Some natural areas in and near Austin

Barton Springs, Barton Creek, Hike & Bike TrailSome natural areas and other outdoor places within 3 miles of downtown Austin

Some natural areas that are in Austin but >3 miles from downtown

Some natural areas that are day trips from Austin

Ecoregions of central Texas 

Natural areas and other outdoor places within 3 miles of downtown Austin 

You can get onto the Hike and Bike Trail around Ladybird Lake (formerly Town Lake) in many places on both sides of the Lake. The Trail goes mostly through parkland along both sides of the lake; choose your crossings depending on how long a walk or run you want. The Hike and Bike Trail will take you to Zilker Park, where you can swim in Barton Springs, an outdoor swimming pool over a large natural spring where the water is always close to 70o F (20-22oC).  Barton Springs also has a kid-friendly exhibit about the endangered Barton Springs salamander.

Zilker Park also has a small miniature train and play area for kids, picnic areas, and the Zilker Botanical Gardens.  

RatibidaFrom Zilker Park, you can enter the Barton Creek Greenbelt, which has many miles of trails along the creek and through woodland. Besides hiking, mountain biking, and swimming/wading in the creek, the area is also popular with rock climbers. Another popular outdoor sport is canoeing, kayaking, or rowing on Ladybird Lake; canoes and kayaks can be rented. 

Austin Nature & Science Center, at the west end of Zilker Park, is a great place to take kids. Resident native animals (rehabbed animals that can't be released back into the wild), a sand pit for fossil digging, nature trail, and many other kid-friendly hands-on exhibits and activities. 

World's largest urban bat colony, under the Congress Avenue Bridge over Ladybird Lake. Walk down and see them fly out at dusk during the summer months. 

The Texas Natural Science Center (aka Texas Memorial Museum) is not exactly a natural area, but is certainly of interest to anyone interested in animals, rocks, or fossils.  It closes during part of most  summers, so check before you go.  It is on the University of Texas campus.  

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 Some natural areas that are in Austin but >3 miles from downtown 
       Most require driving to get there.

Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center- formal gardens and informal landscaping with native plants; research on savanna fires and green roofs (both open to the public); cafe; butterfly garden; etc. Best of all - all the plants are labeled!
Wild Basin - where I take visitors to show them the Hill Country when we only have time for a short field trip. Trails, creek.
Hornsby Bend - best birding in Austin, due to water treatment ponds; environmental research site
creek, St. Edwards Park
Barton Creek Wilderness Park and St. Edwards Park, two of Austin's extensive set of greenbelts, both have good hiking trails through savanna and woodland and along creeks.
McKinney Falls State Park - more of a rocky creek than a true waterfall, but it has nice trails and a creek to swim/wade in 

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Some natural areas that are day trips from Austin (see ecoregions of central Texas for a brief introduction to the region) 

natural area on the eastern Edwards Plateau (Hill Country)

four BCNWR imagesBalcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Preserve  (owned and managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and not to be confused with the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve) - set up primarily to protest the endangered golden-cheeked warbler and black-capped vireo, it is pioneering the use of fire as a management tool in this region. Some of the hiking trails go through burned areas.
Pedernales Falls State Park - classic Hill Country savannas and woodlands, plus a chance to wade in the Pedernales River
Hamilton Pool Nature Preserve - created by the collapse of a cave at the head of a canyon; beautiful; swimming/wading allowed
West Cave Preserve - geologically similar to Hamilton Pool, but access only by guided tour; no swimming; drop down into a canyon, feel the temperature drop, admire the maidenhair ferns.... 
Since the Edwards Plateau is made of thick layers of limestone, it has many caves, some with bat colonies and some with endangered cave invertebrates. Austin has an active caving community.  The nearest commercial cave, Inner Space Cavern, has stalactites and stalagmites in abundance, as does Natural Bridge Caverns, although Longhorn Cavern State Park's cave does not. 

natural area on the Llano Uplift 

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area - its most notable feature is a large granite dome; this is part of the Llano Uplift, not the Edwards Plateau 

natural areas in Lost Pines

Buescher State Park and Bastrop State Park - far enough east of Austin to be in the "Lost Pines", the western-most outlier of loblolly pine (P. taeda).   Most of Bastrop State Park burned in the fires of September 2011; check to see if it has re-openend.


Palmetto State Park - southeast of Austin; named for a stand of dwarf palmetto (Sabal minor) around its ephemeral swamp; said to be a good place for birding 
• You can combine staying cool with aquatic biology by canoeing or tubing down one of the local rivers.  Both the San Marcos River and the Guadalupe River are popular for tubing and canoeing; commercial rentals are available.

Please note that the list above is just a taste of what's available in and near Austin.  It was put together for people attending the Ecological Society of America meeting in Austin in August 2011. I would be happy to add your favorite places if they are open to the public.

Norma Fowler