha McDarris is an Austin-based writer who specializes in writing about the outdoors, vegan food, and sustainable travel. She is the co-founder of sustainable travel and adventure blog Terradrift.com and accompanying YouTube channel (youtube.com/terradrift) and her outdoorsy tips and tricks, plus vibrant photos of wild spaces and places, can be found on Instagram (instagram.com/terradrift).